June 7, 2021

Commissioner Anthony Hatton
Melissa K. Duff, Director, Division for Air Quality
Department for Environmental Protection
300 Sower Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Frankfort, KY 40601

Dear Commissioner Hatton and Director Duff,

On behalf of the below-listed community, health, and conservation groups, we are concerned that Kentucky is heading toward failing to meet its obligations under the Clean Air Act to restore visibility in protected areas like Mammoth Cave National Park. Should the state not correct the course as recommended below, it will fall short of its duties under the Act and miss critical opportunities not only to improve conditions in these treasured places but also to achieve other benefits of protecting communities from harmful air pollution and reducing climate pollution.

The Clean Air Act’s regional haze provisions, 42 U.S.C. § 7491, protect public lands and communities from harmful air pollution by requiring states to make reasonable progress toward restoring natural visibility at designated national parks and wilderness areas. Under this program, Kentucky must regularly assess its progress toward restoring visibility, analyze possible reductions from air pollution sources and present an implementation plan that incorporates additional measures to improve visibility to EPA for approval. If the plan does not meet federal standards, EPA cannot approve it and must instead issue a federal implementation plan for the state.

Given serious concerns with the approach of VISTAS, the regional planning organization that conducted the modeling (described below), we ask that the Division for Air Quality promptly expand the list of sources from which it requests a four-factor reasonable progress review to include, at the least, coal-fired power plants like Ghent Station, Trimble Station, and the Mill Creek Station which is in an environmental justice community. This category of sources constitutes Kentucky’s largest sector of visibility-harming air pollution as these facilities have extremely high Q/d, which divides total emissions by the distance to Class I areas.

We also ask that DAQ request from sources analyses of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) pollution reduction options, instead of exclusively and improperly focusing only on sulfur dioxide (SO2). Nitrogen oxides and PM (as well as Volatile Organic Compounds) are all contributors to the formation of haze. KY’s approach to narrowly focusing on SO2 is leading the state to avoid consideration of large, polluting sources of haze emissions and needs to be adjusted.

Many of our members live near coal-fired power plants and have lived with the negative consequences of their air pollution for decades. The pollutants mentioned above not only cause haze, but they also contribute to or worsen asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses and are linked with increased death rates from COVID-19. Yet DAQ has requested “four-factor analyses” of pollution control options from just two sources. This limited approach unreasonably takes possible visibility improvements off the table without even considering them. For the sources that DAQ is reviewing, we urge you to require enforceable retirements for TVA’s Shawnee facility within the Regional Haze planning period of 2028 and ensure full control for NOx and SO2 emissions or enforceable retirement by 2028 for the Big Rivers’ Wilson Station.

It is not enough for DAQ to say it is merely following methodology and modeling it has developed in coordination with other Southeastern states (VISTAS). DAQ has the jurisdiction and authority to go above and beyond the restrictive, limited scope proposed through the VISTAS process to include a more thorough list of sources for consideration that better reflect pollution contributions to Class I areas. EPA has made clear that states must choose a reasonable methodology, and reasonably explain their decision. EPA has recommended that states include sources that account for roughly 80 percent of visibility impacts. Kentucky’s selection of two sources is nowhere near this benchmark. Indeed, a reasonable approach to selecting sources would also capture additional non-coal sources throughout the state that significantly harm visibility, instead of only the two sources DAQ identified.

National Parks Conservation Association commissioned an expert modeler to better understand the VISTAS approach and found critical problems with the VISTAS model itself as well as the approach recommended to Southeastern states. Based on this assessment of the independent expert, separate NPCA analysis and information provided by states and federal land managers, we believe Southeastern states are omitting review and consideration of controls for numerous sources that emit a significant level of visibility impairing pollution in their second-round regional haze plans. 

Problems include reliance on outdated nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution inputs and modeling assumptions based on expected but not required or assured changes in industrial facility operations. Furthermore, the VISTAS modeling uses unreasonably high thresholds that screen out large polluters. A threshold based on the percentage any single source contributes to visibility pollution at a Class I area is not reasonable where, as in the Southeast, hundreds of polluting sources each contribute to pollution. DAQ cannot justify an approach that leads it to look at just one pollutant and two sources. We encourage DAQ to go above and beyond VISTAS modeling to fully account for the pollution harming Class I areas. 

We thank you for your attention to this important issue. We greatly appreciate your staff’s willingness to meet on this issue to-date and likewise truly appreciate your full consideration to review more pollution sources and consider additional control options to make reasonable progress toward regional haze clean air goals.

Erin Savage
Senior Program Manager
Appalachian Voices
Boone, NC

Phil Francis
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Washington, DC

Lane Boldman
Executive Director
Kentucky Conservation Committee
Frankfort, KY

Cassia Herron
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
London, KY

Attica Scott
State Representative
Kentucky House District 41
Louisville, KY

Tom FitzGerald
Kentucky Resources Council, Inc.
Frankfort, KY

Craig Williams
Program Director
Kentucky Environmental Foundation
Berea, KY

Stephanie Kodish
Senior Director, Climate and Clean Air Programs
National Parks Conservation Association
Knoxville, TN

Wendy K. Bredhold
Senior Campaign Representative
Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
Evansville, IN

Byron Drew Foley
Sierra Club Kentucky Chapter
Louisville, KY