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Photo: National Park Service

Statement of Ronald J. Tipton

Congressional Testimony

Ronald J. Tipton
National Parks Conservation Association
Regarding
S. 556
The Clean Power Act of 2001
Before the Environment and Public Works Committee
United States Senate
November 15, 2001
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Ronald J. Tipton, Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). NPCA is America's only private, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated solely to protecting, preserving, and enhancing the National Park System. NPCA was founded in 1919 and today has more than 425,000 members who care deeply about the well being of our national parks, including protection of Class I air quality and related values in 48 national parks. NPCA's president since 1998, Thomas Kiernan, served in the first Bush Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and helped craft the agreement to reduce air pollution from the Navajo generating station in order to protect air quality related values in Grand Canyon National Park. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on S. 556, the Clean Power Act of 2001.

While we greatly appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today, we are compelled to note that the last oversight hearing specifically to address impacts of air pollution on national park units was held 16 1/2 years ago in May 1985 by the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation. We respectfully request that this Committee schedule a hearing in the near future dedicated to impacts of air pollution on America's national parks.

For three decades the nation has struggled with how to implement federal legislation to achieve national air quality goals. The good news is that we have achieved a certain degree of success in this effort; there have been notable and undeniable improvements in air quality for many major metropolitan areas; automobiles are much cleaner and more fuel efficient than before federal emission limits were improved; and many power plants, factories, and manufacturing facilities have also reduced their emissions.

Air pollution continues to harm national parks

At the same time, however, our great national parks—the places in America that are expected to foster some of the best air quality and most spectacular vistas—have in many cases experienced declining air quality despite the Clean Air Act mandates.

In fact, it would surprise Americans to learn that many of our beloved national parks are suffering from some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country. The 1916 statute creating the National Park System states that the purpose of the National Park Service is to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein . . . and leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations".1 While visibility impairment is widespread throughout the park system, scenic views are not the only resource at risk. The same pollutants that reduce visibility also contribute to thousands of premature human deaths each year. Acid deposition hurts natural and cultural resources. Ground level ozone, or smog, threatens the health of park visitors and workers, and the health of park vegetation. Mercury deposition threatens fish and wildlife in a number of parks. Finally, global warming impacts parks in many ways, from rising sea level to melting glaciers to reduced biodiversity.

Scenic vistas are key features in many national parks

The authorizing legislation for numerous national parks specifically mentions scenic vistas as among the reasons for the park's establishment. NPCA will submit for the record a compilation of key excerpts from the legislative history of most of the National Park System units in which specific references are made to the vistas that were the purpose for which these areas were established.

Recognizing that pristine air quality and scenic vistas are highly valued features of national parks, Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1977, declaring a total of 158 areas including all international parks, national parks over 6,000 acres and wilderness areas over 5,000 acres and in existence on August 7, 1977 as "Class I areas," deserving of the greatest protection under the Clean Air Act. Congress declared as a national goal "the prevention of any future, and the remedying of any existing, impairment of visibility in mandatory Class I federal areas which impairment results from manmade air pollution."2

Visibility remains impaired in numerous national parks

Regrettably, almost 25 years since enactment of the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments, many national parks throughout the country suffer from deteriorating air quality caused in large part by emissions from old, dirty power plants, and from the fact that many of the facilities impacting visibility operate under a loophole in the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments that exempts them from complying with modern pollution emission control requirements. NPCA will submit for the record two National Park Service photos which contrast good and poor visibility at Shenandoah National Park, as representative of the many parks across the country that suffer significant visibility impairment.

According to EPA, average visual range in most Eastern Class I areas is 15-25 miles, compared to estimated natural visibility of about 90 miles. In the West, average visual range is 35-90 miles for most Class I areas, compared to estimated natural visibility of about 140 miles.3 According to the Department of the Interior, "Visibility impairment is the most ubiquitous air pollution-related problem in our national parks and refuges . . . parks and refuges such as Grand Canyon, Cape Romain, and Great Smoky Mountains have evidenced declining visibility . . . all areas monitored for visibility show frequent regional haze impairment."4

Smokies, Big Bend, and other parks suffer numerous problems

NPCA included Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina and Big Bend National Park in Texas on its 2001 list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks as representative of the many national parks suffering from poor air quality. Millions of Americans who escape urban congestion by visiting national parks are greeted by dim, hazy vistas and unhealthful air instead of the expansive views and scenery that have made these areas our national treasures. In a letter to President George W. Bush dated June 19, 2001, Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson wrote: "Most shocking to me is that, according to Park officials, air quality in the Smokies is so poor during the summer months that hiking our backcountry trails is more hazardous to your health than walking along (city) streets. . . ." If Americans expect clean air anywhere, it's in our national parks.

