One of the most memorable events from my “teenage years” was my visit to the Grand Canyon. The sheer immensity and grandeur of that American natural wonder was overwhelming — even at a time when blasé was the order of the day.
A recent study published in Science Advances examines “air pollution and visitation at U.S. national parks.” When compared to twenty of America’s biggest cities, from 1990 – 2014, the levels of ozone, or smog, in parks were equivalent!
Yikes! Can’t families take a summer vacation and leave the pollution behind?
Since park ozone levels are reported to the public, it has affected the travel plans of families across the nation. Ozone is a gas formed in the atmosphere when certain chemicals combine with sunlight and heat in the presence of oxygen. It is particularly harmful to children, elders, and those with lung disease. Regardless, 35 percent of park trips occur when ozone levels are elevated.
Nearby wildfires have increased in number over the past few years, also bring ash soot and reduced visibility.
The National Park Service collects its own data, and it revealed that so far in 2018, the air quality did not measure up to prescribed air quality standards set for ozone.
I reached out to Roger Clark, Program Director at the Grand Canyon Trust, who always has his finger on the pulse of how national monuments may be at risk. He wrote via e-mail:
“The National Park Service has been documenting air pollution in Grand Canyon and other national parks for decades. This new report says that the health of park visitors may be at risk due to ozone pollution comparable to what we experience in cities. It also suggests that air pollution warnings in national parks may reduce visitation and thereby harm local and regional economies.
Clearly, our nation cannot afford to allow increases in ozone pollution from cars and coal plants. This administration’s weakening of air quality standards threatens clean air in national parks, the health of visitors and their families, and our economy.”
I received Clark’s response after I had just seen a new report about potential corruption linking Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to a real estate deal with Halliburton chairman David Lesar. (It never ends.) The Deputy Inspector General of the Interior, Mary Kendall, is officially looking into it.
Pruitt is gone, but his replacement at the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, does not make it possible for me to rest easy — regarding either our cities or our natural treasures. He has a track record of lobbying for the big boys of the fossil fuel and mining industries.
Wheeler was a top voice in the push to reduce the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument — in an effort to tap what he considered “valuable energy resources.”
A simple search for Wheeler’s connections show that he has been on the payroll of over fifteen different companies, with the agenda of pushing for extractive energy sources. His most recent accomplishment was to roll back regulations on the disposal of toxic coal ash.
Summer should be a great time to enjoy the outdoors with the family. But, regardless of the season, it’s never too early to start thinking about getting out the vote!