How’s this for some shocking news. According to an Aug. 6, 2012 statement sent out by Earthjustice, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data “shows that visibility is impaired ‘virtually all the time at most national parks and wilderness areas.’” Specifically, the environmental legal organization notes, “Visibility in the western United States is about 60–100 miles, or half to two-thirds what it would be without human-caused air pollution… [while] in the eastern United States, the average visual range is less than 20 miles, or approximately one-fifth of the visibility range under natural conditions.”
“The groups are challenging a recent EPA rule that allows aging coal plants to avoid installing up-to-date emission controls if they are located in states that participate in an emissions trading program,” stated the EarthJustice press release. Earthjustice Coal Program Director Abigail Dillen added in the news release that “Americans deserve to breathe clean air and actually see the magnificent views when they visit our National Parks.”
If all this sounds a bit like old news, it’s because, at least on Maui, it is. The Valley Isle may not have any coal-fired power plants, but we do have sugarcane burns and the Pu‘unene sugar mill, all of which both puts out noxious smoke and were recently determined by the EPA to NOT be a cause of the haze that afflicts Haleakala National Park.
Though the EPA determined during a study this spring that agricultural burning and oil combustion contribute to about 10 percent of the “visibility degradation” at a monitoring site just outside the park, the agency also concluded that “there is no evidence of agricultural burning contributing to haze at [the park itself].” For that reason, the EPA proposed no new controls on cane burning, reported The Maui News on June 8, 2012.
For someone like Irene Bowie, Maui Tomorrow’s executive director, this was too much. “We don’t doubt that a major contributor to visibility impairment at Haleakala is vog, laden with sulfates and other pollutants brought by Kona winds,” she wrote to the EPA, according to The Maui News. “[B]ut there is no doubt that, as the National Park Service has clearly stated, ‘sugar cane processing facilities and field burning can affect air quality and visibility.’”
If groups like Earthjustice are having to sue to get the EPA to restrict filthy coal-burning plants, what chance do we have out here with cane-burning?
UPDATE (Aug. 14, 2012): So it’s come to my attention (in the form of two letters to the editor and a Tweet) that, in fact, coal does find its way into the Pu’unene sugar mill. Apparently there’s a big pile of the stuff over by the mill, and it’s used to fire the boilers when they’re not burning bagasse (the remnants of a cane burn) to generate electricity. So while technically the mill is not “coal-fired,” it does burn coal from time to time. My mistake. So what’s the EPA’s excuse for not going after it?
Photo: Rob and Stephanie Levy/Wikimedia Commons