The Smogy Mountains?

By Mike Boisvert.

We have the Disney World of outdoor amusement parks at our fingertips - rollercoaster rivers, marvelous mountains tht make Space Mountain look like a speed bump, and vast wilderness that's as endless as the line for Harry Potter. I admit, I can't help but feel a surge of giddy pride when I think of magnificent lands that our goverment has preserved for our enjoyment. Of course, closest to my heart are our national parks - the crowning jewel of American land, the cream of the crop, the most rigorously preserved of all our resources.

Or perhaps not.

According to Code Red, a study conducted by conservation group Appalachian Voices, our national parks may not be all that better off than some of our most polluted cities. In fact, if you are planning on being one of the ten million people that will visit Smoky Mountain National Park this year, you might want to consider going somewhere with cleaner air - like New York City or Atlanta.

That's right. The country's most popular national park is more polluted than many of the country's most popular cities. Already this year, the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed ozone levels in Great Smoky a threat to human health on 43 separate days.

But even if the 175 episodes of dangerously high levels of ozone in the park since 1988 don't dissuade you from your Appalachian adventure, you may find that climbing some of the park's taller peaks is a little bit like dying Easter eggs: the clouds up there are about as acidic as vinegar.

And those beautiful scenic views you've been looking forward to? Don't get your hopes up. Due to the sickly yellow haze that has replaced the breathtaking, natural blue mist that normally drapes the park's verdant flora, visibility in the park has been reduced to about 20 percent of natural conditions.

But aren't there laws that are supposed to protect our most sacred lands from this sort of grotesque effluence?

Well, yes. Laws exist that are supposed to keep our national parks at least marginally less polluted than the country's major metropolises. In 1977 congress amended the Clean Air Act to guarantee that the country's most pristine and scenic national parks would have the cleanest air in America. Under this act, congress mandated that power plants in particular should have no negative impact on the air quality of our national parks.

However, regardless of this provision, most of the pollution in the Smoky Mountains can be attributed to coal burning power plants, most of which are outdated and are not required to meet the greater emission standards that modern power plants must meet. These outdated power plants often emit more than ten times the pollution that modern facilities release.

So our goverment is probably working to update and replace coal-burning plants with something more environmentally friendly, right?

Unfortunately, that's not exactly the case. Though the Clean Power Act, which is currently pending before the senate, would require all outdated power-plants to meet current emission standards, it is opposed by the Bush Administration, which has prioritized the preservation of beautiful smokestack vistas. This Administration has also proposed the elimination of the provision in the Clean Air Act which specifically protects our national parks from stationary sources of pollution.

As outdoor enthusiasts, we appreciate the natural sanctuary that national parks afford us. The future of Great Smoky Mountain and many of our national parks in our country is hazy at best.

We've sat through hundreds of Mountain Dew commercials and watched the Eco-Challenge half a dozen times. Outdoor enthusiasts are becoming an economic force to be reckoned with. We have lobbying power, so let's use it. If you've just downed a can of Dew and still have energy to burn, click on this link to contact President Bush and urge him to support "The Clean Power Act," S. 556 in the Senate and its companion bill in the house, H.R. 1256:  http://www.npca.org/Take_Action/action_alerts/ActionAlert.asp?strAction=link&lngAlertID=169. This bill would mandate higher emission standards for power plants and would eliminate many of the dirtiest power plants that pose the greatest threat to our national parks.

And next time you head up to the top of Clingman's Dome in the Smokies, bring your salad; the vinaigrette is on the house!

Gandalf is also known as Mike Boisvert, the GayOutdoors.com webmaster. Mike has over 25 years of experience in the outdoors: from hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, to hiking up the 100 hundred highest peaks in New England, to climbing Denali and Aconcagua, to climbing Island Peak in Nepal. Besides hiking, backpacking and climbing, you’ll find Mike skiing, paddling, mountain biking and willing to try anything outdoors…at least twice!

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