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Utah conservation groups say Biden isn’t doing enough to curb emissions near national parks

Hazy national park
Guerric/ Creative Commons
A view of Arches National Park. Over 80% of days at Arches and Canyonlands are hazy, according to a 2015 letter from a National Park Service employee.

Several conservation groups in Utah are suing the Environmental Protection Agency. They say the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to curb air pollution in the state’s national parks.

The regional haze rule is a decades-long effort to cut fossil fuel emissions near national parks. Former President Donald Trump weakened it, and the groups pursued litigation, which is ongoing. The groups said they’ve been in mediation with the current administration, but they said the EPA has indicated to them that they’re sticking with Trump’s changes.

Alex Veilleux, a policy associate with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said they hoped with a change in federal leadership, controls on smokestacks at coal power plants would be put back in place.

“It's messed up to see just clean air quality policy crumble first over a politically motivated move by the Trump administration and now just by an apparent lack of initiatives by the Biden administration,” he said. “It’s a bummer.”

A majority of days at Utah’s parks are hazy, according to a 2015 letter from a National Park Service employee. In fact, the official found that it was hazy 83% of the time at Arches and Canyonlands. Most of that’s coming from two plants located in Emery County, which the environmental groups say are some of the dirtiest in the country.

There’s “tried and true” technology available to address the pollution from these facilities, according to Cory MacNulty, associate director for the southwest region of the National Parks Conservation Association. However, she’s disappointed with how recent talks with the EPA have gone about these measures.

MacNulty said the views aren’t the only things deteriorating from the smog.

“This pollution harms the health of park visitors, wildlife and neighboring communities,” she said. “The path that they're on right now would continue that pollution unabated in the near future.”

Jonny Visac, the executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said air pollution can lead to a slew of health issues, which is a concern for everyone.

“We know pollution doesn't just stay local,” he said. “It can be the most intense wherever it's being generated, but we know it will spread way beyond the ‘Mighty Five.’”

The groups expect an official decision from the EPA as soon as Friday. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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