By Bob Berwyn
A state clean-air plan has a preliminary thumbs-up from the EPA, pending another round of public comment. The agency aims to finalize its decision by September.
A key component of the overall plan is the 2010 Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act passed by the Colorado General Assembly that will reduce harmful pollution through emissions controls; retire old, inefficient coal-fired power plants; and convert certain electric generating units from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.
By 2018, the plan will result in more than 70,000 tons of pollutant reductions annually, including 35,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, which leads to ground-level ozone formation. In total, the plan covers 30 units at 16 facilities throughout Colorado, including coal-fired power plants and cement kilns.
"The EPA's proposal to approve the Regional Haze Plan is a ringing endorsement of a comprehensive and collaborative effort to address this issue," Gov. John Hickenlooper said.
"Our plan will lead to less haze and improved visibility in some of Colorado's most treasured and scenic areas, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde, Maroon Bells and the Great Sand Dunes," said Dr. Christopher E. Urbina, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "The tremendous pollution reductions will also have significant public health benefits," Urbina said.
The EPA announcement also garnered support from industry and mainstream conservation groups.
"This approval is an important endorsement of Colorado's state-led collaboration," said Tisha Conoly Schuller, President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. "The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will support job creation in Colorado's natural gas sector while measurably reducing air pollutant emissions,"
"Colorado's bipartisan clean air plan will provide healthier air for our children and help clear the brown cloud over Denver while strengthening our economy," said Pamela Campos, an attorney in the Environmental Defense Fund's Colorado office. "EPA has shown strong leadership by proposing approval, clearing the way for historic pollution reductions from the single largest emitters in Colorado so that we can all breathe easier."
As written, the plan would significantly cut harmful emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants in Class I areas in Colorado, which are national parks and wilderness areas protected under the Regional Haze Program.
There is broad bipartisan congressional support for the plan.
"I am pleased that the EPA has recognized the broad support for this plan in Colorado from conservation groups to electric utilities to both houses of the state legislature," said Democratic Senator Michael Bennet.
"Colorado's plan to meet regional haze requirements under the Clean Air Act is a carefully designed approach that is the result of a wide ranging public process that included numerous state agencies, environmental groups, industry and the Colorado legislature," said Representative Doug Lamborn. "The plan is consistent with Colorado's efforts to develop a balanced electricity portfolio that includes well-controlled coal, natural gas and renewable energy and I am pleased to see the EPA indicate it is proposing approving the Colorado plan."
In December, the delegation sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in support of Colorado's State Implementation Plan to reduce regional haze pollution.
EPA will take public comment on its proposed approval and intends to finalize its decision no later than Sept. 10, 2012.