On a clear day, you often can see for miles and miles. But as a report from the National Parks Conservation Association points out, clear days are harder and harder to find in our national parks under the Bush administration's relatively laissez-faire approach to coal-fired power plants.
Views at Great Smoky Mountains, Mesa Verde, Badlands, Shenandoah, Zion and five other national parks are particularly poor and yet the administration is working to further weaken clean-air regulations, according to the park advocacy group.
“Americans expect and deserve clean air when they visit our national parks,” says NPCA Clean Air and Climate Programs Director Mark Wenzler. “Instead of opening the door to more pollution in national parks such as Shenandoah, Great Basin, and Zion, the administration should be working to secure a legacy that preserves America’s national treasures for our children and grandchildren.”
The 33-page Dark Horizons report paints a sobering portrait of national park vistas.
Already, one in three national park sites has air pollution levels that exceed health standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the air pollution now marring the parks’ scenic views, harming plants, and risking the health of wildlife and visitors, results from the burning of fossil fuels, especially by coal-fired power plants. Worse yet, more than 100 new coal-fired power plants are in various stages of planning and development across the country, putting national parks at risk.
Is the irony lost on the administration? Through the Interior Department it touts the National Park Service's centennial in 2016 and says it is working to put an extra sheen on the park system. At the same time, the EPA is working to relax air-quality regulations that apply to coal-fired plants, according to the NPCA.
While more than just ten national parks struggle with air quality (views from atop Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park often are obscured by smog and haze rising up from the San Joaquin Valley, Acadia National Park at times struggles with high ozone levels, as does Cape Cod National Seashore), the NPCA report focuses on those parks most threatened by new coal-fired power plants.
The ten, in no particular order, are Mesa Verde, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Wind Cave, Zion, Great Basin, Theodore Roosevelt, Mammoth Cave, Badlands, and Capitol Reef. According to NPCA, there are 28 coal-fired power plants proposed to be built within the airsheds of these ten.
The ramifications of doing nothing are great and extensive. Trees and plants could struggle to survive. Fish in backcountry lakes could become so contaminated with mercury that it'd be a health hazard for you to eat them. As things are, the Park Service already puts out health advisories in some parks when ozone levels climb alarmingly high.
... the administration is responding to this growing threat to park air quality by seeking to
undermine the very laws that protect park air quality, charges the NPCA. The EPA has proposed regulatory changes that will make it easier to build new coal-fired power plants close to the national parks. The National Park Service has said that one of the changes sought by EPA “provides the lowest possible degree of protection” of air pollution limits designed to protect park air quality. The administration is now finalizing these changes in spite of the unanimous opposition of EPA’s own regional offices, strong objections by the National Park Service, and an active congressional investigation.
For details on these threats, and detailed maps that pinpoint the problem areas across the National Park System, check out NPCA's report.