Groups Challenge Federal Loophole That Exempts Polluters from Cleaning Air at National Parks and Wilderness Areas

Legal arguments will be heard in U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.


Julie Hauserman, Earthjustice, (850) 273-2898 

Eric Bontrager, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 659-0650   

Brian Willis, Sierra Club, (202) 675-2386 

To protect public health and treasured views at our national parks and wilderness areas, three groups went to court today to challenge a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that makes it easier for coal plants to pollute the air in national parks and other public lands.

“If you climb a mountain, you should see the view,” said Earthjustice attorney Charles McPhedran. “Dirty power plants must not get off the hook for their responsibility to clean up their mess.”

Earthjustice is representing the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Sierra Club in challenging an EPA rule that exempts power plants from pollution control requirements that are supposed to reduce haze in national parks and other public lands. The EPA’s rule fails to clean up polluted air in parks and wilderness areas throughout the nation. 

The Clean Air Act’s visibility protection mandate was first established by Congress in 1977 and updated in 1990 to get rid of the human-caused pollution that harms valued public lands. The Regional Haze Rule is the regulation that carries out this Clean Air Act program, detailing the requirements for polluters and for each state to reduce pollution to protect national parks and wilderness areas. In 2012, the EPA substituted a region-wide emission trading program that exempted a group of park-polluting coal plants in the eastern half of the country from cleaning up their dirty practices.  

“The EPA is defending loopholes that give polluters a free pass at the expense of the hundreds of millions of people who go to our national parks and wilderness areas each year,” said Stephanie Kodish, director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s clean air program. “The EPA has a responsibility to protect the health of America’s people and public lands. It should direct its efforts toward that mission and not protecting polluters.”

Air pollution is severely limiting views in our parks and threatening the health of park visitors.  In the Eastern United States, the EPA says the average visible range is less than 20 miles—about one-fifth of what it would be under natural conditions. The same fine particles from the exempted coal plants that cause this haze—resulting from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution—are also dangerous to people’s health. They are linked to breathing problems, asthma attacks, hospitalizations, heart attacks, missed work days and premature deaths. Air pollution affects many of the country’s best-known parks, including Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Acadia, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

“Donald Trump and his EPA Administrator are defending a rule that puts polluters over people, and this time, heartbreakingly, they are sacrificing the beauty of our national parks—where Americans go to rejuvenate and experience nature untouched by greedy polluters,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “It’s a travesty that this Administration doesn’t even respect America’s ‘Greatest Idea’ and has instead sacrificed the health of our communities so that coal plant owners can make a few extra dollars. We’re going to  fight their heartlessness with everything we have.”

The flawed EPA rule that the groups are challenging would allow some of the nation’s worst polluters to continue harming national parks like Badlands in South Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota. It would also jeopardize the Salt Creek and San Pedro Parks Wilderness areas, Saguaro National Park in Arizona, Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, and the Mount Baldy, Chiricahua, Galiuro, Gila, and Kalmiopsis Wilderness Areas.

A hazy view at the South Rim overlook of Big Ben National Park in Texas.
A hazy view at the South Rim overlook of Big Ben National Park in Texas. (Daveynin / CC BY 2.0)

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