Late Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) re-issued flawed rules declared unlawful more than a decade ago on nitrogen air pollution allowed in national parks and other vital natural areas. The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires EPA’s rules to be strong enough to protect parks, wilderness areas, lakes, and estuaries from harmful air pollution. EPA is flouting this requirement by failing to strengthen old rules that have proven woefully inadequate. EPA’s “business as usual” approach will allow increased pollution from many new and expanded factories without the strong pollution controls required by the CAA.
“EPA has turned its back on the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and leading scientists across the federal government who have called for meaningful policy action to protect our national parks and forests, lakes and coastal waters from air pollution,” said Dr. Jana Milford, Environmental Defense senior scientist.
EPA re-issued the same rules that were overturned by a federal court of appeals in 1990 in a successful legal challenge brought by Environmental Defense. The 1990 court of appeals decision instructed EPA to re-work its rules to protect national parks from nitrogen air pollution. After waiting more than a dozen years for EPA action, Environmental Defense and Earthjustice took legal action to compel EPA’s response, issued yesterday. Unfortunately, EPA re-instated the same rules declared unlawful in 1990.
In June, EPA issued controversial rules required to protect national parks from haze air pollution. Yesterday’s rules were required to limit the levels of nitrogen pollution in national parks and other vital natural areas where the health of forests, lakes, and coastal waters are threatened.
National Academy of Sciences Recommends Protection of Natural Systems In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences issued a landmark report on the state of the nation’s air quality in which it pointedly found EPA had not adequately protected ecosystems in its administration of clean air laws. Yesterday’s action ignores these recommendations and adopts a policy already declared unlawful.
Nitrogen’s Suite of Adverse Impacts Nitrogen air pollution is a key ingredient in the ground-level ozone that threatens human health, crops and plants. Nitrogen transforms into particulate pollution that harms human health and cloaks scenic vistas in haze. Nitrogen-related deposition harms the chemistry of lakes, streams, forests and soils, threatening vegetation and fish. Excessive nitrogen deposited in coastal waters can cause algal blooms and oxygen depletion.
New Federal Report Documents Natural Systems at Risk A new, quietly released interagency report documents the continued air pollution threats to ecosystems in the Northeast (including the Catskills and Adirondacks), the southern Appalachians and the Rockies. The White House-coordinated report shows the benefits of pollution reductions for natural systems and demonstrates the need for cuts beyond those currently in place. The Department of Energy, EPA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, NASA and NOAA collaborated on the report.
Worsening Nitrogen Pollution in National Parks Nitrogen pollution levels need to be lower, but in some national parks nitrogen pollution levels are worsening. For example, National Park Service monitors positioned across a broad region of the Rocky Mountain West show worsening ozone and nitrate levels over the past decade in parks ranging from Yellowstone in the north to Grand Canyon National Park and Bandelier National Monument in the south.