May 17, 2021
Administrator Michael Regan
Environmental Protection Agency
Office of the Administrator, Mail Code 1101A
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Re: Achieving Cleaner Air for our Communities and National Parks through Strong State Regional Haze Plans
Dear Administrator Regan:
On behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide, we, the undersigned organizations, write to express our concerns about the direction many states are heading in their regional haze planning process. By most indications, states across the country are poised to advance haze plans that lack the scale of pollution reducing measures that our national parks and wilderness areas require, and vulnerable populations are due.
We ask for your leadership in explicitly stating EPA expectations for state compliance with the Regional Haze Rule in the current planning process by addressing the issues identified below. This is a once in a decade opportunity to not only assert the importance of the Clean Air Act in driving the improvement of air quality across public lands that belong to all Americans but also to ensure that an established air program helps fulfill your environmental justice priority.
Under Executive Order 12,898, Federal agencies must make achieving environmental justice part of their mission; under Executive Order 14,008, agencies must advance and prioritize environmental justice. The Clean Air Act’s regional haze provisions must address this issue and be part of the solution. Implementing the regional haze program consistent with the principles described in this letter will reduce pollution to better the air quality of our national parks and wilderness areas, while simultaneously offering significant public health benefits to environmental justice communities across the nation.
From Yosemite to Everglades National Parks and Shining Rock to Hells Canyon Wilderness Areas are just a few of our nation’s greatest wild places that experience widespread detrimental effects from air pollution, even if sometimes they don’t appear to be polluted. According to a National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) analysis, ninety-six percent of national parks are plagued by significant air pollution problems. Behind these numbers are children, families, recreation enthusiasts, workers, business owners and countless others with firsthand experiences dealing with the effects of air pollution across the country.
Fortunately, 156 “Class I” national parks and wilderness areas have the strongest clean air protections in the country. Mandated under the Clean Air Act and governed by the Regional Haze Rule, each decade all states must prepare a regional haze plan with emission reducing requirements to help achieve the goal of restoring clear air these special public lands. In the past decade, the Regional Haze Rule reduced greenhouse gases as it drove the retirement of dozens of coal-fired power plants and led to reduced pollution at over a hundred more. All states are now creating new haze plans due to EPA in July and with their development and implementation comes a new opportunity to reduce a significant amount of industrial pollution from sources of all kinds across the nation.
While most air pollution does not originate in national parks, it can travel hundreds of miles from its source, affecting parks near and far — including remote ones. Haze is made of particulate matter, and gases that block light and reduce visibility while also jeopardizing public health. The air pollution causing haze comes from a variety of industrial, mobile sources and area sources, including coal-fired power plants, chemical manufacturers, cement plants and pulp and paper mills, cars and trucks, oil and gas operations, and industrial agriculture. Nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and particulate matter emissions from these and other sources can be directly regulated under the Regional Haze Rule. With strong state plans, we anticipate important co-benefits including steep reductions in greenhouse gases and toxics.
However, based on some initial state proposals, stakeholder processes, and industry pollution control analyses as well as early engagement with state environmental agencies, regional planning organizations and federal land managers, we have reason to be very concerned that many states intend to ignore heavily polluting sources, turn a blind eye to cost effective, feasible pollution reducing measures, delay requirements for improving air quality and dismiss the expertise and counsel of federal land managers like the National Park Service. There are four key areas where your swift attention will make the difference.
1. High source thresholds are being used to exclude polluting facilities that should be addressed from consideration of emission reducing measures.
The 2016 draft Regional Haze Guidance instructed states to set a threshold such that they would select enough sources to represent 80% of their visibility impairing emissions. The prior administration replaced this guidance in 2019, removing this metric.
States in the Southeast and Northeast have set source selection thresholds so high that they have entirely excluded from their review high-polluting sources likely harming visibility that should be assessed for emission reduction measures. For example, ten Southeastern states in the aggregate appear to be reviewing only 33 sources for emission reduction measures. NPCA has identified 309 industrial sources in the Southeast that should likely be subject to emission reduction requirements through state regional haze plans, and federal land managers have identified a similar number of sources. Of these sources, 60 are in communities of color and 89% of these sources are located where people are living below the poverty line. Moreover, it appears Southeast states like Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia are outright disregarding pollutants like nitrogen oxide and particular matter. Early indications show that states including Kentucky and Alabama will not likely require any reduction requirements.
