RL31149 - Snowmobiles: Environmental Standards and Access to National Parks
2-Oct-2008; James E. McCarthy; 18 p.
Update: Previous releases:
December 5, 2007
April 13, 2005
December 9, 2004
Abstract: The use of snowmobiles in national parks has been controversial because of the potential impacts on wildlife and the absence of standards for their emissions and noise. This report focuses on the emissions and noise issues. In November 2006, the National Park Service released a new draft of a final Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone National Park. This latest attempt to address snowmobile access proposes to allow up to 720 snowmobiles per day into the park, provided that they meet noise and emission standards and that the riders are accompanied by commercial guides. Similar proposals have been opposed by environmental groups and the vast majority of public commenters in the past, who argue that access should be limited to snowcoaches (essentially vans that operate on treads).
Most current model snowmobiles emit significant quantities of pollution. In one hour, a typical snowmobile emits as much hydrocarbon as a 2001 model auto emits in about two years (24,300 miles) of driving. On November 8, 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated regulations limiting air emissions from snowmobiles. These regulations required a 30% reduction in emissions beginning in 2006, with more stringent standards (requiring 50% reductions) effective in 2010 and 2012. The standards were challenged in court by both the snowmobile manufacturers and environmental groups and were vacated in part and remanded to EPA in part by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, June 1, 2004. EPA has not promulgated any standards for snowmobile noise.
Regarding national parks, the National Park Service has allowed snowmobile use in 43 units of the park system, in many cases in apparent violation of Executive Orders from the Nixon and Carter years. Outside of Alaska (where snowmobiles are permitted in most national parks by law), the most popular national park for snowmobiling has been Yellowstone, which saw more than 87,000 snowmobile visits in the 2001-2002 winter season. Under the Clinton Administration, the National Park Service decided that the emissions and noise from snowmobiling were incompatible with protecting the park, and promulgated rules that would have phased out snowmobiles from Yellowstone in the winter of 2003-2004. The Bush Administration revisited these rules and announced modifications in March 2003. The modifications would have allowed 950 cleaner, quieter snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone Park per day. These rules and the Clinton Administration action have been the subject of conflicting court rulings: a federal court in Wyoming has vacated and remanded the Clinton Administration’s phaseout, while a D.C. federal court has vacated and remanded the Bush Administration rules. For the last three winters, Yellowstone and two neighboring park units have operated under a temporary plan that permitted 720 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone, but set standards for their emissions and required that snowmobilers be accompanied by commercial guides.
Efforts to reduce snowmobile emissions and noise remain contentious. This report discusses snowmobile access to the parks, snowmobile emissions, EPA’s
emission standards, and congressional efforts to address these issues. [read report]