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Groups Corner EPA for Not Meeting Clean Air Deadline

January 20, 2011

SEATTLE - When Washingtonians can't see Mount Rainier, Mount Adams or other scenic vistas, it could be because of air pollution, not clouds or fog. Federal plans to reduce this haze have been on hold, but legal action could change that.

A coalition of 10 conservation groups says it will sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to meet its own Jan. 15 deadline to finalize states' plans to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas.

In Washington, haze - mostly the pollutant nitrogen oxide - has been a particular problem in Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, according to Sean Smith, northwest policy director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

"That pollution not only affects the ability to see and enjoy the park, but also can have impacts on public health, wildlife and plants in the park. On a significant number of days, the visibility is significantly impaired."

Some of the same groups, including NPCA, the Sierra Club and Washington Wildlife Federation, are also suing the Interior and Agriculture departments for not responding to requests to assess the pollution-related damage in the parks with a formal certification that it is caused by emissions from coal plants.

Smith says filing formal notices of their intent to sue is a last resort, after years of waiting for federal action required by the Clean Air Act. Smith says every state has already been given years to come up with plans for reducing haze.

"Back in 2007, 11 states finished their plans - but the EPA failed to certify those. (For) the remaining states, the EPA set a deadline of Jan. 15, saying, 'You need to have your plans in by then, otherwise we will implement a national plan.' And they haven't done either of those things."

Eight areas of Washington are considered "Class 1" or mandatory areas for haze reduction. The state Department of Ecology finalized Washington's plan last month.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA