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EPA’s new rule to cut downwind pollution from power plants impacts Mountain West states

An image of a coal-fired power plant with a smokestack billowing white smoke into the air in Utah. In the background are mountains and a cloudy blue sky.
Jimmy Emerson
Flickr Creative Commons
PacifiCorp’s coal-fired Huntington power plant in Utah. According to the EPA, smokestack emissions from power plants and factories in Nevada and Utah blow east into Colorado.

A new rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency aims to reduce pollution from coal-burning power plants and factories in nearly two dozen states. That’s to improve the air quality for people living downwind – an issue in the Mountain West.

Smokestack emissions from power plants and factories in Nevada and Utah blow east into Colorado, according to the EPA. At the same time, air pollution from industrial facilities in California travels to Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, among other states.

However, the EPA’s new “good neighbor” rule forces facilities to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide. The pollutant causes smog and is linked to a wide range of health problems, including asthma, lung disease and premature death.

Paul Billings, national senior vice president of public policy at the American Lung Association, said this is a crucial move to help communities breathe cleaner air.

“Cutting ozone pollution is really important to protect the health of everyone, particularly those that are most vulnerable,” Billings said. “So this rule will really help to address that pollution that’s causing this harm.”

The new regulations will take effect later this year for power plants and in 2026 for factories. The EPA estimates these changes will cut emissions of nitrogen oxide in the affected states by 50% from 2021 levels by 2027.

Moreover, the agency predicts it will prevent 1,300 premature deaths and 1.3 million cases of asthma. It’s also expected to avoid more than 2,300 hospital visits, 430,000 lost school days and 25,000 missed work days.

Notably, Idaho and Wyoming are generally not affected by interstate pollution.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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