KC man's campaign seeks to reduce light pollution

Monday, March 3, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Robert Wagner says he's tired of not being able to see the stars at night.

In response to the thousands of yard lights, streelights and other signs that blot out the sky, Wagner has started a campaign to dim the lights at night, starting with state parks in Missouri and Kansas.

"I started noticing all the light shining in our bedroom window at night, and I thought, 'Good grief. Why haven't we addressed this?"' said Wagner, 39, of Kansas City.

Besides masking the stars in the night sky, excess light is wasteful, said Wagner, citing a study by American and Japanese astronomers in 1999 that found excess light costs up to $7.15 million annually in the Kansas City area.

Wagner said the light pollution could be reduced simply by turning off unneeded lights and installing fixtures that direct light to where it's needed, not into the sky or across a neighborhood.

Old streetlights, for example, often have bulbs that send light in all directions. Some newer light fixtures, such as those used on highways in the renovated Grandview Triangle, have extra skirts near bulbs or black paint on reflectors to reduce glare. The light shines only on the area below.

A Missouri House committee is considering a bill that would make such devices more common.

State Rep. Jason Holsman of Kansas City is a co-sponsor of House Bill 1727, which would limit light pollution near state parks, the Ozark Scenic Riverways and the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

"My family vacationed last summer at Table Rock Lake, and I was trying to point out constellations," Holsman said. "I was having trouble doing that and I thought, 'We should do something."'

The bill would authorize the Missouri Clean Air Commission to develop standards and regulate light emissions near parks to preserve natural skies.

If the bill is passed, by 2025 no protected place would be allowed to have night sky luminance any brighter than twice the natural luminance. And the bill would require that by 2055, 90 percent of the protected areas have no more than 10 percent additional light above natural luminance.

The delayed target dates would give businesses time to install efficient lighting as old fixtures wear out, said Wagner, who plans to seek similar legislation for Kansas parks.

Night sky advocates are seeking similar measures across the country.

"What would normally be millions of stars blazing away in a black sky has been lost to the majority of the American people," said Bob Gent, the president of the International Dark Sky Association. "We're turning the night into day."

A 1997 study by Italian scientists showed that 75 percent of Missouri's state parks had severe light pollution.

"Essentially, there's no place left in Missouri that's not affected by light pollution," Wagner said.

The same study showed that 40 percent of Kansas state parks had skies with severe light pollution.

"Let's start identifying areas worth protecting as a starting point," Wagner said.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association has not taken any position on the bill because it is focusing on natural areas, executive director Ron Leone said.

"We certainly are skeptical about government stepping in and telling businesses how to light their establishments," Leone said.

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