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. 

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.

“It’s an orchestrated enforcement action.”

Shannon Anderson, Powder River Basin Resource Council

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. 

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.”

A supervisor negotiates the catwalks at the Jim Bridger power plant. Behind him new steel that’s part of expensive emission controls on one of the units stands out brighter than structures that make up the original plant. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

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. 

PacifiCorp has been operating the units at lower capacities as an alternative to installing SCR controls to emit fewer regional haze-contributing emissions. EPA proposed to reject that strategy in January and noted that PacifiCorp hadn’t modified its permit to convert from coal to natural gas fuel.

“I am cautiously optimistic that this arrangement will actually stick, unlike the earlier agreement in which EPA reversed course,” Gordon said in a prepared statement. “There are still procedural steps to take and the public will have opportunities to comment in the future.”

The sue-and-settle arrangement was made just three days before a public comment deadline on EPA’s proposal to reject Wyoming’s and PacifiCorp’s original pitch to revise the regional haze agreement between Wyoming and EPA.

Gordon filed an emergency suspension order to block potential corrective actions by EPA until the end of April.

“We appreciate [the] Wyoming Governor’s Office for its efforts in working with the EPA to find a solution that ensures PacifiCorp’s compliance with requirements in the Clean Air Act, while allowing the units to operate under reduced emissions until they are converted to natural gas,” PacifiCorp spokesperson Tiffany Erickson told WyoFile via email.

Coal carbon capture

It’s unclear to what extent PacifiCorp might be obligated to retrofit Jim Bridger units 3 and 4 with carbon capture controls — a long sought-after goal of Gordon and many lawmakers. The technology has so far been proven uneconomic for aging coal-fired power plants.

“We’ve worked with universities and other researchers regarding [carbon capture utilization and sequestration] technology in past years and released a Request for Expressions of Interest in 2021,” Erickson said. “However this is the first time we will issue any [request for proposal] for CCUS on Wyoming coal units.”

It’s not, however, the first time CCUS technology has been contemplated for power plant units. Glenrock Energy, a Casper-based energy company, hopes that a suite of current and past Wyoming legislation will either force PacifiCorp to retrofit one or more coal units at the Dave Johnston plant in Glenrock with carbon capture controls, or compel the utility to sell it to another owner willing to make the retrofit.

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 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. once again the people of this country have no say.. it’s a game of chess and in the end it’s all about the almighty buck. I’m sickened that we cannot depend on “our” agency to do its job, to protect our environment.

  2. big corporations ($$$) win out over the citizens right to cleaner air quality.
    makes me angry that they aren’t being forced to comply with the warnings they were already given