A Victory to Clean Up Haze

Above: Work to clean up haze will benefit human health and improve views like this one over the Grand Canyon. National Park Service photo.

NPCA at Work | Cleaning Up Haze | Victories | Reports | Pollution in Parks | Sources 

What Are “Class I” National Parks?

Congress recognized the value of pristine air quality in our national parks and declared that the largest most iconic parks must be specially protected under the Clean Air Act. As such, there are 48 parks and 108 other large scenic federal lands, known as "Class I areas," that have highest level of air quality protection in the nation.

See a map of "Class I" parks (PDF).

America’s national parks are some of the country’s most beautiful places. But when a park trip is impacted by poor air quality, you do not see the amazing sights or breathe healthful air. Far too many of our parks suffer from haze-causing air pollution. Worse, this same pollution makes it harder for everything in the park to live—disrupting the land and water, and causing health problems for humans, animals, and plants.

Thankfully, our laws have strong protections for these beautiful places—and part of NPCA’s job is to make sure those laws get carried out. The Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Rule, a longstanding law, requires all states to protect the most iconic parks (known as “Class I areas”—see below) by reducing air pollution from some of the biggest, oldest park polluters. The goal of the program is to eliminate human caused haze in these public lands by 2064.

NPCA’s Ground-Breaking Consent Decree

Enforcement of the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Rule has been delayed for decades. NPCA, along with a coalition of clean air allies, went to court to put our parks back on the path to clean air. And in March 2012, the court finalized our consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), establishing firm, enforceable deadlines for action on plans to clean up haze pollution in 37 states. Haze plans for each of these states must be complete by the end if 2015. These pollution reduction plans could help people breathe easier and enjoy cleaner skies in the nation’s largest and most scenic national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges.

Onward to Clean Air!

Now, EPA must finalize haze nearly all state cleanup plans by December 2015.  Each plan is required to look at the bigger sources of pollution built before the Clean Air Act was written—like the many coal-fired power plants now approaching 40-50 years old. These older plants must retrofit with state-of-the-art pollution controls that were not around when they were built to benefit the parks.

Each state’s responsibility to improve air quality does not end with requiring the clean up the biggest and oldest polluters. States must establish comprehensive air plans that compel other forms of air pollution to be limited too. These plans will be revisited every 5-10 years to help ensure that the Congressionally-mandated goal of restoring pristine air quality to our national parks by 2064 is met.

If states and EPA do their job well, which can be encouraged by vocal public support, these plans will result in significantly cleaner air for parks and people. Indeed, they have already resulted in significant pollution reductions that will improve long-polluted parks. NPCA, with support from members and allies, is giving input to these plans around the country. We speak for the parks and park-lovers in asking that park air quality be restored for present and future generations.

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