Working for the Night

The U.S. may soon add light to the EPA’s list of dangerous pollutants.

The Milky Way as seen from Cherry Springs State Park. Photo by Dave Wymer.

It seems stargazers have their feet firmly on the ground when it comes to light pollution: You’ve heard all about the great work that last year’s Next Generation winner, Civil Twilight, is doing to keep the night sky dreamy and this summer the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has been going to bat for natural nighttime brilliance.

Not only has the IDA recently succeeded in designating Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania as the second International Dark Sky Park, but they’ve been taking the problem of light pollution straight to the capitol. In a briefing to the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee on June 20th sponsored by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and supported by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and Steve Israel (D-NY), the organization presented a host of illumination issues

“It’s a great bipartisan issue,” says IDA spokesperson Kim Patten, “because it’s going to give you the environmental effects but it’s not going to harm industry.” She went on to explain that from that briefing Rep. Culberson started a sign-on letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Steven Johnson in an effort to have light pollution brought into the EPA’s fold. Among the letter’s suggestions are to codify a formal definition for light pollution and to incorporate it into the EPA’s research and publications. A similar briefing to the Senate is scheduled for July 25th.

Light pollution is not just a problem for dark-sky lovers. In addition to wasting energy, excess nighttime light has proven adverse effects for wildlife from birds to corals to fireflies. Even more staggering, it’s been linked to breast cancer in humans.

Recent Programs