Time to Clean Up Old Coal Plants and Protect Our National Parks

NOTE: This is a guest post by Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Counsel at the National Parks Conservation Association.

On December 23rd, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly gave an early Christmas present to operators of some of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the eastern U.S. That’s when the EPA issued a proposal that would exempt these plants from installing modern pollution controls deemed necessary to protect the air quality in some of America’s most beloved national parks and wilderness areas.

35 years ago — in the 1977 Clean Air Act — Congress mandated that these outdated coal plants clean up their pollution to protect places like the Great Smoky Mountains, Voyageurs, Everglades and Acadia national parks from air pollution. The EPA ignored this mandate for decades, until finally forced by public pressure and litigation to enforce the law.

Air pollution continues to be one of the most widespread and severe problems within the national park system, while climate change, fueled by growing emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, has become “the greatest threat the National Park System has ever faced,” according the National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. Coal-fired power plants are the largest sources of air and climate pollution impacting the national parks.

The Obama Administration came into office promising to end the previous administration’s persistent attempts to delay and undermine enforcement of the Clean Air Act. And in many respects, the Obama EPA has made progress – moving forward with new regulations to limit mercury and other toxic pollutants, nitrogen and sulfur pollution in the eastern U.S., and greenhouse gas emissions. But the job is far from over. Hundreds of antiquated coal-fired power plants – 30, 40, 50 years old – continue to spew millions of tons of pollution into our atmosphere.

The Obama EPA is moving forward with work to clean up coal-fired power plants polluting national parks in the West – a big step toward addressing the shameful 35-plus year delay in enforcing the Clean Air Act. But now, on the eve of eastern coal plants finally being forced to clean up their act, EPA wants to give many of them a reprieve from pollution controls, proposing that a regional pollution trading program, that in some cases will mean little or no actual cleanup, should be allowed to replace concrete, plant specific pollution reductions.

The EPA’s proposed Best Available Retrofit Technology rule exemption would allow at least 150 coal plants in the eastern half of the country to avoid installing the most effective pollution controls, controls that are necessary for achieving low emission rates routinely required at coal plants nationwide. Modern pollution controls should have been installed on these plants decades ago. It’s time to finally get the job done.

EPA must drop its proposal in order to guarantee that these plants are fully cleaned up for the benefit of our parks, our health and the economic vitality of communities that depend on tourism and recreation.

Please sign our petition by February 28th tell EPA to abandon its proposal.

Related Stories:

3 Clean Air Laws To Love

The Congressional War on Clean Air and Climate Science

Grand Canyon Bans Sale Of Plastic Water Bottles

Photos Courtesy of the National Parks Conservation Association


David N.
David N5 years ago

Thanks for the article... petition signed.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago


patricia m lasek
patricia lasek5 years ago

Signed. Preotect our lands, wildlife and people!

Karen Baker
Karen Baker5 years ago

It is always about the MONEY....

Tom Sullivan
Tom C Sullivan5 years ago

I have learned in 62 years of life. Money comes before human life & the land & oceans, it is all about corp. greed followed by our so called leaders greed also.

Dieter Riedel
Dieter R5 years ago

That is free capitalism, money first, people and environment last...

Eileen W.
Eileen W5 years ago

I find it outrageous that a body set up to protect the environment is actually doing the opposite by protecting the polluters. Duly signed with pleasure. :)

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Can't sign because I signed last week. Most likely sustainable replacement for coal-fired electric plants would be Enhanced Geothermal Systems. MIT School of Engineering and Potter Drilling still need to do some engineering to get them cost-competitive with coal-fired plants. Maybe a coal mining firm would be willing to trade an Enhanced Geothermal System for title to the amount of coal it would replace before it needs to be replaced itself. That would mean the federal government taking a loss on however many it would take to learn how to get them down in price enough to be cost-competitive with coal--but neglecting the problems caused by burning coal would cost even more between toxic pollution and global warming.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

Why fit them with better cleaning devices when we really need to shut them down completely. The plants are the least of the pollution generating operation, as the minning industry has shown us with it's mountain top removal. Maybe that is what we're really moving toward but it must be done slowly to avoid panic over how our electricity will be generated.Most power companies know they've got to get their electricty from cleaner sources and have been moving in that direction for years but it's still just a small part.Lets say we give them 10 years to shut down coal and nukes, re-vamp those plants to create a clean, sustainable supply of electricity and make a really big deal of it nation wide and get people to cut down their use. Allow rationing for those already engaged in energy saveing by giving them a lower price for their useage. And charge a lot more to the mindless wasters. They'll catch on soon enough when it hits their wallet.

Nelson Baker
Nelson Baker5 years ago

I have lost faith in all government agencies. I believe most of them are headed by corrupt officials who are in bed with those whom they are supposed to regulate.