Breath of Clarity

Op-Ed: Air Pollution in National Parks

The process of crafting and revising my Op-Ed was a great experience that taught me to concisely write with intention for a specific type of audience. In my final version, I found the run-on sentences I needed to revise were often previously problematic because I was attempting to squeeze a term’s definition into the same sentence as the rest of its context. Simply allocating a separate sentence to define terms helps keep the reader engaged rather than confused. I also abolished unnecessary transitions that were previously present throughout the piece. Particularly, the phrase “that said” at the beginning of sentences did not have a substantial function in the argument considering the proximate sentence is typically building off the one before it. I also included myself at the beginning of the call to action and requested for the audience to specifically explain why they support H.R. 3225 to their congressional representatives.

My Op-Ed contains both strengths to note and weaknesses to improve upon. One strength is that impacts from oil and gas extraction is a timely issue. Since National Parks are a subject of interest to many citizens, incorporating it into the Op-Ed makes it relevant to the audience. Additionally, the anecdotal example about Gema Perez added emotional appeal to the piece. With more time, I would have personally interviewed citizens who are impacted by the pollution. Also, I would have researched phrases that, historically, have been proven to be successful at holding the audience’s attention in Op-Eds and found ways to implement them. I look forward to submitting the Op-Ed to The New York Times.

Improving Air Quality at National Parks

The existent programs preserving air quality in National Parks need to be strengthened. The primary purpose of the Clean Air Act (CAA) is achieved through the respect of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (National Parks Service 2018). The 1977 amendments enhanced the legislation with specific tenants to safeguard Class I air shed areas, including National Parks greater than 6,000 acres, from experiencing significant degradation due to established air pollution sources such as oil and gas drilling operations (National Parks Service 2018). The CAA clearly asserted that the government will supply the National Park Service with the mechanisms necessary to protect air quality in parks (National Parks Service 2018). However, in 88 percent of National Parks, air pollution is changing water chemistry, stifling tree growth, damaging leaves, and decreasing visibility (Yale School of the Environment 2019). Moreover, 85 percent of National Parks contain a grade of air pollution that is hazardous to human health (Yale School of the Environment 2019). Air pollution in National Parks is a severe problem that needs to be addressed by revising policy regarding leases to oil and gas extraction companies.

The issue of oil and gas extraction close to National Parks presents a major problem of environmental injustice in regards to geographical inequity. It is defined as one group experiencing benefits of a project while another group receives its costs. Oil and gas organizations, along with their shareholders, are profiting by leasing lands near National Parks. However, permanent residents suffer the negative consequences of drilling. For example, Gema Perez lives in a low-income neighborhood on the edge of Bakersfield, California nearby national parks such as Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite (National Parks Conservation Association 2020). Her view is filled with haze derived from acres of oil fields and refineries. Both her daughter and husband endure health issues resulting from the pollution (National Parks Conservation Association 2020). Drilling near National Parks can create an obstacle for people in neighboring low-income communities to succeed. To address the geographical inequity, it is important to improve enforcement of Class I standards defined by the CAA.

One strategy is to create protocols that bring exempt operations within the 9B regulations. The directive provides a national regulatory groundwork administrating oil and gas rights in National Parks (Geltman 2016). It would be beneficial to ensure measures are being conducted to prevent park damage after the wells are closed (Geltman 2016). Additionally, as part of the permit conditions, there needs to be a baseline environmental assessment (Geltman 2016). From there, combining the initiative to revise 9B regulations with impactful Congressional legislation is a productive gateway to address the pollution.

H.R. 3225, the Restoring Community Input and Public Protections in Oil and Gas Leasing Act, would revive master leasing plans for proposed drilling projects (Library of Congress 2020). Master leasing plans encompass determining whether areas next to National Parks are well-suited for oil and gas development. The evaluation entails considering future environmental impacts of the projects prior to selling a lease. Furthermore, the law would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to involve all stakeholders, including the public, in the crafting of master leasing plans (Library of Congress 2020). Implementation of H.R. 3225 would offer the opportunity for the local communities to resist oil and gas leasing near National Parks. From there, insight from the environmental reviews would contribute to the BLM taking air quality into account before leasing. The act would also limit the amount of times per year that the lands are available for leasing, grant allowance for the Secretary to establish a higher national minimum acceptable bid, and restrict the size of units that the United States Secretary can lease (Library of Congress 2020). As a result, there would be a decrease in the number of leased acres and drilling infrastructure which would reduce the amount of air pollution.

Considering the policy solutions are already in place to cultivate the necessary changes that would directly mitigate the problem, the next step is for we the people to urge government officials to take action. Call your local congressional representative and let them know why you support passing H.R. 3225. Teaching children to honor the earth during visits to the continent’s most pristine landscapes is going to be a massive challenge if they associate these sacred places with polluted air. The future of America’s air quality rests in the hands of its people if we simply recognize there is power in collectively urging governmental officials to pass H.R. 3225.


Geltman, Elizabeth Ann Glass. 2016. “Oil and Gas Drilling in National Parks”. Natural Resources Journal. 56(1): 145-192. 24889113.pdf

Library of Congress. 2020. “H.R. 3225”. United States of America. Accessed November 11.

National Parks Conservation Association. 2020. “Polluted Parks: How America is Failing to Protect Our National Parks, People & Planet from Air Pollution”. Accessed November 4.

National Parks Service. 2018. “National Parks and the Clean Air Act”. Accessed October 2.

Yale School of the Environment. 2019. “Dangerously High Pollution Levels Found in Most U.S. National Parks”. Accessed October 2. pollution-levels-found-in-most-u-s-national-parks