Should We Wait 300 Years for Clean Air in U.S. National Parks?

Fri, 2013-09-20 06:00Ben Jervey
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Should We Wait 300 Years for Clean Air in U.S. National Parks?

If you’ve been planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park, and are hoping for a perfectly clear, crisp day, you’ll have to wait awhile. Like 150 years or so.

You see, Yellowstone, like many of the United States' national parks, suffers from some pretty serious air pollution. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, at current rates of progress, it’s going to take until 2163 for Yellowstone to clear the haze and once again have natural air quality.

Yellowstone isn’t alone. The NPCA crunched the numbers of ten flagship national parks, and found some disappointing results. According to their research, natural air quality in these popular and prestigious parks wouldn’t be achieved until these dates:

  • North Cascades National Park (Washington) – 2276
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota) – 2265
  • Voyagers National Park (Minnesota) – 2177
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming/Montana/Idaho) – 2163
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) – 2158
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas) – 2155
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) – 2127
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado) – 2119
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California) – 2106
  • Sequoia National Park (California) – 2096

Play around with this startling interactive graphic from the NPCA:


It shouldn’t take this long. Under directives in both the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments and the 1999 Regional Haze Rule, the parks should be restored to this “natural air quality” goal by 2064.

In 1977, Republicans and Democrats worked together to overwhelmingly vote in favor of restoring clean and clear air to our national parks and wilderness areas. The law requires the EPA and host states to cut haze pollution and, according to the NPCA, “Congress specified that bigger, older industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants – built before many modern Clean Air Act requirements – must be updated with modern technology.”

Unfortuantely, little progress has been made on that front.

“At the current rate of clean up it will be ten generations before our national parks are returned to natural air quality,” said NPCA Clean Air Program Director & Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “With pollution control technology and Congressional approval already in place to meet the 2064 deadline, which is half a century away, it should not take longer than this nation has existed to clean the air at these national treasures.”

The NPCA has a website dedicated to this new Clean Air 4 Parks campaign, with a petition to President Obama demanding that we achieve the 2064 target. Check out this short video about Clean Air 4 Parks for more info:

300 Years for Clean Air? Our National Parks Can’t Wait! from NPCA on Vimeo.

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This is a guest post by Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health.

Decades ago, when I was a graduate student, my advisor often said that our job as scientists was to put numbers on the obvious. Maybe it should be obvious that oil and gas production, including as it does the extraction, transport, and processing of enormous quantities of hydrocarbon mixtures, will result in air pollution, but studies that put numbers on this pollution have been rare.

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