Press Release Apr 26, 2016

Obama Administration Proposes Improvements to National Parks’ Air Rules

Changes to Regional Haze Rule Critical to Reducing Air Pollution in National Parks, Wilderness Areas

WASHINGTON – Below is a statement by Stephanie Kodish, senior director and counsel of the National Parks Conservation Association’s (NPCA) Clean Air Program, following the Obama Administration’s signing of a rule yesterday proposing changes to the Regional Haze Rule, the Clean Air Act program designed to restore natural air quality to national parks and wilderness areas:

“Yesterday, the Obama Administration proposed some important updates to the Regional Haze Rule, the Clean Air Act program meant to protect national parks from air pollution. Some of these changes are a step in the right direction and, if adopted, will result in every state being held accountable for achieving steady reductions in park pollution. However, other proposed changes would allow known polluters to delay cleaning up their act and set back efforts to clean up the air in national parks by years.

“The implementation of the Regional Haze Rule over the past five years has resulted in real, measurable and noticeable improvements in national park air quality. That is good for visibility and it is good for the health of visitors and surrounding communities. It’s also good for local economies, which is why so many communities that depend on park tourism support clean air measures like the rule.

“This year marks the centennial of our National Park Service – and a century of protecting our country’s most important historic sites and most incredible landscapes. Visitors are flocking to parks in record numbers, and they all deserve to experience them the way they were meant to be, with stunning views and clean air. By adopting the proposed changes that strengthen the Regional Haze Rule and rejecting those that would weaken it, the Obama Administration can take advantage of this tremendous opportunity in the centennial year of the National Park Service and leave a legacy of cleaner, healthier air for America’s national parks, wilderness areas and the people who cherish them.”

Background: Air pollution is among the most serious threats facing national parks. It affects visitor health, compromising scenic vistas and altering the climate, with some parks experiencing more than a month of poor air quality a year, typically during the busy summer season.

A report released last year by NPCA found that every one of the 48 national park sites with the greatest Clean Air Act protections are plagued by significant air pollution problems. In fact, air quality in parks can be as bad – or worse – than in some major cities due to emissions from outdated coal plants and other sources of pollution. Of the 48 parks studied, 36 at times experienced “moderate” or worse ozone pollution, levels of air pollution that are risky for especially sensitive populations such as the one in 10 children in the United States who have asthma.

The current version of the Regional Haze Rule, the program under the Clean Air Act intended to eliminate this pollution within protected parks and wilderness areas, contains loopholes and other weaknesses that states and polluters have used to avoid the responsibility to clean up this pollution, leaving some parks centuries away from clean air.

The Obama Administration is proposing a set of revisions to improve the Regional Haze Rule, the most important of which is enhancing state accountability for reducing pollution that contributes to national park and wilderness air quality problems.

The proposed changes to strengthen the rule include:

  • Providing greater detail and clarity as to every state’s independent responsibility for improving the air quality of park and wilderness areas affected by its pollution sources, regardless of whether the state has these protected places within its borders;
  • Requiring states to support their haze plans with more robust technical analyses, which gives EPA and the public a stronger basis to independently evaluate whether states have met their legal obligations; 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.

Despite these positive steps, there are shortfalls in the proposed changes that, unless addressed, could impede the progress the Regional Haze Rule is designed to achieve. These shortfalls include:

  • Extending the deadline for states to submit their next round of haze cleanup plans by three years;
  • Allowing states nearly a decade to potentially 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.

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About National Parks Conservation Association

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.