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Air Quality: Is Rocky Mountain NP Superintendent Overstepping His Role?


    Back in mid-May I posted a story about air quality in the parks, about how some areas were seeing improvements while others were not. Deep down in the piece I pointed out how the superintendent at Rocky Mountain National Park, Vaughn Baker, had signed a letter with the state of Colorado to outline what park officials considered to be the upper limit for nitrogen loads in the park.
    Such "critical load" assessments are vital for all national park units, for once they're in place officials will be able not only to clearly assess how pollution is affecting their parks but also be able to identify when pollution levels from surrounding areas are becoming a threat to the parks.
    This is a proactive approach not just to protecting our parks, but also ourselves, regardless of whether we visit the parks. For if more and more parks and their respective states come to agreement on dangerous pollution levels, then more work will be done to keep society from generating so much pollution.
    Seems like a win-win proposition, no? Well, not to the Colorado Springs Gazette, which argues that Baker is overstepping his authority in setting a critical load for nitrogen in Rocky Mountain.

    The Gazette, you see, believes while Baker's position is admirable, he's "not a regional environmental czar."
    "And let's not pretend there are any short-term, cost- or consequence-free fixes to the problem, since these pollutants frequently have their origins well beyond park boundaries and the regulatory regime required to address them would have to be regional, perhaps even national, in scope," the Gazette opined the other day.
    Well, oh my heck, as they like to say here in Utah. Heaven forbid that we take a regional or national approach to combating pollution.
    The Gazette argues that, gosh, golly gee, if we try to limit nitrogen loads in Rocky Mountain by reducing agricultural fertilizer use or require power plants to install better pollution controls, well, heck, that'll be expensive.
    "What Baker is proposing is really much more radical than it at first appears — it’s an attempt to pave the way for regional pollution controls, using a national park’s environmental health as justification," claims the newspaper. "The nitrogen reductions Baker is proposing 'would establish the nation’s first critical load of a pollutant to protect a national park environment,' notes The Rocky Mountain News. This 'also would give environmentalists a figure to build political and, possibly, legal arguments around.' Arguments for what? More regulation, of course.
    "We’re not arguing that nothing can or should be done about curbing pollution in national parks. We’re just arguing for realism and candor about what is possible, given the interconnected nature of the environment and the fact that few environmental improvements come without significant trade-offs."
    I think the Gazette's editorial board needs to accept the reality that we are over-polluting this planet and that reversing that trend will not be easy and will not be cost-free. Just as high gas prices are forcing many consumers to abandon SUV gas hogs, the desire for clean air, water and landscapes should motivate all of us to strive, lobby and demand more from our regulatory agencies and industries, both regionally and nationally.
    Let's not criticize Baker for being bold enough to push for such changes, if only for the sake of a national park. Let's thank him.

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