Last week, the federal government took a big step towards cleaning up the air in our national parks when a U.S. District Court in Washington, DC approved an agreement between the EPA and conservation groups to establish new air pollution cleanup plans. Currently, air pollution caused by fires, the power industry and other man-made causes is a big problem for our treasured parks as it produces haze that affects visibility and air quality. If you’ve ever been to one of our national parks and were disappointed that you weren’t able to see some of the natural wonders because of air pollution, the EPA’s new course of action could change all of that.
The consent decree requires the EPA to action on haze cleanup plans drafted by 37 states before November 2012. Last year, Oklahoma’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the EPA for rejecting the state’s regional haze plan, which called for keeping existing coal plants running in the state. Now, the EPA must decide whether to approve Texas’ state haze plan, which doesn’t call for any new restrictions on that state’s industrial plants.
Texas experienced some horrible wildfires last year, leaving a smoky haze over much of the state, but that wasn’t the only cause of air pollution seen in the state’s national parks. According to data provided by the National Park Service to the New York Times, at least one-third of the haze observed on poor-visibility days at Big Bend National Park — the biggest park in the country — came from sulfates, which are mostly produced by human activity. (For comparison, here are some photos of Big Bend on hazy and clear days.)
That data contradicts a statement from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which claims that dust storms originating “with little or no human activity” are a major contributor to haze in that state. For its part, Texas’ electric industry has deflected blame, pointing out that no power-generating facilities are in the immediate vicinity of Big Bend National Park. On May 15, the EPA will have to decide whether or not to accept Texas’ state-wide haze plan, and if it is serious about cleaning up the air in our national parks, it will reject the state’s current plan.