Conservation Organizations Challenge Weak Air Pollution Standards in North Dakota

Urge reinstatement of earlier, stronger protections


Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2098


Jeff Billington, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3717


Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, (512) 289-8618,

Conservation organizations appealed the weak federal air pollution standards approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for coal-fired power plants in North Dakota. The groups urged the EPA to instead implement more protective air pollution safeguards it had suggested last year before reversing itself in the face of pressure from big polluters.

The effects of air pollutants at Theodore Roosevelt NP, North Dakota is visible: clear to hazy, from top to bottom. (NPS)

The health and welfare of ten national park and wilderness treasures—along with hundreds of thousands of North Dakota and neighboring states’ residents—are at risk because of weak air pollution standards. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Sierra Club filed the appeal Tuesday with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, represented by Earthjustice.

“By abandoning plans to significantly reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants in North Dakota EPA is condemning North Dakotans, national parks across the upper Midwest, and tourists that drive local economies to unhealthy air,” said Stephanie Kodish, clean air counsel for NPCA. “EPA’s original pollution reduction plan must be reinstated to grant North Dakota the same air protections afforded to the rest of the country.”

“For years EPA has delayed enforcing the Clean Air Act’s requirements to clean up old coal plants and clear the haze that is a blight in National Parks. Now that the agency is finally taking action, it is requiring half measures that won’t achieve the readily achievable pollution reductions we need,” said Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen. “It’s a case of too little too late.”

The EPA originally proposed more stringent pollution rules but were forced by pressure from big industrial polluters to weaken them. In 2011, EPA proposed adequate pollution controls that would have resulted in cleaner, healthier air. Unfortunately, North Dakota officials argued against the more effective technology and succeeded in getting EPA to back down and approve weaker standards that will allow significant and unnecessary air pollution.

“There should be no more delays in cleaning up the dirty air in these majestic places,” said Wayde Schafer, of the Sierra Club. “Local residents and visitors alike should be able to enjoy unpolluted views in national parks and wilderness areas and not have to worry about breathing polluted, dirty air.”

If the EPA’s originally proposed plan had been approved, the Milton R. Young and Leland Olds coal-fired power plants, among others, would need to install the same effective pollution control technology, “selective catalytic reduction” (“SCR”), that is operating successfully at other plants around the country. While EPA is requiring other plants in other states to install SCR to address longstanding haze problems, it has given the North Dakota plants permission to rely on less effective technology.

The final plan fails to adequately reduce pollution, leaving places like Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and Badlands and Wind Cave national parks in South Dakota as well as residents across the region, without clean air. The groups are also concerned that EPA’s approval of weaker standards in North Dakota is indicative of an emerging agency trend that puts pressure from big polluters ahead of air quality and meaningful implementation of the Clean Air Act.

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