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For Immediate Release, January 19, 2011

Contact:  Stephanie Kodish, National Parks Conservation Association, (865) 329-2424,
David Baron, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500 x 203
David Graham-Caso, Sierra Club, (213) 387-6528 x 214,
Pam Campos, Environmental Defense Fund, (720) 205-2366,
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713,

Coalition of Clean Air Groups Brings Actions Against Federal Government for
Its Failure to Reduce Air Pollution in Iconic National Parks

WASHINGTON— Today, a coalition of clear air advocates acted to compel the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to fulfill their obligations to protect the nation’s largest and most scenic national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges from unhealthy haze pollution that dirties the sky and drastically reduces visibility.

“Every year, millions of visitors to our national parks and wilderness areas are unable to see the postcard views because they have been obscured by haze pollution,” said NPCA Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “More than 30 years ago Congress committed to restore clean, clear air to America’s most prized national parks and wilderness areas. But EPA has repeatedly escaped its duty to regulate polluters by missing deadlines to develop and implement meaningful plans to reduce air pollution that makes people sick and skies look more like muddy water than the crystal-clear views they once were.”

“Americans go to national parks to breathe clean air, not choke on soot and smog,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “It's time for the states and the EPA to clean up the air in parks and wilderness areas as required by the Clean Air Act. Leaving our mountains and canyons buried under filthy haze is not an option.” 

The first legal action being filed today seeks to enforce EPA’s obligation to finalize state plans to reduce haze pollution in all national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refugees by Jan. 15, 2011. EPA has failed to finalize a single state’s haze-reduction plan, missing more than 50 regulatory deadlines. Today’s action is an effort to ensure EPA complies with the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program and moves clean air plans forward after decades of delay. It is being brought by the National Parks Conservation Association, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Montana Environmental Information Center, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, WildEarth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Our Children’s Earth and Plains Justice.

The second lawsuit involves the failure of the departments of the interior and agriculture to respond to three rulemaking petitions within reasonable timeframes according to the Administrative Procedures Act. The petitions asked that the agencies protect public lands by certifying that specific large, outdated coal-fired power plants are causing haze pollution in Class 1 areas. EPA regulations require that, upon certification, the best available retrofit technology be installed on those pollution sources.

At issue are the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, the TransAlta/Centralia power plant in Washington, the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, and their impacts on air quality at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks in Washington and Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks in Arizona. Plaintiffs include the National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Dooda (NO) Desert Rock, To Nizhoni Ani, WildEarth Guardians, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Washington Wildlife Federation, San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Through the regional haze program, state and federal agencies have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure healthier air and clearer scenic vistas by requiring affordable and routine controls that reduce air pollution from industrial sources like coal-fired power plants,” Kodish said. “The regional haze program was designed to reduce pollution and restore pristine visibility to national parks and wilderness areas. The Federal government must swiftly act to enforce this program.”

“Our Rocky Mountain highs are increasingly under siege from haze, especially here in Colorado, yet it's a problem we can easily solve,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “With sensible plans to limit air pollution, we can finally protect parks, people and our cherished western landscape.”

“These actions simply ask EPA to follow through with programs that will protect people from the dangerously harmful pollution that jeopardizes our health when coal is burned at power plants,” said Bill Corcoran, western regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The same pollution that literally makes it difficult for people to see our priceless natural treasures also ends up in people’s lungs. This is both harmful and preventable and we urge the EPA to act quickly to solve this problem.”

“We can clear the air in our nation’s parks. In Colorado, a bipartisan coalition has already come together to find solutions for reducing dangerous haze in areas such as Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Environmental Defense Fund attorney Pamela Campos. “It’s time to work together to clean up all of our nation’s most treasured areas.”

“Coal pollution is ruining vistas in national parks, warming the climate and poisoning waterways that people and wildlife depend on,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s long past time to begin a new era of clean energy — one that doesn’t include coal.”

These legal actions, while far-reaching and important in impact, represent only a portion of the Clean Air Act’s provisions that have yet to be fully implemented. In the coming months, EPA is expected to finalize new regulations under the “good neighbor” provision of the Act to reduce interstate transport of pollution to states that are downwind, and provide stronger air quality standards for ozone. The agency is also expected to soon propose a utility toxics rule that addresses mercury and other pollutants from coal and oil-fired utility boilers.

A copy of today’s complaint against EPA can be found here.
A copy of today’s complaint against Interior and Agriculture can be found here.

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