Appeals court blocks pollution rules for Wyoming power plants while appeal runs its course

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can't force several Wyoming power plants to install new pollution-control equipment while the state's legal challenge to federal regulations plays out in court, an appeals court panel ruled Tuesday.

Wyoming has proposed less stringent pollution controls on coal-fired power plants than those the EPA says are required to reduce regional haze in national parks and wilderness areas. Wyoming has appealed the federal agency's rejection of aspects of its plan.

A two-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Tuesday granted a request from Wyoming and several power companies to halt implementation of the EPA rules on units at three power plants in the state while the legal challenge is pending. The facilities at issue are the Wyodak, Laramie River and Dave Johnson plants.

Gov. Matt Mead hailed the panel's decision as a victory.

"Wyoming has a solid and effective plan. The rejection of Wyoming's plan by the EPA was wrong," Mead said. "This decision sends a message to the federal government and affirms Wyoming's leadership in these important areas."

Mead said the federal Clean Air Act gives states wide discretion to meet the objectives of the law, and said the regional haze rule relates to aesthetics and not human health.

Wyoming's appeal of its regional haze plan has drawn several power companies to side with the state. The industry is eager to avoid what it says will be hefty costs of installing the pollution-control equipment the EPA rule would require.

Several environmental groups also have weighed in on the case. Such groups as the Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council are challenging EPA approval of some aspects of the state plan they believe are too lax while defending parts of the federal agency's plan from challenges from the state and industry.

Katherine O'Brien, a Bozeman, Montana, lawyer representing environmental groups in the case, said her clients are arguing against the state's plan calling for less stringent pollution control technology than the EPA wants at the power plants.

O'Brien also said her clients would take issue with Wyoming's position that public health has no bearing on Tuesday's court ruling.

"Wyoming simply disregards the fact that delaying the implementation of appropriate pollution controls has serious impacts on the public health of citizens of Wyoming," O'Brien said. She noted her clients have submitted a report to the court from a public health expert saying air pollution can cause premature death, asthma and other respiratory problems.

Bruce Pendery, lawyer with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said his group was disappointed with the court's decision.

"We had supported leaving the EPA regulation in place during the pendency of this litigation, and the court has made a decision that it will stay the effectiveness of the EPA regulation for the time being," Pendery said.

However, Pendery said the long-term implications of the court decision are uncertain. He noted the courts have blocked implementation of similar EPA plans in other states before ultimately upholding the federal agency's approach. He said it might take longer than a year to resolve the lawsuit.

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