Bush Supports Proposal to Clear Park Air

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 30, 2001 (ENS) - To clear the skies over American's national parks and wilderness areas, the Bush administration has decided to move forward with a proposed rule to help states take steps to control haze causing emissions from older power plants and industrial facilities. Environmental groups said they will wait to see what measures the administration proposes before offering their support.

valley

Many of the nation's loveliest vistas, including this famous view down Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point in Yosemite National Park, are increasingly shrouded in haze (Three photos courtesy National Park Service)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman announced Tuesday that the EPA will publish the proposed rule, originally introduced by the Clinton administration, and seek public comment on the proposed regulations.

"Part of the President's commitment to protecting national parks includes protecting the views that draw us to these parks year after year," Whitman said. "But over the years, haze and pollution have eroded these vistas. In some parks, like the Great Smoky Mountains, visibility on the haziest days is cut by as much as 80 percent. We intend to clear that air."

"This rule will help ensure that people will be able to see and appreciate these national treasures for many years to come," added Whitman.

The proposal will affect facilities built between 1962 and 1977 and that emit more than 250 tons of visibility damaging pollutants every year. Regulated pollutants will include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter - but not carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Without air pollution, people could see about 140 miles in the western U.S. and 90 miles in the east, Whitman said. But in many parts of the country, visibility has been reduced: to 33-90 miles in the west and 14-24 miles in the east.

canyon

Haze sometimes blurs the view at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments required the EPA to establish a rule to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. The amendments also call on states to require these older plants to install best air pollution controls available, technically known as "best available retrofit technology," or BART.

This proposal will amend EPA's 1999 regional haze rule to guide states to decide which facilities must install air pollution controls. The proposal will also guide states in selecting the most efficient control technology.

The proposed rule will give states the flexibility to consider economic factors, energy impacts and the remaining useful life of the facility in determining a control program. The new requirements could also be met through an emissions trading approach similar to one currently being used successfully in EPA's acid rain program.

The flexibility of the proposed emissions control measures won the support of the Bush administration. The amendments announced Tuesday are virtually identical to those announced by the EPA in January, under the Clinton administration.

The new rule also helps Bush keep a campaign promise to issue new controls for power plant emissions, though Bush later amended his promise to remove references to controlling carbon dioxide, to the dismay of environmentalists and many U.S. allies working to control global warming.

Great Smoky

Haze through the trees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Under the Bush administration's National Energy Plan, issued earlier this month, Bush proposed "mandatory reduction targets" for emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury from power plants, using a "flexible, market based program."

This week's proposal will affect facilities in 26 industrial categories listed in the Clean Air Act, including coal fired utilities, industrial boilers, refineries and iron and steel plants that were built between 1962 and 1977. For utility boilers, existing technology can reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 90 to 95 percent.

Facilities would have to comply with today's proposal no later than 2013. States choosing an emissions trading alternative would be given additional compliance time.

Ed Hopkins, the Sierra Club's director of environmental quality programs, said that while the rule "could be a positive step, we won't be sure how effective the measure will be until EPA completes its review."

"This will be one of the first measures to be subjected to the new Bush Administration energy impact assessment -- a process that could lead to weakening the proposed rule," Hopkins noted. "Unless the administration changes their proposed energy plan, this rule could merely improve the visibility of new energy developments that could surround many of our special places like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park."

power plant

Aging coal burning power plants are among the major industrial producers of haze (Photo by Carole Swinehart, courtesy Michigan Sea Extension)
According to the Sierra Club, smog concentrations increased at 17 of 24 National Park Service Monitoring sites from 1992-1998. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park violated air quality standards one out of every three summer days in 1999.

The proposed amendments are available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg.html