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Clock Running to Clean Up Air in National Parks

January 7, 2010

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The deadline for public input on how to clear the often hazy views in national parks and wilderness areas in South Dakota and neighboring states is Friday. The so-called "North Dakota Draft Regional Haze Plan" was mandated by federal clean air laws.

Jim Margadant, regional conservation organizer with the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club, says there is no question where the haze comes from: coal-burning power plants. The good news is those power plant owners can help clean up the haze.

"They're going to have to put some technology in to scrub and clean up the matter that is being emitted from the plant. What you have to do is reduce the sulphur dioxides, and the nitrous oxides, and a good chunk of the particulate matter that comes out, too."

The North Dakota draft plan was created under the Environmental Protection Agency's Regional Haze Rule, which requires states to come up with air quality improvement plans to protect parks and wild areas. Margadant says it's a problem for all states in the region.

"It doesn't stop at the boundaries. That's why we in South Dakota are interested. We're suggesting to North Dakota that we would like to see them take responsibility and regulate, just as a good neighbor. This impacts, especially, our national parks. Those are designated as Class I airsheds, the highest protection under the Clean Air Act."

Several conservation and nature groups are banding together to urge tighter restrictions, which industry says go too far and could mean higher costs for consumers. Margadant points out that as energy production grows, public concerns do, too.

"The fear is that, as particulates and pollution increase from additional coal plants, that viewshed is going to decrease and be lost forever."

The plan is available at www.ndhealth.gov. Comments can be sent to Terry O'Clair, Director, Division of Air Quality, North Dakota Department of Health, 918 East Divide Ave., Bismarck, ND 58501, or e-mailed to toclair@nd.gov.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD