1 in 3 U.S. National Parks Polluted
1 in 3 U.S. National Parks Polluted
National Parks Conservation Association
August 22, 2006
Air pollution exceeds federal standards in nearly 40 percent of America’s national parks according to a new report from the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association.
“Air pollution threatens the very essence of what Americans value most about our national parks,” said NPCA Clean Air Director Mark Wenzler. “Pollution destroys habitat for plants and animals, endangers the health of park visitors and staff, damages the symbols of our nation’s heritage, and clouds once-majestic horizons in our national parks. The good news is we don’t have to sacrifice our national treasures to meet our growing energy demands.”
A news release from NPCA appears below.
1 in 3 U.S. National Parks Polluted
National Parks Conservation Association News Release
The nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association’s new report, Turning Point, reveals that one in three U.S. national parks parks, more than 150 of the 390 national park units, are located in parts of the country where air pollution exceeds federal standards.
Yosemite National Park
NPCA’s report, “Turning Point,” makes the case the national parks are now at a crossroads on air pollution because just as pollution reduction programs implemented over the past two decades are starting to show modest improvements at some parks, the nation is developing new energy sources in ways that threaten to undo years of effort to clean the air in the parks.
“The country is poised to build a whole new generation of coal-fired power plants based on outdated designs, and oil and gas development is proceeding at record pace near national parks in the West,” said NPCA Clean Air Director Mark Wenzler. “These two forces are likely to erase decades of hard-fought improvements to national park air quality unless we act now-this is our Turning Point.”
Through individual park stories, Turning Point highlights the multi-layered impacts of air pollution on parks. The report addresses impacts of air pollution on animal habitat, visitor health, the symbols of our nation’s heritage, and the stunning scenic horizons in the parks. Some national parks included are Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, Joshua Tree National Park in the California desert, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida, and Yellowstone in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
- Joshua Tree National Park (California): Unless current trends change, within 150 years of its creation, Joshua trees may no longer grow within the parks boundaries. Within this century, global warming could eliminate more than 90 percent of the Joshua trees and contribute to the parks being overrun by invasive grasses and weeds, which are much more susceptible to wildfires.
- Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky): Mammoth Cave is a dumping ground for mercury from dozens of coal-fired power plants in the region. The park’s endangered Indiana bat was found to have mercury levels two to three times higher the US Environmental Protection Agency recommended limit. A new coal-fired power plant under development just 50 miles west of Mammoth Cave would release another estimated two to three hundred pounds of mercury into the air per year.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (California): These two central California icons have the unhealthiest air of any in the National Park System. They average 61 days per year with ozone levels that exceed federal health standards, making activities like hiking, biking, climbing, and paddling in the park potentially risky for park visitors.
- Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi & Florida): Several historic forts that have withstood at least a hundred hurricane seasons are now at risk of total destruction as global warming, driven by carbon dioxide emissions, is causing sea levels to rise and hurricanes to grow stronger. Reacting to the increased threats, the National Park Service is moving priceless historic artifacts away from parks along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
- Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks (Idaho, Wyoming, & Montana): Some of the cleanest air and best visibility in the country is at risk from the 8,700 new oil and gas wells and several new coal-fired power plants proposed in the area surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The parks are also threatened because existing power plants have not cleaned up and continue to spew pollution.
“Air pollution threatens the very essence of what Americans value most about our national parks,” said Wenzler. “Pollution destroys habitat for plants and animals, endangers the health of park visitors and staff, damages the symbols of our nation’s heritage, and clouds once-majestic horizons in our national parks. The good news is we don’t have to sacrifice our national treasures to meet our growing energy demands.”
NPCA’s report offers ten recommendations for cleaning the air in the national parks:
- Finish the job of cleaning up outdated power plants
- Require new power plants to use the lowest polluting technologies
- Protect wildlife by limiting the amount of air pollution deposited in the parks
- Ensure that legal limits on park air pollution are not exceeded
- Eliminate toxic “hot spots” by enacting stronger power plant mercury controls
- Address climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions
- Expand programs to monitor and reduce air pollution in the parks
- Promote clean, renewable domestic energy supplies
- Fully fund the National Park System
- Encourage concerned citizens to minimize their contribution to air pollution in the parks
In addition, NPCA calls for balanced energy policies that meet growing demand while protecting the national parks. With a new Secretary of the Interior in place and a new National Park Service director on the way, there is an opportunity for renewing our national commitment to clean air in our parks. Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has already demonstrated his commitment to strong clean air protections for our national parks by finalizing strong Management Policies for the National Park Service that protect park air quality.
For more information on air pollution and the national parks, to download a copy of NPCA’s Turning Point report, and for the list of the 150 national parks located in poor air quality areas as designated by the EPA, visit www.npca.org/turningpoint
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