Blog Post Stephanie Kodish Aug 12, 2015

The Elk Can’t Speak: Denying Pollution Doesn’t Help National Parks

A large industrial trade organization representing some of the biggest polluters in the United States put out a series of misleading ads that ignore facts about pollution in national parks.

Advocating for better air quality is something I do for a living. I recently worked with a team of experts to release a report that found a shocking number of our national parks—75% of the 48 we researched—have significant air pollution problems. Problems that could worsen asthma attacks in children. Problems that could irritate the lungs of healthy adults simply out hiking or sightseeing. Problems that limit visibility and harm the sensitive species that these parks are supposed to protect.

Yet, while I have been urging federal officials to improve the air we breathe, a large industrial trade organization representing some of the biggest polluters in the United States put out a series of misleading ads that ignore facts about the reach pollution has into national parks.

These videos, released earlier this month by the National Association of Manufacturers, claim that national parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Zion are untouched by pollution and have pristine air quality—a blatant falsehood. Worse, these ads imply that it would be ridiculous for EPA to tighten ozone pollution standards to help the problem of widespread air pollution because a higher standard would mean these same national parks would violate clean air laws.

The truth is, there are national parks that already violate clean air laws. Pollution from power plants, manufacturers, oil and gas development, and transportation regularly makes its way into landscapes across the country. Not a single national park is isolated from the impacts of air pollution because pollution knows no boundaries.


Polluted Parks: How Dirty Air is Harming America’s National Parks

“Polluted Parks” graded the pollution-related damage in the 48 national parks required by the Clean Air Act to have the highest possible air quality.

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Perhaps most disturbing is the counterproductive nature of the ads—the very idea that reducing poisons in our air is somehow unnecessary, even frivolous, because NAM says park air is clean. In fact, current levels of pollution kill thousands of people annually, devastate children’s lungs, and debilitate our natural world. These impacts don’t stop at national park borders. Instead of sinking resources into defending our polluted air, the National Association of Manufacturers could call on its members and allies to do their fair share to reduce the pollution that scientists have repeatedly determined is unhealthful—a move that would help parks and people.

When my kids aren’t feeling well, I go to the pediatrician, not a pharmaceutical rep. When I want the real facts on the air I breathe, I want information from people with expertise in air quality, not propaganda from polluters or their representatives.

National parks are supposed to have clean air, but they don’t. A few ridiculous ads won’t make them cleaner, and we don’t need to fall for this ploy.

About the author

  • Stephanie Kodish Former Senior Director & Counsel, Clean Air & Climate

    As Senior Director and Counsel for Clean Air and Climate Programs Stephanie Kodish leads NPCA's effort to drive solutions towards a healthy climate and clean air for national parks and communities.

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