National parks aren’t breathing easy

From California to Maine to Alaska — sea to shining sea, as it were — almost a third of America’s national parks suffer poor air-quality conditions, says a new study by the National Parks Conservation Association. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury threaten wildlife, plants, visitors, and staff, and can reduce the visibility of scenic views in some parks by up to 80 percent. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park — one of a number of parks downwind from a coal-fired power plant — more than 30 species of trees show signs of ozone damage. “Coal-fired power plants are poised to become an even bigger source of park air pollution in the years ahead,” says the report. The NPCA recommends that plants install modern pollution controls, asks Congress to regulate power-plant mercury and CO2 emissions, and requests funding to eliminate the Park Service budget shortfall. Seeing as the outdoor-recreation industry pumps some $730 billion annually into the U.S. economy, that shouldn’t be a problem. Right?