EPA Failure to Recognize Light as Pollution at Odds with Science: Effects on Wildlife Continue

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2008 Report on the Environment does not address light pollution, despite the recommendations of its own advisors. As early as 1979, the EPA brought the problem of increased night sky brightness to the public’s attention in its document, Protecting Visibility: an EPA Report to Congress. Sixteen years later, their Scientific Advisory Board identified light pollution as a significant potential future environmental stressor that risks disrupting animal and plant physiology and behavior, and stated that exposure to this risk should be managed. In 2007, the Advisory Board noted that light pollution had not been included in the EPA’s draft 2007 Report on the Environment, and specifically recommended that it be considered for inclusion in future years. The EPA chose to ignore these recommendations.


According to experts, the night sky over the United States is brightening at a rate of 5-10% annually. They predict there will be few dark skies left over the country by the year 2025 if this rate of growth continues.


Composite Photo by NASA of the United States at Night
Photo by NASA of the United States at Night


Many species depend on dark night skies for good health, and in some cases, for their very survival. Artificial night lighting of the sky has been documented to negatively affect a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and plants. Night migrating birds have been killed by the thousand in single collision events precipitated by lights on communication towers.


Avian collisions with other structures, including tall buildings, wind turbines, offshore oil platforms, and lighthouses are well documented as a result of artificial lights. Endangered hatchling sea turtles can become disoriented by lighting along beach fronts, moving inland towards them instead of towards moon and starlight reflected off ocean waters. Human health may also be at risk, with potential increases in rates of breast cancer and hormone disruption among women consistently exposed to nighttime light pollution.


American Bird Conservancy is now working with partners such as the International Dark-Sky Association, the Missouri Night Sky Protection Act, and the National Parks Conservation Association to assess how to compel the EPA to address the issue of night sky visibility impairment, which may include enforcement under the Clean Air Act.