June 16, 2005 in Nation/World

EPA targets air in national parks

John Heilprin Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of power plants, cement kilns, iron and steel mills, oil refineries and other facilities will have to cut pollution by a billion tons annually over the next decade to improve views and air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.

New regulations issued Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency direct states to order the cuts but give their officials authority to specify what plants will have to make them and by how much.

“States are now required to go out and identify these facilities and then determine what the best available retrofit technology is,” said Jeff Holmstead, head of air quality for the EPA.

“We don’t expect that any states will fail to do this,” Holmstead added.

As part of a 2003 court settlement with an environmental group, New York-based Environmental Defense, the EPA agreed to have states impose limits on air pollution, often from sources hundreds of miles away, to reduce haze and visibility problems in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.

States will now have to submit new plans by December 2007 on how they plan to do it.

The biggest impacts will be in the Great Smoky Mountains and other parks in the Southeast and in Western parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

Such haze is produced mainly by nitrates and sulfates that scatter and then absorb the light in the atmosphere.

Holmstead said that beginning in 2014, industrial facilities will be expected to cut 1 million tons of pollution a year – 600,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and 400,000 tons of sulfur dioxide

The EPA estimates it will cost about $1.5 billion a year to achieve the reduction but puts the annual benefits at $8.5 billion to $10 billion through fewer premature deaths, nonfatal heart attacks, hospital admissions, and lost school and workdays.

An additional $240 million a year in visibility benefits from increased tourism are expected.

“Some areas will benefit more, because they’re more polluted than other areas,” Holmstead said.

“We are predicting improvements in all of them.”

Environmental Defense said in a report this week that “in the interior West, home to many of these acclaimed areas, progress toward the Clean Air Act’s goal of clean air in our national parks has been sluggish or unavailing.”

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