Congress thwarts effort to reduce Grand Canyon noise pollution

  • A helicopter over the Grand Canyon

Helicopter noise is a fundamental -- but annoying -- part of most Grand Canyon experiences. In 1987, Congress directed the Interior Department to quiet the airborne sightseeing cacophony. After years of public debate, the National Park Service was due to release final recommendations for reducing noise this month.

But a last-minute provision snuck into an early July transportation bill overrides Park Service efforts and upholds current rules -- meaning that just half of the park must be free from aircraft noise for at least 75 percent of the day. NPS was expected to recommend restoring quiet to 67 percent and to restrict flight paths.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has reaped the most donations from air-tour operators, has tried but failed before to block stricter rules. Although air tours cost hundreds of dollars per person, McCain praised the new law in populist tones: "The stunning beauty of the Grand Canyon should be shared among everyone, not locked away for a small group of activists demanding absolute quiet, everywhere, at all hours."

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