The Effect of Air Pollution on National Parks

Last Updated by Paul Lazar on

A new report says air pollution continues to be a major problem for our national parks – and that it’s getting worse. The National Parks Conservation Association found 85-percent or more of the 417 national park sites evaluated have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times, with hazy skies that diminish views and air pollution that harms plant and animal life. According to Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for the group, pollution from mining, drilling and burning of fossil fuels can drift hundreds of miles from more densely populated areas, causing serious damage to places set aside to preserve their natural beauty.

"These are places that define and unite us as a nation, and they’re suffering from air pollution and they’re suffering from climate change. We can turn this around, but we need to be acting together and we need to be acting quickly."

The report also found that extreme trends in temperature, precipitation and early onset of spring due to climate change are significant concerns in four out of five national parks.

Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, says the impact of a warming climate can be seen in receding snow fields and glaciers, and in wildfires that burn out of control, even in areas like the Pacific Northwest.

"To see that type of wildfire activity in wet climates is really drawing a line under the fact that we’re up against a timeframe here to really start to put some measures in place to address climate."

The report says temperatures in national parks are warming at twice the rate of the nation as a whole.

Kodish points out that for many years, the Clean Air Act had steadily reduced air pollution. But in the past two years, enforcement actions against polluters have dropped by 85-percent.

"We’re seeing a reversal in trends, for example, from the reduced emissions at the power sector to now an increase – which is a shift in an over-decade-long trend."

The full report is online at npca.org.

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