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State hopes sue-and-settle deal will avoid power plant shutdown

Smoke stacks at three of the four Jim Bridger Plant coal-fired electrical generating units. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

February 17, 2022

by Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile

Wyoming and PacifiCorp have brokered a deal they hope will satisfy federal regional haze compliance concerns and avoid a partial shutdown at the Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant. It’s unclear whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will accept the deal, however, and abandon proceedings already in motion to reject an earlier plan and potentially take action against PacifiCorp.

PacifiCorp will formally seek to modify its state permit to convert Jim Bridger units 1 and 2 from coal to natural gas, and will seek bids to potentially retrofit units 3 and 4 with carbon capture technology, according to a press release from Gov. Mark Gordon Thursday afternoon. 

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Separate from the Jim Bridger agreement, PacifiCorp promised the state to also issue a request for proposal to retrofit one of four coal-burning units at the Dave Johnston power plant with carbon capture technology. The power plant is scheduled for retirement in 2027.

The EPA is not party to the Jim Bridger agreement, according to Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s press secretary. “We are submitting it to EPA and it will need to go through their approval process,” Pearlman told WyoFile via email.

“We are encouraged by this development and Wyoming’s and PacifiCorp’s agreement to include these commitments in a revised [regional haze state implementation plan],” EPA Region 8 spokesman Richard Mylott said.

Sue and settle

The new agreement stems from a sue-and-settle arrangement between the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and PacifiCorp. 

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The state filed an enforcement action against PacifiCorp in State District Court in Cheyenne Feb. 14. The suit alleges the “potential” to violate the Clean Air Act for failing to install SCR — selective catalytic reduction — controls at Jim Bridger units 1 and 2. On the same day, PacifiCorp and the Wyoming DEQ signed a consent decree settling the suit and obligating the utility to the new agreement to convert to natural gas and accept bids to retrofit units 3 and 4 with carbon capture controls.

One long-time critic of the process cried foul. 

“It’s an orchestrated enforcement action,” Powder River Basin Resource Council attorney Shannon Anderson said. “They [the state] had no intention of enforcing that SCR deadline all along, and now here they go. It kind of preempts EPA enforcement.”

The deal presumably clears the way for PacifiCorp to continue operating Jim Bridger units 1 and 2 until they are converted to natural gas in 2024. 

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This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.


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