New Clean Air Rules Threaten National Parks

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In their last year in power, the Bush administration could easily just do nothing and let our wild places float in a dangerous limbo, waiting to become someone else's problem. But instead, they're going to continue active, aggressive legislation to threaten public lands, this time by tweaking the Clean Air Act to make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wildernesses. I guess you gotta hand it to them for not taking their lame-duck year lying down.

The new rules rewrite a section designed to protect "Class 1" areas like national parks, which have the highest air-quality protection under the law. The changes could worsen air quality and visibility at many national parks, including Virginia's Shenandoah, Colorado's Mesa Verde and North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt national parks.

Ironically, opposition to the new rules comes from rank-and-file scientists within the administration: Both National Park Service park managers and Environmental Protection Agency scientists have called out the plan as dangerous and irresponsible.

In one set of comments, the EPA's regional computer modeling staff wrote that the proposal "would allow for significant degradation" of the parks' air quality. An e-mail from National Park Service staff called aspects of the plan "bad public policy" that would "make it much easier to build power plants" near Class 1 areas, which include some Fish and Wildlife Service-protected land.

Don Shepherd, an environmental engineer at the Park Service's air resources division in Denver, said of the new rule, "I don't know of anyone at our level, who deals with this day to day, that likes it or thinks it's going to make sense.

"We really want to have clean air at national parks all the time, and not just at average times," Shepherd said in a telephone interview. "All of our national parks have impaired visibility. . . . It would really be a setback in trying to make progress."

Most national parks have suffered from severe visibility and air quality problems, even in the Rocky Mountain west. Visibility at Great Smoky Mountains National Park has dropped from 80 miles to 15 miles on a clear summer day. Power plants near Great Smoky also deposit acid from emissions, making the soil in the park the most acidic of any monitored in North America.

This is one time I wish the administration would've just revelled in its exiting status and taken a powder. Can't you all just go play golf or something?

— Ted Alvarez

Clean-Air rules protecting parks set to be eased (Washington Post)