Groups Speak Out to Keep Great Smoky Mountains Free of Pollution

Date:   July 2, 2008
Contact:   Lindsay Bartsh, National Parks Conservation Association, P: 415.989.9921 x22

Groups Speak Out to Keep Great Smoky Mountains Free of Pollution

Protecting air quality at national parks a patriotic duty and economic necessity

Knoxville, Tenn. – As visitors flock to national parks for the busy July Fourth weekend, small businesses, citizens, and advocacy groups are today holding press conferences in Knoxville and near four other national parks nationally over the next week, calling on the Administration to abandon a proposed rule that would further degrade air quality in the Great Smoky Mountains and other national parks, and threaten public health and local economies.

"Great Smoky Mountains National Park already suffers from poor air quality and today has an ‘orange alert’ pollution warning," said Cocke County Mayor Iliff McMahon, Jr., who spoke at a press conference in Knoxville today. "Poor air quality affects the experiences and health of summer visitors, which affects our economy. It doesn’t make sense for the Administration to encourage more polluting coal-fired power plants to build in the Smokies’ backyard. Especially when we are already doing everything possible to improve our air quality."

Under current regulations, one in three national parks already suffers from air pollution levels that exceed federal health standards. Much of that pollution comes from burning coal, yet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to finalize rules that would significantly weaken pollution standards and make it easier to build even more coal-fired power plants near national parks.

In June, the National Parks Conservation Association’s Dark Horizons report named Great Smoky Mountains as one of ten national parks most at risk from pollution from new coal-fired power plants.

"Our national parks were set aside as symbols of our national heritage and freedom," said Don Barger, senior director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s southeast regional office. "Instead of opening the door to more pollution in national parks such as Great Smoky Mountains and Zion, the EPA should be working to secure a legacy that preserves America’s treasures for our children and grandchildren."

According to the most recent federal data, park visitors spent $10.7 billion in the gateway towns and regions surrounding national parks in 2006, supporting about 213,000 jobs. For gateway communities that depend on these parks, worsening air quality could have devastating local economic impacts.

The EPA’s proposed changes would allow large polluters such as coal-fired power plants to manipulate their data to mask pollution spikes and make it appear as if the air in the region surrounding national parks is cleaner than it actually is.

National Park Service scientists have criticized the proposed rules as providing "the lowest possible degree of protection" for park air quality. EPA scientists have also objected to the rule change, calling it "grossly inadequate," and opening the door to "totally frivolous documentation" of emissions from coal-fired power plants that would "seriously underestimate" pollution increases at affected national parks.


Since 1919, the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its 340,000 members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.


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