Press Release Aug 20, 2019

EPA Finalizes Guidance that Encourages States to Ignore Air Rules Protecting National Parks

Changes to Regional Haze Rule Guidance Could Set Our National Parks and Wilderness Areas Back Decades

Washington, DC – Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released final guidance for the next round of Regional Haze Rule plans that advises states and polluters on how to avoid reducing haze pollution harming national parks. The newly released guidance continues the Trump administration’s pattern of sacrificing our nation’s clean air laws in favor of the fossil fuel industry.

The Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Rule is a time-tested, effective program that requires federal and state agencies as well as stakeholders to work together to restore clear skies at national parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains, protecting millions of visitors and surrounding communities from air pollution. In 2016, the Obama administration proposed guidance to help states more effectively meet their obligations under the Regional Haze Rule to develop plans to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas. But today’s guidance from the Trump administration is an abrupt, near total departure from the original and creates uncertainty for states, industry and the public as the second round of the Regional Haze planning is already underway.

“Instead of advancing win-win strategies to protect parks, people and our climate, this administration issues new guidance reinforcing its will to turn a blind eye to polluters, encouraging states and the fossil fuel industry to dodge responsibility for cleaning up their mess,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The polluting sources harming our parks are the same sources driving the climate crises. Now, more than ever, we need the agency responsible for safeguarding public health and our environment to provide stronger protections and guidance to mitigate pollution, not bypass requirements to reduce it.”

Haze pollution obscures views and harms nearly 90 percent our nation’s precious park sites, from Glacier National Park in Montana to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. On average, visitors to national parks are missing out on 50 miles of scenery, the equivalent to the length of Rhode Island. Haze also poses a health risk to some of the 330 million people who visit our parks each year, as well as the communities who surround them, and is exacerbated by the most serious problem of our time – climate change.

“Over the years, the Regional Haze program has resulted in real and measurable improvements in national park visibility and air quality. But despite these great strides, the Trump administration has been taking steps to weaken this invaluable program since taking office. This effective program must continue to limit air pollution as Congress intended, not be undermined by an administration more focused on deregulation than preserving our public lands and safeguarding our health. NPCA will remain steadfast in our resolve to defend these key park protections and will not rest until we achieve clean park air and a healthy climate,” added Kodish.

Key changes to the Regional Haze Rule guidance include:

  • Offers little direction to states. In place of concrete recommendations on key issues like selecting sources for emission reduction analysis and consideration of visibility in the planning process, the final guidance provides generalized statements that fail to instruct states on what they must do to create an acceptable Regional Haze implementation plan due in 2021.
  • Ignores polluters and modern controls. The revised guidance removes adoption of the Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) Guidelines, allowing pollution sources to continue operating without effective clean air controls. Additionally, and in conflict with the Regional Haze Rule, EPA advises that states can now ignore pollutants, and therefore, what polluting sources they address.
  • Lacks any urgency. Despite knowing what actions are needed to protect our parks, people and planet from air and climate pollution, the revised guidance encourages states to do tomorrow (or in five decades) what they can and should do today.
  • Disregards science. The revised guidance discourages states from developing robust technical information that justify Regional Haze state implementation plans, including computer modeling showing whether and to what extent emissions are harming national parks and wilderness areas.

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About National Parks Conservation Association: For 100 years, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org/100.