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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

Those dirty snowmobiles

The Bush Administration's insistence on allowing snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park was predicated on an industry promise that the new generation of the noisy, polluting recreational vehicles would be cleaner and quieter.

Now, just as the Interior Department is about to finalize the snowmobile rule for Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park, tests by the Environmental Protection Agency show that the latest machines pollute more and are noisier than older models.

This development, which illustrates what happens when politicians are beholden to regulated industries, gives the administration the perfect opportunity to correct a colossal policy mistake.

The Clinton Administration banned snowmobiles from the two parks in 2000, but the decision was countermanded several months later after President Bush entered the White House. Since then, the administration has championed the snowmobile cause while ignoring the obvious environmental damage.

Even though the proposed rule would allow more snowmobile traffic through the parks than before, the administration's fallback position was that four-stroke engines that power the new machines would spew less oily exhaust and create less of a racket.

But, according to the Los Angeles Times, two of three 2004 models tested by the EPA failed either pollution or noise standards set for the park. Worse, the new machines emitted more hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide pollution - from 40 percent to three times more - than 2002 models previously tested.

So much for industry promises of cleaner and quieter.

While this betrayal by a political ally should give the White House convenient cover to yank the misguided snowmobile rule, the President and his appointees have pursued a pro-industry, anti-environment agenda to ridiculous lengths - though the American people should hardly be surprised.

Even a few of his fellow Republicans are beginning to see the folly of a policy that has left Yellowstone's winter landscape marred by jarring noise and a persistent blue haze. In July, the GOP-controlled House came within a single vote of voiding the snowmobile rule.

This is not just a regional issue affecting only the western states. Yellowstone is the oldest park in a national system that belongs to all Americans.

Protecting the parks and their fragile ecosystems from the scourge of air, water, and noise pollution must not be held hostage to special-interest politics.

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