WASHINGTON - June 4 - At a public hearing today, business owners, concerned citizens, and conservation groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clear the air in America's national parks. In April 2004, the agency proposed guidelines to govern the clean up of industrial smokestacks, including power plants, by installation of modern pollution controls and is hosting two hearings to gather public input. Participants, including nonpartisan park watchdog the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), will urge the agency to move forward with the park haze rule and cancel plans to suspend this program.
"The air in our parks should be clean, clear, and safe to breathe, but instead it is often polluted," said Thomas C. Kiernan, NPCA president, who testified before the EPA panel today. "It is past time to clean up these smokestacks and require them to install readily available pollution controls."
In 1977, Congress established a national visibility goal and required our national parks and wilderness areas to have clean air. Part of the Congressional strategy to reach that goal was to require some of the largest power plants and industrial facilities to clean up and install the "best available retrofit technology." But more than 25 years later, only a handful of the facilities have cleaned up, and there has been little to no improvement at polluted parks where pollution from power plants and industrial smokestacks still creates an unnatural, unsightly haze that ruins views threatens park and visitor health.
To see results, the EPA must fully enforce current law. Power plants affected by the park haze program emit an estimated 6 million tons of sulfur dioxide each year, and controls exist to remove 90 to 95 percent of this pollution.
"For the EPA, who holds the public's environmental trust, to not fully enforce the park haze proposal would be bad for business," said John Noel, a Gatlinburg, Tennessee, business owner who also testified. "A clean environment is good for business."
The pollution from power plants, industrial smokestacks, and motor vehicles reduces visibility to one-third of the normal range in the west and one-quarter in the east. The same pollution contributes to the unhealthy smog and acid rain threatening national park visitors, staff, plants, and animals at parks across the country, including America's most-visited--Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
According to a recent NPCA State of the Parks® report, pollution from coal-fired power plants reduces Great Smoky Mountains' summertime vistas by nearly 80 percent. As a result of the air pollution, NPCA in January named Great Smoky Mountains National Parks to its annual list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks for the sixth consecutive year. And in 2002, NPCA and a coalition of organizations named Great Smoky Mountains the nation's most polluted, in part because clouds hanging over sensitive spruce-fir forests at Clingmans Dome and other high elevation sites are often as acidic as vinegar.
"Air pollution in our parks is not only a national disgrace but also an economic liability," said Kiernan. "Our parks, and park visitors, need a strong, effective, and enforceable park haze rule to clear the air for parks and people."