Clean Air Advocates Challenge Weak Air Pollution Requirements for Minnesota’s National Parks and Wilderness Areas

Stronger protections for the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park would improve public health, the economy, and iconic places


Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1029


Christine Goepfert, National Parks Conservation Association, (612) 270-8564


Paul Danicic, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, (612) 332-9630


Jody Tableporter, Voyageurs National Park Association, (612) 333-5424


J. Drake Hamilton, Fresh Energy, (651) 726-7562


Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, (651) 287-4861

Today, in a push for healthier air in Minnesota, clean air groups appealed weak air pollution requirements recently approved for the state by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The groups are challenging the EPA’s decision to approve a significant portion of Minnesota’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan—a weak approach that will not result in cleaning up dirty coal-fired plant pollution.

Visibility impairment from air pollution at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. (EPA)
Above: View on a clear day.
Below: View on a hazy day.

Inadequate air pollution requirements for big polluters risk the public’s health and resources of Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northern Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Minnesota Center of Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, Voyageurs National Park Association and Sierra Club filed the appeal with the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“Minnesotans deserve clean air and a healthy environment,” said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm representing the clean air advocates. “It is unacceptable and inconsistent with long-standing requirements of the law to allow large industrial polluters to continue to dirty the air of treasured national places like the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs—places that are integral to Minnesotans’ history and culture and way of life. EPA should not settle for status quo dirty air in our national parks and wildernesses.”

“Park visitors, neighboring communities and natural resources at these treasured northern landscapes are at risk because of weak air pollution standards,” said Christine Goepfert of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Minnesota and EPA are required to protect these places for our children and grandchildren and must clean up the air so that these parks are cleaner and unspoiled for generations to come. Minnesotans expect and demand no less.”

EPA and Minnesota have failed to get the air cleanup plan right, despite repeated attempts. The plan falls far short of Clean Air Act legal requirements and will allow pollution to continue fouling air quality—affecting the health of local residents and visitors and degrading national park and wilderness resources. The National Park Service and the Forest Service, in their comments, also expressly criticized EPA’s approach because it will not meaningfully reduce pollution.

Both Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Wilderness are significant assets to the region’s economy, contributing over $110 million to Northeastern Minnesota’s tourism and recreation industry.

“The pollutants that cause haze in our national parks are the same pollutants that contribute to heart attacks, asthma attacks and emergency room visits for asthma, chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness,” noted Paul Danicic, Executive Director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Health related costs from hospital admissions, lost work days, and premature death are the hidden price of continued pollution.

“Our iconic national parks and natural lands are our proudest heritage,” said Jody Tableporter of the Voyageurs National Park Association. “We should do all we can to protect these treasures, and target the major polluters instead of relying on pollutant trading that will do little to clean up the park.”

“It’s high time to stop business as usual for old, dirty coal-fired power plants,” said J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy. “Given the host of pollution controls, efficiency, and clean energy options, there is no excuse for the state and EPA to allow the continuation of damaging levels of emissions. Let’s invest in clean energy rather than these dirty old coal plants."

About Regional Haze:

In 1977, Congress set a national goal of clean, haze-free air in our country’s treasured national parks and wilderness areas. But the EPA and the states have repeatedly dragged their feet and delayed complying with the law. The EPA has violated the requirements of the haze program multiple times, with several courts placing the EPA under consent decrees to comply with the law. Indeed, Congress was so frustrated with delays by the EPA and the states that Congress amended the law in 1990 to speed up the protections for air quality. Thirty-five years after Congress set a goal of reducing air pollution in our national parks and wilderness areas, the EPA and Minnesota have only now come out with their first regional haze plan.

Yet the plan proposed is woefully inadequate. Instead of requiring the best available pollution control technology, as the law requires, the proposed haze plan relies on a trading scheme that will not adequately reduce pollution. Other federal agencies heavily criticized the EPA’s plan. The National Park Service and the Forest Service have demonstrated that the Minnesota haze plan does not require the best available pollution controls and will instead result in more air pollution than if the EPA followed the law.

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