Aah, summer! Time to hit the road and visit some our crown jewel national parks here in the West. It's time to enjoy the trees, the canyons, the birds, bees, and bears, the ranger talks, the smog.
The smog? Yep, get ready for it. Because if the EPA has its way, the tremendous views from Mesa Verde, Zion, and other national parks will become more obscured with haze.
As the Washington Post succinctly put it on May 16:
"The Bush administration is on the verge of implementing new air quality rules that will make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas, according to rank-and-file agency scientists and park managers who oppose the plan."
"The new regulations, which are likely to be finalized this summer, rewrite a provision of the Clean Air Act that applies to 'Class 1 areas,' federal lands that currently have the highest level of protection under the law. Opponents predict the changes will worsen visibility at many of the nation's most prized tourist destinations, including Virginia's Shenandoah, Colorado's Mesa Verde and North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt national parks."
Other flagship national parks - like Zion and Capitol Reef - are also in the cross-hairs of the Bush administration proposal. The National Parks Conservation Association has a report explaining the issue in detail. Grist.org has a snarky headline that captures the issue nicely.
Although EPA's plan is upsetting, it shouldn't come as a surprise. One of this administration's signature approaches to environmental (lack of) protection has been to zero in on (and zero out) seemingly obscure regulatory provisions whose elimination will ultimately have big impacts in undermining environmental protection. And you can't get much more obscure than how EPA models air quality impacts.
It's also not a surprise that folks inside the EPA and the Park Service are grumbling about the change. This administration has bent over so far for industry that those inside who actually believe that EPA's middle initial stands for "Protection" and not "Pollution" have begun to rebel. (See The Onion's humorous take on this.)
So get out and see America's National Parks... while you can still see the views.