Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., sent a letter Tuesday to President Bush urging him to support stronger clean air protections for national parks.
Thompson wrote that Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, "often referred to as the crown jewel of the National Park System" and the most visited national park is "arguably the nation''s most threatened national park."
Thompson cited air pollution as a major park threat. "Air quality problems have landed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the National Parks Conservation Association''s list of the 10 most endangered parks in the country for the past three years," Thompson wrote. "Most shocking to me is that, according to park officials, air quality in the Smokies is so poor during summer months that hiking on backcountry trails is more hazardous to your health than walking along the streets of Manhattan."
Thompson lauded a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcement that the Administration intends to "move forward with a rule to reduce regional haze."
"This rule is an important step toward addressing air quality problems in our national parks, and I believe we can do more," he added.
The senator closed by saying, "I want you to know that I will support any reasonable requirements you determine appropriate that will protect air quality in the Smokies and in our other national parks."
In a 1999 rule, EPA required that air in 156 national parks and wilderness areas be restored to a pristine condition, mandating that power plants upgrade their systems to reduce pollution emissions.
The plants were given until 2070 to comply. The Bush White House has slowed the momentum of the proposal, drafted during the Clinton administration, but EPA administrator Christie Whitman is expected to open the emissions-reduction proposal to public comment this week.
"Senator Thompson understands the wisdom of a long-term investment," said Don Barger, southeast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "If we increase energy production from fossil fuels, we must simultaneously reduce the existing pollution that is damaging our parks and our lungs. By closing the 1977 loophole for the older, polluting plants, we can do both."
by Virginia Sutcliffe