Checking pollution advisories could become a vital part of your pre-travel planning, along with checking the weather and stopping the mail, if the House of Representatives votes for more than 40 pollution provisions this week.
Simply put, the House could put future vacations at risk in order to keep Big Oil and coal interests happy. It plans to vote on the Interior Environment FY 2012 Appropriations bill, H.R. 2584, which is chock full of provisions that would prolong pollution of the air, water, oceans, and lands of your favorite vacation destinations.
Any one of these special interest provisions in H.R. 2584 is enough to wreck a vacation — from the Grand Canyon to the Great Lakes and Puget Sound; from California’s beaches to the Chesapeake Bay. Taken together, they are an unprecedented assault on public health and public lands, all hidden in an annual spending bill — which is why President Barack Obama promised to veto it.
Here’s how these provisions will impact 10 of America’s favorite vacation spots, with the appropriate section of H.R. 2584 included in parentheses:
Grand Canyon National Park: uranium mining
Photo: Alan English
The threat: One million acres around the Grand Canyon would be opened up to uranium mining, threatening the pristine canyon and polluting the drinking water [PDF] source for more than 25 million Americans. (Sec. 445)
With close to 5 million visitors a year, the Grand Canyon National Park offers camping, raft trips, hiking, and guided tours of one of the seven wonders of the natural world. A provision in the bill would allow mining companies to develop new mining claims that could begin just a few miles away from some of the most popular locations in the canyon. If developed, these claims could severely change the area’s landscape and pollute the Colorado River.
Puget Sound: slower cleanup
Photo: Alin Moni
The threat: The bill would cut funding for the implementation of Washington State’s Puget Sound Action Agenda by 20 percent, hindering cleanup efforts. (Title II)
Vibrant islands, trails, and plenty of water activities make Puget Sound a dynamic vacation spot for all ages. The 2011 Updated Puget Sound Action Agenda targets five threats to the sound, including land development, shoreline alteration, runoff, wastewater, and floodplain degradation. A 20 percent funding cut would lessen the crucial protection measures outlined in the new agenda. Failure to protect the water and surrounding area could sully visitors’ experience.
Big Bend National Park: scorching heat waves
Photo: Samuel Yu
The threat: Record heat and severe drought are searing Big Bend and the rest of Texas this summer. Such scorchers could become much more common if carbon dioxide pollution continues unabated. The bill would block the EPA from reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases from power plants, motor vehicles, and other sources. (Secs. 429, 431, 453)
This summer’s Texas-size heat wave will fry visitors to the park that many value as “three parks in one” because of its mountain, river, and desert environments. In addition to an unpleasantly hot visit, the increased risk of forest fires due to the heat and drought has forced Big Bend to close some of its backcountry campsites, including Blue Creek and Lower Juniper Zones.
Grand Teton National Park: bulldozers near the park
Photo: Chuq von Rospach
The threat: Drastic cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund would stall efforts to acquire and protect land adjacent to Grand Teton, putting the picturesque area at risk for real estate or other unsightly development. (Title I)
This park is just one of the dozens of special places [PDF] that could be harmed by an 80 percent cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF uses royalties from the sale of offshore oil and gas in federal waters to provide crucial funds to repair and improve parks and other protected places. It also pays for land acquisitions that expand their size and increase their resilience. This bill eviscerates LWCF funding from $301 million last year to $62 million. No new protection efforts, such as that in Grand Teton, will occur without additional resources.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: smoggy skies
The threat: The bill threatens to obscure visibility and pollute the air in the Smokies by preventing the EPA from monitoring and improving air quality in national parks and wilderness areas under the Regional Haze Program. Another provision of H.R. 2584 halts the reduction of air pollution that travels hundreds of miles and plagues eastern parks like the Smokies and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. (H. Rept. 112-51, p. 72 [PDF])
The Interior bill would make the Smokies a little smokier — and unhealthier. Smoky Mountains is the most visited
national park in the United States, and it is known for its astounding wildflowers, hundreds of miles of trails, and of course, its cloud-covered peaks. Hazy pollution could obscure the mountains, contribute to acid rain, and increase respiratory ailments among visitors.
The Great Lakes: alien species attack
Photo: Eldan Goldenberg
The threat: H.R. 2584 would slice the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative nearly in half, hindering pollution cleanup, wetlands restoration, and efforts to fight invasive species. (Title II)
The Great Lakes are the largest fresh surface water system on Earth, and provide many outdoor activities for all seasons. This includes ice fishing in the winter and sailing, swimming, and beachcombing in the summer. Those looking for good fishing may end up with only the invasive Asian carp that threatens to overwhelm the Great Lakes’ sport fishery.
Chesapeake Bay: more pollution
The threat: The Chesapeake Bay Program faces more than $4 million in funding cuts that could slow reductions of nutrient pollution, chemical contaminants, and air pollution. Fishing pressure combined with pollution, diseases, and other stressors have already damaged the populations of many signature Chesapeake fish and shellfish, and these cuts could significantly impede efforts to improve water quality and rebuild stocks. (Title II)
Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, with approximately 17 million people living in the watershed. President Obama highlighted the importance of restoring the Chesapeake Bay in 2009 by issuing an executive order for the EPA to take bold action to clean up the bay. Now lawmakers are pushing for cuts that could hinder restoring water quality, managing fisheries, protecting watersheds, and habitat restoration.
California’s beaches: sewage’s up
Photo: Laura Rauch
The threat: A 40 percent [PDF] funding cut to sewage treatment programs will leave California beaches contaminated with human waste and industrial pollutants. (Title II; Sec. 433)
California’s signature beaches are threatened by a provision in the Interior bill that drowns nearly half the funding for sewage treatment programs. This will make it very difficult to reduce the state’s storm water drainage, which washes domestic sewage and other pollutants into the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. Local surfers already know it’s not safe to go back in the water after a big rain, and these funding cutbacks pose a serious health threat to residents and vacationers on California’s coast, which a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis [PDF] ranked No. 22 out of 30 states for beach water quality. The study found that the 400 California beaches were under swim advisory or closed due to contamination for a total of 5,756 days in 2010.
Minnesota fishing: mercury rising
Photo: Matt Olson
The threat: Airborne mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, Portland cement factories, and other sources will continue to contaminate fish in Minnesota and elsewhere. (Sec. 462)
Mercury causes severe developmental disabilities, deafness, and blindness with prenatal and infant exposure. The chemical can lower fertility rates and raise chances of heart disease in adults. Mercury fish consumption advisories due to mercury exist in every state [PDF], but Minnesota holds the record with 1,039 freshwater advisories this year, far surpassing any other state. In the land of 10,000 lakes, children and women who are pregnant or lactating are warned to limit their consumption of the walleye — the state fish — to once per month [PDF]. The bill would prevent the EPA from issuing and enforcing standards to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants and Portland cement production.
Your backyard: endangering our children
The threat: The sum effect of these and other pollution provisions in the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill threaten clean air and clean water throughout the nation, exposing our children to sewage, dirty drinking water, mercury, smog, pesticides, and other pollutants. (H.R. 2584)
This bill would shred the environmental safety net, designed to make our water drinkable, our air breathable, and our land habitable. For instance, the EPA’s proposed mercury and air toxics reductions for power plants would prevent 120,000 asthma attacks and 4,500 cases of chronic bronchitis [PDF]. But the bill prevents the EPA from setting pollution reductions standards to clean our air and water. This puts our children and the places where we love spending time with them at risk.
To protect our future summers — and our health and well-being — the House of Representatives must reject this outrageous sneak attack by oil, coal, and utility companies. Otherwise we will suffer from wet, hot, dirty American summers for years to come.