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Group says TRNP air quality is at risk

FARGO -- North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on a list of national parks facing the greatest risk to deteriorating air quality in a ranking released Thursday by a conservation group.

The park in the Badlands of western North Dakota now has relatively clean air, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

But proposed coal plants, including the 500-megawatt Gascoyne plant that would be 56 miles from the park's south unit boundary, pose serious threats to air quality, the group said.

The Gascoyne plant would spew tons of acid rain pollutants, including 1,524 tons of sulfur dioxide and 2,286 tons of nitrogen oxides, as well as 660 pounds of toxic mercury, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

"It's really that Gascoyne plant, that's a huge plant," that placed Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the list, said Mark Wenzler, director of clean air and climate programs for the National Parks Conservation Association, based in Washington, D.C. "It just doesn't seem like it's very well-controlled."

National Park Service officials also have complained about the Gascoyne plant, proposed by Westmoreland Power Inc. The Park Service has determined the Gascoyne plant would result in perceptible haze at the park up to 19 days per year.

That haze would "diminish the national significance" and "impair the quality of the visitor experience" at the park, which is North Dakota's top tourist destination, in the view of the conservation group.

Messages left Thursday with Westmoreland Power Inc. seeking comment were not returned.

National parks must meet the nation's most stringent air quality standards, but the National Parks Conservation Association and other environmental stewardship groups have accused the Bush administration of trying to weaken clean-air protections for national parks.

Two national parks in South Dakota also made the list of parks with air quality at risk: Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills and the Badlands National Park.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.