President Obama’s Legacy Opportunity to Protect Wilderness and National Parks
Today the Obama Administration announced updates to the Regional Haze Rule, a Clean Air Act program with the goal of restoring our national parks, refuges, and forests to natural visibility conditions.
“We are eager to work with the Obama Administration to update the Regional Haze Rule, a program that is essential to reaching the bi-partisan goal of natural, pristine air quality in all of our Class I national parks, refuges, and forests,” said Georgia Murray, staff scientist for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). AMC has been studying haze pollution impacts on people and the environment in the Northeast for more than two decades.
AMC is encouraged by changes to the rule that would strengthen the program, such as clarifying the role of all states in reducing haze pollution at Class I areas, which in the Northeast includes Great Gulf Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, and Acadia National Park, Maine. However, the updates also include provisions that would weaken the program by extending deadlines and delaying clean up, as well as undermining enforceability of the rule.
“The Obama Administration has an opportunity to set the course for clean air in our national parks and forests at a time when all Americans are celebrating public lands during this centennial year of the National Park Service. We should all #FindAPark this year and every year into the next century, but in doing so we should not #FindAParkHazy. This Administration can ensure that the nearly 40-year-old Congressional mandate to achieve pristine air in our national parks is realized in our children’s lifetime,” concludes Murray.
Why does the AMC work on this problem?
Visitors to national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests expect to breathe clean, healthy air when they hike to remote peaks and scenic outlooks for a spectacular view of protected lands and waters. But air pollution can block our views, and threaten our health and the health of the forests and waterways across these protected landscapes.
Hikers and other visitors to public lands aren’t the only ones who prioritize protecting national scenic destinations. Under the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments, a bi-partisan Congress established a national visibility goal which is the “prevention of any future, and the remedying of any existing, impairment of visibility in mandatory Class I federal areas in which impairment results from man-made pollution.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required by law to issue regulations to assure reasonable progress is made toward meeting this national visibility goal.
“After decades of scientific study, the Regional Haze Rule was signed in 1999, but delays in implementation stymied making early progress in reducing haze. More recent application of this rule has resulted in real progress and this is something we want to see continue,” said Murray. The deadline for reaching visibility goals is 2064.
AMC has been studying visibility-impairing air pollution in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for decades, where long-distance transport of hazy air can obliterate scenic views. Our monitoring, along with that of the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land managers, has shown that regional sulfate pollution contributes the most to visibility degradation in the summer season. Progress toward cleaning up this type of pollution has been made under the Regional Haze Rule, but we have a long way to go to reach national visibility goals, according to Murray. Here’s why: In New Hampshire’s Wilderness, on the worst impaired days, you can see a distance of 49 miles. (This is a 5-year average). While this represents an improvement in visibility of more than 20 miles over the past decade, it still falls short of the program goal of 78 miles. AMC says this national program is needed to protect New Hampshire’s Wilderness from this haze pollution, which wafts in from as far as 500 miles away.
Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast. AMC helps people of all ages and abilities to explore and develop a deep appreciation of the natural world. With chapters from Maine to Washington, D.C., guidebooks and maps, and unique lodges and huts, AMC helps people get outdoors on their own, with family and friends, and through activities close to home and beyond. AMC invites the public to support its conservation advocacy and research, youth programming, and care of 1,800 miles of trails. More information is available at www.outdoors.org.