New environmental protections proposed by the EPA may save Big Bend from the smog that has clouded the park’s skies for years.
Big Bend, which is Texas’ oldest and largest national park, is protected under the Clean Air Act as an area that requires high levels of air quality protection. However, pollution from certain facilities, including eight Texas power plants, has drastically worsened the park’s air quality and visibility.
In 2009, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proposed a “do-nothing” plan to restore the park’s air quality—over a period of 141 years. The plan would have imposed no new pollution limitations on the facilities at fault for the smog.
Unsurprisingly, the EPA was forced to intervene.
“Because parts of Texas’ plan did not meet federal Clean Air Act requirements, EPA has proposed to disapprove parts of the state’s plan for reducing haze pollution from specific electricity generating plants in Texas,” read a statement released by the EPA. “These sources are contributing to haze conditions in Texas’ Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks and also to Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. EPA’s proposal requires cost-effective controls, consistent with treatment used at power plants across the country, that will improve visibility in all of those areas, and prevent uncontrolled pollution emitted from Texas’ plants from drifting to Oklahoma and affecting visibility there, as required by the Clean Air Act. The federal plan would be effective until the state replaces it with an approvable state plan.”
The EPA’s proposal will require eight power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, which will lead to a decrease if 230,000 tons of emissions per year. The controls, according to the EPA, are “very much like those already in place for almost all similar power plants in other states.”
The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club praised the EPA’s decision to intervene, claiming that it is a “strong first step.”
“Sights around the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks have become clouded by haze pollution,” said Dr. Cyrus Reed, Acting Director of the Lone Star Chapter. “Waiting more than a century until 2155 as TCEQ proposed to do to return clear skies is simply unacceptable. We applaud the EPA for protecting our heritage and state treasures.”
Before the proposal is implemented, the EPA will have a 60-day public comment period. No doubt Greg “I sue the federal government and I go home” Abbott will have a thing or two to say.