Interior Department Ignores Own Analysis, Gives Green Light to Increased Haze at Mammoth Cave National Park

NRDC Condemns New Policy as 'Pollute First, Ask Questions Later'

WASHINGTON (August 23, 2002) -- The Interior Department yesterday reversed a National Park Service finding that air pollution from a proposed coal-fired power plant in western Kentucky would significantly hamper visibility at nearby Mammoth Cave National Park. The agency's blessing for the plant came just two days before a bluegrass festival celebrating Mammoth Cave at Wolf Trap, an outdoor pavilion run by the National Park Service near Washington, D.C.

"Bluegrass fans will be dancing on the lawn at Wolftrap to celebrate Mammoth Cave, but they will have no idea that the Interior Department just okayed more pollution in one of our most popular national parks," said David McIntosh, an attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "That's not something to celebrate."

In an August 22 letter to the state of Kentucky, Craig Manson, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, rejected the conclusions of career National Park Service officials after his staff met with Peabody Energy Corp.

Peabody wants to build a 1,500-megawatt plant, dubbed Thoroughbred, 50 miles west of the park, and then find an operator to run the plant. The plant would burn Peabody's dirty high-sulfur coal and emit 22 million pounds of sulfur dioxide into the skies over Kentucky every year. The air at Mammoth Cave is already more polluted than at nearly every other park in the country. The proposed plant, said McIntosh, would only make that pollution worse. "It's a craven capitulation to Peabody -- one of President Bush's major campaign contributors -- at the expense of public health and the environment," he said.

According to internal Interior Department documents obtained by NRDC, Park Service officials found that Peabody's Thoroughbred power plant would have an adverse impact on visibility at Mammoth Cave National Park at the level at which Kentucky wants to allow the plant to pollute (a 24-hour sulfur dioxide (SO2) limit of 0.41 lbs/MMBtu). National Park Service officials determined that the level would need to be reduced by nearly half for there to be no adverse effect on visibility at Mammoth Cave (an SO2 limit of 0.23 lbs/MMBtu). Yesterday's letter from the Interior Department to the state repeats those findings, while expressing a "preference" that the state lower the limit from 0.41 to 0.23 lbs/MMBtu.

But the Interior Department refuses to act on its own analysis, and the letter fails to state that Kentucky should make it an actual legal requirement that the Thoroughbred plant may not pollute at levels that would have an adverse haze impact on Mammoth Cave. The Interior Department letter describes a deal cut by Peabody, Kentucky and the Bush administration in which the Thoroughbred plant would be allowed to operate at a level (0.41 lbs/MMBtu for SO2) that would hinder visibility in the park, while being given a two-year operating window at the end of which the state would determine whether Peabody would be willing to accept a lower limit.

"It's a sad day for America's parks when the policy of the Bush administration is 'Pollute first and ask questions later,' " said McIntosh. "Since the Park Service recognizes that we need stricter pollution limits on Thoroughbred to prevent visibility haze at Mammoth Cave, the agency should be a guardian of the national parks instead of protecting a big Bush campaign contributor."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related Documents

Letter from Craig Manson to state of Kentucky, 8/23/02 in PDF format, 178k.