With Jan. 20th approaching fast, the Bush administration is racing to weaken air-quality standards in and around parks and wilderness areas.
The move could pave the way for two dozen new coal-fired power plants to be built near national parks. And of all the Bush administration's attacks on clear-air regulations, this one is so egregious that half of the regional managers within the Environmental Protection Agency have formally dissented from it, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post. Senior agency officials in the Southeast, West and Great Lakes areas have voiced fierce resistance to the proposal, which would have the effect of legalizing temporary spikes in pollution from coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other big polluters.
While air quality in national parks isn't as important to public health as more general soot and airborne lead pollution regulations, it's of huge symbolic and ecological value. Many parks, such as the Shenandoah National Park, struggle with poor air quality, shrouding stunning vistas from view. At that park, visitors in the 1930s reported seeing the Washington Monument more than 70 miles away. These days visibility is often barely a mile.
The ugly news: the EPA could issue a final rule as soon as this week, over the objections of many of its managers. But if the rule is enacted, the National Parks Conservation Association plans to petition the agency for reconsideration. That would provide a window for the Obama administration to throw the sooty policy out.