Texas Tries to Clear the Air at Two National Parks

AUSTIN, Texas, June 11, 2008 (ENS) – To comply with federal air quality requirements for national parks, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is revising the State Implementation Plan, SIP, to address visibility at both Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains parks and at protected areas in neighboring states.

The federal rule calls for visibility improvements at national parks on the haziest days and no additional visibility impairment on the clearest days. It also requires states to take into account their impact on such areas in other states when determining their own reductions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has set a long-term goal to eliminate the effects of human activity on visibility by 2064, but for now states are concentrating on improvements for the next 10 years.

The TCEQ aims to adopt its new State Implementation Plan on July 9, 2008.

The EPA Regional Haze Rule strongly encourages states to work together in regional partnerships to reduce haze. There are five regional planning organizations in the United States.

Texas is a member of the Central Regional Air Planning Association, which includes nine states – Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota.

States are required to show that they are making reasonable progress toward meeting “natural visibility conditions,” the natural levels of particle concentrations that would exist without the influence of human activities.

Rather than using EPA’s target for natural conditions at Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains, the Texas agency has opted to develop refined estimates that take into account the recurrence of natural dust storms in the region.

To prepare for this summer’s SIP submission to the federal environment agency, the TCEQ has held consultations with other states and with federal land managers from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last November the TCEQ held a public meeting to accept public input.

Early morning haze over the Sierra Del
Carmen, Big Bend National Park
(Photo by Allison Wanderland)

The TCEQ says Texas cannot clear away the haze on its own. “Pollution transport from Mexico and Central America is a major factor in visibility impairment at Texas’ Class I areas. The goal of natural visibility will not be met unless international transport is addressed by the federal government,” the state agency said.

Class I areas are national parks over 6,000 acres and wilderness areas over 5,000 acres that Congress has recognized at significant sites.

National parks in surrounding states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico may want more input on potentially permitted new sources of emissions such as factories or power plants in proximity to their Class I areas, the TCEQ explains.

Presently, the rules allow these states and federal land managers to review new sources within 100 kilometers (60 miles). Oklahoma has requested the opportunity to examine and comment on some new source applications within 300 kilometers of Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Class I area.

Federal land managers for the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service have also requested a change in federal new source review procedures implemented in Texas so that more permit applications undergo a visibility impact review.

The agency plans to work directly with the federal land managers to try to resolve their concerns. The TCEQ committed to keep Oklahoma informed of those discussions and to give them an opportunity to comment on proposed sources that could have a significant impact on the Wichita Mountains Class I area.

The state must reduce its visibility impairment impact at all Class I areas it impacts by “as much as is reasonable,” but the TCEQ anticipates some public pressure to make more progress toward natural visibility than it plans to accomplish with this State Implementation Plan.

The national goal is to reach natural visibility by 2064. At the rate of improvement proposed in this plan, natural visibility levels would not be reached until 2081 at the Guadalupe Mountains and 2155 at Big Bend.

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