To address these serious issues, EPA must instruct states to review a significant number of additional sources for emission reductions, sources identified by federal land managers and akin to the 80% representation of emissions in the draft 2016 Guidance. Additionally, EPA must make clear that states cannot outright dismiss visibility impairing pollutants from consideration for control. This adjustment would not require new modeling – states only need to pull in additional sources that should be evaluated for emission reducing measures.
2. Making progress towards clear skies is not a safe harbor from requirements to reduce pollution.
States must make progress towards natural visibility by reducing their emissions. This obligation must be fulfilled through the state’s regional haze plan. The state cannot simply point to having cleaner air now than it did in the past and call it good enough to meet present day obligations to reduce more pollution. After selecting an appropriate number of sources for review, the state must apply the Clean Air Act’s four reasonable progress factors: (1) costs of compliance, (2) the time necessary for compliance, (3) the energy and non-air quality environmental impacts of compliance, and (4) the remaining useful life in order to determine regional haze requirements.
The statute, the regulation and the 2019 Regional Haze Guidance all plainly state that even if a Class I area to which a state’s pollution contributes is on the “glidepath” to clear skies, the state must still make progress towards natural air quality until it is achieved. States like Utah, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana are all pointing at Class I areas under the glidepath as an excuse for not doing anything, even though there are feasible, cost effective emission reduction opportunities for their sources. It is time to correct course, and EPA must provide a loud reminder that being under the glidepath is not an excuse: if states do not shift their approach, they will fail to meet regional haze requirements. States cannot change or misapply the Clean Air Act to justify haze plans that do nothing to limit visibility impairing pollution.
States are pitting costs of cleaning up visibility impairing pollution against the benefits of emission reduction to try to justify doing nothing. For example, Texas is assuming this approach for its coal plants and in Washington this approach implicates pulp and paper plants, amongst other sources. These and other states are using this comparison as an excuse to bypass pollution reductions because, they argue, the benefits are just too small to warrant significant, cost effective emission reductions. This is not how the program is supposed to work.
As stated above, the Clean Air Act instructs states to consider the four reasonable progress factors to determine what emission reducing measures to require of an identified source. Unfortunately, many states are injecting visibility as a fifth consideration into the Clean Air Act’s source specific evaluation.
Visibility is the bedrock of regional haze program. States should use visibility to determine which sources to evaluate for emission reduction measures and, once the state has determined all emission reducing measures it will require in its haze plan, the aggregate visibility benefits of the state’s haze plan.
EPA must remind states about the way the regional haze program is meant to work: all states must play their part to reduce emissions which in the aggregate will help eliminate human caused regional haze.
3. The existence of some pollution control or possibility of addressing pollution later under a different regulation does not excuse a state from considering more stringent controls or adopting enforceable emission reduction requirements in its haze plan.
Prior air pollution controls on a source is not an excuse to avoid additional or better-operated controls now that could further reduce visibility impairing emissions. States like Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona assert that past control requirements mean that the state can ignore those sources, even for pollutants not addressed. Thus, states are ignoring additional pollution reductions for previously regulated sources despite available control measures.
The Clean Air Act is not satisfied by and the state cannot delay haze requirements based on the promise of addressing independent regulatory requirements or potential facility retirements in the future. States like Utah point to forthcoming rules to address oil and gas pollution; North Carolina to anticipated, but unenforceable coal plant retirements; and California to a distinct, geographically specific regulatory program. The result: delay and side-stepping the regional haze process. EPA must specify that a four-factor reasonable progress analysis and emission reduction requirements cannot be waived, and states must do a pollution control assessment even for sources with prior control requirements, potential future regulatory requirements, and unenforceable retirements.
4. Federal Land Manager concerns must be considered by the state and addressed in state plans.
Under the Clean Air Act, Federal Land Managers, such as the National Park Service and the Forest Service, play a central role in the haze program and in developing state haze plans. Many states appear to be disregarding FLMs counsel and insight in the development of their haze plans, on issues such as ignoring sources identified by FLMs for a four-factor analysis to concerns over the behavior of pollutants in the atmosphere and associated effects on Class I visibility.
EPA must make plain that states are required to not only consult with FLMs but also to work collaboratively to develop regional haze plans. FLM input should be treated as guiding in the development of haze plans to ensure public resource protections.
In closing, we appreciate your time and attention to our concerns about the ways states are approaching the development of their regional haze plans. People and parks deserve clean air, and our climate will benefit too if states are held to the implementation requirements of the Regional Haze Program. Strong state haze plans will mean clearer skies and healthier air for our national parks, our communities, and our planet. We ask you to promptly address these issues by providing states with specific instruction to clarify requirements and expectations for second round regional haze plans.