The time is ripe for Congress to act now to fulfill the promises made to America almost 25 years ago, not only to clear the air in our national parks, but in our nation as a whole. NPCA fully supports S. 556 and commends Senators Jeffords and Lieberman for introducing it. The bill's "birthday provision", which phases out the exemption granted in 1977 to older coal- and oil-fired plants, is critical to the clean-up of Class I areas like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, our nation's most-visited national park, with more than 10 million visitors each year. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has recorded the highest level of nitrogen deposition of any monitored site (urban or rural) in North America. Scenic views that historically stretched for more than 60 miles in the summer and more than 90 miles during the rest of the year are typically reduced to 15-25 miles now. In the park, researchers have documented that at least 30 different species of plants are suffering foliar damage from ground-level ozone; an additional 60 species exhibit the same symptoms. The National Park Service has had to issue "unhealthful air" notices to employees and park visitors on 140 days over the last four years.

America's national parks cannot be protected without significant reductions in the sulfur and nitrogen pollution that form regional haze and acid rain, and the nitrogen pollution that is also a building block of ground-level ozone. Moreover, the 75-percent reductions in sulfur and nitrogen pollution called for in the Jeffords-Lieberman bill may not be sufficient to protect some of our most threatened national parks including Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah, where preliminary modeling analyses indicate that reductions of up to 90 percent may be necessary. At Shenandoah National Park, streams continue to acidify, especially during the winter when native fish are most sensitive. While sulfur deposition has decreased, nitrogen deposition has increased. Intense storms with highly acidic precipitation can kill young of even the most tolerant fish species, brook trout. Acidification is suspected in the loss of the blacknose dace in the park's Meadow Run, and scientists are concerned that high levels of precipitation over short periods of time, combined with the chronic acidity in the streams, could further reduce fish species diversity.

Park pollution remains a national problem

The need to reduce emissions from power plants is not a southeastern problem, however, nor even an eastern problem. Excess emissions from power plants impacts national parks throughout our country; from Acadia in Maine, to Shenandoah in Virginia, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, Big Bend in Texas, Mesa Verde in Colorado, Canyonlands in Utah, to Mount Rainier in Washington State, Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California, and numerous other parks in between.

Americans support clean air

In the mid-1980s, the National Park Service conducted studies at five parks surveying visitors on the importance of various park features to their recreational experience. At all five parks—Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Everglades, Mesa Verde and Great Smoky Mountains, "clean, clear air" was ranked among the top four features. Recent polling in Tennessee, New Hampshire and Oregon also demonstrates overwhelming public support for restoring clean air and scenic vistas to our national parks. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, a poll conducted in May 2001 showed that eight out of ten Virginians (77 percent) believed older power plants should meet modern pollution control standards.5

Global warming and mercury pollution impacts parks

NPCA is also highly concerned about the impacts of global warming and mercury contamination in our national parks. We fully support the mandatory reductions of mercury and carbon dioxide included in S. 556, The Clean Power Act.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy released on November 9, 2001, a comprehensive official accounting of emissions changes from 1990-2000. According to the report, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions increased by 16.8% during this period, with carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation increasing 26.5 percent. Mandatory reductions clearly are needed to reduce the impacts we face from global warming. The very real threat of sea levels rising due to human-caused global warming will have a dramatic effect on coastal national seashores and parks such as Cape Cod, Cape Hatteras and Everglades. According to the EPA, the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are likely to rise 1 foot by 2050, and over the next 100 years, could rise 2-4 feet. Imagine the possibility that the $7.8 billion Everglades ecosystem restoration plan—which this Committee helped design—could be offset by sea level rise and massive climate alterations in south Florida! At Glacier National Park in Montana, park managers believe that many park species may be particularly sensitive to global warming. The park's largest remaining glaciers are now only about one-third as large as they were in 1850, and one study estimates that all glaciers in the park may disappear completely in 30 years.6

Mercury exposure in the United States is widespread, and as a potent neurotoxin that persists in the environment and bioaccumulates in the food chain, mercury pollution demands an aggressive policy response. National parks including Acadia, Isle Royale in Michigan, and Big Bend are studying the effects of mercury contamination on fish and wildlife. Scientists at Acadia have concluded that aquatic resources are at risk from mercury contamination. Scientists at Big Bend believe that above threshold levels of mercury may be causing reproductive failures of the peregrine falcon—a species listed as "Endangered" following catastrophic impacts from the pesticide DDT, and de-listed in 1999.

