County works with Gov.'s office on Jim Bridger shutdown postponement

“Sweetwater County is so important to what may or may not happen in the state of Wyoming,” Randall Luthi, the Chief Energy Policy Advisor to Governor Gordon, said during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

Luthi was invited by Commissioner Mary Thoman to speak to the commission and give an update on the state of Jim Bridger Power Plant after Governor Mark Gordon recently ordered a postponement to the partial shutdown. Luthi is from Freedom, Wyoming and served in the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1995 to 2007 and was Speaker of the House for his last term. Luthi worked in Washington, D.C. before returning to Wyoming to work for Governor Gordon.

Speaking through Zoom from his office in Cheyenne, Luthi gave the commissioners an overview of what’s going on with the Jim Bridger Power Plant. The situation started back in 2014, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a state implementation plan (SIP) that gave guidelines about regional haze and particulate visual matter visible from state parks and national monuments. This SIP meant the four coal-fired units at the Jim Bridger Power Plant would need special pollution equipment. Rocky Mountain Power put the equipment on two of the units, and in 2019 the company requested different requirements for the remaining two units, reducing the amount those units run. The EPA initially agreed to this plan. However, when the presidential administration changed, the new administration decided to go back to the original requirements.

Rocky Mountain Power wouldn’t have had time to put the pollution equipment onto the two units in the time provided, Luthi explained. They argued for a revised plan, and sent an intent to sue when they didn’t receive an answer. Recently the EPA advised they wouldn’t approve the state implementation plan, so in order to avoid the shutdown of the second unit at Jim Bridger, Governor Gordon put in a suspension order that gives four months to find a solution. While the EPA could challenge the suspension order, Luthi said there is no indication they will, since it complies with the Clean Air Act.

One current long-term solution being considered is converting the two units in question to natural gas. Rocky Mountain Power put this option into an integrated resource plan they put together last summer, and it appears the EPA would support it.

Luthi said the Governor’s office is taking a close look at this option, since shutting down coal-fired units affects the coal industry.

“That’s of great concern to us, if Bridger were to close down any earlier than it’s already scheduled,” Chairman Jeff Smith said.

“The governor shares your concern,” Luthi answered. “It’s our goal that we don’t shut down any coal-fired units before their time. In fact we’re looking at ways to try and extend them.”

Thoman also brought up ongoing discussions about sage grouse habitat and the oil and gas industry in Wyoming.

“The Biden administration is not complying even with the orders to be acting legally and it’s very disturbing as it affects our energy industry in this county and this state,” Thoman said.

“As you might guess, it drives us crazy as well,” Luthi replied.

Luthi told the commissioners the Governor’s office will work directly with them and keep them up to speed on the situation with Jim Bridger, although it’s still too early to say what will happen at this time. The Governor’s four-month postponement will extend to the first of May.

“These issues are — I mean, they’re crucial to our county. It’s do or die,” Thoman said.

“As Sweetwater goes, often goes Wyoming,” Luthi said. He explained future technologies like carbon capture would be a perfect fit for Wyoming, and Sweetwater County often acts as a “microcosm” for the rest of the state.

 

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