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For Immediate Release, June 4, 2012

Contact:  Kevin Bundy, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x313
Joseph Otis Minott, Clean Air Council, (215) 567-4004 x116
Mark Wenzler, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 454-3335
Charles McPhedran, Earthjustice, (215) 206-0352

Legal Challenge Filed to EPA's Ineffective Acid Rain Standards

Pollution Threatens Forests, Fisheries, National Parks

WASHINGTON— Three conservation organizations filed a legal challenge on June 1 to the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to update air-quality standards the agency itself admits are inadequate to protect the nation’s parks, forests, rivers and lakes from acid rain. The petition for review was filed in the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by the Clean Air Council, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association, represented by Earthjustice.

“Acid rain isn’t a thing of the past, but an ongoing and very real threat to forest ecosystems and wild fisheries across the country,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA is bizarrely ignoring the hard work of its own scientific experts and instead relying on outdated air-quality standards that it knows are not protective enough.”

“Instead of following the law and doing what is necessary to protect our natural resources, EPA has chosen to sit on the sidelines. Meanwhile, acid rain continues to poison our waters and threaten our forests,” said Joe Minott of the Clean Air Council.

“Our national parks are unique and fragile places that were set aside to preserve the natural heritage of our nation,” said Mark Wenzler, vice president for Clean Air and Climate Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The EPA’s failure to protect national parks from acid rain risks leaving wildlife and ecosystems permanently impaired.”

“EPA’s scientists identified the problem and provided a formula for action, but EPA dropped the ball,” said Charles McPhedran, attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the three groups.  “EPA’s inaction hurts our streams, and will not stand.”

Power plants and other industrial operations pump pollution, including sulfur and nitrogen compounds, into the air. When this pollution later falls onto forests, rivers and lakes, it has an acidifying effect—hence the term “acid rain.” Acidic waters harm fish and other aquatic organisms. In the Adirondack Mountains, for example, lakes with more acidic water support only half the species of fish that might otherwise live there. Reduced growth rates in trout and salmon also have been attributed to acid stress.

Acid rain threatens entire forest ecosystems, national parks and wilderness areas. Although places across the country are at risk from this pollution, the eastern United States — including the Adirondacks, the Green and White mountains, and the Appalachians — and the upper Midwest are among the most sensitive areas.

This action has a long history. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set so-called “secondary” air-quality standards limiting ambient concentrations of air pollutants that affect “public welfare,” which includes ecosystems and natural resources. The Center and other groups sued the agency in 2005 over its failure to review the secondary standard for acid rain-causing sulfur and nitrogen compounds — a standard first established in 1971 and not strengthened since. That litigation led to the EPA’s current review of the standard, in which the agency admitted that existing standards are inadequate to protect sensitive ecosystems and fish species from the effects of acid rain. Yet the EPA chose to leave these inadequate standards in place, rejecting efforts by the agency’s own scientific experts to devise a new, more protective standard.

The case is entitled Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. Jackson (D.C. Cir. Case No. 12-1238).

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Clean Air Council is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting the right of everyone to breathe clean air. It is based in Philadelphia and has over 6,000 members who support its mission.

The National Parks Conservation Association is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing America’s National Parks for present and future generations.

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

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