EPA Moves to Protect Big Bend National Park and Other Wild Areas from Air Pollution

The EPA recently finalized a plan to address serious air pollution that is dramatically reducing visibility at the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks in Texas and the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

Under a Clean Air Act protection called the Regional Haze Rule, states are required to develop plans to clean up pollution and improve air quality at national parks and wilderness areas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality put forward a do-nothing plan in 2009, now rejected by the EPA, that the commission admitted would not have cleared the air at Big Bend for more than 140 years and did not require a single Texas power plant to install pollution controls.

Under this rule, the EPA has finalized a plan to address serious air pollution that is dramatically reducing visibility at the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks in Texas and the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. This action puts in place common-sense, industry-standard safeguards on eight of the state’s largest and dirtiest coal plants, which are also some of the most polluting in the country, and sets a 3 to 5-year deadline for them to clean up their pollution.

The clean-air protections will require pollution reductions from Luminant’s Big Brown, Martin Lake, Monticello, and Sandow coal plants; NRG’s Limestone plant; the GDF Suez Coleto Creek plant; Xcel Energy’s Tolk plant; and the San Miguel Electric Cooperative plant.

“Generations of Texas families and people from across the country have enjoyed the rugged beauty of Big Bend. It’s truly a magical place,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “But protecting the park isn’t just about safeguarding our natural legacy. It’s also about protecting people’s homes, land and the tourism that is vital to the local economy in west Texas.”

While the EPA took this action to protect these very special American lands, the regional haze plan will also help protect public health. The same kind of pollution from these coal plants that causes haze can cause respiratory and other health problems to those living near the plant. The pollution also forms particulate matter downwind, threatening public health in communities across Texas and neighboring states.

“Cleaning up haze pollution means clearer air in our treasured wild places,” said Cherelle Blazer, organizing representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “It also means healthier air in cities across Texas, especially in the communities near these dirty coal plants. The EPA’s plan allows Texans to enjoy the natural wonder of our state while also keeping our families safe at home.”

Regulators have long known that Texas pollution also crosses state lines. Texas power plant emissions affect the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, the Caney Creek wilderness area in Arkansas, and other national parks and wild lands across the region -- from Colorado to Louisiana. The amount of haze-forming sulfur dioxide pollution the EPA’s plan will reduce each year is as much as the total amount of yearly sulfur dioxide pollution from all the power plants in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined.

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