26 National Parks Fall Below Ozone Standards

The parks blame power plants for pollution.
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The parks blame power plants for pollution.
Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park ranks second among the biggest violators of the standards, behind the Dinosaur National Monument. (Photo by John Buie/Flickr)

Twenty-six national parks throughout 11 states are non-compliant with the EPA’s newest ozone mandates, according to the EPA’s new pollution standard.

NPS is pointing the finger at power plants, but many scientists and officials say car emissions from the millions of visitors each year are to blame.

Dr. Saewung Kim, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, echoes these officials in saying power plants “have done a great job cleaning up their emissions and ozone-causing pollutants."

Dave Clegern, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, explains that it’s a bit more complicated than singling out one specific cause.

"Much of the pollution is from vehicles, but it also depends on the location of the park," he said. "Some of the recent pollution has been from wildfires, some drifts in from out of state."

The ozone pollution standard was lowered from 75 to 70 parts per billion on Oct. 1, putting 241 countries on the non-compliance list—and placing the cost of compliance to this new standard estimated around $1.4 billion each year.

NPS says compliance with the new ozone standards is a state issue, and since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t impose fines on itself, the parks may be off the hook–for now—until or unless the states decide to take control.

Jeffrey Olson, the chief of education and outreach at the National Park Service, explained states' role in this effort.

"States are responsible for implementing the provisions of the Clean Air Act," he said. "They will eventually have to put plans in place to show how they can come into compliance with violations of the ozone standard."

Guidance from the EPA in coming months will shape the parks’ and states’ responses, but until then, Olson says NPS does not know its role.