New Report Ranks Five Most-Polluted National Parks

Date:   June 24, 2004
Contact:   Jill Stephens, NPCA, Program Analyst 865-329-2424
Harvard Ayers, Appalachian Voices, Director, 828-262-6381
Joy Oakes, NPCA, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, 202-454-3386

New Report Ranks Five Most-Polluted National Parks

Washington, D.C. - A new report released today by three conservation groups shows little to no improvement in air quality at our national parks since Congress last strengthened our air laws in 1990. Code Red: America's Five Most Polluted National Parks, produced by Appalachian Voices, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and Our Children's Earth, updates a 2002 report and ranks the polluted national parks as follows:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina
2. Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
3. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
4. Acadia National Park in Maine
5. Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks in California

"America's national parks are our heritage, but a veil of air pollution hangs over some of our most recognized places," said Jill Stephens, program analyst for NPCA's Southeast regional office. "Full and faithful enforcement of clean air programs that restore park air quality is long overdue."
Nationwide, air pollution is one of the largest threats to the plants, animals, and experience of visitors in America's national parks, ruining scenic views and posing health risks. According to the report, summer visibility is improving at only two of the parks evaluated, Mammoth Cave and Shenandoah, but all other parks show no change. Even at these two parks, much more progress is needed to restore scenic views. Unhealthful ozone pollution is getting worse at more than half of the 13 evaluated parks, with the others showing no improvement.
National Park Service studies have shown that air pollution impacts, such as haze, effect not only visitors' enjoyment of parks, but also the length of their visits. Nearly 280 million people visit America's national parks each year, generating $10.6 billion in surrounding communities in 2001.
"In the Great Smoky Mountains, our most polluted national park, ozone pollution rivals urban areas, and even exceeds that of New York City, and Washington, D.C.," said Harvard Ayers, chairman of Appalachian Voices.
Nearly all of the pollution plaguing our parks comes from sources located outside of their boundaries. Power plants and industrial facilities as well as motor vehicles, agriculture and construction equipment produce air pollution. Although pollution from power plants varies by region, this one source emits excessive amounts of pollution, especially in the eastern half of the country.
"Recent reports confirm ozone and other pollutants that contribute to smoggy and hazy skies do have long-term health effects," said Tiffany Schauer, executive director of Our Children's Earth. "We know that our national parks, places we visit with our children every year, are suffering from air pollution much like that in our cities."
This year, the EPA included several national parks among those areas designated as having unhealthy levels of ozone pollution: Acadia, Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks along with Cape Cod National Seashore. These findings echo those in Code Red: America's Five Most Polluted National Parks, which offers recommendations for addressing national park pollution.
Federal laws mandate that national parks should have the cleanest air in America, but the laws that should help clean our air have not been fully enforced. To comply with a court settlement, in April 2004 the EPA proposed a park haze rule to clean up some of the oldest power plants and industries. However, the proposal could exempt the largest source of hazy pollution in the East-power plants-by allowing other, inadequate programs to serve as a substitute.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, the administration declared it would work to make the air cleaner and reduce power plant emissions of the four main air pollutants; in the administration's National Parks Legacy Project, it specifically includes the goal of reducing park haze.
"Visitors expect to find clean air and clear skies in all our national parks, but this is sadly not the case," said Stephens. "The current administration must strengthen its proposed park air quality rule and clean up outdated, eastern power plants."
The Code Red methodology was developed by Appalachian Voices and ranks the five most polluted national parks based on haze, ozone, and acid precipitation. The air pollution index compares data collected from 1999 through 2003 at 13 national parks with the most extensive monitoring programs, more parks than evaluated in the last report. It also analyzes air quality trends using data from 1991 through 2003 to assess progress made since passage of 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, the most recent formal changes to the law.


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