Park Advocates Call Bush Clear Skies Initiative a Smokescreen for Polluter-Friendly Regulatory Policy

Date:   July 2, 2002
Contact:   Don Barger, Southeast Regional Director; 865-329-2424 ext. 23 or 865-803-4480
Jill Stephens, Program Assistant, 865-329-2424 ext. 27
Joy Oakes, Clean Air Director, 202-454-3386

Park Advocates Call Bush Clear Skies Initiative a Smokescreen for Polluter-Friendly Regulatory Policy

Gatlinburg, TN - Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Whitman is touring Great Smoky Mountains National Park today to tout a Bush Administration clean-air policy that will result in more pollution in the park. Whitman slated her visit in response to an invitation by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) to see first-hand the air-pollution crisis in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, site of the highest recorded acid deposition in North America.
"We are grateful to Senator Frist for bringing Administrator Whitman to the Smokies to learn about the air pollution crisis at the nation's most visited national park," said Don Barger, Southeast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Unfortunately, the Bush Administration Clear Skies Initiative creates a smokescreen for the its recently announced rollbacks of the Clean Air Act, an attack unprecedented in the law's 32-year history."
This will be Whitman's first public appearance after a controversial announcement to weaken the New Source Review (NSR) program established by the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments. The existing program requires new sources of air pollution, including power plants and refineries, to install state of the art pollution-control technology, with special provisions to protect parks and wilderness areas. NSR also requires old facilities undergoing major modifications that result in pollution increases to install pollution controls that new sources must have. The Bush Administration would allow 17,000 outdated facilities, including power plants, to operate indefinitely with limited or no pollution controls. The Bush Administration also intends to abandon or limit measures to ensure that parks and wilderness areas are protected from new source emissions.
"An ill-advised loophole in the law has allowed these old, dirty plants to profit at the expense of the health of people and parks," said Barger. "Now that it's time to pay the bill for the last quarter century's pollution, this Administration wants to change the rules. It is a shameful violation of the public trust."
EPA states these rollbacks are justified because President Bush's Clear Skies Initiative (CSI) would make the program unnecessary. CSI, through an act of Congress, would set pollution caps for nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and mercury. Although formally announced by President Bush in February 2002, as yet no member of Congress has introduced a bill that reflects the president's proposal. On June 27, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved S. 556, the Clean Power Act, an effective proposal introduced by Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords. The Clean Power Act would require deeper cuts in emissions of all three pollutants in a much shorter time frame than would CSI, without weakening existing Clean Air law. It also would require reductions of carbon dioxide emissions, while CSI would allow these emissions to increase. Because CSI would eliminate several programs in addition to NSR, an analysis shows that CSI would offer fewer protections for clean air than would implementing the existing Clean Air Act.
"CSI coupled with these rollbacks of the Clean Air Act simply will not protect parks and people under siege by air pollution," said Barger. "While the science and regulation of air pollution can be complex, one thing is simple: we must do more, not less, to protect parks and people from air pollution. The Administration is going in the wrong direction."
In March, Administrator Whitman testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee claiming that the most improvements in air quality under CSI would be located "along the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains." This area has traditionally been one of the most polluted in the country. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, human-generated haze reduces views up to 80 percent. In the last four summers, park visitors found smog levels hazardous to their health on more than 140 days- one out of every three days in the season. NPCA has placed the Smokies on its list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks for the past four years because of air pollution.
"Because the Smokies suffers the highest levels of pollution, it's likely to see improvements from any serious emission reduction plan," said Barger. "What the EPA Administrator avoids saying is that not only is the Bush Administration weakening existing law, its CSI proposal will fall far short of what the park needs."


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