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

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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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Ben Jervey is a Senior Fellow for DeSmog and directs the KochvsClean.com project. He is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher, specializing in climate change and energy systems and policy. Ben is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He has also contributed regularly to National Geographic News, Grist, and OnEarth Magazine. He has published three books—on eco-friendly living in New York City, an Energy 101 primer, and, most recently, “The Electric Battery: Charging Forward to a Low Carbon Future.” He graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College, and earned a Master’s in Energy Regulation and Law at Vermont Law School. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

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