Bring Blue Skies Back to Red Rock Country

The red rock country of the Colorado Plateau, which includes parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah, boasts some of the most remarkable scenery in the U.S. — if not the world. That is, when you can actually see it. That’s because this stunning region of high desert and deep canyons, which contains more national parks than any other, is also plagued by smog. And air pollution doesn’t respect state — much less national park — boundaries.

That’s where the Regional Haze Rule of the Clean Air Act comes in. Under the rule, all of the states in the region are required to outfit polluting coal plants with the “best available retrofit technology” to reduce emissions. It’s a commonsense approach that works great — as long as every state does its part. Unfortunately, Utah has not.

Why is Utah the outlier? It’s not as though the state has nothing to lose by forsaking clean air and clear skies. Air pollution makes people sick, of course, but it also affects the state’s economy. Utah’s national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion) and other outdoor recreation areas drive a tourism industry that supports one out of every ten jobs in the state and added more than $7 billion dollars to its economy last year.

Yet Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality proposed a regional haze plan that basically allows PacifiCorp’s Hunter and Huntington coal plants to keep producing unhealthy nitrogen oxide pollution that makes visibility in Arches and Canyonlands national parks comparable to Los Angeles circa 1970. Simply installing “selective catalytic reduction” controls, as is being done with other coal plants in the region, would cut that pollution a whopping 75 percent versus (under the state’s proposed plan) precisely zero percent. Replacing coal with clean energy would provide even more benefits to public health and the region’s economy.

Fortunately, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review each state plan and — if it fails to measure up — put one in place that does.

The people of Utah deserve clean air, and so do our national parks. Tell the EPA to reject Utah’s do-nothing plan.

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