DENVER – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given final approval to Colorado’s strategy to reduce pollution, which relies on switching some coal-fired power plants to natural gas.
Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the decision on the regional haze plan Tuesday, praising it as a collaborative effort by utilities, environmentalists, the natural-gas and oil industry and others.
“We embrace this success as a model for continuing to balance economic growth with wise public policy that protects community health and our environmental values,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.
In 2010, the Legislature passed a law pushing the state’s two investor-owned utilities, Xcel Energy and Black Hills Corp., to switch some units to natural gas. Environmentalists and the gas industry both lobbied for the bill, but the coal industry fought it, warning it would cost the state jobs.
Overall, the plan aims to reduce pollutants by 70,000 tons a year at 16 facilities across Colorado, including power plants and cement kilns. That includes 35,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, which cause smog. The plan also includes continuing existing emissions testing for vehicles along the Front Range.
States had to submit plans to reduce pollution-caused haze in national parks and wilderness areas under the 1977 Clean Air Act. Colorado is home to 12 of the 156 sites nationwide that must be cleaned up, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.
The regional haze results from sulfates and nitrates from coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers, as well as automobiles, carbon from fires, soot and windblown dust.