Florida officials are working toward improving the air quality in some of Florida’s wilderness areas.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Regional Haze Plan Periodic Report on Sept. 13.
The report shows how Florida has implemented what it calls a “regional haze rule” — meant to help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act — to improve visibility in Class I areas, such as the Everglades National Park, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus and Hernando counties.
Class I areas represent America’s national treasures, said Preston McLane, the administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Business Planning. Congress approved the Clean Air Act in 1990 so pollution wouldn’t “interfere with the ability of people to enjoy the natural beauty of these places,” he said.
Haze reduces visibility when light hits pollution particles floating in the air.
McLane said the objective of Florida’s Regional Haze Progress Report and the regional haze rule is for states to determine which of their areas need help and how to improve visibility over time.
Under the rule, states must achieve a visibility level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. The universal deadline for reaching those levels is 2064.
Since 2000, Florida’s sulfur-dioxide emissions have decreased by about 80 percent, and its nitrogen-oxide emissions from industrial sources have fallen by roughly 70 percent, McLane said.
The state’s air is one of the nation’s cleanest, according to a news release from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Key pollutant emissions have continued to decline, with a 63 percent overall reduction since 1985, the release says.
In Alachua County from 2000 to 2013, sulfur-dioxide emissions were reduced by about 85 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by about 59 percent, said Brian Himes, a meteorologist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
For Chassahowitzka, Florida is focusing on reducing the sulfur-dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants and other industrial sources, Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young said.
She said reducing haze provides cleaner air and improves visibility in natural areas.
“Improving visibility at national parks and wilderness areas provides a more rewarding experience for visitors to be able to view these areas more clearly, further distances and with greater color and contrast without the views being obscured by air pollution,” Harris-Young wrote in an email.
However, that doesn’t mean natural occurrences — such as rain and fog — won’t cause limited visibility, McLane said.
“I think the public should be glad to know that, at least as far as Florida is concerned, we have made very good progress on reducing the pollutants that contribute to visibility impairment,” he said.