EPA Designates Great Smokies as Unhealthy Area

Date:   April 15, 2004
Contact:   Andrea Keller, Media Relations, NPCA, P: 202-454-3332
Jill Stephens, Air Program, NPCA, P: 865-329-2424, extension 27

EPA Designates Great Smokies as Unhealthy Area

Washington, D.C. - The Environmental Protection Agency will today name Great Smoky Mountains National Park as unhealthy-a finding echoed in a scientific assessment released today by the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), which warns that park resources, staff, and 9 million visitors annually are at risk from air pollution.

"From hazy skies to health warnings, no other national park documents as much damage from air pollution as the Smokies," said Jill Stephens, air program analyst in NPCA's southeast regional office. "The administration must finalize a strong rule to clear the air in our parks this year."

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with six other national parks nationwide, including Shenandoah, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Acadia national parks, as unhealthy areas where air pollution exceeds federal standards for ozone. Ozone harms plant life and injures the lungs of humans. The pollutant is especially hazardous for children and asthma sufferers.

The EPA has also released proposed rules to clean up hazy park skies by requiring some of the oldest, dirtiest power plants and industries to retrofit their plants with pollution controls known as the "best available retrofit technology." Reducing haze in the national parks was a 2000 presidential campaign promise.

According to NPCA's new 24-page State of the Parks report, pollution from coal-fired power plants reduces Great Smoky Mountains' summertime vistas by nearly 80 percent. As a result of the air pollution, NPCA in January named Great Smoky Mountains National Parks to its annual list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks for the sixth consecutive year. In 2002, NPCA and a coalition of organizations named Great Smoky Mountains the nation's most polluted by poor air quality, in part because clouds hanging over sensitive spruce-fir forests at Clingmans Dome and other high elevation sites are often as acidic as vinegar.

The NPCA report also calls attention to the park's funding needs. Insufficient funding, which imperils parks nationwide, is limiting the ability of park managers to preserve Great Smoky Mountains' vast archaeological heritage and historic log cabins-the largest collection in the United States-many of which are vulnerable to vandalism. Great Smoky Mountains has an annual shortfall of $11.5 million-one third shy of the needed funding to operate and protect the park. Great Smoky Mountains' valiant public education staff and volunteers struggle to meet the needs of visitors. The region's checkered history, which includes forced removal of the Cherokee, as well as Anglo-American pioneer settlements and even slavery, is not yet fully explored and shared with visitors. The park's archival collection is housed in a mice-infested attic. Worse yet, the park's annual funding shortfall also impacts the ability of staff to address the backlog of park maintenance projects, estimated in excess of $150 million.

"By neglecting their duty to adequately fund our national parks, Congress and the administration are squandering the nation's legacy," said NPCA's Senior Director of the Southeast region Don Barger.

Located within a day's drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's most visited park-making it also one of the most vulnerable. The park was established in 1934 to protect some of the last remaining old growth forests in the eastern U.S. from intense logging and to ensure the survival of the thousands of species that take refuge in these dense mountains. The park has undertaken an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, which has documented more than 10,000 species; scientists estimate that as many as 100,000 may actually live in the park. The park is also known for its 19th and early 20th century log houses, mills, churches, cemeteries, and archaeological sites that tell the story of the area's complex and-in many cases-heartbreaking history.

NPCA launched the landmark State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the health of national parks across the country. The product of a yearlong analysis, "Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Resource Assessment," is the tenth NPCA State of the Parks report.


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