Saturday, March 04, 2006
- by Sen. Lamar Alexander
I grew up hiking, hunting and fishing in the mountains of Tennessee and know firsthand how important it is to protect our national parks for future generations. As vice chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, I have raised some concerns about potential changes to the National Park Service’s management policies.
I am opposed to the proposed new management policies because I believe they would reduce the importance of conservation, impair park air quality and increase the likelihood of noise pollution. Frankly, I’m not convinced a rewrite of the management policies is even necessary. Last month, I hand delivered a letter to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella outlining the following issues of concern.
Predominance of Conservation
The proposed draft contains ambiguous language that deemphasizes the importance of protecting the parks. The national parks and the public would be better served if the Park Service were to keep the language from the current version of the management policies.
The national parks are gifts from prior generations that Americans cherish. They are treasures to be treated with the utmost care so that future generations, as well as our own, may experience them as our forebears did. There is no substitute for the unequivocal statement in the existing management policies that “when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.”
Park Service’s Role in Protecting Air Quality
The proposed revision makes three changes that fundamentally weaken the standards that parks must apply when managing park air resources.
First, the rewrite strongly implies that clean air does not qualify for the same degree of protection as other physical resources of the parks, such as soil, water and other physical resources.
Second, the proposal redefines the term “natural condition,” which would open the door to some level of existing air pollution being included in the definition of “natural.” Without smog and other pollution generated by human activities, visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would enjoy views of more than 100 miles. If “natural” conditions are redefined to include man-made impacts like coal-fired power plants, it is difficult to see how we will ever achieve clean air in our parks.
Third, changes proposed could degrade park air quality by weakening the Park Service’s oversight of state-issued permits for major air pollution sources.
The proposed draft weakens the Park Service’s commitment to protection of natural sounds and will increase the number of noisy off-road vehicles, personal watercraft and overflights.
Whether one visits spectacular natural parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, or the hallowed ground of Gettysburg or Shiloh, the ability of human beings to reflect in the natural quiet of those places is fundamental to the experience. It would be very unfortunate if the Park Service were to reduce its commitment to protecting these attributes of the national park experience that Americans hold so dear.