U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has told National Park Service Director Fran Mainella that he doesn't understand why her agency is trying to revise the set of Management Policies put into effect in 2001.
Senator Alexander, whose home state shares Great Smoky Mountains National Park with North Carolina, wrote Director Mainella on Groundhog Day to express his "continuing concerns with the effort by the National Park Service and the Department of Interior to amend the Park Service's Management Policies."
"As you know," he wrote the NPS director, "I had significant concerns with the draft that initiated this process and still have significant concerns with the draft published by the Park Service in October.
"Most importantly, I am not convinced that the rewrite process is even necessary at this time."
Sen. Alexander was one of six GOP senators who wrote Interior Secretary Gale Norton back in November to say they opposed changes to the Management Policies. Now the senator has officially gone on the record to Director Mainella with his opposition. And in staking out his views, Sen. Alexander has highlighted key areas of the proposed revisions that would weaken protections currently enjoyed by national parks and which could benefit polluters and cost tax payers.
In his three-page letter, the senator takes exception to how the proposed revisions delete from the very first section of the Management Policies "language that unambiguously defines conservation and resource protection as the primary purpose of the Park Service."
"In its place," he continues, "the proposed draft disperses ambiguous language throughout the document that de-emphasizes the importance of resource protection by allowing impacts so long as they can be mitigated or otherwise managed. This conflicts with the paramount mandate of the (National Park Service) Organic Act, which is to conserve park resources and leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations, even if that requires the Park Service to reduce or eliminate a particular form of use."
The senator, with Great Smoky Mountains National Park most definitely in mind, told Director Mainella that the revisions would weaken efforts to clear the smog that drastically limits visibility in that park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
"Absent smog and other pollution generated by human activities, visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would enjoy views of more than 100 miles," the senator wrote. "If 'natural' conditions are redefined (as proposed) to include man-made impacts like coal-fired power plants, it is difficult to see how we will ever achieve clean air in our parks."
Furthermore, Sen. Alexander noted, changes in Section 4.7.1 would weaken the Park Service's current oversight of state-issued permits for major air pollution sources.
"The Clean Air Act gives the Park Service an 'affirmative responsibility' to protect air quality values in the parks, and explicitly directs the Park Service to object in writing when a proposed facility would cause or contribute to an adverse impact on park air quality," he pointed out. "The redraft would prevent the Park Service from seeking permit modifications or denials until after attempting to identify 'technological solutions' that prevent harmful impacts to park air quality. This creates a complicated, costly, and unworkable new obligation for national parks."
In wrapping up his letter, Sen. Alexander recommended to Director Mainella that once the Park Service compiles and integrates all the public comments made on the current revisions, it then open another 90-day public comment period on the resulting draft.