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Watching Our National Parks Fade From View

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View Chrissy Pepino's blog posts
10 September 2013, 4:14 PM
Haze from coal-fired power plants obscures our greatest national treasures
How much of Yosemite Valley will you be able to see on your next visit? (Chrissy Pepino / Earthjustice)

Drops of sunscreen-infused sweat sting your eyes as you climb towards the summit; a small price to pay for the panoramic views that lie ahead.

But after finally conquering every switchback, your view of far-stretching vistas is obscured, not by sweat, but by haze created by coal-fired power plants – a polluting problem that afflicts many of America’s 400 national parks.

Each year these parks attract more than 275 million visitors who, like you, expect awesome visual experiences, whether standing cliff-side at Angels Landing in Zion National Park, conquering the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, or gaping from the valley floor in Yosemite at Half Dome.

Human-caused haze is also stifling more than just a picture-perfect photo. The pollutants that ruin the views in our national parks are the same pollutants that ruin our bodies by contributing to heart attacks, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness.

There are 2 million deaths per year caused by toxic pollution, including emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, poured into the atmosphere mostly by coal-fired power plants. So when the Environmental Protection Agency offered emission reduction exemptions for some of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants, Earthjustice refused to watch from the sidelines – it went to court.

On behalf of conservation partners, the organization recently filed a challenge to EPA’s approval of a program that allows coal-fired power plants in Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico to avoid reducing their emissions of haze-causing pollutants. Escaping federal requirements for stronger air pollution standards has been standard operating procedure for coal plants for decades.

Grand Canyon animation on clear through hazy days. (IMPROVE Project for NPS)

This animation shows a view of the Grand Canyon on days with increasing levels of haze.

By allowing plants to avoid retrofit requirements to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, the government is making it impossible to restore clear skies, explains Vice President of Climate and Energy Abigail Dillen. Such retrofits also would protect public health and lands.

Visibility in the western United States is only at 50 percent of its natural conditions, and, says Dillen, since we know coal plants are causing the problem, it’s time for the EPA to require clean-ups that should have happened years ago under the Clean Air Act.

“Our lawyers are ready to go to court to make sure that happens without interference from the moneyed coal interests that pollute our national parks,” she advises.

Enjoyable experiences in national parks should encourage admirers to leave with more than a keychain or postcard – assuming that they can actually see what’s there. Cleaning up the air is a significant way to insure that visitors actually have a chance to become awe-inspired witnesses of the wild.

Help protect these magnificant places today by showing support to the Obama Administration for policy changes that will close loopholes - bringing cleaner air to national parks. 

In 1968 I was on a European vacation driving through the Black Forest. It was easy to see why it was so named, the trees were such a deep green as to be almost black in the shade. I returned 4 years later and witnessed the devastation in the same forest from ACID RAIN. All the tops of all the trees were brown and had lost their needles. This was/is the result of coal-fired industrial air pollution from our midwest, traveling West to East on the prevailing winds. (Imagine what this does to our lungs.) That was in 1972. This is 2013. Perhaps if the Internet existed then to get the word out we might be closer to salvation We all must continue to educate those around us, including those who make decisions.

Laws must be changed. Our current energy industries, coal and petroleum, are on a free ride. We pay for the subsidies, we pay for the product, we pay for the damages. They have so many exemptions from the clean air/water laws that they have no financial incentive to switch to renewables. LAWS MUST BE CHANGED, LOOPHOLES CLOSED.

We are killing our planet!! But politicians as well as big industries don't care. Not sure what the future holds, but doesn't look pretty. Too many interest for little groups to do anything. Maybe I'm to skeptic!

Well, for starters, the US GOvernment needs to FUND the parks adequately. The continued slide of financial support means infrastructure in many places is in rough shape and the parks are handling far more people every year than ever anticipated. WHat a shame that America created the concept of places set aside for the treasure of the country......and now, does not adequately care for it. I'd rather have my tax dollars going for national parks than for bombs.

And then, coal; should be OUT as a fuel because of the CO2 emissions alone. ALl of the other frightful remifications are equally threatening to our health and our society, Thanks for this chance to comment.

Yosemite Valley gets smoky from campfires in evening, and also from the recent Rim fire, but this is the view I want protected the most!

The park service employees are subject to the policies passed down from Washington. What is happening in the Denver area is because of those "policies" it is becoming very difficult for the people to make use of the parks (camping, etc). Our church group now stays at Christian or private camps.

