Statute Summary

Wilderness Act:
Requires wilderness areas to be administered "for the use of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness."

National Forest System Wilderness Implementing Regulations:
"Wilderness Resources shall be managed to promote perpetuate and where necessary restore the wilderness character of the land"

Under the Wilderness Act, the USDA-FS also has responsibilities to administer all Wilderness areas to maintain their Wilderness character and natural conditions. Human-caused air pollution can affect the character of Wilderness. The Act defines Wilderness as follows:

  • "...lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition..." Section 2(a)
  • " area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man..." Section 2(c)
  • " area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation..." Section 2(c)
  • "...generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable..." Section 2(c)

Clean Air Act:

  1. Protects human health and welfare with national air quality standards;
  2. Sets a national visibility goal of no human-caused impairment which was further defined through the 1999 Regional Haze Rule; and
  3. Establishes the Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality Related Values program for review of new pollution sources.

Forest Service Responsibilities under the Regional Haze Rule
Section 169 (42 U.S.C. § § 7491), sets forth a national visibility goal of restoring pristine conditions in Class I areas:

“Congress hereby declares as a national goal the prevention of any future, and the remedying of any existing, impairment of visibility in mandatory Class I Federal areas which impairment results from man-made air pollution.”

The Regional Haze Rule of 1999 requires states and interested tribes to address sources of pollution contributing to regional haze in the 156 mandatory Class I areas. To do this, states are in the process of developing plans that describe how they plan to reduce regional haze. The Forest Service, as the federal land manager (FLM) of 88 mandatory Class I areas, has been working closely with the states, interested tribes, EPA, and the Regional Planning Organizations in the development of the technical products and policy documents that are being used by each state as they develop their plans. By law, the FLMs of the mandatory Class I areas have a formal consultation with each state 60 days before the draft plans go to public hearing. As stewards of the resource targeted for protection, the Forest Service has a special duty to ensure the Class I wildernesses under our responsibility are managed for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.

Information can be found on Minnesota's Regional Haze plan here.

Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Program
The PSD sections of the Clean Air Act include a permit program for certain new sources of air pollution. The purpose of the PSD process includes the protection and enhancement of air quality in national wilderness areas and other locations of scenic, recreational, historic, or natural value. Before the construction of certain new air pollution sources is approved, the applicants must receive a PSD permit from the appropriate air regulatory agency.

“The Federal Land Manager and the Federal official charged with direct responsibility for management of such lands shall have an affirmative responsibility to protect the air quality related values (including visibility) of any such lands within a class I area and to consider, in consultation with the Administrator, whether a proposed major emitting facility will have an adverse impact on such values.” [CAA Section 165(d)(2)(B)]

When reviewing a draft PSD permit, the Forest Service land manager must make three decisions:

  • What are the sensitive air pollution receptors (also know as air quality related values) within the wilderness that need protection?
  • What are the thresholds of concern for these receptors?
  • Will the proposed facility cause or contribute to pollutant concentrations or atmospheric deposition within the wilderness that will cause the thresholds to be exceeded?

The first two decisions are land management issues based upon the management goals for the wilderness in question. The third is a technical question analyzed by models combining proposed emissions, background levels of pollutants and the sensitivity of visibility and forest resources to the pollutants.

Close coordination between the Forest Service and the appropriate air regulatory agency is essential in the PSD process. The Forest Service advises the permitting agency by making a determination of whether a proposed project will adversely impact Forest lands. The air regulatory agency then makes a decision to grant or deny the permit. In Minnesota, the air permitting agency is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.