EPA Issues Rule To Protect Air In National Parks, Wilderness Areas

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has signed a clean air rule to further protect the views at America's national parks and wilderness areas.

Under the Clean Air Visibility Rule, states are required to identify older industrial facilities and power plants that affect visibility in specially protected areas. To help achieve the Clean Air Act's long-term goal to restore visibility in those areas, states would then determine the types of controls that those facilities must use to control their emissions, resulting in improved visibility, air quality and public health.

"America's national parks and wilderness areas are getting a new level of protection," said Jeff Holmstead, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. "The Clean Air Visibility Rule -- combined with stringent standards for a dramatically cleaner new generation of vehicles and deep cuts in power plant emissions -- mean that our views will be clearer and the air healthier."

EPA's action was required under a court-ordered settlement agreement with Environmental Defense, which was critical of the new rule. "Unfortunately, EPA has made it harder for states to restore clean air to our national parks by exempting some high-polluting industrial sources from clean up requirements," said Environmental Defense senior scientist Jana Milford. "Protective state action enforcing EPA's pollution control guidelines will now be essential to lift the veil of haze from our nation's crown jewels."

According to EPA officials, the agency's benefits analysis shows that this rule will provide approximately $240 million annually in visibility improvements in southeastern and southwestern parks. The rule will also provide substantial health benefits in the range of $8.4 billion to $9.8 billion each year. The total annual costs of this rule range from $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion.

The rule requires states to identify and determine appropriate emissions controls for facilities built between 1962 and 1977 that have the potential to emit more than 250 tons a year of visibility-impairing pollution. Those facilities fall into 26 categories, including utility and industrial boilers, and large industrial plants such as pulp mills, refineries and smelters.

The rule complements the significant emissions reductions that will be achieved by the Clean Air Interstate Rule and the suite of regulations reducing motor vehicle emissions, agency officials said.

The Clean Air Act established a long-term goal of achieving natural background visibility conditions at specially protected, or Class I, areas. Before 2008, states must identify the facilities required to install Best Available Retrofit Technology controls and submit plans to implement the regional haze rule for EPA review and approval. Upon approval of state plans, there is a five-year period for the implementation of pollution controls. Depending on the approach taken by the states, the reductions associated with the BART program would begin to take effect in 2014, with full implementation before 2018. Congress required that deadlines for BART state implementation plans match those for PM 2.5 implementation plans.

For more information on this final rule and EPA's visibility program, visit http://www.epa.gov/visibility.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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