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Why national parks, coal-fired power plants may be neighbors

Air-quality experts worry that proposed changes to clean-air regulations may allow developers to build the plants near pristine areas.

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The skies at Zion National Park in Utah could soon become dirtier if a proposed revision to clean-air regulations takes effect. The proposal may clear the way for coal-fired power plants to be built nearby. More than 2.6 million people visited the park in 2007.

Andy Nelson

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Nature photographer Hullihen Moore specializes in vistas of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, but worries he'll soon be unable to see his beloved ridgelines through a yellowish haze of industrial emissions.

On some days, thick air already obscures mountains just a few miles distant, he says. So adding six new coal-fired power plants nearby, as is proposed, might make view-gazing impossible.

Shenandoah isn't the only national treasure whose scenic values are up in the air, however. From Virginia to Utah, the air quality of at least 10 national parks, including many with crystalline views, is threatened by plans to build at least two dozen new coal-fired power plants, parks advocates and air-quality experts say.

The little-known reason places with names like Badlands, Wind Cave, and Great Basin could soon see sullied air is a federal proposal that would lower the bar for developers seeking permits to build upwind of the parks, these critics say.

Despite blunt internal criticism by its own staff experts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proceeding with a plan by year's end to revise regulations under the Clean Air Act that currently safeguard areas with some of the nation's cleanest air.

Across the United States, 156 national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges have been designated by Congress as Class-1 areas, granting them the toughest legal protection.

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