Yosemite.... Couldn't bear to lose you Yosemite Valley and the backcountry above the valley

Stop the destruction of our National Parks, Wetlands and Family Farms by the greed of Corporate America before there is nothing to see, appreciate or pass on to future generation. MLB

I have yet to see a nationsl park and hope to do so soon, missed a two week adventure from a travel group where I live, should have taken it. These God planned parks are there for all to enjoy people, as well as the wild animals. Please consider what it will take to keep the parks from dissapearing,evaporating and what ever will happen from our atmosphere over these protected areas. Ovb. it can't be done from the ground only. Thanks so much for all the care that is given to the parks locally and nationally but more is needed to be done to keep them from being destroyed by pollution. JF

I was recently in the Med on a cruise/land tour. I realize Europe has it's share of problems with weather and atmospherics, and I most likely just hit it at a good time. Nevertheless, I had forgotten what a truly haze-free, how humidity blue sky looks like. Perusing my photos the sky is so blue on some days, particularly at Pisa, that it looks unnatural or as if the images are "photoshopped" or doctored through camera settings.
I live on the east coast where we have our share of hazy conditions that now seem to be common out west as well.
The real point to my comment today is that I took visible notice, enough to remark to those I was traveling with, about the color of the sky. That tells me it's been a long time since I've seen anything to resemble it at home and the many other places I've traveled to in recent years.

Typo! LOW humidity (not "how").

Not only for our National Parks, but for our overall well-being!

Yes, this is from coal, but not from US coal plants. I travel to mainland China a lot and have seen the haze creeping across the Pacific ocean for years. Targeting the cleaner US coal fired power plants while not pressuring the foreign dirty plants will not solve the problem. If you really are an environmentalist and not a political activist in environmentalist clothing, than correctly state the real source of the haze.

Shipping Wyoming coal to China has not helped, and many of us are fighting against the plans to ship more.
EarthJustice can only fight so many battles, and those must largely be within the US legal system.Grassroots organizations and Aboriginal First Nations in Canada, also resist the export of Alberta Tar Sands bitumen. corporate interests are using their financial power to find ways to 8x AB production by getting pipes to the Arctic, BC coast, US Gulf Coast, and the Atlantic.Fossil fuels contribute to the problems you see, wherever concentrations of humans exist.
Since these fuels are so high energy for bulk, the prognosis is not good.
Many communities are fighting against coal ports, coal trains, and coal use. join them when you can.

While this is true, China is now closing more and more coal fired power plants because of the horrible pollution from these plants without emission regulations. They know they are being poisoned. Unfortunately, we still have a bunch of politicians on Capitol Hill in D.C. and many states who serve the interests of big coal and who have called for less regulation by the government which means that if they had their way, we would be just like China and India and so many other places that have no EPA. I think you have to be both an environmental and political activist these days.

Not addressing our own pollution problems is NOT the answer. Those are problems we can do something about. We cannot force other nations to address their pollution problems, only lead the way. We simply cannot criticize them as the REAL source of the problem without addressing our own. That's just too hypocritical.

There are tons of pollution from the cargo ships which are transporting stuff back and forth across the Pacific. This is a consequence of global trade no one (especially the politicians)wants to talk about. When those trade get negotiated they ought to require an equal reduction in pollution by whichever country is shipping the goods.

Every time we buy imported products at Walmart, Target, etc, we add to the problem. This is why we, the people, are part of the problem.

And let's not forget about mountain top removal coal mining which has destroyed over one million acres of America's largest temperate rain forest (The Appalachian Mountains). Trees are vital to our atmosphere and without them CO2 levels will be even worse.

It is more than just republican corporate monstrous greed. - it is also left wing pretend-to-care for the 'masses' lie. All those who think the 7 billion plus people on the planet will destroy her resources say "ay". Are you kidding me!! Stop dodgy cultures from entering the US, firstly. Then tackle and expose all corporations involved in our beautiful America's destruction. I fear it is a tad too late, though. The fracturing of the earth's bones and poisoning of the aquifers as well as the skies and all that chemtrail crap. We are truly in grave danger - all creatures. Look what the monster dairy, poultry, pig corporations are doing to those living creatures! Now we're involved with countries and cultures without conscience such as China. We are in deep deep deep trouble.

No its not just the greedy republicans, the dems and everybody on this planet wants more and more stuff. Seems to be a sickness of our nature.

so much truth in so few words!!.

It's not just politicians and corporation who are at the root of this problem. It's the lifestyle of too many of our people, especially young who are too quick to toss food in the trash which could be frozen for a quick meal later on. Think about something you recently might have thrown in the trash that somebody else might use. We're probably all guilty of this at some point. Donate regularly to the thrift shop.

We should have curbside recycling everywhere. Why we don't is mind- baffling to me. I think we need the curriculums in our schools at all grade levels to have a class on some aspect of the environment. If we don't, we're never going to change this throw away and buy new mindset people have.

Well said. I concur.