In summary, Mr. Chairman, in order to protect the natural and cultural resources in America's national parks, significantly reducing sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and carbon dioxide pollution now simply makes sense.

BART provides a needed step toward cleaner air for parks

NPCA is pleased that, in July 2001, the EPA published a draft rule to require Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) on many of America's old, dirty power plants and industrial facilities that have largely avoided emissions controls due to a loophole in the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments. In its role as steward of national parks and of many non-park Class I areas, the Department of the Interior filed comments strongly supportive of the most effective final BART rule. Thousands of citizens, including realtors and other business representatives in park gateway communities, submitted oral testimony at public meetings or written testimony in support of an effective BART rule.

Park protection benefits local economies also

There was much discussion during the two-day stakeholder meetings in October 2001 and at the November 1, 2001, hearing before this Committee about whether requiring older power plants to clean up will hinder or help our nation's economy. I would like to suggest a slightly different perspective. A 2000 report titled, Out of Sight: Haze in our National Parks by Abt Associates, commissioned by the "Clear the Air" coalition found that: "increases in visibility could raise park visitation by as much as 25 percent which could yield approximately $30 million in increased fee collection and $160 million in additional concession sales. This would in turn add nearly $700 million in retail sales to the economies around the park, $53 million in local tax revenue, and create 15,896 jobs".7 Not only would this legislation improve the condition of park resources and help protect them from future impairment, it would also provide a major boost to park revenues and to the many gateway communities and cities whose economy depends on the well being of these parks.

Moreover, as noted by Interior, "State and local air pollution agencies, as well as affected industries and their consultants, have been applying (a process of assessing feasibility of applying the best of current technology and balancing that with costs and other environmental impacts) for over a decade, without harm to economic development."8

National parks measure effectiveness of pollution control programs

In closing, I want to emphasize the imperative to use effects-based monitoring and evaluation of Class I areas as the measuring stick for the efficacy of pollutant-reduction strategies. Emission-based multi-pollutant strategies must be linked to specific results. A simple cap-and-trade program offers no specific protection to Class I areas as required by the Clean Air Act. Strategies must be multi-faceted, and linked to continuous and timely progress toward effect-based goals. The New Source Review (NSR) and Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) programs currently provide the only effect-based monitoring and permitting of stationary sources of sulfur and nitrogen pollution, and we've seen no proposal that provides effect-based monitoring and permitting in the absence of the NSR and PSD programs.

The utilities seek "certainty" by asking for a phased reduction schedule with no measurement of the resulting effects and no accountability for the cumulative impact of the hundreds of proposed new sources. The "certainty" that such a strategy would produce for our national parks is the abandonment of America's national commitment to our descendants that we have the wisdom to create our future without destroying our past.

Recent history is instructive. While emissions nationwide have been reduced under implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, emissions affecting many Class I areas actually have increased. Due to the use of emission reduction credits under the national trading program, the Tennessee Valley Authority emitted approximately 700,000 tons of sulfur dioxide last year, 300,000 tons above their Phase II allocation. Accordingly, visibility in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park is very poor and continues to worsen. With little ability to influence reductions at existing sources, the federal land managers' only tools have been new source review.

Enactment of S. 556 provides a critical step to protect America's national parks. Our national parks and wilderness areas deserve and demand the protection that S. 556 will provide; the American public expects no less. We are eager to work with the Committee to fulfill the vision of the Clean Air Act to protect and restore air quality in America's national parks. We must work together to meet the goals of the 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act to prevent future impairment and remedy existing visibility impairment in all Class I areas. Thank you for inviting NPCA to appear before you today and for considering our views.


1 The National Park System Organic Act of 1916 (16 USC § 1).

2 42 USC § 7491 (a)(1).

3 Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 1999 Status and Trends, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, August 2000, p. 19.

4 U.S. Department of the Interior to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Docket No. A-2000-28, September 17, 2001.

5 The Tarrance Group, statewide poll conducted for the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, May 6-8, 2001, p. 10.

6 U.S. EPA website, www.epa.gov/globalwarming/impacts/mountains/index.html.

7 Out of Sight: Haze in Our National Parks, Clean Air Task Force for Clear the Air, August 29, 2000.

8 U.S. Department of the Interior to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Docket No. A-2000-28, September 17, 2001.


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