The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to adopt rules protecting vital ecosystems across the U.S. from harmful air pollution levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The settlement between EPA and Environmental Defense will aid in protecting premier ecosystems that are hard hit by excessive NOx pollution, including the Adirondacks, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Rocky Mountains. The parties to the settlement were notified late Monday that the settlement has been approved by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In January, the National Academy of Sciences issued a well-publicized report finding that the protection of ecosystems from airborne contaminants “has not received appropriate attention” and calling for enhanced safeguards.
Under the court-ordered agreement, which resolves a legal action Environmental Defense initiated last July, EPA must issue a proposed rule by September 30, 2004 and a final rule by September 30, 2005.
“This settlement clears the way for effective measures to protect vital ecosystems from harmful air pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Kefer, who represented Environmental Defense in the lawsuit and settlement negotiations. “The Clean Air Act has long called for the protection of the nation’s most revered natural areas and now it is time to make this a reality.”
“The National Academy of Sciences recently found that EPA is missing the mark in protecting the nation’s ecosystems from air pollution,” said Vickie Patton, a senior attorney at Environmental Defense. “This legal settlement requires EPA to take decisive action to strengthen the safeguards for our forests, lakes, streams and soils that are hard hit by air pollution.”
Oxides of nitrogen contribute to a host of adverse environmental impacts including smog-related ecosystem damage, excess nitrogen deposition and acidification in forests and streams, oxygen depletion in coastal water bodies, and haze that obscures scenic vistas. According to the National Park Service, ground-level ozone pollution (smog) is worsening in a number of America’s national parks. While EPA recently found that the smog level in some national parks violates federal health-based standards, action is also necessary to lower smog levels in many other national parks where current smog levels are associated with significant ecosystem damage. Vegetation damage caused by high ozone smog pollution is harming ecosystems in parks, including Shenandoah, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains. Plants sensitive to smog pollution include quaking aspen, red maple, Jeffrey pine, paper birch, eastern white pine, American sycamore, and flowering dogwood trees.
In addition, nitrogen deposition is acidifying lakes and streams in the East, and altering high altitude ecosystems in the Rockies. Analysis by the United States Geological Survey shows that nitrogen-related deposition has significantly worsened across the interior West over the past fifteen years. Important coastal water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay suffer oxygen depletion due in part to excessive nitrogen deposition. The National Park Service has also found that air pollution currently impairs visibility to some degree in every national park; with the average visual range in most of the Western U.S. now about one-half to two-thirds of what it would be without manmade air pollution. In most of the East, the average visual range is about one-fifth of what it would be under natural conditions.
PDF of settlement agreement
PDF of settlement order