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Las Vegas Sun, July 27, 2009

Report: Coal-fired power plants would affect Great Basin National Park
Air quality and visibility would be reduced, report says

By Mary Manning

Both air quality and visibility would be affected in the Great Basin National Park if one or both of two coal-fired power plants were operated in White Pine County, a Government Accountability Office report said.

The park, created in 1986 as a representative 77,000 acres of the larger Great Basin, has some of the cleanest air and best visibility in the United States, the GAO report said.

GAO investigators, who studied the issued from September 2008 until July, said that even slight increases in air pollution in the vicinity of the park could cause major decreases in visibility.

Two companies that initiated a review process to build new coal-fired power plants about 55 miles northwest of Great Basin National Park, near the city of Ely, announced indefinite postponement of their projects earlier this year. White Pine Energy Associates, LLC, an affiliate of LS Power Development LLC, proposed the White Pine Energy Station, and Sierra Pacific Resources, now NV Energy, proposed the Ely Energy Center.

Under the Clean Air Act, which protects human health and welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency established national air quality standards for six pollutants and specific levels of each pollutant. The six pollutants are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, lead and ozone. Coal-fired power plants are major sources of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

Nitrogen oxides combine with other airborne chemicals and sunlight to form ozone.

The National Park Service, which manages Great Basin National Park, measured ozone in the park that exceeded the new eight-hour standard of 75 parts per billion. The measurement on one day in 2008 was 76 parts per billion. Park officials said they did not know where the ozone was coming from, because the park is remote.

The GAO said that some people interviewed in the review, including residents of White Pine County, who said the coal-fired power plants would create jobs, said the park would meet the stricter EPA air quality standards.

But the National Park Service, environmental groups and three Indian tribes fear that the coal-fired power plants would pollute the Great Basin National Park's air. The GAO report was completed for congressional review.

© Las Vegas Sun, 2009

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton