Gov Mead accuses EPA of ‘sue and settle’ collaboration against coal

— August 6, 2013

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead continues to allege that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is engaged in a collaboration with environmental groups to shut down coal-fired power plants here. The accusation is related to a dispute between Wyoming and EPA over how Wyoming will meet federal requirements to reduce regional haze.

Dustin Bleizeffer

On Friday (August 2, 2013) Mead sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy claiming, “It is part of a pattern of conduct where EPA is neglectful and, through a close relationship with special interest groups, a ‘sue and settle’ strategy follows.”

The letter follows more harsh criticism that Gov. Mead and members of his administration leveled at EPA during public hearings this past month. (Read this related story.)

The regional haze program focuses on stationary emission sources, placing coal-fired power plants at the center of plans to reduce haze. Wyoming submitted its plan to control particulate matter — just one haze-contributing pollutant emitted from coal stacks — in March of 2008, and in October of that year EPA indicated it complied with federal requirements in place at that time. But EPA missed deadlines to advance the program, so the Sierra Club sued EPA. EPA reviewed and revised its proposed emissions reduction requirements, this time focusing on reductions of nitrogen oxides from coal-fired power plants — something Wyoming and its coal-burning utilities said they did not anticipate.

EPA’s more ambitious regional haze strategy is in line with a pending settlement agreement between it and the Sierra Club, and it appears that Wyoming and its utilities may be headed for litigation against EPA later this year. In addition to the “sue and settle” allegation, Gov. Mead argues that EPA is ignoring Wyoming’s right and duty to implement its own plan to comply with regional haze requirements. Under the Clean Air Act, states also have the right to object or intervene in such settlements.

But the Sierra Club points to a recent 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Oklahoma Gas and Electric, saying it sets precedent and confirms EPA’s authority to force PacifiCorp and Basin Electric Power Cooperative to retrofit their coal-fired power plants in Wyoming. Meanwhile, Gov. Mead is not deterred.

“States like Wyoming, which have expended resources and worked hard on their plan submissions, are cut out of the loop and cooperative federalism is lost,” Gov. Mead wrote. “The agency’s course of conduct in this instance is part of the [“sue and settle”] pattern. Skirting the law this way is inappropriate and improper, and it should stop.”

“I just don’t understand what the Governor wants,” Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardian’s told WyoFile. “He complains about the EPA’s delay, but then his comments are basically telling the EPA to delay more. And beyond the rhetoric, this is another cut and dry example of where EPA violated a mandatory deadline and is being taken to task for not meeting the deadline. Would the governor rather the EPA spend taxpayer dollars litigating a losing case?”

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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