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03/25/2010

McCain Withdraws Bill Rider that Threatened Grand Canyon National Park

On Monday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was forced to withdraw his controversial 'Grand Canyon overflights rider,' which would have undermined the ongoing Federal Aviation Administration(FAA)-National Park Service rulemaking process for commercial overflight regulation at Grand Canyon National Park.  Senator McCain, along with Senators Kyl (R-AZ), Ensign (R-NV) and Reid (D-NV), had attempted to attach his rider to the FAA reauthorization bill, but McCain agreed to pull it after running into significant opposition from Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Grand canyon2 
Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

The issue of regulating commercial overflights at the Grand Canyon has been controversial since 1987, when Congress approved McCain's National Parks Overflights Act requiring the federal government to reduce noise pollution in the Grand Canyon by restricting aircraft.  Since then, FAA and the National Park Service have not been able to issue a final plan to manage the air traffic.  But the agencies are close to releasing a draft environmental impact statement on restricting flights over the park.  The McCain amendment would have undercut that ongoing rulemaking process by re-interpreting the 1987 Act and setting an arbitrary standard for "natural quiet."  It would have also changed the flight curfews to limit evening flights, while allowing more early morning flights.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) spoke against the amendment on the Senate floor, saying it does not make sense to legislatively enact new standards when the Park Service is close to releasing its new recommendations.  Bingaman also objected to the specific provision that would have prohibited a reduction in the current number of air tours over the park and prevented the government from considering sound produced by other sources, including other types of airplanes, when deciding whether natural quiet had been restored.

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