by A.J. Higgins
MPBN news story
Millions of Americans visit Maine’s Acadia National Park each year expecting a quality outdoor experience featuring some of the state’s most iconic landscapes. But unhealthy air quality in the region is forcing some hikers to change their plans.
Rich MacDonald, a registered Maine guide and co-owner of the Natural History Center in Bar Harbor, looks forward each summer to guiding tourists through Acadia National Park’s ecotourism experiences. But during a recent outing with a family to Pemetic Mountain, he observed a yellowish haze in the air that quickly became so unhealthy, some in the party began to struggle just to take a breath.
“The family wanted to go on but it was clearly unsafe for the boy’s lungs,” he says. “I had to call an early end to the hike.”
At a time when the nation is celebrating Acadia National Park’s 100th anniversary, MacDonald and other clean air advocates say support is needed for two federal Clean Air Act rules the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering.
One is the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon pollution to combat climate change, and the other proposes improvements to the Regional Haze Rule, which will require that clean air is protected at older national parks such as Acadia.
Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says supporters of Acadia National Park have until July 5 to issue written comments on the new clean air regulations, which are opposed by several polluting power plants in the Midwest.
“The regional haze rule is a part of the Clean Air Act which is specifically designed to improve air quality at many of the nation’s historic national parks, including Acadia national Park,” he says. “The Regional Haze Rule has already been responsible for cleaning up many power plants whose pollution impairs visibility and air quality at national parks.”
Meeting with Voorhees and others atop Cadillac Mountain, Stephanie Clement, conservation director for the Friends of Acadia, says the park’s supporters have an obligation to protect Acadia’s air and climate. She says surveys of visitors to the park indicate that a high value is placed on air quality.
“Since our visitors have expressed such a high affinity for air quality for clean air, it’s important that the EPA act swiftly and with confidence to ensure that the values of our visitors are protected and that our long-term economic generator here in the state continues,” Clement says.
Few people see the negative effects of poor air quality the same way as Dr. Nathan Donaldson, director of the emergency department at Mount Desert Island Hospital. He recalls the case of an 11-year with asthma on a particularly bad ozone day in the park. She simply could not breathe.
“She’s scared, her parents are scared and this is the worst that this has ever been,” Donaldson says. “Nebulizers and steroids were able to prevent having to put a breathing tube down her throat, but we see the patients like this often with asthma, so air pollution is particularly harmful to children whose lungs are still growing.”
Voorhees said power companies have appealed the Clean Power Plan in federal court. Oral arguments in the case are expected to be heard in September and will include a statement from Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, who supports the revisions.