Press Release Mar 15, 2010

Conservation Groups Call on Interior Secretary to Protect Clean Air in Rocky Mountain National Park

Groups Take Aim at Hazy Skies, Inadequate State Rules; Call for Better Pollution Controls for Coal-Burning Power Plants

Denver, Colo. – WildEarth Guardians and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today called on the Secretary of Interior to protect Rocky Mountain National Park from haze-forming air pollution by requiring the State of Colorado to fix its air quality rules.

“It’s time to clear the air. Colorado needs better standards to ensure lasting protection of this alpine treasure,” said Karen Hevel-Mingo, NPCA Southwest Regional Office Program Manager. “Rocky Mountain National Park is an irreplaceable landscape that attracts important tourist dollars to the region. We can’t afford to lose either to air pollution.”

Despite its prominence, Rocky Mountain National Park is increasingly impacted by air pollution. Modeling prepared by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows that visibility in Rocky Mountain National Park is up to 90 percent worse than natural conditions, and the agency has declared that “visibility improvement [is] needed.” Half of the national park is also considered to be in violation of national air quality standards limiting smog, or ground-level ozone. Studies also show that nitrogen deposition linked to air pollution is occurring at a rate above critical thresholds, altering water and soil chemistry in the park.

“Clean air in Rocky Mountain National Park is under siege and that’s not just bad news for the Park, that’s bad news for Colorado,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “For the sake of our health and the future of our park, it’s time for drastic cuts in air pollution.”

The groups today petitioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to declare that visibility in Rocky Mountain National Park is impaired as a result of air pollution from 12 coal-fired boilers and one coal-fired cement kiln in Colorado, including:

• Xcel Energy’s Cherokee Coal-fired Unit 4, located in Denver;
• Tri-State’s Craig Coal-fired Units 1 and 2, located in Craig;
• Xcel Energy’s Hayden Coal-fired Units 1 and 2, located in Hayden;
• CEMEX, Inc.’s Lyons Cement Plant, located in Lyons;
• Colorado Springs Utilities’ Martin Drake Coal-fired Units 5, 6, and 7, located in Colorado Springs;
• Xcel Energy’s Pawnee Coal-fired Unit 1, located in Brush;
• Colorado Energy Nations (formerly Trigen) Coal-fired Units 4 and 5, located in Golden; and
• Xcel Energy’s Valmont Coal-fired Unit 5, located in Boulder.

Under the Clean Air Act, the Interior Secretary can officially certify visibility impairment in national parks. Upon certification, states are required to substantially reduce emissions from the largest and oldest sources of air pollution to reduce haze. Although Colorado has adopted pollution control rules, these rules have failed to ensure up-to-date pollution control standards are met and have come under fire by the National Park Service and citizens groups.

“Even the National Park Service agrees, Colorado’s attempts to reduce haze have fallen short,” said Nichols. “We need the Interior Department to step in, to protect Rocky Mountain National Park, and force the state to meaningfully clean up these aging coal plants.”

Colorado has also been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to take adequate steps to reduce haze in national parks. In early 2009, the agency found that the state “failed to submit for EPA review and approval” a plan to improve visibility in national parks.

WildEarth Guardians and NPCA hope that official certification of visibility impairment by the Interior Secretary will ensure Colorado fixes its rules and fully protects Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 as the nation’s ninth national park. The 265,000 acre park is described by the State of Colorado as a “living showcase of the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains with elevations ranging from 8,000 feet in the lower valleys to over 14,250 feet on the summit of Long’s Peak.” It is the largest national park in Colorado; in 2008 it was visited by over 2.7 million people, who spent about $235 million, and helped support about 5,000 regional jobs.

###

About National Parks Conservation Association
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) 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, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.