The incoming Obama administration made headlines last week with its reversal of a decision that prevented states from imposing stricter pollution standards on automobiles.
California and 13 other states had enacted regulations limiting greenhouse- gas emissions from automobiles in the absence of action by the Environmental Protection Agency. Obama responded to a plea from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed EPA to re-evaluate its position, and to consider a waiver so California can implement the pollution rules. This action will reverberate throughout the automobile industry, leading to cleaner cars with better gas mileage.
Lost in the muddle of transition in presidential administrations was another air-pollution rule change with direct and measurable effects on Mesa Verde National Park, permitting for the Desert Rock power plant and our region's air quality. In early December, the EPA abandoned its intention to allow more pollution in the vicinity of national parks and other pristine airsheds around the country. The rule clearly would have benefitted major new pollution sources at the doorsteps of our national parks, exactly the situation that describes the coal-fired Desert Rock plant planned a few miles south of Mesa Verde.
EPA's political appointees read the writing on the wall and realized this ill-fated proposal was doomed to irrelevancy once Obama took office. So, they voluntarily pulled the plug.
As reported last summer, EPA intended to change the way it measured pollution near parks. The current scientific models project how bad pollution will be over three-hour and 24-hour periods. This emphasizes the impact of short-term spikes that significantly diminish air quality on specific days. EPA wanted to change this rule to an annual average, which would smooth out the impact of bad days and allow a general, continuing decline in overall air quality. It's the type of seemingly mundane rule change that results in folks 10 years hence talking about how much worse the brown haze blanketing Shiprock seems than it used to be.
The EPA's proposed rule change was opposed by most of EPA's own regional administrators, the very folks charged with protecting and improving air quality. The only vocal advocates were those with suspect motives, people such as Jeff Holmstead, an attorney for Sithe Global trying to get Desert Rock approved. Holmstead used to be a big shot in the EPA under the Bush administration, where he routinely stymied action on global- warming pollution, and just happened to be the bureaucrat who first proposed these now-abandoned rule changes.
Clean-air advocates, national park protectors and citizens concerned about Desert Rock can breathe a collective sign of relief. It highlights the sea change that a new administration can bring about. Rather than react to proposals that degrade our air, water and lands, conservation advocates are in the position to advance improvements and advocate solutions.
Next time you visit Far View Visitor Center at the park, enjoy the view and revel in the fact that the brown haze to the south at least isn't any worse.
Mark Pearson is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.