Reducing haze pollution to protect parks & communities

Millions of people visit U.S. national parks and wilderness areas each year to see some of the most awe-inspiring views in the world. Visitors imagine national parks as having the cleanest water and freshest air for exercising, relaxing and sharing memories. But over the decades, haze pollution has degraded visibility and harmed public health in our parks and surrounding communities.

90%
of national park sites are plagued by haze pollution

Ranking of states by visibility impairing air pollution

Click each state for more detail.

MAP KEY

Number of “Class I” National Parks and Wilderness Areas
Number of Industrial Facilities
Tons of Emissions (except Oil and Gas)
Tons of Oil and Gas Emissions

Much of the country’s air pollution stems from extracting, developing and burning fossil fuels, whether by cars and trucks, oil and gas infrastructure and operations, or coal-fired power plants for electricity generation. While most haze pollution does not originate in national parks, it can travel hundreds of miles from its source, thereby affecting parks and nearby communities. In fact, nearly 90% of national parks are plagued by haze pollution, and on average, park visitors miss out on 50 miles of scenery because of haze — a distance equal to the length of Rhode Island.

Haze pollution also threatens local economies that depend on parks, which provide nearly $36 billion in economic output each year and support thousands of jobs across the country. Studies show that park visitation drops when air pollution is high, indicating the direct effect air quality has on the visitor experience.

But haze pollution has the most harmful consequences for people of color and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Air pollution worsens community health, drives up healthcare costs, and makes it harder for kids to learn and play and adults to work. These realities are especially troubling as marginalized communities are bearing the brunt of air pollution and have had the highest COVID-19 infection rates during the ongoing pandemic.

Spreadsheet

Top 50 Worst Regional Haze Polluters

While most haze pollution does not originate in national parks, it can travel hundreds of miles from its source – coal plants, vehicles and oil and gas operations are the…

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The same sources of pollution harming our communities are also fueling the climate crisis, and the consequences are alarming. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires over natural levels across the western U.S., including at Yosemite and other parks, raised sea level at the Statue of Liberty and other coastal parks, and is melting glaciers at Glacier Bay and Glacier.

Without strong safeguards protecting the air we breathe, we cannot keep our parks and local economies healthy, let alone people.

Fortunately, certain national parks and wilderness areas have the strongest clean air protections in the country. Mandated by the Clean Air Act, the Regional Haze Rule requires federal and state agencies, as well as industry and organizations like NPCA to work together to restore clear skies at parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains. Currently, all 50 states are in the process of developing their next round of regional haze plans to submit to the Environmental Protection Agency, specifying the pollution-reducing measures they will implement to improve air quality and visibility in parks.

Regional Haze

Biggest Industrial Park Polluters

National parks and wilderness areas should have clean and clear air but many struggle with unhealthy, hazy skies.

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NPCA continues to work directly with state agencies and lawmakers, providing data and expertise, helping to secure strong state plans to limit haze pollution, and defending existing plans — in court, if necessary.

Reducing pollution, transitioning to clean energy and increasing energy efficiency are critical solutions to protect our national parks, our communities and our climate. And strong state regional haze plans are a key part of the process to get us there.

But to achieve strong plans, we need help from park advocates like you! Whether submitting written comments on your state’s proposed regional haze plan or testifying at a virtual public hearing or writing to your congressional members, your voice can and will make a difference.

Current Plans

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranks 9th in the nation for haze pollution burden. North Carolina’s regional haze plan does nothing new to address the problem. Please contact the North Carolina Division of Air Quality and ask they revisit our haze plan before sending it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

clean the air in North Carolina parks Take Action

This year, the state of Arizona is working on its Regional Haze plan. Watch this webinar to learn more about how you can help ensure that Arizona does the best job possible to clean the air.

NPCA at work

NPCA’s analysis identified numerous and substantial issues in the VISTAS model Southeastern states are relying on to inform their haze plans. For instance, the VISTAS model set such high thresholds that it only identified 33 out of 342 sources in the region that are potentially impairing visibility in national parks. 90 percent of these unidentified sources are in communities living below the poverty line. NPCA is calling on states to revisit their approach to ensure their obligations to restore clear skies in our parks is met in their haze plans.

NPCA VISTAS analysis and supporting materials are all linked from our press release:

Case Study

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the nation’s most spectacular mountain parks, with 60 peaks over 12,000 feet, small permanent glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, and historic and cultural treasures, including ancient trails, game drives, cattle ranches and lodges. This park’s rugged landscapes harbor hundreds of high-elevation plant and animal species — some that are increasingly rare outside the park or are found nowhere else.

Case Study

Shenandoah National Park

Stretching across 200,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountains and diverse forests, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is nothing short of breathtaking. Not far from our nation’s capital, Shenandoah’s wild woods and spectacular cliffside vistas draw visitors from around the world, especially as the leaves change for autumn. At the summit of Hawksbill Mountain, hikers can stand on ancient rock and see for miles.

case study

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the four highest peaks in Texas and the largest exposed fossil reef on Earth, showcasing remnants from an underwater world that existed 260 million years ago when West Texas was covered by the sea. This treasured park also preserves 10,000 years of human history, from early hunter-gatherers who lived in the area’s caves to conflicts between Mescalero Apaches and Buffalo Soldiers to the arrival of ranchers and settlers.

case study

Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park

From the snowcapped peaks of the Teton Range to the mighty, winding Snake River, Grand Teton National Park preserves some of our country’s most incredible scenery. The park is home to glacier-carved lakes, a historic district of weathered buildings made by 19th century Mormon homesteaders, and wildlife ranging from the tiny pika to the great grizzly bear.

Case Study

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There’s no question why Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of our country’s most visited national park sites. From its postcard-perfect views to its diverse and abundant wildlife to the beauty of its ancient mountains, this park is truly awe-inspiring.

See what NPCA is doing to clear the air and act on climate

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