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Groups Ask Court to "Clear the Air" in Yosemite, Other CA Parks

June 30, 2008

A national environmental law firm plans to sue the federal government over what it calls a failure to enforce the Clean Air Act and reduce haze and other air pollution in national parks. The suit, brought by Earth Justice on behalf of two groups, Environmental Defense and the National Parks Conservation Association, claims air conditions in national parks such as Yosemite are among the worst in the country.

David Baron, managing attorney for Earth Justice, says studies show much of the dirty air travels many miles from older, coal-fired power plants. He says Congress set a goal of cleaning up air in national parks 30 years ago, before some of the problem plants were even built.

"Since then, we haven't made much progress at all. Many parks still have very dirty air, and when you can't see the mountains and the canyons, it's time for EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act."

Baron says California's parks have some of the most-polluted air.

"Yosemite is suffering some of the worst visibility impairment effects anywhere. There are also problems in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and California has not yet submitted an adequate plan to clean up those problems."

Earth Justice claims older power plants must be retro-fitted with modern pollution controls, while other measures are needed to control emissions from cars and factories. If these steps are not taken, the group says the haze will remain over America's most special spots.

The lawsuit alleges the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to compel states to clean up the haze plaguing the nation's parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas.

EPA acknowledges most states will be late submitting their plans to clean up air in parks, but expects to meet visibility goals by 2064. The group wants the federal government to start enforcing deadlines immediately, since three decades already have passed since the Clean Air Act was approved in 1977.

A map of national parks with links to air quality data and photos of visibility conditions at parks nationwide is available at www.epa.gov/air/visibility/monitor.html.

Lori Abbott/Steve Powers, Public News Service - CA