Disappearing Vistas

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National Park Service
Three hundred miles from the nearest city, Big Bend National Park is a remote slice of paradise, nestled along the Texas-Mexico border.

Its 800,000 acres are full of wildlife, but the park is best known for its unobstructed panoramic views.

"On a clear day…you can see the Sierra Del Carmon Mountains, way off into Mexico," said Big Bend National Park Superintendent Frank Deckert.

According to Deckert, clear days are now few and far between. Visibility at the park, once more than 200 miles at its best, has dropped to nine miles at its worst.

That's proof to many that pollution-belching power plants on both sides of the Rio Grande are having a measurable impact, reports CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher.

"You can see this filter is pretty snow white, but this filter is brown, indicating how much pollution has been pulled through this filter," explained Park Air Technician John Forsythe, explaining one measure of pollution. "If you could hold your breath, I think it would be a good idea."

Popular Parks
The 10 most-visited national parks annually:
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 10.1 million visits, 521,621 acres, North Carolina and Tennessee
  • Grand Canyon National Park, 4.4 million visits, 1,217,403 acres, Arizona
  • Yosemite National Park, 3.4 million visits, 761,266 acres, California
  • Olympic National Park, 3.3 million visits, 922,650 acres, Washington state
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, 3.1 million visits, 265,722 acres, Colorado
  • Yellowstone National Park, 2.8 million visits, 2,219,790 acres, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
  • Grand Teton National Park, 2.5 million visits, 309,993 acres, Wyoming
  • Acadia National Park, 2.46 million visits, 47,737 acres, Maine
  • Zion National Park, 2.43 million visits, 146,592 acres, Utah
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, 1.7 million visits, 52,830 acres, Kentucky

    Source: National Park Service

  • The situation is so severe that Big Bend has just been named one of the ten most endangered parks in the nation — a move environmentalists hope will generate public concern and motivate political action.

    In Texas, the political finger of blame has long pointed at President Bush for not closing a loophole that exempts older plants from complying with newer, tougher EPA standards. Instead, then Gov. Bush pushed through a voluntary clean-up program Of 768 plants, less than four percent have even considered complying.

    "It's kind of like asking all the pigs in the barnyard to get in line for a bath. There's a lot of squealing going on, but not a lot of cleaning," said David Simon of the National Parks Conservation Association.

    Critics are concerned Mr. Bush is continuing to stall initiatives to protect the environment, like scrapping his campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    But the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, pawned off recent decisions as a necessary evil to solving the energy crisis.

    "This is part of the problem that people don't recognize. Because we didn't have an energy plan, it's not just impacting energy, it's also impacting the environment," explained Whitman.

    Whitman also tells CBS News that the president plans to issue new haze regulations for cleaner air within a month.

    Click here for more on air pollution.

    That can't come too soon for Big Bend. Preliminary results from a recent EPA study show Texas plants are contributing to Big Bend's pollution.

    "My children got to see views that my grandchild, who's here today, cannot see," said Deckert.

    What's happening to Big Bend is being called "paralysis by analysis": While politicians and scientists sift through possible solutions, pollution is consuming one the nation's most magnificent vistas.

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