Earthjustice Argues for Quicker Action to Clean Air in National Parks and Wilderness Areas

Public interest law firm charges EPA with failure to safeguard nation's scenic treasures




Suzanne Carrier, x. 213

Earthjustice argued in federal court today that the government’s program designed to clean and reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas is grossly inadequate. According to Earthjustice attorney David Baron, the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan would allow states hundreds of years to eliminate air pollution-caused haze in our nation’s beautiful outdoor places.

“Haze has become a pervasive problem, reducing visibility in such national treasures as Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite National Parks,” said Baron. “EPA needs to address the issue immediately, to restore clear skies in the nation’s crown jewels.”

The Clean Air Act required EPA 20 years ago to adopt rules that would assure progress toward achieving natural visibility conditions in 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 within its borders. Earthjustice contends that this will let states delay cleanup for hundreds of years.

“EPA needs to take responsibility for restoring the beauty and health of these majestic places,” said Dr. Bob Palzer, chair of Sierra Club’s national clean air committee. “And we shouldn’t have to wait several generations before we can again enjoy the view in these parks and wilderness areas.”

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.

Filed on behalf of Sierra Club in the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Earthjustice’s 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. The suit also charges that the EPA rules require pollution reductions 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. Earthjustice contends that this conflicts with the Clean Air Act’s goal of eliminating any air pollution visibility impairment in national parks and wilderness areas.

“These areas were set aside to preserve spaces of natural beauty and the Clean Air Act includes air quality as part of that preservation,” said Baron. “The time has come to take better care of our national heritage.”


To see the effects of visibility impairment from air pollution, visit these links:

Big Bend National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Additional Resources

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.