The long-term health of national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges across the eastern U.S. states, and of the communities that depend on them, could be in jeopardy if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempts some of the oldest and highest polluting coal-fired power plants from installing the Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART). A coalition of national, regional and state groups released a report today that shows how EPA’s proposed BART rule exemption will deprive parks and communities of the protections they need to achieve the cleanest possible air.
The report—“Cleaning up the Haze: Protecting People and America’s Treasured Places”—was released by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Clean Air Task Force, Earthjustice, Midwest Environmental Defense Center, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Sierra Club, and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“In 1977, a bipartisan Congress recognized the importance of clean air in our nation’s most treasured public lands like the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks” said NPCA Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “By mandating the cleanup of outdated coal plants and other industries near these areas, Congress sought to guarantee access to fresh, clear, clean air for future generations of Americans.”
The EPA’s proposed BART rule exemption would allow 28 states in the eastern U.S. to avoid compliance with the BART program and instead rely on emissions reduction requirements under the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). BART requires the majority of remaining large antiquated coal-fired power plants that impair air at national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges designated as “Class I areas” under the Clean Air Act to be evaluated for pollution controls that will reduce or eliminate excess emissions. The “Cleaning up the Haze: Protecting People and American Treasured Places” report shows how dozens of coal plants in the eastern U.S. that pollute Class I areas will be subject to less rigorous air pollution controls under CSAPR than they would face under the BART program.
“The proposed BART rule exemption would allow nearly 150 coal plant units to avoid installing the most effective pollution controls, controls that are necessary for achieving emission rates routinely required at coal plants nationwide,” said Abbie Dillen with Earthjustice. “EPA must drop its proposal to guarantee that these plants are fully cleaned up for the benefit of our parks, our health, and the economic vitality of gateway communities that depend on tourism and recreation.”
“EPA’s proposed exemption is an unacceptable loophole—it would allow Xcel Energy to do nothing to clean up the Sherco power plant, the largest, dirtiest Minnesota coal plant polluting the Boundary Waters, Voyageurs National Park and Isle Royale,” said Beth Goodpaster, MCEA Clean Energy Program Director.
By protecting the air quality of Class I areas, they will attract more people and boost local economies. Visitors to national parks and wilderness areas consistently rate visibility and clear scenic vistas as one of the most important aspects of their experience. Studies have found that eliminating haze from power plants impacting from the nation’s treasured landscapes will add an economic value of an estimated $5.62 billion dollars a year.
“Every summer there dozens of days when it’s unhealthy to hike, bike and exercise in parks because of air pollution,” said Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign director Mary Anne Hitt. “By requiring the best available pollution controls, the EPA can help ensure that millions of Americans stay healthy while enjoying the outdoors. Stronger protections are also essential for local economies. In places like the Smoky Mountains, where I grew up, the tourism economy relies on clean air.”
The report makes two key recommendations for improving the EPA’s proposed alternative. It asks that the EPA require emission reductions to occur at the coal plants that actually affect Class I areas. It also urges EPA to ensure that the best pollution controls are required at each of these polluting sources.