Press Release Jun 1, 2016

Westerners Tell EPA to Clean Up Air in National Parks, Wilderness Areas

Broad Coalition of Advocates Call on EPA to Strengthen Clean Air Protections

DENVER – A broad coalition of Western activists and national advocacy groups will testify today in support of strengthening the clean air protections for national park and wilderness areas, where air pollution from industrial, transportation and other sources threaten these protected spaces, along with their visitors, staff, and ecosystems.

At a public hearing in Denver today hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these individuals and organizations will call on the agency to adopt some proposed changes to the Regional Haze Rule, a program of the Clean Air Act designed to protect national parks and wilderness areas from air pollution, and reject other proposed changes that could actually weaken the rule.

“Now is the time for the Obama Administration to set parks on the path to clean, healthy air,” said Ulla Reeves, Clean Air Campaign Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “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.”

Air pollution is among the most serious threats facing national parks, affecting visitor health, compromising scenic vistas and altering the climate. 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.

“Our national parks are among our country’s greatest achievements, and as we look toward their next 100 years, we need to ensure we do what is required to protect these American icons for our children and the generations of visitors that will follow,” said Chris Shaver, former National Park Service air quality expert. “The Regional Haze Rule has prompted some actions by states and polluters over the past decades, but a sustained effort is needed, and a stronger rule will ensure we honor our commitment to protecting America’s favorite places.”

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.

“The National Park Service is about to turn 100 years old, and our parks are more popular today than ever before. These special places are a source of pride and an economic engine for our nation, which is why we must cut the damaging pollution that threatens our air, harms wildlife, and puts thousands of visiting families and local communities at risk,” said Bill Corcoran, Western Regional Director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Our parks and our people deserve nothing less than the strongest possible safeguards from haze pollution. We will continue to vigorously advocate to ensure that this new EPA standard protects our treasured public lands, like Rocky Mountain National Park, and the millions of people that explore them.”

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.

“Americans deserve clean air where they live, work, and play,” said Matthew Gerhart, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The regional haze program is intended to improve air quality in America’s national parks, where thousands of people work, and where millions of Americans visit each year. EPA should strengthen the haze standards to protect the sweeping vistas that draw Americans to our national parks, ensure healthy habitats for wildlife, and promote tourism that is the lifeblood of communities near national parks.”

The public hearing begins at 9:000AM at EPA Region 8 Office, 2nd Floor, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202.

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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.