Conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today 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.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (NPS)
Top: Good visibility day. Visual range: 124 miles.
Bottom: Bad visibility day. Visual range: 26 miles.
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.
Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club. The groups 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.
“Americans deserve to breathe clean air and actually see the magnificent views when they visit our National Parks,” said Earthjustice Coal Program Director Abigail Dillen.
Haze pollution contributes to heart attacks, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, respiratory illness and even premature death.
“Thirty-five years ago, a bipartisan Congress recognized the importance of clean air in our nation’s most treasured public lands like Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks,” said NPCA Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “By mandating the cleanup of outdated coal plants and other polluting facilities near these areas, Congress sought to guarantee access to fresh, clear, clean air for future generations of Americans. It is the EPA’s obligation to fulfill the promises made in the Clean Air Act, instead of undermining this important legislation.”
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.
“Our parks and public lands are a national treasure and we must ensure that they are protected from dirty and dangerous coal-fired pollution,” said May Anne Hitt Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. “These places should stand as an example of America's best work to ensure a clean and healthy future for our children, our communities and our wild places. We call on the EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act for all polluters in order to preserve these beautiful spaces and protect the people who call them home.”
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.