North / South America
EPA haze plan may affect three forks facility
May, 24 2012
(Montana) -- Air pollution is slowly making it harder to see Montana’s wild places. A statewide proposal seeks to reverse that trend by getting a few large facilities to clean up their acts.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a plan to reduce haze in Montana as part of a regional effort to improve visibility in and around national parks and wilderness areas.
The plan identifies nine facilities in the state that contribute significantly to small particle pollution – haze – or produce larger molecules that break down and add to the haze.
Such small particle pollution, known as particulate matter or PM2.5, not only obscures scenic vistas but can also complicate heart and lung diseases because the particles lodge deep in the lungs.
The EPA looked at 12 areas in Montana, including Yellowstone National Park and Red Rock Lakes, and found that the visibility in all 12 was worsening. Glacier National Park had some of the worst visibility during the sampling period from 2000 to 2004.
Federal interagency data show that pollution has reduced the visibility in parks in the western U.S. by as much as half. Pollution is worse in the eastern U.S., where it has dropped visibility to one-fifth of what it once was.
Even though it has better visibility than most, the air that circulates into Yellowstone National Park still picks up pollution from the Holcim Inc. cement plant in Three Forks and two Pacific Power and Light electrical stations in Colstrip. Under the EPA plan, these facilities could be required to install cleansing equipment to reduce their emissions.
The Holcim plant releases two kinds of particles, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which break down to produce haze. The companies are being asked to submit proposals for reducing their pollution, which the EPA evaluates and sometimes adjusts after looking at the best pollution-reducing technology available.
“They provide the cost data and analysis, and sometimes we adjust that, but we’re operating off the same numbers,” said Region 8 Air Program director Carl Daly. “Holcim won’t need any additional controls for sulfur dioxide.”
However, the plan estimates Holcim would pay more than $6.2 million to install a combination of burners and chemical-reduction equipment to decrease the volume of nitrogen oxides it releases. Once the equipment is in place, the analysis predicts a marked improvement in park visibility.
Holcim spokeswoman Robin DeCarlo said the company has a good relationship with the EPA and is talking with EPA managers. She said the international company tries to be a responsible manufacturer.
In the U.S., the company has 13 manufacturing facilities and 70 distribution terminals. In 2010, Holcim reported a profit of $1.13 billion, according to Fortune Magazine.
“Since there hasn’t been a final ruling yet, it’s hard to determine what the costs will be, but we’re looking at many scenarios,” DeCarlo said. “We are preparing comments.”
All states were required under the Clean Air Act to have a haze program by 2007. But by January 2009, 37 states, including Montana, had yet to comply.
The EPA approved South Dakota’s haze program on March 29. As a result, the state’s Big Stone electrical station will install a $125 million air quality control system and intends to recover the costs by increasing customers’ rates.
Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Eric Merchant said Montana gave the regional haze management program back to the EPA because its resources were too limited to oversee the program.
“Ultimately, we’ll be in charge of implementing this plan along with our open-burning program when it is approved,” Merchant said.
The EPA’s haze reduction plan and Montana’s visibility plan, which includes an amended smoke management section, are now open for public comment until June 19.
Daly said he expects to receive a lot of comments. But the comment evaluation period will be short, because the EPA must finalize its plan by Aug. 15.
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