Whitney Pearson (Provided)
Whitney Pearson

Between Oklahoma and Texas, we have a healthy tradition of rivalry and competition. Any football fan in this state knows it takes a strong defense to keep rivals like the Longhorns on their half of the field.

Taking a cue from our football team, Oklahoma also needs a strong defense against dirty Texas air pollution.

Despite years of rivalry, clean air is one thing that Texans and Oklahomans can agree on. A new, potentially life-saving regional haze plan for Texas, introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will help us make that a reality.

Studies show that coal-fired power plants in Texas emit more pollution than coal-fired power plants in any other state.

This pollution drifts across our state line, marring Oklahoma’s iconic national parks and wildlife refuges. Generations of families enjoy visiting the rugged terrain and wild beauty of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. Unfortunately, the skies above this treasured area are hazy from decades of sulfur dioxide pollution from coal-fired plants in both Texas and Oklahoma.

In addition to impairing visibility, sulfur dioxide pollution harms people’s health. Sulfur dioxide reacts with other compounds in the air to form fine particles that penetrate sensitive parts of the lungs and can aggravate respiratory and heart diseases. Airborne fine particles are linked to increased hospital admissions, missed work and school and premature death.

Toxic pollution in national parks and wilderness areas does more than choke up vacation-goers looking for clean air outside the city.

National parks and wilderness areas are major economic engines to rural communities.

According to a report by the National Park Service (NPS), the National Park System received over 273 million recreation visits in 2013. Also, visitors spent $14.6 billion in local gateway regions (communities within 60 miles of a park).

If we allow the degradation of Oklahoma’s treasured places to continue, tourism will dry up and so will the local economies of small towns that depend on it.

That’s why the EPA took action.

Under the Regional Haze Rule, a protection of the Clean Air Act, states must develop plans to clean up pollution and improve air quality at national parks and wilderness areas.

The do-nothing plan put forward in 2009 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — now rejected by the EPA — did not require a single coal plant to reduce air pollution that blows across state lines.

Fortunately, the EPA strengthened its plan in November. Now, Texas coal plants must clean up this toxic pollution.

To be clear, this effort to clean up Texas’ dirty coal plants does not let large Oklahoma coal plants off the hook. Those utilities must comply with Oklahoma’s own haze plan to keep our air safe and clean.

On Jan. 15, the EPA will be in Oklahoma City to hear comments on the proposed regional haze plan for Texas.

It is more important than ever to stand up for these vital clean air protections, especially at a time when our state leaders won’t.

Whitney Pearson is a regional coal organizer for the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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