A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a government-approved program used by five Western states to improve their air quality and visibility in national parks and wilderness areas.
WASHINGTON A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a government-approved program used by five Western states to improve their air quality and visibility in national parks and wilderness areas.
Siding with an industry coalition, the court said the states' program was based on Environmental Protection Agency methods that the court, ruling in a case three years ago, had found to be "inconsistent with the Clean Air Act."
Friday's decision deals with efforts by Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming to cut sulfur dioxide pollution that contributes to regional haze, particularly at the Grand Canyon.
Mike Leavitt, now the Health and Human Services Department's secretary and formerly EPA's administrator, had helped lead those efforts as Utah's governor.
Judge Stephen Williams, writing for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said the similarity between methods rejected by the court and adopted for the haze program "fatally taints EPA's rule."
The judges' decision came in a challenge from the Alexandria, Va.-based Center for Energy and Economic Development, a coalition of coal, utility, rail and other companies.
But the court agreed with EPA that the Clean Air Act lets states develop pollution-trading programs that rely on the market to cut haze regionally, as opposed to strictly requiring retrofitted pollution controls on a per-plant basis.
"We are disappointed," EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said. "We will continue to work with the Western states and with all other states that seek to use such trading programs to achieve these goals."
States are still assessing the ruling's impact and will need time to figure out a new approach, said Joseph Mikitish, an Arizona assistant attorney general who represented the five states and two others, California and Illinois, that supported the efforts.
"We're going to have to revisit the program that we adopted now that the court struck it down," he said Friday night. "We need to go back to the drawing board."
EPA is scheduled to issue by mid-April regulations on cleanup requirements for power plants and other industrial sources of haze in national parks.
Vickie Patton, an attorney for Environmental Defense, called the court's decision "another chapter in the coal industries' efforts both in the courts and in the Congress to weaken clean air protections for our national parks."
The National Park Service's air resources division reported earlier this month that ozone pollution is worsening at Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Craters of the Moon, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon national parks. Other parks where ozone is worsening are North Cascades in Washington state, Death Valley in California, Acadia in Maine and Congaree Swamp in South Carolina, the Park Service said.
Source: Associated Press