A federal judge today approved a court settlement requiring the federal government to limit 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 decision, entered over industry objections, 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 settlement approved by the Court today, EPA must now adopt these limits by April 2005.
“This court decision underscores the urgent need to clean up the power plant pollution that casts a veil of haze over our national parks,” said Michael Shore, senior air policy analyst for Environmental Defense. “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Much of the pollution problem comes from old power plants and factories with outdated pollution controls.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 decision 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 appeals 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 district court decision puts EPA on track to address these concerns, and adopt final rules by April 2005.
Today’s decision was issued by Judge Ricardo Urbina of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
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.
Link to webcams and pictures of haze in National Parks