National Park Service air quality monitoring data show ozone “smog” worsening at national parks across the country. The intermountain West, a vast region that is home to some of the most spectacular natural areas in the nation, is especially hard hit and federal data show smog levels worsening over the past decade from Yellowstone in the north to Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde national parks in the south. At the same time, there are over 20 major new coal plants proposed for this region that will only further increase smog forming nitrogen oxide (NOX) pollution in western national parks.
Today, conservation groups are challenging in federal court EPA’s refusal to strengthen rules required by the Clean Air Act to protect air quality in national parks, wilderness, seashores, and other important natural areas from NOX pollution. In 1990, a federal court of appeals instructed EPA to go back to the drawing board to ensure its rules meet the Clean Air Act’s mandate to protect air quality in national parks. But after 15 years of delay in responding to the court’s order, EPA merely readopted the same program that has already proven to be inadequate.
“It’s inexcusable for EPA to adopt a ‘business as usual’ policy, when the National Park Service has documented that smog pollution is worsening at national parks across the intermountain West from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “EPA is flouting the bedrock protections of the Clean Air Act and an overwhelming body of scientific research in failing to protect national parks from smog-forming pollution.”
Earthjustice is representing Environmental Defense in the litigation filed today in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Case No. 05-1446). The suit challenges an October 12, 2005 decision by EPA to leave in place existing limits on NOX air pollution in the skies over important natural areas. Oxides of nitrogen are gases that contribute to smog and haze. This pollution travels along prevailing winds towards national parks, monuments and other pristine areas, forming smog and particles that damage health and limit visibility, and contributing to nitrogen and acid deposition.
High NOX also damages ecosystems in parks, wilderness, and coastal areas. In August 2005, for example, 41% of the Chesapeake Bay had too little oxygen to support a healthy ecosystem, due in part to nitrogen deposited into the Bay from air pollution. Deposition of reactive nitrogen is also damaging alpine ecosystems in the Rockies and Cascades, threatening them with loss of native fish and plant species.