THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
VICE PRESIDENT GORE ANNOUNCES NEW NATIONAL STRATEGY TO RESTORE PRISTINE SKIES IN NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDERNESS AREAS
In Earth Day Remarks, Also Calls on Congress to Approve President's Lands Legacy Initiative
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, Va. -- Vice President Gore marked Earth Day today by announcing a major new federal effort to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas so that visitors can enjoy unspoiled views of America's greatest natural treasures.
The Vice President also called on Congress to approve President Clinton's Lands Legacy initiative, which seeks to provide permanent funding of at least $1 billion a year to protect land and coastal resources.
"Americans deserve to see their national parks in all their natural splendor, and the steps we are announcing today will ensure they can," the Vice President said. "Working closely with the states, we will restore pristine skies so future generations can see the Grand Canyon, Half Dome and the Great Smoky Mountains just as the first explorers did."
Air pollution from power plants, cars and factories -- sometimes traveling thousands of miles -- obscures visibility in many of the national parks and wilderness areas that draw 290 million visitors a year. Pollutants such as soot and smog also represent serious health risks, particularly to those suffering chronic respiratory illness.
In the Grand Canyon, haze on some days reduces visibility from 128 miles to 68 miles, a loss of nearly 50 percent. Haze impacts are even greater at other parks, including: Acadia (from 74 to 19 miles), Glacier (from 84 to 35 miles), Great Smoky Mountains (from 55 to 15 miles), Mount Rainier (from 103 to 21 miles), and Yosemite (from 132 to 41 miles).
The Environmental Protection Agency's new "regional haze" rule establishes the year 2064 as the timeframe for restoring visibility in all national parks and federal wilderness areas to natural conditions, and requires states to develop 10-year plans to achieve reasonable progress toward that goal. The rule allows states flexibility to develop plans for cost-effective pollution reductions and encourages states to collaborate on regional strategies.
In a two-mile hike along the Dickey Ridge Trail, the Vice President stopped at an overview overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, where park officials say views on a typical day have been reduced from 100 miles at the turn of the century to less than 20 miles today.
Following the hike, the Vice President delivered remarks outside the park visitor center, where he was joined by EPA Administrator Carol Browner, National Park Service Director Bob Stanton, and Park Superintendent Doug Morris.
In his remarks, the Vice President urged Congress to fully fund the environmental priorities in the President's FY 2000 budget, including the Lands Legacy initiative -- the largest one-year investment ever proposed for the protection of America's land and coastal resources.
For FY 2000, within the context of a balanced budget, Lands Legacy includes discretionary funding of $413 million for federal protection of natural and historic sites across the country; $434 million to help state, local and tribal governments preserve farms, urban parks and other local green spaces; and $183 million to protect coastal and ocean resources. To continue these efforts through the next century, the President and Vice President are calling for permanent funding of at least $1 billion a year beginning in FY 2001, with at least half dedicated to helping communities preserve local green spaces.
"With today's action, we our fulfilling our sacred duty to restore precious lands already protected as part of our nation's natural endowment," the Vice President said. "Lands Legacy will guarantee permanent funding so this and future generations can add to that endowment, preserving irreplaceable pieces of our natural legacy within easy reach of every American."