US EPA proposes haze rule on industry to protect national parks

To clear the increasingly hazy views in US national parks and wilderness areas, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule to help states take steps to control haze-causing emissions from older power plants and industrial facilities.

The proposal will affect facilities built between 1962 and 1977 and that emit more than 250 tonnes of visibility-damaging pollutants every year. Without air pollution, people could see about 140 miles in the western United States and 90 miles in the East; but in many parts of the country visibility has been reduced in these regions to 33-90 miles in the West and 14-24 miles in the East, the EPA says.

“Part of the President’s commitment to protecting national parks includes protecting the views that draw us to these parks year after year,” EPA Administrator Christie Whitman commented. “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%. 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.”

This proposal will amend a 1999 regional haze rule to guide states to decide which facilities must install air pollution controls and to select the most efficient control technology. It will also give states the flexibility to consider economic factors, energy impacts and the remaining useful life of the facility in determining a control programme. The new requirements could also be met through an emissions trading approach similar to one currently being used successfully in the EPA’s acid rain programme.

The 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. Pollutants that affect visibility include sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. For utility boilers, existing technology can reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 90 to 95%. Facilities would have to comply with the proposal no later than 2013, but states choosing an emissions trading alternative would have additional compliance time.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie