Clearing the Air in our National Parks

April 22, 1999

Today, Vice President Gore commemorates Earth Day by traveling to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to announce new federal efforts to improve air quality in our national parks and wilderness areas. The new "regional haze" rule aims to restore pristine skies and unspoiled views at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Acadia and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks, and other natural treasures that draw 290 million visitors a year.

Hazy Skies, Spoiled Views. Air pollution from power plants, cars and factories travels hundreds or thousands of miles to some of our countrys most remote lands, creating serious air pollution problems in many national parks and federal wilderness areas. During much of the year, a veil of white or brown haze hangs over many parks, obscuring some of our most famous scenic vistas. This haze is caused primarily by tiny particles in the air that absorb and scatter sunlight, reducing the clarity and color of what we see.

In the Grand Canyon, haze on some days reduces visibility from 128 miles to 68 miles, a loss of nearly 50 percent. Other examples: Acadia (from 74 to 19 miles), Glacier (from 84 to 35 miles), Great Smoky Mountains (from 55 to 15 miles), Mount Rainier (from 103 to 21 miles), and Yosemite (from 132 to 41 miles).
In addition to reducing visibility, pollutants such as soot and smog pose serious health risks, particularly to those suffering chronic respiratory disease. Air pollution also threatens park-related economic activity visitors spend over $10 billion in national parks and surrounding communities, generating over 200,000 jobs.

Restoring Pristine Skies. One goal of the federal Clean Air Act is to eliminate impairments to visibility in national parks and wilderness areas resulting from manmade pollution. The new Environmental Protection Agency "regional haze" rule announced today represents a long-range national strategy for achieving that goal. The rule:

  • Establishes the year 2064 as the timeframe for restoring visibility to natural conditions in 156 "Class 1" areas 37 national parks and 119 federal wilderness areas encompassing 17,076 square miles.

  • Requires states to submit successive 10-year plans describing efforts to achieve "reasonable progress" toward the goal of restoring visibility to natural conditions. The first plans are due from 2003 to 2008, depending on the region.
Flexibility and Regional Cooperation. Many antipollution efforts already under way, including vehicle emissions controls and the tough new smog and soot standards announced by the Administration in 1997, will help reduce regional haze. The new rule reflecting extensive input from states, industry, park visitors, and air quality experts allows states flexibility to devise cost-effective strategies to improve visibility. In some cases, for instance, states can develop emissions trading programs instead of strict technology-based standards. The rule also encourages states to work in partnership, recognizing that in many areas regional approaches may work best.

Earth Day 1999

New National Strategy to Restore Pristine Skies in National Parks & Wilderness Areas

Lasting Protection for our Natural Treasures

Clearing the Air in our National Parks

Remarks by Vice President Al Gore at Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, Virginia

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