I unfortunately Have yet 2 go 2 a national park ,But I would hate 2 see any of our parks lost 2 this problem ppl have been trying 2 get Washington 2 do some thing about this 4 yr's 2 no avail ,if we all get together we will be heard & change will come

I live in one of the most beautiful spots in the country, Lake Tahoe CA. I walk out my front door and the squirrels greet me with funny little chirps and the cotton tails hop around my front yard. The bio-diversity has shrunk a bit and we get weekly visits from bears but there are truly wild place just a few miles away in the surrounding forests.

We are in trouble, lake clarity has diminished by a factor of 4. ie. you used to go out in a boat and see the bottom from 50-60 feet deep, now 20-30 feet. 99% pure, drink right out of the lake. It is the largest alpine like in the northern hemisphere.

If development is allowed to run rampant all over the city and it's Gov. body all in the name of MONEY, we will fail. We will fail to secure this pristine area for our children.

Lake Tahoe it teetering on the edge. Do we want a Vail like resort with it's minimum wage influx of uneducated workers (5-6,000) who could care less about those of us who live here full time.They sometimes act like it too. I witnessed a guy tossing his beer can in in the gutter, I showed him the trash can was 20 feet away. His violent outburst was F.U. pick it up yourself.

Or do we want a family oriented area where kids can see all the wonders nature has to offer.

Growing up, my first wife's father used to bring the family 3x yr. or more. These trips instilled in her a life with and for nature. She now lives in Hawaii, 95% off the land. Thank you for everything you do Tripp.

I don't think ANY corporation should benefit from destroying our National Parks nor should they be allowed to use any resources within the parks. God only gave us so much beauty. If we destroy our parks, we can never get that back again. We need to preserve what few open, natural spaces we have left and tell the corporations to go somewhere else. Or better yet, FIND A WAY to recycle the billions of pounds of waste we produce into things we need. There are machines that turn any type of plastic back into oil - we should use those for plastics that are not otherwise recycled. I read a report about Japan probably 20 years ago that said they recycle 97% of their post consumer waste. That was 20 years ago. Why can't we here in the US use some of that technology to recycle. We need stricter environmental laws that do not protect corporations - laws that force companies to clean up their waste, make the by-products of their engineering processes pure and clean before it's pumped back into the air, the water, or the earth. PROTECT OUR LANDS.

I haven't visited a national park in quite awhile, Yosemite years ago. So I nominate Prairie Creek Redwoods state park in Humboldt County, Calif., as the one I'd hate to lose. Hiking there last October was very rewarding. Groves of redwood trees over 300 feet tall lined the trail. Hardly any sunlight penetrated the canopy and everything was damp, giving it a rain forest effect.

What is going on with our government when anyone can buy them off especially lobbyist we need to get rid of them and then maybe they will listen to the people.
What happened to a government buy the people for the people I don't know the government needs to wake up there jobs are not guarantied.

Of the many National Parks I've had the privilege of visiting, Bryce, Kings Canyon and Yosemite are my favorites in the warm season and Yellowstone during winter. Protected wild places are a treasure, a gift that we must protect. I'm 65 years old and spent my summer visiting nat'l parks. They are a gift ,that we MUST protect and treasure! This was a most wonderful summer, the best yet! I visited 10 national parks and more national forests. What an amazing blessing!

With hope,
N. Peterson

As a scientist taking the samples, and looking at some very old color pictures then and now, I find that the material in the jet spraying over Glacier and Yellowstone NPs has turned the blue skies of the 1960's and 1980's to a whitish blue. All our parks are affected.

Therefore I think the military industrial complex and their wealth is an affront to the other 98% of us. Not to mention we have to breathe their aircrap so they can make even more money than the rest of us, and spend it poorly to fool we ordinary folk.

I am concerned about the entire planet. I just read an article on our acidic oceans and the sea life that is in serious trouble. We have contaminated the entire planet and it's getting to the point where it cannot be reversed. If we can't save our planet, our national parks are not going to be in existence either.

Acadia National Park may be the only national park left without pollution. It is one of many people's favorite parks...even surpassing Yosemite.

The air is clear and the ocean views are unsurpassed. Looking down on the Porcupine Islands is an unforgettable experience from Park Loop Road, the main artery from which to view this national gem.

But I am sure human greed will catch up to Acadia before too long.

Acadia, downwind from all the smokestacks in the Rust Belt, has had serious ozone problems over the years.

I would hate to lose the view from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, one of America's great vistas.

I beg your pardon? Arcadia California is 2000 miles from the "rust belt". The redwood's are hundreds if not 1000 of years old. There is no comparison to some mountain park in ME, In my humble opinion. Once the old growth redwoods are gone, they are gone forever.

