New TV Ad Tries To Convince Americans That Smog Isn’t A Problem

The main plant facility at the Navajo Generating Station, as seen from Lake Powell in Page, Arizona. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ROSS D. FRANKLIN, FILE
The main plant facility at the Navajo Generating Station, as seen from Lake Powell in Page, Arizona. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ROSS D. FRANKLIN, FILE

A powerful organization representing industrial polluters launched a misleading new television ad last week with images of pristine national parks that are, in fact, experiencing dangerous levels of air pollution caused by its own members.

The ad is part of a multi-million dollar campaign by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) against a proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce ozone pollution, which causes breathing problems, aggravates lung diseases, and contributes to premature deaths. The TV ad claims that the proposed regulations are so strict that even America’s “pristine” national parks would fail to comply.

“Our National Parks: vast, untouched, pristine, no industrial activity for miles,” the narrator says in the ad over images of Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. “But under new ozone rules out of Washington, these national treasures would actually violate clean air laws.”

What the ad doesn’t say is that industrial air pollution in national parks, including these three, is already so bad that air quality frequently fails to meet public health standards. According to the National Park Service, air quality and visibility at the Grand Canyon is declining because the park “lies downwind of polluted air from coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners region, nearby mining, and urban and industrial pollutants from Mexico and California.”

Yosemite National Park’s air quality is regularly so poor that it is unhealthy for park rangers and visitors, according to a new report by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

In a press release announcing the ad, NAM President and CEO, Jay Timmons, also misleadingly claims that “the new proposed ozone standard is so over the top, even places with no industrial activity for miles around will be considered noncompliant.”

In fact, many national parks are surrounded by industrial activity that contributes to air pollution and other environmental problems. For example, the Alton Coal Mine in Utah is just over 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, and a proposed expansion of the strip mining operations would further threaten the iconic park and contribute to air pollution.

“If you put a coal mine, and you run it 24 hours a day, not only do you have lights and equipment running all that time, but you have particulate matter and other air pollution from blasting and from digging and from wind blowing off your coal pile that all contribute to worsening the views at an iconic national park,” Nathaniel Shoaff, a staff attorney for the Sierra Club, told Utah Public Radio in July.

According to an NPCA analysis of haze and ozone levels in 48 national parks, 36 had “at least ‘moderate’ ozone levels at times, meaning that pollution makes the air unhealthy to breathe for some populations,” and 12 are regularly “blanketed by haze pollution.”

“As Americans flock to our national parks this summer to enjoy the great outdoors, they expect and deserve to find clean, healthy air. Sadly that is not always the case,” Ulla Reeves, manager of NPCA’s Clean Air Campaign said in a press release. “Our parks remain under threat from air pollution, harming visitors’ health, reducing visibility, and driving the impacts of climate change.”

The NPCA report cites pollution sources such as power plants, oil and gas operations, and large industrial processes, among others. It states that although “emissions that are closer to parks usually have the most impact,” because “air pollution can travel thousands of miles, distant sources can play a part as well.”

“For that reason, limiting pollution where we can is critical.”

Despite the misleading claims and wide criticism of past attacks by NAM on federal air quality standards, the proposed ozone rule that is the subject of the ad is expected to improve public health and protect millions of people from the impacts of poor air quality. The rule is expected to be finalized this fall.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.