Study: Park obscured by pollutants
Power plants hurt visibility at RMNP

By Todd Neff, Camera Staff Writer
November 16, 2005

A dozen power plants and cement factories spanning thousands of square miles hurt visibility in Rocky Mountain National Park, a new state analysis shows.

The Colorado health department's Air Pollution Control Division recently posted the results of computer modeling designed to show where the haze in the national park and 12 other Colorado wilderness areas is coming from. Visibility in Rocky Mountain National Park, the models show, is hurt by 12 of the 14 industrial facilities studied.

The model combines plant data on sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate emissions with meteorological data from three different years.

Locally, the model estimated that the Cemex Inc. plant in Lyons hinders park visibility at least 5 percent on 139 days in the three years modeled, or about 13 percent of the time. Xcel Energy's Valmont Station east of Boulder affects visibility an estimated 130 days over the same period, or about 12 percent of the time.

"We've worked with the department on the development of this regional haze rule and will continue to do so in a way that's going to result in better protection of the environment, taking costs into consideration," said Xcel spokeswoman Margarita Alarcon.

The model said the state's worst offender in terms of Rocky Mountain National Park visibility is west of the Continental Divide: Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in Craig hinders views more than 5 percent a third of the time, and can cut visibility 25 percent or more, the model showed.

Impacts can come from far afield. The model shows two Colorado Springs Utilities power plants affecting park visibility more than 7 percent of the time, and Xcel Energy's Comanche plant in Pueblo has an impact about four days a year.

"I was a little surprised how many (wilderness) areas were affected by some of these sources," said Jana Milford, senior scientist with Environmental Defense in Boulder.

The visibility modeling was done as a step in conforming to new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional-haze regulations to reduce U.S. nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by a million tons annually by 2014.

The EPA in June announced its new rules, based on 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act to clear the air in certain national parks and wilderness areas. They focus on large industrial pollution sources built between 1962 and 1977 whose smokestacks contribute to haze in 156 such places, 12 of which are in Colorado. They include such places as Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and several state wilderness areas.

The new rules require states to use computer models to identify facilities such as coal-fired power plants and petroleum refineries that so-called "best available retrofit technology," or BART, would clean up. Colorado has until December 2007 to create its list.

Mike Silverstein, manager of the planning and policy program at the state health department's Air Pollution Control Division, said the modeling was a "screening exercise" to see what plants may have to submit detailed engineering plans outlining the costs and benefits of pollution-control upgrades.

Silverstein said more detailed modeling is forthcoming. The state Air Quality Control Commission is scheduled to decide on the state's interpretation of the EPA guidelines in December, but Colorado Springs Utilities, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, and Xcel Energy have requested the hearing be delayed until March.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Todd Neff at (303) 473-1327 or

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