A broad coalition of advocates and concerned citizen groups will today travel to Washington, D.C., to voice their opinions of proposed changes to the Regional Haze Rule, a program of the Clean Air Act (CAA). At a public hearing hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these individuals and organizations will be supporting provisions to strengthen the existing rule and calling out areas that weaken or delay clean air protections for America’s most iconic national parks and wilderness areas and the people who visit and depend on them.
The proposed changes to the Regional Haze Rule include enhancing state accountability for reducing pollution that contributes to national park and wilderness air quality problems, regardless of whether the state has these protected places within its borders; requiring states to support their haze plans with more robust technical analyses; and enhancing the role of the National Park Service and other federal land managers by better integrating their participation and expertise in the regional haze planning process.
"On the 100-year anniversary of our national park system, it's essential that we protect these national treasures from the dangerous air pollution that results from weak clean air protections. Air pollution still threatens many of our national parks, the vitality of local economies that depend on them, and the health of visiting families and nearby communities," said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "We plan to vigorously advocate for the strongest Regional Haze standard possible from the EPA so that future generations can continue to enjoy and protect the majestic beauty of our national parks, as Americans have done for a century."
While improved, activists caution these revisions fall short of what is needed to fully protect air quality. Shortcomings in the proposal could impede the progress the Regional Haze program is designed to achieve if not addressed. The final rule, they argue, should exclude some of the proposed revisions, including: extending the deadline for states to submit their next round of haze cleanup plans by three years; potentially allowing states nearly a decade to avoid cleaning up sources of air pollution specifically identified by federal land managers as causing impairment of protected national parks and wilderness areas; and weakening the ability of EPA and the public to force corrective action if states fall behind in achieving their pollution reduction obligations.
“Unfortunately, there are flaws in the Regional Haze Rule that could let polluters delay or avoid their responsibility to clean up their fair share of pollution, leaving national parks—and their visitors and wildlife—to pay the price,” said David Baron, managing attorney at Earthjustice. “It is up to all of us who value national parks and clean air to speak up and ensure the Obama Administration strengthens the rule by closing loopholes to hold polluters accountable and put parks on the path to clean air.”
In his prepared testimony, Jason Bruecks, owner of Distance 2 Be Traveled, a hiking and outdoor adventure guiding service, who resides near Joshua Tree National Park, noted the advantages of the proposed rule changes not just on the park’s air quality, but on the surrounding communities as well. In 2015, the National Parks Conservation Association gave Joshua Tree failing grades for haze and ozone problems and Riverside County still ranks among the worst for bad air in the entire nation with 54,000 children and 145,000 adults suffering from asthma.
“At times, Joshua Tree has dangerously high levels of ozone and haze pollution, which harms the ecosystem, people, and often obscures the park’s most spectacular scenic views, which on clear days I’ve seen stretch for miles and miles. Strengthening these clean air measures will have a positive impact on national parks like Joshua Tree, and it will also have a positive impact on the communities surrounding the park,” said Bruecks.
“Now is the time for the Obama Administration to set parks on the path to clean, healthy air. By adopting the changes that strengthen the Regional Haze Rule and fixing the troublesome proposals that would weaken it, the Obama Administration can take advantage of this tremendous opportunity in the centennial year of the National Park Service and bring cleaner, healthier air to America’s national parks and those who cherish them,” said Stephanie Kodish, senior director and counsel of the National Parks Conservation Association’s (NPCA) Clean Air Program.
The public hearing begins at 9:000AM at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, William Jefferson Clinton East Building (WJC East), Room 1117A, 1201 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.