EPA to approve politically fraught Wyoming power plant plan

By Sean Reilly | 04/09/2024 04:20 PM EDT

The agency is poised to sign off on a change to the state’s regional haze reduction plan, once at the center of an EPA nominations fight.

Stacks emit steam at the Jim Bridger Power Plant.

Stacks emit steam at the Jim Bridger Power Plant in February 2001 near Point of Rocks, Wyoming. Michael Smith/AFP via Getty Images

EPA is proposing to approve the conversion of part of Wyoming’s largest coal-fired power plant to natural gas, signaling a quiet coda to a Clean Air Act dispute that two years ago dogged the Senate confirmation prospects of several top agency nominees.

Under a draft rule, the agency would sign off on a change to Wyoming’s regional haze reduction plan that factors in the conversion of two of the Jim Bridger plant’s four generating units from coal to natural gas as fuel. In early 2022, EPA regulators balked at approving an earlier change to the state’s plan.

In retaliation, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) preemptively placed holds on all pending EPA nominations, initially including that of David Uhlmann to lead the enforcement branch and, later, the bid by Joe Goffman to run the air office.


The impasse fueled accusations that one of the Bridger plant’s generating units would be forced to close and prompted discussions between Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) and EPA Administrator Michael Regan. As recently as last December, Lummis told E&E News that conversations with EPA had been “unsatisfactory” and that she would continue to try to thwart Goffman’s confirmation.

But EPA never followed through on its preliminary 2022 disapproval, which was based on the contention that state regulators had unjustifiably dropped requirements for the approximately 2,400-megawatt Bridger plant to install new controls on nitrogen oxides on the two units.

While PacifiCorp, the plant’s operator, had signaled its intent to convert those units to gas in 2024, “the company’s intentions are not part of Wyoming’s proposed revisions to its regional haze plan, thereby precluding the planned conversion from EPA consideration and analysis,” the agency said at the time.

But additional action by PacifiCorp and the state appears to have since assuaged federal regulators’ caveats. In the proposed rule, set for publication in Wednesday’s Federal Register, EPA says that conversions of the two units to gas is “sufficient for reasonable progress” toward an initial round of haze reduction goals and that emission limits tied to installation of additional NOx controls “are no longer required.”

A Lummis spokesperson had no immediate comment Tuesday afternoon on the proposed approved. Lummis eventually dropped her hold on Uhlmann’s nomination. While she voted against Uhlmann’s and Goffman’s nominations, both ultimately won Senate confirmation.

The regional haze program, authorized by Congress in 1977, aims to restore unclouded natural visibility to 156 national parks and wilderness areas — most of them in the West — by 2064. Coal-fired power plants are a prime source of haze-forming pollution, meaning that they have frequently been at the center of disputes between states and EPA over the extent of new controls needed to meet the program’s requirements.

At the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming-based environmental group, staff attorney Shannon Anderson said in a Tuesday interview that she wasn’t surprised by the new proposal, especially since one of the generating units in question “has already been converted.”