Press Release Jan 19, 2021

Lawsuit Filed Against EPA for its Failure to Protect Public Health and National Parks

Keeping the current, insufficient PM2.5 standards in place will result in continued harm to the health of our communities and national parks.

Washington, DC – Today, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and ten other conservation groups filed a Petition for Judicial Review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2020 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Last month, despite scientific research demonstrating the incredibly damaging health and ecosystem harms from PM2.5 – soot spewed into the air by power plants and vehicles – the EPA announced it would keep the current, inadequate NAAQS in place instead of strengthening the standards. But the Clean Air Act requires EPA to select standards, using the latest scientific data, that are necessary to protect public health, wildlife and our natural resources, which is why NPCA is asking the court to hold the agency accountable.

These nationwide standards were originally created to protect both human health (primary standards) and our environment (secondary standard). The primary, health-based standards are meant to protect our most vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, people of color and people with preexisting health conditions. Research shows that exposure to PM2.5 is associated with thousands of premature deaths and can affect people’s lungs and heart and cause a variety of other health problems, including heart attacks, asthma and difficulty breathing.

The secondary, welfare-based standards are meant to safeguard our environment, including our national parks, wildlife, waters and climate. Yet, under the current standards, 85 percent of our national parks continue to have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times, while 88 percent have sensitive animal species and habitat that have been damaged by air pollution. PM2.5 can have a harmful effect on wildlife both big and small. Fish, frogs, snails and other aquatic life can absorb particulate matter, and as these animals are consumed by other predators, the particulate matter travels up the food chain to eagles, osprey, otters, pelicans and grizzly bears. Particle pollution can also travel hundreds of miles from its source dirtying the air in our national parks, and in turn impacting visitation that local economies depend on.

Statement by Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA):

“The evidence is overwhelming – keeping the current, insufficient PM2.5 standards in place will result in continued harm to the health of our communities and national parks. Yet, EPA has chosen to ignore the science and disregard its obligation to protect people and the environment. Adding insult to injury, EPA has turned a blind eye to these inadequate standards amid a global health pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our most vulnerable communities, who are already disproportionately harmed by exposure to air pollution.

“Particulate pollution is limiting miles of views at national parks like Shenandoah and threatening visitor health at parks like Sequoia and Kings Canyon. We need stronger standards to effectively combat this pollution and the effects it is having on our country’s most treasured places.

“Americans deserve to breathe clean air and to live in communities and visit national parks without being exposed to preventable pollution. Putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the science is not an option, and now we ask the court to hold EPA accountable and demand the agency put the health of our people and environment first.”


About the 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 nearly 1.4 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

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