Alexander Urges Interior Department to Keep Air Quality Goals Part of Strategic Plan

Posted on October 2, 2006

For Immediate Release: Contact: Harvey Valentine 202-224-8816 Monday, October 2, 2006 ALEXANDER URGES INTERIOR DEPARTMENT TO KEEP AIR QUALITY GOALS PART OF STRATEGIC PLAN Absence From Plan Could Affect Air Quality in Smokies WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has written U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne urging that the Department’s Strategic Plan for the coming years retain the air quality goals and performance measures contained in the existing Straegic Plan. The Strategic Plan now in effect (for the years 2003-2008) includes the goal of improving air quality in federal lands designated as especially scenic areas - such as the Great Smoky Mountains. Progress toward that goal is measured by tracking air quality and visibility objectives. The proposed Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2007-2012 contains no mention of air quality, and omits the two air quality performance measures contained in the current plan. Alexander said that as the Park’s federal land manager, the Department has an “affirmative responsibility” to protect all “air quality-related” values in Class I scenic areas like the Smoky Mountains. “In light of this clear mandate, and in the interest of effective stewardship of our public lands, it is important for the Interior Department to maintain specific strategic goals for protecting and improving air quality in especially scenic areas,” Alexander said. # # # Text of Sen. Alexander’s letter to Sec. Kempthorne follows: September 25, 2006 The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne Secretary of the Interior U.S. Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20240-0001 Dear Secretary Kempthorne: I am writing to request that the Department of the Interior Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2007-2012, which is being prepared in fulfillment of the Government Performance and Results Act, include the air quality goals and performance measures that were contained in the Department’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2003-2008. The Department’s Strategic Plan now in effect includes the goal of improving air quality in federal lands designated as Class I areas under the Clean Air Act. Progress toward that goal is measured, according to the plan, by tracking the percent of such lands that meet ambient air quality standards and visibility objectives. The proposed Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2007-2012 contains no mention of air quality, and omits the two air quality performance measures that are contained in the current plan. A recent National Park Service analysis shows that even as air quality is improving in some parks, 45 of 51 Class I parks monitored for air pollution failed to improve, or got worse, with respect to one or more pollutants over the past decade. Much work remains to restore healthy air and ecosystems to our natural and scenic lands, including meeting the Clean Air Act goal of “the prevention of any future, and the remedying of any existing, impairment of visibility in mandatory Class I federal areas.” For example, the Park Service analysis stated that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park “has the highest rates of nitrogen and sulfur deposition of any monitored location in North America. As a result, rainfall in the park is 5-10 times more acidic than natural rainfall, and 90 percent of clouds have been found to be unnaturally acidic. The Smokies also suffer from high levels of ozone pollution – among the highest in the Eastern U.S. Since 1990, ozone levels have exceeded national ambient air quality standards on more than 300 days.” The Park Service found no improvement in ozone, a slight improvement in visibility on clear days, an improvement in visibility on hazy days, no improvement in sulfate in precipitation, a slight improvement in nitrate in precipitation, and no improvement in ammonium in precipitation. Visibility in the Smokies on the worst days is 15 miles, much less than the estimate of natural visibility (77 miles). As the federal land manager designated under the 1977 Clean Air Act, the Department has an “affirmative responsibility” to protect all “air quality-related values” in Class I areas. In light of this clear mandate, and in the interest of effective stewardship of our public lands, it is important for the Department to maintain specific strategic goals for protecting and improving air quality in Class I areas. While it may be an oversight that these air quality goals and performance measures were not included in the proposed Strategic Plan, a clear acknowledgement of Interior’s responsibility for protecting air quality in Class I areas should be a part of any strategic document guiding the Department’s activities. I therefore urge that the Department’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2007-2012 retain the air quality goals and performance measures contained in the existing Strategic Plan. Sincerely, Lamar Alexander United States Senator