Dear EPA, visit a national park to see the real impacts of climate change
The nation’s top environmental watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the Trump administration, recently proposed a new rule to replace the Clean Power Plan, which would have significantly reduced air pollution from coal plants and helped curb future climate disasters. EPA’s inaccurately named Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) plan would in actuality repeal key Clean Air Act measures, allowing more air pollution that drives climate change and threatens public health and the health of our public lands and wildlife.
The administration’s very own analysis reveals that the replacement rule would lead to an increase in harmful climate pollution, as well as more premature deaths, asthma attacks and respiratory diseases. While the public health toll from this sham rule is astounding, Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the environment and our public lands today. From national seashores to mountain parks, I can attest firsthand from my 34-year career as a National Park Service (NPS) ranger protecting these places, that the impacts from climate change at national parks are real, urgent and getting worse.
Our diverse National Park System preserves some of America’s most magnificent natural resources and cultural sites, from the spectacular Yosemite in California to the remarkable Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado to the solemn Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These treasured places remind us of our nation’s heritage and are supposed to be preserved for “the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and of future generations,” but without action to stop air pollution, we are failing our national parks and the more than 330 million people that visit these places each year.
Visit Nauset Light or Marconi Beach at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts and you will most likely use a new trail or wooden staircase to descend from the parking lot to the beach. Longstanding access routes rarely, if ever, had to be repaired during my tenure at Cape Cod from 1997-2005. In recent years, however, storms have become increasingly frequent and intense and erosion has increased, destroying more structures and creating a recurring drain on the park’s budget and the nearly $12 billion in needed repairs across the park system.
Visit Yellowstone in the summer. If you look closely at the landscape, you will see thousands of acres of dead trees caused by insect infestations. Chances are you will also smell smoke and miss out on the park’s stunning views because of nearby wildfires. Recurring warmer, dryer conditions allow pests to thrive and sustain longer, more intense wildfire seasons.
Visit Biscayne or Dry Tortugas National Parks in South Florida and go snorkeling at any of the popular shallow-water coral reefs. You will undoubtedly see signs of “bleaching” — wide swaths of dead or dying coral affected by ocean acidification. This is the result of a warming climate that has made ocean water temperatures rise and become inhospitable for coral.
Visit Yosemite or Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Abnormal levels of winter precipitation — either drought or deluge — have become the new normal and threaten the health of the majestic Giant Sequoia trees. Drought years mean less snowfall in these mountains, driving longer, more intense fire seasons and more frequent closures and evacuations of park trails, campgrounds, roads and facilities due to smoke, threatening the safety of park visitors.
Visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. When completed in 1870, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was located safely 1,500 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. In recent decades, sea level rise combined with more frequent and severe storms has destroyed protective dunes, damaged historic structures and visitor facilities at the park and forced the relocation of the lighthouse and other buildings away from eroding shorelines.
These are just a few examples of the profound changes facing national park landscapes. There is no time to spare when it comes to dealing with this crisis. So, to the EPA, aggressively marching us down the wrong path, I say visit a national park. Take a hike or swim, and you’ll see what we and future generations have to lose. Remember your core mission of environmental protection and stop these misguided attempts to diminish clean air rules. We have a moral obligation to step up and protect our national parks and cutting air pollution is a critical step to doing that.
Michael B. Murray is a National Park Service retiree and member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.