Washington, DC — In a series of recent actions, political appointees of the Bush Administration have undermined the law that protects air quality in the nation’s parks, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the special safeguards for visibility and breathability of the air in our National Parks have been quietly gutted without public involvement or Congressional approval. In the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments, Congress designated nearly all National Parks as areas where existing air quality conditions may not be allowed to deteriorate in a significant way. The law allows only small increases in particulates and sulfur dioxide (SO2), called “increments.” To implement this law, National Park Service (NPS) scientists establish the baseline concentrations of SO2 and particulates at any given park. The scientists then scrutinize each proposal for a new major emitting facility (such as a power plant) to determine if the emissions will increase pollutants in that park. Using sophisticated models, the scientists conclude whether the added pollutant load will exceed the allowable “increment.” If so, NPS recommends that the Secretary of Interior notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (or the State if it has an EPA-approved program) to deny the permit.
In three recent episodes, the Bush Administration has nullified NPS scientists’ findings:
· In December 2002 NPS scientists concluded that the nearly 4,000 tons of annual sulfur dioxide emissions from a new coal-burning power plant in Roundup, Montana would adversely affect air quality and visibility at America’s flagship National Park – Yellowstone, located 112 miles away. Rejecting the science, on January 10, 2003 Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson wrote to the State of Montana and withdrew the NPS’ adverse impact determination, clearing the way for the new plant. Manson and his deputy Paul Hoffman determined that the NPS scientists had erred in their forecast. (Manson has no scientific training; Hoffman was formerly director of the Cody, Wyoming Chamber of Commerce);
· In February 2003 NPS scientists modeled the impact of the proposed new coal-fired Thoroughbred Generating Station in Kentucky and concluded that it would adversely impact Mammoth CaveNational Park located 50 miles away. In the fall of 2003 Manson and Hoffman withdrew the adverse impact determination made by NPS scientists, making this the first time in the 25-year history of the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments that a political appointee has directly overruled an NPS science based determination;
· NPS scientists have long concluded that the allowable increment in pollutants had already been reached at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Thus, emissions from two new proposed coal-fired power plants would automatically be disallowed. On February 13, 2004, EPA announced that it would allow the State of North Dakota to recalculate the pollution concentrations in the area around the Park so that the increment will not have been exceeded, even with the added pollution from the two new power plants.
“National Parks are places where the public expects the best of America, and that includes clean air and distant vistas,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a former long-time National Park Service manager. “It is ironic that the Bush Administration is acting to degrade a place so beloved by the great conservation President, Theodore Roosevelt.”
Perhaps the most damaging Bush Administration offensive against National Parks air quality is contained within the President’s “Clear Skies” Initiative. Under that plan, NPS review would be limited to proposed new major air polluters that are located within 31 miles of a National Park. The 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments empower the NPS to review all proposed new major facilities that may increase pollutant levels in a National Park no matter how far away. Under Clear Skies, neither the Thoroughbred nor the Roundup power plants would have been subject to NPS review.
“Pollutants travel much farther than 30 miles but under the Bush plan, a belching power plant 32 miles from the Grand Canyon would not even appear on the regulatory radar screen,” stated Buono. “Despite its rhetorical devotion to ‘science based decisions,’ in practice the Bush Administration ignores and overrules the scientific analyses of NPS career scientists. Even worse, Bush’s proposal seeks to restrict NPS scientists so that their work will never again surface as a bulwark against the pollution impacts of power plants, refineries and smelters on America’s pristine places.”