Interior Department officials said yesterday they have decided against providing states with a list of especially beautiful vistas from national parks that should be kept clear of smoke and other emissions from proposed industrial plants.
An Environmental Protection Agency regulation permitted the department to publish the list, and environmental organizations had urged it to do so. But the department decided against it, citing "state resentment and objection" that would "likely lead to prolonged litigation," according to a statement by Interior Secretary Donald Hodel.
If the department had provided states such a list, they would have been required to "consider" the special value of the vistas before granting environmental use permits to industries that could damage the view with smoke. The states would not have been prevented from granting the permits, however, officials said.
The 173 scenes in 43 parks, selected by the National Park Service, include views from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Va.; from Acadia National Park along the Maine coast; from Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., and from Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Assistant Interior Secretary William P. Horn, announcing the decision, said singling out certain vistas for possible protection might create the impression that other environmental goals were not as important or that vistas not listed were unimportant.
"We don't want to make these vistas paramount over other problems or create the impression that these vistas are more important than other vistas in the parks," Horn said.
Spokesmen for environmental groups charged that the department was responding to pressure from some members of Congress as well as mining companies, energy companies and power plants.
"The department believes the less action taken the better for industry," said T. Destry Jarvis, vice president of the National Parks and Conservation Association.
A lawyer representing the Utility Air Regulatory Group, comprised of several dozen utility companies, indicated he was pleased with the department's decision.
"The list would have exposed existing plants to additional pollution controls and would have affected siting of new plants, particularly in the West and also in the East," said Michael L. Teague, who wrote to Hodell objecting to the list.
Teague also filed petitions with the EPA and the U.S. Court of Appeals here saying Interior would have exceeded its authority in trying to control areas outside the parks.
The EPA gave the department the option of giving states a list of such vistas in its 1980 regulations implementing the 1977 Clean Air Act.
Under then-secretary James G. Watt, Interior officials conducted a "regulatory impact analysis" of whether the costs of having such a list would outweigh the benefits.
Although the analysis showed that the benefits outweighed the costs, Interior officials decided against publication of the list because "that kind of quantification in dollar amounts was not the key issue," Horn said.
He said the key issue was whether to use the Clean Air Act to protect such vistas without benefit of a list.
The Clean Air Act, however, specifies that visibility is to be protected inside national parks, not outside, Teague said.