Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Planet Main
Back Issues
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
In This Section
Table of Contents

The Planet

Turn Back the Grand Canyon Air Raid

If you're planning to visit the Grand Canyon, be sure to bring your ear plugs. America's premier national park is being bombarded by noise from sightseeing airplanes, and the number of flights -- decibels -- rising.

Air tours account for almost all of the 190,000 annual takeoffs and landings at the Tusayan airport located just outside Grand Canyon National Park's south entrance. It's so busy that the Federal Aviation Administration warns pilots to expect as many as 1,000 flights a day and 100 flights per hour. That's nearly twice as many as in 1987 when Congress enacted legislation to reduce aircraft noise over national parks.

According to a National Park Service noise study, tour aircraft can be heard regularly -- and often continuously -- everywhere throughout the Grand Canyon. True natural quiet can be experienced in less than one-half of 1 percent of the vast canyon, and that's not counting high-altitude jet noise.

The FAA is proposing new rules to control the air tours over the Grand Canyon by doubling the amount of flight-free airspace over the park. This will keep air tours out of Marble Canyon and eliminate them along the Colorado River's Middle Granite Gorge under the existing "Fossil Canyon" tour corridor.

But even the FAA's own environmental assessment predicts "no appreciable change in aircraft noise levels." The problem is that the most heavily used tour routes remain virtually unchanged, and the proposed cap on tour numbers is temporary and set at the already excessively high numbers flown.

"The FAA proposal is a pound of prevention but only an ounce of cure," noted Sharon Galbreath, conservation chair for the Grand Canyon Chapter. "The law mandates substantial restoration of the Grand Canyon's natural quiet, but the FAA admits its own failure to do that."

With no changes, the Park Service predicts the noise will grow worse because of unlimited growth in the local air tour industry. "This is no way to treat one of the most awesome and naturally quiet places on Earth," said Galbreath. "We're robbing ourselves and future generations of the solitude that makes the Grand Canyon so special."

Don't 'Trade In' the Environment

The Sierra Club predicted that the North American Free Trade Agreement would have dire environmental consequences. Two years later, that prediction has been borne out. That's why, as the momentum for hemisphere-wide expansion of NAFTA builds, the Club's trade activists are calling for environmentalists to pressure their political leaders for a binding, international agreement on minimum environmental practices.

This December, the Summit of the Americas on Sustainable Development to be held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, will address the environmental issues involved in expansion of the free trade area. Presidents from 34 Western Hemisphere countries will be in attendance.

Sierra Club Trade Specialist Dan Seligman said an international agreement in Bolivia on environmental practices would build on the central principle of the NAFTA side-agreement -- our trading partners must have and must enforce good environmental laws. During the NAFTA debate in 1993, advocates asserted that the side agreement need only address the issue of enforcement since the NAFTA countries already had adequate laws.

But since then, each participating NAFTA country has weakened important environmental laws -- those affecting citizens' rights. In the United States, for example, the clearcut rider passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1995 eliminated citizen suits regarding enforcement of environmental laws in timber sales. Similarly, Alberta -- only Canadian province to sign NAFTA's environmental accord -- a law barring citizens from suing the environment ministry to enforce its own laws, while Mexico eliminated environmental assessments for new investment in most major industries.

"NAFTA gave international corporations unprecedented rights to trade and invest wherever they wish, but it didn't define responsibilities to our communities," said Los Angeles trade activist Tim Frank. "The result is predictable: we're trying to compete by offering workers and resources at cut-rate prices."

"NAFTA was the first attempt to link trade and environmental goals and we now know we have to do more," said Seligman. "The Bolivia Summit can lay the foundation for a truly responsible trade policy -- the environment, for our families, for our future."

Up to Top