Statement on National Parks Air Pollution

Date:   May 1, 2002
Contact:   Craig Obey, 202-454-3392

Statement on National Parks Air Pollution

Washington, D.C. - "At today's hearing of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, Representative Joe Barton outlined how the nation's air quality has improved under the Clean Air Act during the past 30 years. While it is true that improvements have been made, significant progress in some areas of air pollution should not blind us to failings in other areas.

"A primary example is our national parks, which are Class 1 areas under Clean Air Act amendments dating to 1977, meaning they are to have pristine air. In fact, park air has not improved in all those years. Parks in the East have actually experienced worsening conditions since 1977. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has documented the highest level of nitrogen pollution of any monitored site anywhere in North America. Haze-forming sulfur dioxides reduce park views up to 80 percent during summer. On 139 days during the past four years, the National Park Service has warned employees and park visitors that air in Great Smoky Mountains was unhealthy because of high levels of smog.

"Similar problems occur at Big Bend National Park in Texas. Scenic views that typically exceed 100 miles often are degraded by air pollution, particularly in summer, when visibility may be as low as 9 miles. Big Bend and Great Smoky Mountains national parks have joined Glacier and Yellowstone on the National Parks Conservation Association's 2002 list of the Ten Most Endangered National Parks in part because of air pollution.

"Now comes President Bush's Clear Skies plan, which would cut back on the law and continue to leave the national parks behind, slowing down the cleanup of America's air both inside and outside national parks. For example, Title IV of the Clean Air Act, which established the nation's acid rain program, has worked well, but only because it was backed by other provisions of the law, such as modernization of existing power plants as outlined under New Source Review regulations. The president's proposal would replace all of these provisions with only a cap-and-trade system based on the amount of pollutants released rather than on the effects those pollutants have on the environment. The nation would do better with the bipartisan Clean Smokestacks Act (H.R.1256) proposed by Representative Sherwood Boehlert and Representative Henry Waxman, which seeks quicker reductions in air pollutants and, unlike the president's plan, puts limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

"The nation simply cannot afford the human health and environmental risks that come with current levels of air pollution. EPA figures indicate that 30,000 Americans die prematurely each year because of particulate air pollution alone. Federal cleanup of our air already moves at a snail's pace—the 1977 amendments stated that we would make "reasonable progress" toward the goal of no human-induced visibility impairment in national parks and other Class 1 areas, but the regulations have not even yet been put fully into effect. Even if fully implemented, those regulations will take another 60 years to fulfill the promise of the law. Now the president's plan sets an even slower pace. This is legislation by and for polluters, not the American people."


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