A coalition of conservation organizations – Environmental Defense, Montana Environmental Information Center, National Parks Conservation Association, and the National Wildlife Federation – filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) over its failure to minimize the air pollution impacts of a massive development that will harm public health and cloak more than a dozen national parks and wilderness areas in haze. The suit claims DOI must limit air pollution from some 100,000 oil and gas wells and 23,000 miles of new roads authorized in a 33 million acre zone in Montana and Wyoming. The legal action was filed in federal district court in Montana.
"The federal government has okayed one of the most massive oil and gas developments in American history despite the potential health impacts on people living nearby and the haze that will pollute the grand vistas of the West," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton.
"The government predicts violations of public health standards, yet will do nothing to stop air pollution from coal-bed methane development. The science is clear. This harmful air pollution causes asthma attacks and other serious lung disease. The federal government should not be making it dangerous to breathe the air," said Montana Environmental Information Center Program director Anne Hedges.
"Montana's national parks are critical assets that can contribute every year to our lives and our economy if we take care of them," said Tony Jewett, senior director of National Parks Conservation Association's Northern Rockies office. "Clean air and clear visibility are essential parts of any healthy parks formula. These coal bed methane proposals take us in the wrong direction."
The air pollution from the development will violate the federal health-based standard for particulate pollution in nearby communities. It will also pollute scenic vistas at national parks and wilderness areas including: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Theodore Roosevelt and Wind Cave National Parks, and the Badlands, Bridger, Fitzpatrick, Gates of the Mountain, North Absaroka, Red Rocks Lakes, Scapegoat, Teton, U.L. Bend and Washakie Wilderness areas. Even the government's own analysis, which severely underestimates the air pollution impacts, shows that some of these protected areas will be impacted by haze on a dozen or more days each year. And some of the predicted pollution impacts will be comparable to Denver's "brown cloud."
The lawsuit alleges that DOI has failed to carry out its obligations under the Clean Air Act to protect national parks and wildernesses from harmful air pollution. The pollution will result from construction activity and heavy equipment, construction and operation of new wells, compressor stations and engines, pipelines, increased vehicle traffic, and more than 23,000 miles of new roads. Cost-effective solutions are available to cut the high pollution estimated over the 10-to 20-year project timeframe.
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