Air Pollution:

Protecting Parks and Wilderness From Nearby Pollution Sources

RCED-90-10: Published: Feb 7, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal and state efforts to maintain clean air in national parks and wilderness areas, focusing on: (1) the extent to which the Clean Air Act regulated stationary sources located near areas designated Class I, the highest protection level; (2) how federal land managers protected Class I areas from stationary source emissions; and (3) why states have not designated other federal lands as Class I.

GAO found that: (1) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Program requirements covered very few air pollution sources around Class I areas; (2) 99 percent of the stationary sources near the Class I areas reviewed, accounting for 90 percent of local pollution, were exempt from PSD requirements because they either were in existence before the program went into effect or were considered minor sources and did not need permits; (3) although the act provided for installation of retrofit technology on exempt sources, the provision only applied in cases where the facilities adversely affected visibility in Class I areas; (4) although federal land managers improved the PSD permit review process, lack of information about the resources they tried to protect and the effects of air pollution on those resources continued to hamper reviews; and (5) although federal agencies recommended 14 states and territories with areas for Class I designation, state officials believed that the areas already had adequate protection, they lacked the resources to conduct the necessary studies prior to redesignation, and Class I designations hampered economic development in their states.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has passed amendments to the Clean Air Act. EPA believes the amendments will address the problem.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider: (1) whether the current thresholds for minor sources and exemptions for existing major sources contained in the Clean Air Act ought to be revised; and (2) revising the process for designating Class I areas to make federal land managers responsible, rather than the states.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act will remedy the problem.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, in cooperation with the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service, should expeditiously survey a group of Class I areas where nearby emission sources are believed or are known to contribute to air quality degradation. The survey should determine the extent to which sources exempt from PSD permit requirements are contributing to air pollution in Class I areas. At the end of his review, the Administrator should report his findings to Congress within the next 6 months.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Additional staff and budget resources were proposed for fiscal year 1992.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should instruct the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a long-range plan for gathering the information necessary to support reviews of PSD permit applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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