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Challenging Weak Regulations to Clean Up Haze in National Parks

What's at Stake

Earthjustice has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force the clean-up of polluting coal plants that degrade visibility and harm human health in national parks, wilderness areas, and other public lands.

Case Overview

The effects of haze on visibility at
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (NPS)
Top: Good visibility day. Visual range: 124 miles.
Bottom: Bad visibility day. Visual range: 26 miles.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force the clean-up of polluting coal plants that degrade visibility and harm human health in national parks, wilderness areas, and other public lands.

The groups are challenging a recent EPA rule that allows aging coal plants to avoid installing up-to-date emission controls if they are located in states that participate in an emissions trading program. They stress that the proposed Clean Air Act exemption, which would apply in the 28 states subject to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), would significantly set back long overdue progress on cleaning up poor air quality at many of the nation’s most treasured public lands.

Haze pollution contributes to heart attacks, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, respiratory illness and even premature death. Exempting some of the oldest and highest polluting coal-fired power plants from installing the Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) threatens the health of national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges across the eastern U.S. states, and of the communities connected to them.

EPA’s own data shows that visibility is impaired “virtually all the time at most national parks and wilderness areas.” Visibility in the western United States is about 60–100 miles, or half to two-thirds what it would be without human-caused air pollution. In the eastern United States, the average visual range is less than 20 miles, or approximately one-fifth of the visibility range under natural conditions.

Case Updates