Letters from the West

Simplot pays fine, agrees to add pollution controls to Pocatello sulfur plant

J.R. Simplot's Pocatello sulfuric acid plant will get $15 million in pollution control upgrades as the result of a settlement with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

The settlement resolves alleged Clean Air Act violations related to modifications made at Simplot’s five sulfuric acid plants near Lathrop, California, Pocatello, and Rock Springs, Wyo. Under the settlement, Simplot will spend an estimated $42 million on pollution controls that will significantly cut sulfur dioxide emissions at all five plants and fund a wood stove replacement project in the area surrounding the Lathrop plant.

Once fully implemented, the settlement will reduce SO2 emissions from Simplot’s five sulfuric acid plants by more than 50 percent or 2,540 tons per year, 825 tons per year from the Pocatello plant. Simplot will implement a plan to monitor SO2emissions continuously at all five plants and pay an $899,000 civil penalty.

“The people of southeastern Idaho will receive significant benefits from the cleaner air and better health produced by this settlement,” said U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson for the District of Idaho. “I am pleased that the federal government and the J.R. Simplot Co. are able to reach this agreement that serves Idahoans so well.”

The Department of Justice and EPA alleged that Simplot made modifications at its five sulfuric acid plants without applying for or obtaining the necessary Clean Air Act permits and obtaining “best available control technology” limits for SO2, as well as for sulfuric acid mist and PM2.5 at one of the sulfuric acid plants in Pocatello.

Simplot said in a statement: “Although Simplot obtained air quality permits or approvals from state and/or local air quality agencies for these modifications, EPA alleged that different permits and emission controls were required at Simplot’s plants in Pocatello, Idaho, Rock Springs, Wyo., and Lathrop, Calif. Simplot denied the allegations by EPA, but agreed to meet lower emission limitations at all its plants, rather than proceed with litigation.”

Short-term exposures to SO2 can lead to serious respiratory problems, including constriction of airways in the lungs and increased asthma symptoms. Additionally, SO2 is a precursor to the formation of PM2.5, which causes a wide variety of health and environmental impacts, including asthma attacks, reduced lung function and aggravation of existing heart disease.

The state of Idaho on behalf of its Department of Environmental Quality and the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District are parties to the proposed settlement. The consent decree formalizing the settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court in the District of Idaho and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker