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EPA Announces Court Ordered Schedule for Action on State-Led Efforts to Reduce Harmful Haze-Forming Pollutants

Release Date: 11/09/2011
Contact Information: Enesta Jones, jones.Enesta@epa.gov, 202-564-7873, 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a court ordered schedule to review and act on more than 40 state pollution reduction plans that will improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas and protect public health from the damaging effects of the pollutants that cause regional haze. Haze-forming pollution, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particles, reduces visibility and poses health risks including increased asthma symptoms and premature death.

Today’s action by itself does not establish control requirements. Regional haze plans approved by EPA over the coming year will lay out how Clean Air Act visibility goals that Congress mandated more than 30 years ago will be met. States are best suited to meet these goals, and most states are well on their way to having plans in place. EPA will work closely with the states to approve their plans by the court ordered deadline in the agreement. Under the terms of the consent decree, if a state plan cannot be approved, EPA, with input from the state, industry and other stakeholders, will determine an appropriate federal plan.

In many cases, these controls have already been or are in the process of being installed to meet other state and federal requirements, including the recently issued Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which is expected to cut millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 27 states by 2014, meaning additional action may not be necessary. In addition, EPA intends to propose and finalize a rule by spring 2012 that addresses the determination that—for power plants—meeting the requirements in the cross-state rule will fulfill the best available retrofit technology requirements under the regional haze program. Rules that reduce emissions from motor vehicles, including a suite of clean diesel rules that cover a wide range of heavy-duty vehicles and equipment, will also go a long way to help improve visibility.

Regional haze plans focus on reducing harmful pollution from large, older stationary sources, including power plants, cement plants and large industrial boilers. Facilities covered by the plans, those from 35 to 50 years old, will rely on proven, cost-effective and widely available pollution control methods if emissions from those facilities are found to cause haze at national parks or wilderness areas. In addition to improving visibility in our nation’s most treasured natural areas, these plans will protect public health, while supporting local tourism and economic development, especially in the western United States.

Natural areas including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mount Rainier, and the Shenandoah Valley are impacted by regional haze. Pollutants that form haze include fine particle pollution, and compounds that contribute to its formation, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and certain volatile organic compounds.

EPA initially issued a rule in 1999 requiring states to submit regional haze plans. These plans were due in December 2007. National Parks Conservation Association and other environmental groups sued the agency in August 2011 to take action on these plans. Today’s consent decree resolves this litigation. EPA will accept public comment on this agreement for 30 days following publication of a notice in the Federal Register.

More information on regional haze: http://www.epa.gov/visibility/actions.html