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"Something in the Air" Over CO Parks Causing a Stir in DC

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 By Eric Mack/Steve Powers, Contact
July 7, 2008

Denver - There's an "air war" going on in the national parks -- in Colorado and elsewhere. Concerned citizens, local governments, park supporters and conservation groups have been firing verbal shots at the Environmental Protection Agency over increasing air pollution in such popular parks as Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain. The organization Earth Justice plans to sue the EPA to force a reduction in the haze over America's parks and wilderness areas.

David Baron, Earth Justice managing attorney for the case, says the federal agency must act.

"When you can't see the mountains and you can't see the canyons, it's time for EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act."

One place air quality is adversely affected is Colorado's trademark national park, Baron notes.

"In Rocky Mountain National Park, the air is so dirty that we're now seeing potential violations of health standards for air pollution."

Cortez city councilman Matt Keefauver says his town depends on Mesa Verde National Park for tourism dollars. An EPA proposal to relax air quality regulations for parks is bad news for surrounding communities, he adds.

"That will only cause more unsightly and unhealthy pollution. It's pollution that we witness today."

Congress made clean air in parks a top priority 30 years ago, Baron says, but little has been done to prevent haze caused by pollution, or even to cut it back. Other groups are protesting a separate Bush Administration proposal to weaken air quality protections for national parks. The EPA admits to being behind schedule, but says it expects to meet visibility goals for parks by 2064.

A map of national parks with links to air quality data and photos of visibility conditions at parks nationwide is available at www.epa.gov/air/visibility/monitor.html.

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