Groups Urge Agency to Finalize Rule that Protects Southwest National Parks and Wilderness Areas from Preventable Coal Plant Haze
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Today, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule on how to control pollution from the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) joined other conservation and health organizations in applauding the Agency for proposing strong controls for nitrogen oxides, a principal haze-causing pollutant. When finalized, this proposal will hold the worst park polluter in the country accountable for its contributions to air pollution in accordance with the Regional Haze Program.
“Without meaningful reductions in air pollution, the Four Corners Power Plant, will continue to unnecessarily obscure views in our beloved national parks and wilderness areas for decades to come,” said Karen Hevel-Mingo, Southwest program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association. “This rule which requires an area coal plant to install cost effective, state-of-the-art pollution controls protects our parks as both natural and economic resources.”
In 2008 park units near the Four Corners Power Plant—in designated Class I areas which have the highest level of protection under the Clean Air Act—supported more than 18,000 local jobs in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, and saw more than 8 million recreation visits. In that same year park visitors and staff contributed more than $721 million to local economies.
“The proposed rule is a good first step toward eliminating man-made haze in protected areas, including national parks,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director, WildEarth Guardians. “Cleaning up this big polluter will not only clear the air in our parks and public lands, but also protect our health.”
The rule would require plant operators to install and operate Selective Catalytic Reduction on all five units at the plant. These controls will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from approximately 45,000 tons per year to 9,000 tons per year. When the proposal is finalized, the Four Corners Power Plant will have five years to add the controls. This cost effective technology will result in the greatest visibility improvement of all devices the agency considered.
Of the 392 national park sites in the U.S. National Park System, one in three–including eight in the Southwest—already suffers the harmful effects of air pollution. Many of the once clear, natural views at America’s most iconic national parks are among those affected including the Grand Canyon. Most of the air pollution now marring these scenic views, harming plants, and risking the health of wildlife and visitors, is the result of the burning of fossil fuels, especially at coal-fired power plants.
Regional haze regulations require that states or the EPA design and implement programs (State Implementation Plans and Federal Implementation Plans) to curb haze-causing emissions including those from the oldest and dirtiest polluters.
As the result of a lawsuit filed by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in 2008, and in addition to today’s proposed rule, the EPA must finalize a regional haze cleanup plan for every state that does not have one by January 15, 2011. Specific cleanup plans for the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico must also be in place by this date.
The Environmental Protection Agency will accept written comments on the proposed rule up to 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and will release further details on two hearings to be scheduled on the topic.
NPCA and advocacy groups are reviewing the proposed rule and will submit formal comments by the required deadline.
Regional Haze Timeline
1977 Some national parks have special protections under the Clean Air Act. In 1977 Congress updated the Clean Air Act to designate certain federal lands as “Class I areas,” which gave them the greatest level of protection. To qualify as Class I areas, the lands were required to be international parks or national wilderness areas, national memorial parks, or national parks of a certain size, and established before August 7, 1977.
1999 The Environmental Protection Agency established regulations in 1999 to eliminate regional haze and improve air quality in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. Known commonly as the “Regional Haze Rule,” it requires states, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and state governmental entities to develop and implement air quality protection plans (State Implementation Plans or Federal Implementation Plans) to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment.
2007 The first deadline for states to submit plans to eliminate regional haze was December 17, 2007. However, 37 states failed to submit completed plans that complied with the Regional Haze Rule.
2008 In October 2008, NPCA sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to enforce deadlines for the states to adopt these clean air plans.
2009 On January 15, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding that 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands failed to submit appropriate State Implementation Plans.
2011 The Environmental Protection Agency must finalize a regional haze cleanup plan for all states that do not have one in place by January 15, 2011. State plans must include a long-term strategy and “Best Available Retrofit Technology” (BART) for certain existing sources of pollution—most notably coal-fired power plants—that will lead to the elimination of visibility impairment in the 156 national parks and wilderness areas.
2018 Reassessment and revision of plans and established reasonable progress goals and strategies are scheduled for 2018 and every 10 years thereafter. States strategies should address their contribution to visibility problems in Class I areas both within and outside the state.
2064 Year by which states are to eliminate human-made haze pollution in the 156 protected areas. This date marks the goal for achieving national visibility conditions for parks and wilderness areas through regional haze implementation plans.
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.
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