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Groups fear worsening air quality in national parks

The Associated PressAspen, CO Colorado

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. Environmentalists and some civic leaders are protesting proposed changes to the federal clean air law that they say will worsen pollution in several Western national parks, including Mesa Verde National Park.Advocacy groups held news conferences at the southwest Colorado park and three others Wednesday to call on the Bush administration to abandon the change being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.The EPA has proposed changing the way the impact of a new pollution source on a park is calculated by looking at annual averages, rather than peak periods, of pollution.”Mesa Verde sits at 7,000 feet, where the air is supposed to be clear and the skies blue, but we’re already seeing the effects of ozone and haze because of the intensity of energy development in the Four Corners,” said Jodi Foran, president of the League of Women Voters of Montezuma County.The National Parks Conservation Association, San Juan Citizens Alliance and other groups contend the rule change is meant to make it easier to build coal-fired power plants near parks.Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said the news conference was his first visit to Mesa Verde in two years.”I was shocked. The visibility up there has decreased significantly since I was there last,” Eisenfeld said.He blamed the Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station, both coal-fired plants in the area, for worsening air quality. Eisenfeld said he believes pollution would increase if the Desert Rock coal-fired plant is built as planned 45 miles to the south.Mary Uhl, air quality division bureau chief at the New Mexico Environment Department, warned during a recent meeting in Durango that smog levels in Mesa Verde could exceed federal limits this summer.Navajo Nation’s Dine Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power want to build the $3 billion Desert Rock plant, which could produce electricity for up to 1.5 million homes in cities across the Southwest.Under the federal Clean Air Act, national parks and other certain federal lands are considered “Class 1″ air-quality zones, meaning they have the highest level of protection. Opponents say the proposed changes would permit more pollution by changing how and when pollution is measured, eliminating shorter-term monitoring periods intended to chart sharp rises.Environmental groups point to another change that would no longer include some existing pollution sources when considering development of new ones.Staffers in several EPA regional offices across the country and U.S. senators, include Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar, have criticized the proposals.Jeff Holmstead, head of the environmental strategies group at Bracewell & Giuliani, the law firm that represents Sithe Global and the Desert Rock project, said environmentalists are focusing on worst-case scenarios. He was in charge of the EPA’s air pollution control office when the proposed changes were drafted in 2005.”What the EPA is saying now is, ‘Let’s use the appropriate tools, but not raise the highest hurdles we can,'” Holmstead said. “The environmental community wants it to be this way because it gives them leverage; it makes it easier to stop an individual project because otherwise it will foul the air in our national parks. But it’s just not true.”


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