Any certain area of natural motherland around the country will mean a different and uniquely special history to everybody who's been around it. There is an action that should be pushed a bit to the foreground.

Snakes, cactus, creeks, ferns, trout, limestone, screech owls, cypress all have no money.
They don't vote. They are nothing to most Americans, especially the powerful ones, without a voice. We must shout for them. We must become their voice.

Has anyone considered the haze may also be due to chemtrails?
Reference the website for scientific research and information.
Chemtrails are being spewed over northern Ohio as I write this.
Chemtrails are those "contrails" which do NOT dissipate but persist containing aluminum, barium and strontium deliberately sprayed.
The reason? Climate modification. And who profits? Derivitive commodity speculators, the military, private seed companies. He who controls the weather controls food and he who controls food controls the populations.

Absolutely - the haze is definitely due to chemtrails - wake up world!

To lose any of the parks or places that could becomes parks is a tragedy that no living being should EVER consider or support or let happen. These are God's gifts and other ways can be found to provide what we need, NOT THE PARKS!

I am at a loss of words on what is happening to our beautiful USA. The greed of the corporations at the top of the money chain are controlling our air, water and food and it is not to our benefit. So, I applaude Earth Justice in making our world a cleaner and healthier place for generations to come. You have my monthly support! Keep filing the law suits, the crooks have to be stopped!!!

I couldn't even begin to tell you what park I would miss. Each and every one is different. The parks are our heritage. What happened to Teddy Roosevelt who created the parks? Are there any Republicans who could be a second Teddy Roosevelt? How much of the United States do we have to destroy to satisfy the oil producers, etc.?

You are kidding, right? "Are there any Republicans who could be a second Teddy Roosevelt"? Are you living in a cave?

We wonder whether there are ANY Republicans that are not sociopaths. These murderous thugs don't care about people, let alone national parks.

Not enough is done to change American-style industrialized agriculture, which has a huge part in contributing to green house gases and destruction of wildlife. It is not just the power plants.
Also I am always appalled that nothing is done to halt the sprawl of cities and nothing is done to get better public transportation. It is short-sighted and stupid. The rights and well-being of all people as a community has to come before the selfish amassing of wealth of a single person or corporation for that matter. Natural resources belong to all people and power plants should be nationalized and switched to sustainable energy sources like wind and solar power.

Not enough is done to change American-style industrialized agriculture, which has a huge part in contributing to green house gases and destruction of wildlife. It is not just the power plants.
Also I am always appalled that nothing is done to halt the sprawl of cities and nothing is done to get better public transportation. It is short-sighted and stupid. The rights and well-being of all people as a community has to come before the selfish amassing of wealth of a single person or corporation for that matter. Natural resources belong to all people and power plants should be nationalized and switched to sustainable energy sources like wind and solar power.

Do you recall one of Obama's first speeches to the American people? He expressed a desire to get America on the fast-track by implementing high speed trains, which would help alleviate the thousands of tractor trailer trucks on our highways. He had wonderful ideas for education, health for all, women's rights, and many others. The GOP (Gaslighting Party) stands in the way of everything good that Obama has wanted for this country.

I have already missed seeing the gooseneck of the Colorado in Canyonlands NP from Dead Horse Point because of smog from the coal-burning plants in Four Corners and on the Navajo Reservation near Page, AZ. But I was able to see those of the San Juan from Muley Point, so I have some sense of what I missed and what we are in danger of losing forever.

As I read about not only our national parks and their demise but our amazing and irreplaceable wildlife.
The Redwoods are the most magnificent and humbling sight in the world to me.
But that fact that any of the natural beauty that is provided as a free and for we as Americnas can partake in , is so appalling to me that little by little it is being destroyed.
I hope we can have our voices heard throughout the WORLD not just here in the United States but everywhere that our eyes lay upon the ethereal wonder of this world.

I'm with you Kathleen, the redwood must be saved. What is going to save them? Money from Humboldt's largest industry, Medical Marijuana. Logging gone, fishing gone, agriculture is all there is left. Re-Legalize our medicine worldwide and Humbolt will again thrive with a tiny carbon footprint.

I am a Virgo so be patient with me, Kathleen. Many people are becoming irritated by the misspelled words and faulty grammar in the blogging world.

"that is provided as a free and for we as Americnas can partake in" Your words.

Can we try a little harder? I read my blogs first before touching the 'SEND' button.

You ask the impossible - pick just one? Can't do it! Clean the air, and perhaps I'll be able to pick the one I love over any other. Yeah, that's what we should do...

Just came back from a trip to China, Hong Kong, Beijng and Shanghai were invisible.
Maybe we could send the polluters over there to see just how bad it will and can get.

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