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Study faults federal air pollution approach.

Air pollution that blots out scenic views in national parks and wilderness areas will not be significantly reduced without a new approach, a National Research Council report concludes.

The report, released in February, found little progress toward the 1977 Clean Air Act goal of correcting and preventing poor visibility in major national parks. "The report confirms what NPCA has been saying for years: One of the most precious assets of national parks--visibility--is seriously degraded, and there is little prospect for improvement in the short term," said Elizabeth Fayad, NPCA staff attorney.

At present, visibility in the West, including parks and wilderness areas, averages one-half to two-thirds of its natural extent. Across most of the East, it has been reduced by four-fifths. The chief cause is regional haze, the term used for a mixture of pollution from many sources that can spread over hundreds of miles. For example, some of the pollution that clouds the Grand Canyon originates in Los Angeles.

But the Environmental Protection Agency has never regulated regional haze, as the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments enable it to do. Instead, for parks the major focus has been on visibility problems that can be traced in large part to one particular pollution source. The regulations requiring such sources to reduce emissions have been enforced only once, in the case of a power plant near Grand Canyon National Park.

Along with the lack of progress toward cleaning the skies, the report found many similar faults in efforts to keep park air quality from worsening. It concludes that "a program that focuses solely on determining the contribution of individual emission sources to visibility impairment is doomed to failure. Instead, strategies should be adopted that consider many sources simultaneously on a regional basis."

The report called for a stronger federal and state commitment to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas. It notes that efforts to do so would mean cleaner air overall in many parts of the country.

The 1990 Clean Air Act does provide some help. The act is expected to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by 36 percent in the East, where it is the primary cause of haze. In the West, however, growth in sulfur dioxide emissions will be slowed only 50 percent.

NPCA pressed for an amendment providing stronger protections for park air in the 1990 Clean Air Act. It was blocked in the end, however, by a group of Western senators.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:National Research Council report on air pollution within national parks
Publication:National Parks
Date:May 1, 1993
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