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Court Settlement Mandates Stronger Clean Air Measures for Parks and Wilderness

New Deadline Set for Pollution Reductions
August 19, 2003
Washington DC —

Under the terms of a court settlement announced today, the federal government must adopt limits on the air pollution that clouds the skies of national parks and wilderness areas. The settlement requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt rules by early 2005 curbing power plant and factory emissions that obscure scenic vistas in places such as Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Big Bend, Acadia, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks.

The settlement comes in a suit filed on behalf of Environmental Defense by Earthjustice to enforce deadlines in the Clean Air Act. The law required EPA to adopt rules more than 20 years ago to clean up air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas, including setting emission limits on aging power plants and factories that cause much of the problem. Under the agreement announced today, EPA must now adopt these limits by April 2005.

"Cleaning up the power plants and other industrial sources that pollute our national parks and wilderness areas will protect some of the nation's most revered scenic vistas," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. "If well designed, the clean air program required under this settlement will also help the millions of Americans that visit our national parks and live in surrounding regions breathe cleaner, healthier air."

According to the National Park Service, human-caused air pollution impairs visibility in national parks and wilderness areas almost constantly. Average visual range -- the farthest a person can see on a given day -- in most of the Western US is now about one-half to two-thirds of what it would be without man-made air pollution. In most of the east, the average visual range is about one-fifth of what it would be under natural conditions.

Much of the pollution problem comes from old power plants and factories with outdated pollution controls. Emissions from these plants can travel hundreds of miles, contributing to "regional haze" that obscures scenic vistas over large areas. Today's settlement requires EPA to set standards for retrofitting these facilities with modern pollution control technology.

"This settlement is a big step toward cleaning up the air in our national parks and wilderness areas," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "The law sets a national goal of clearing the skies in these special places, for the enjoyment and inspiration of present and future generations. The pollution limits required under this settlement are long overdue."

A previous EPA attempt to adopt such limits was overturned by a federal appeals court last year as a result of an industry challenge. The court did not question EPA's duty to adopt the pollution limits, but held that the prior rules improperly infringed on state authority in certain respects. Today's settlement puts EPA on track to address the Court's concerns, and propose new rules by April 2004 and adopt final rules by April 2005.

The settlement must go through a public comment process and requires approval by the Court before it is finalized.

Earthjustice is the nonprofit law firm for the environment representing -- without charge -- hundreds of public interest clients, large and small. Earthjustice works through the courts to safeguard public lands, national forests, parks and wilderness areas; to reduce air and water pollution; to prevent toxic contamination; to preserve endangered species and wildlife habitat; and to achieve environmental justice.

Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense has linked science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems.

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Pictures of haze in National Parks

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