In a report released yesterday, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) presented data that showed every one of 48 U.S. national parks that have the greatest Clean Air Act protections surprisingly have significant air pollution problems and are at risk from man-made climate change impacts.
In fact, three of the top ten worst offenders are located right here near the San Joaquin Valley – Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite. According to the report, California’s national parks (the fourth is Joshua Tree) regularly have unhealthy air for visitors and those who work there, with unsafe levels of ozone for more than a month every year, especially in the summer. The report is entitled, “Polluted Parks, How Dirty Air is Harming America’s National Parks.”
Of the 48 parks studied, “moderate” or worse ozone pollution occurred in 36 of them, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This means that those parks had air as bad as or worse than some major cities and urban areas. The bad air was attributed to emissions from outdated coal-fired power plants and other sources of air pollution.
Other Key Findings of the report were:
- 75% of the 48 iconic national parks have air quality that’s unhealthy at times.
- Haze pollution limits how far you can see in 100% of the national parks. On average, visitors miss out on 50 miles of scenery—a distance equivalent to the length of Rhode Island.
- 90% of our national parks are currently experiencing extreme weather that scientists link to climate-changing air pollution: They are hotter, wetter, or drier than they were for most of the past century.
- Using an A to F grading system, 12 parks across the nation earned a D or lower in at least one of three categories – threat to public health, hazy skies, and impacts from climate change.
“As Americans flock to our national parks this summer to enjoy the great outdoors, they expect and deserve to find clean, healthy air. Sadly that is not always the case,” said Ulla Reeves, manager of NPCA’s Clean Air Campaign. “Our parks remain under threat from air pollution, harming visitors’ health, reducing visibility, and driving the impacts of climate change.”
Part of the problem, according to the NPCA, is that the federal Regional Haze Rule, which is supposed to protect the air quality of national parks, is full of loopholes that allow individual states and polluters to avoid cleaning up their emission sources. Unless these loopholes are removed, 90 percent of the parks will have unsafe air in just 50 years.
“Fortunately, this is one of those rare problems with a simple solution,” said Reeves. “With a stroke of the pen, the President can close the loopholes and make common sense revisions to ensure that states and the Environmental Protection Agency are poised in the coming years to restore dozens of our most treasured national parks to clear, healthy air.”
A copy of the entire report may be seen here: Polluted Parks