It seems you just can’t turn around these days without stumbling across another story about modern civilization intruding upon our nation’s great parks. I started noticing it in September, when the Bozeman Daily Chronicle ran a story about the Yellowstone Park Wireless Communications Plan, which seeks to add a number of cellphone towers in the park. That was followed in November by the announcement out of Washington that President Bush planned to open public lands near Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, and Canyonlands National Park to oil and gas drilling. Now today, as I unwind in my Dallas hotel room and catch-up on the day’s events, I see the Washington Post is reporting that the EPA is finalizing new air-quality rules that would make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wilderness areas.
It seems that under current regulations, air-quality levels around “Class 1 areas,” those areas recognized by the EPA as being of the highest environmental quality and requiring maximum protection, are measured over three-hour and 24-hour increments. This granularity captures any short spikes in air pollution, which is likely to occur during times of peak energy demand.
Under the revised regulations, air quality levels would be averaged over a 12-month period, effectively smoothing-out any spikes in pollution levels. The Washington Post article quotes National Park Service environmental engineer Don Shepherd saying, “The approach that’s being proposed is going to underestimate the emissions, both for power plants that are out there now and for the ones that are proposed.”
Our nation’s parks are special. Since 1871, when President Ulysses Grant signed into existence the world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, our parks have provided an immeasurable benefit for both recreation and scientific study. And the world has followed our lead ever since. Just this year, China established their first national park. What kind of message are we now sending the world, and what kind of legacy are we leaving for our children?