Earthjustice filed papers in federal court late Friday charging that a federal program aimed at cleaning and reducing air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas is woefully inadequate. Friday’s filing charges that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s program would allow states hundreds of years to eliminate air pollution-caused haze that affects such national treasures as Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks. Earthjustice contends that the Clean Air Act requires a much stronger program that will ensure clear skies in these areas of great scenic beauty.
The Clean Air Act required EPA 20 years ago to adopt rules that would assure progress toward achieving natural visibility conditions in the national parks and wilderness areas. Although EPA finally adopted rules in 1999, it let each state decide how quickly to clean up air pollution in the parks and wilderness sites that are within its borders. Friday’s court action contends that this will let states delay cleanup for hundreds of years. “In our view, EPA has shirked its duty to clean up the dirty air in these majestic places,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “We should not have to wait two, three, or four generations before people can enjoy unpolluted views in national parks and wilderness areas.”
Filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club in the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the suit challenges EPA rules required under the Clean Air Act to clean up visibility impairment in national parks and wilderness areas throughout the United States. According to the National Park Service, human-caused air pollution impairs visibility in these areas almost constantly. Average visual range in most of the Western US is 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. The haze problem is caused by inadequately controlled pollution emissions from power plants, factories, motor vehicles, and other sources.
The suit also charges that the EPA rules address pollution only during 20 percent of the most impaired days each year. On the remaining days, the rules allow visibility impairment to stay the same, and in some cases actually worsen. Friday’s filing contends that this conflicts with the Clean Air Act’s goal of eliminating any air pollution visibility impairment in national parks and wilderness areas.
“It’s time to put an end to foot-dragging in cleaning up the air in our national parks and wilderness areas,” said Bob Palzer, chair of Sierra Club’s national clean air committee. “These special places were set aside for the enjoyment and inspiration of present and future generations.”
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.
Link to pictures of haze in National Parks