The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued formal notices last week to Louisiana and 14 other states that failed to submit plans to reduce regional haze air pollution caused largely by industrial operations. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued formal notices last week to Louisiana and 14 other states that failed to submit plans to reduce regional haze pollution as required by the Clean Air Act.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will now have two years to submit a plan that is within EPA guidelines or risk leaving it to the federal government to implement its own plan for the state.
“Today’s finding is an important step towards ensuring that these states meet their obligations under the Clean Air Act to restore visibility and protect public health,” the EPA said in a press release.
Regional haze is a term used to describe air pollution that affects visibility in certain areas of interest such as national parks and federal wilderness areas. Haze forms when sunlight encounters tiny pollution particles in the air, reducing visibility and changing the natural color of the atmosphere, especially during humid conditions, according to the EPA.
Most regional haze pollution comes from industrial manufacturing operations and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum, though it can also come from natural sources such as wind-blown dust and soot from wildfires. The federal government has been monitoring regional haze since 1988, and the EPA touts the program’s effectiveness with measurements that show significant reductions in haze at many locations across the country.
Federal laws and regulations require each state to formulate a regional haze plan about every 10 years with the goal of reducing air pollution. After states submit their haze plans, the EPA reviews them and can approve, deny or work with state officials on revisions. If no agreement can be reached, the EPA can take a more forceful step of implementing its own plan in place of the state’s.
States have had more than four years to submit their plans. The first state plans were due in 2007 and covered a 10-year period. The second planning period had an original deadline of July 31, 2018, but the agency issued a 3-year extension to July 31, 2021.
Louisiana was ready to submit its plan on time last year but pulled it following public comments that pointed out conflicts of interest in parts of the plan. The Illuminator reported last year that environmental groups mobilized against the plan because it relied on analyses and data from sources that were themselves responsible for much of the pollution.
A joint letter from the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association at the time said the plan also failed to include any independent critical review and lacked enforceable shutdown dates for anticipated closures of outdated coal plants.
The Sierra Club and several other environmental groups joined in a lawsuit against the EPA earlier this year to enforce the Regional Haze requirements after Louisiana and other states neglected to submit their plans yet drew no enforcement actions or consequences from the EPA until last week when the agency sent out notices. Such notices do not trigger any kind of sanctions.
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Gregory Langley said the state is working on changes to its plan based on public input it received last year and plans to submit a revised plan in the future, though he did not offer a more precise timeline.
“We will submit a state plan before the Federal Implementation Plan is imposed,” Langley said. “It’s hard to say if EPA will approve it.”
The 15 states that received noncompliance notices from the EPA include Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
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