Kentucky plan to reduce Mammoth Cave haze approved by EPA

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Kentucky’s plan to meet federal air pollutant and visibility requirements around Mammoth Cave National Park.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler visited Kentucky on Friday to announce the approval of the state’s regional haze plan. States develop plans in order to comply with a portion of the Clean Air Act that requires states to work toward reducing air pollution problems at national parks and wilderness areas.

The new approval replaces a federally imposed plan on Kentucky’s haze requirements that dates back to 2012.

“EPA is removing burdensome, top-down federal requirements and approving the Commonwealth’s own plan for clean air and visibility,” Wheeler said.

A major factor in the reduction of haze has been the retirement of coal-fired power plants in recent years and the installation of pollution scrubbers at other coal plants in Kentucky.

Kentucky officials say emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from Kentucky power plants are down 78% and 40% over the last 10 years.

Since 2015, more than a dozen coal-fired electric units in Kentucky have been retired, replaced by gas-burning units or are scheduled to close.

“Because of the number of closures as well as the shift to gas-fired electricity, you are seeing a reduction in the short and long range transport of pollutants that are involved with haze,” said Tom Fitzgerald, who heads the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy group.

Mammoth Cave National Park has also seen a reduction in pollution over the last decade. According to figures posted on the National Parks website, Mammoth Cave has had a 65 percent reduction in sulfate deposits in rain, snow and smog between 2006 and 2015.

Wheeler also announced a $1.1 million EPA grant to the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection to help clean up petroleum contamination from commercial underground storage tanks.