updated 6/16/2005 11:12:52 AM ET 2005-06-16T15:12:52

New regulations intended to improve the air in national parks and wilderness areas will require hundreds of power plants, steel mills and similar facilities to cut pollution by a million tons a year.

The Environmental Protections rules issued Wednesday directs state officials to specify what plants will have to make the cuts and by how much.

“States are now required to go out and identify these facilities and then determine what the best available retrofit technology is,” said Jeff Holmstead, head of air quality for the EPA. “We don’t expect that any states will fail to do this.”

As part of a 2003 court settlement with an environmental group, New York-based Environmental Defense, the EPA agreed to have states impose limits on air pollution, often from sources hundreds of miles away, to reduce haze and visibility problems in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. States will now have to submit new plans by December 2007 on how they plan to do it.

The biggest impacts will be in the Great Smoky Mountains and other parks in the Southeast and in Western parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Haze is produced mainly by nitrates and sulfates that scatter and absorb light in the atmosphere.

Holmstead said that beginning in 2014, industrial facilities will have to cut 1 million tons of pollution a year — 600,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and 400,000 tons of sulfur dioxide

The EPA estimates it will cost about $1.5 billion a year to achieve the reduction but puts the annual benefits at $8.5 billion to $10 billion through fewer premature deaths, nonfatal heart attacks, hospital admissions and lost school and workdays.

The EPA expects an additional $240 million a year in benefits from increased tourism.

“Some areas will benefit more, because they’re more polluted than other areas,” Holmstead said. “We are predicting improvements in all of them.”

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