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Theresa Pierno Headshot

300 Years Is Too Long to Wait for Clean Air in Our National Parks

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They read like dates out of the Star Trek television series, not a timeline for restoring clean air to our national parks. But, shockingly, based on the current EPA-approved plans, it will not be until 2276 that the air in North Cascades National Park is returned to its healthy former state, 2163 for Yellowstone National Park and 2127 for the Grand Canyon.

This was not supposed to happen. The 1977 Clean Air Act mandated the restoration of natural air quality to America's most iconic national parks and wilderness areas. EPA rules provide an exceedingly generous amount of time to achieve this goal by 2064, which is just 13 years shy of a century after Congress acted to redress hazy polluted skies over our parks. But due to years of lax enforcement and regulatory loopholes, no American alive today will live to enjoy clear skies over the Grand Canyon and dozens of other national parks -- unless the Obama Administration takes action.

Each year, millions of families visit Grand Canyon National Park, and more than anything else they visit for the stunning views, which can extend for 200 miles on low pollution days. But pollution from antiquated coal-fired power plants in the region can reduce these views to as few as 25 miles. Seldom do today's visitors get to enjoy the same clear views that Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed when he visited the Grand Canyon more than 100 years ago and declared it a national treasure to be preserved in all aspects for the enjoyment of future generations. It should not take another 100 years or more before Americans can enjoy natural air quality at the Grand Canyon. The Obama Administration can -- and it must -- do more to honor our national parks.

Clean air can be substantially restored to many parks simply by modernizing antiquated coal-fired power plants and other industries that lie within the parks' air sheds. In fact, these outdated industrial plants were singled out for cleanup by Congress in the Clean Air Act. The technology to clean up coal-fired power plants has been around for decades and is already widely in use in many places. Even more promising, clean renewable power and energy efficiency are often less costly and more environmentally beneficial than retrofitting decades-old coal plants.

So why haven't we achieved clean air for the parks already? First, it took more than two decades for EPA to come up with a program for eliminating hazy skies over the parks. Second, the "regional haze" program that EPA eventually established in 1999 has many loopholes allowing industries to escape cleanup. And third, enforcement of the program has been at best uneven.

The good news is that it is within the Obama Administration's power to fix two of these three problems. By closing regulatory loopholes and by taking steady and consistent steps to enforce pollution cleanup rules, the Administration can ensure that all Americans alive in 2064 will experience clear skies over our most treasured national parks and wilderness areas. Without such action, polluted skies will linger over our national parks for ten more generations of Americans.

In 2016 the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th year. We can think of no better birthday present than the gift of clean air to Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and dozens of other national treasures. It is up to the Obama Administration to act now to keep the promise of clean air in national parks in our lifetime.

Please sign our petition asking President Obama to clean the air at our national parks.

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