The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has once again refused to live up to its name, and a federal court has told officials to make things right.
On Sept. 20, the EPA turned down a petition submitted last year by New York to enforce a section of the Clean Air Act pertaining to cross-state pollution. Local environmental authorities fear this could lead to the Adirondack Park once again being subjected to acid rain.
“The state petitioned the EPA in March 2018 to enforce a part of the Clean Air Act called the Good Neighbor provision. It stipulates that the EPA enforce pollution controls on coal-fired power plants upwind from states whose air quality is being negatively affected,” according to a story published Sept. 26 by the Post-Star in Glens Falls. “New York argued that pollution from industrial plants in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia were hurting air quality in Chautauqua County and the New York City area, particularly. It listed hundreds of plants it believes are contributing to the state’s air pollution. Environmental organizations … have also been concerned about other states’ smog pollution affecting the Adirondack Park via acid rain. The EPA said in its decision that it did not independently find, and New York did not convince it, ‘that the group of identified sources emits or would emit in violation of the good neighbor provision.’ The determination ends a lengthy investigation that included a comment period and public hearing.”
But on Tuesday, a panel of judges for the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the EPA must “come up with a new plan for how to address smog that travels to the densely populated Northeast, where states are failing to meet federal air quality standards,” a story published Wednesday by The Hill reported. “The decision follows a similar ruling in a Wisconsin case a few weeks ago that said the Clean Air Act’s Good Neighbor provision compels EPA action. The states that brought the case — New York, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware — argue the EPA hasn’t done enough to help them meet a 2021 deadline for reducing ozone pollution, more commonly referred to as smog. The EPA argued states are on track to meet those standards by 2023.”
This latest development is good news for Northern New York. Years ago, pollution from Midwest coal plants resulted in acid rain. This severely harmed lakes throughout the Adirondack Park, greatly diminishing their stocks of fish.
Amendments were passed to the Clean Air Act in 1990 to limit coal plant emissions. The fish returned to the lakes once acid rain was reduced. Tests showed that the quality of the soil in the park also improved.
But readings of cloud water above the Adirondack Park demonstrate that increased pollution is creating conditions where acid rain could return. Decisive government action in the past reversed this catastrophe, and inaction will bring this plague upon us again.
“The same coal-fired smokestacks that cause smog in our cities also cause acid rain in the Adirondack Park,” William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said in a Sept. 24 news release issued jointly with the Environmental Defense Fund. “The Adirondack Park has suffered the nation’s worst damage from acid rain, which has killed fish and forests and contaminated the food chain with mercury. The EPA’s refusal to enforce the smog rules means more acid rain damage in the Adirondacks. The EPA has a moral and legal obligation to honor New York’s petition for relief from this pollution.”
Despite the industry’s history of environmental damage and loss of market share, President Donald Trump has promoted the use of coal as a source of energy. According to the Adirondack Council, this has raised air pollution levels from coal-fired power plants between 200 percent and 323 percent.
“We had seen significant reductions in sulfur dioxide air pollution from power plants since 1995,” Mr. Janeway said, according to a news release issued Tuesday. “Now, as we seek the reductions to secure a complete recovery from acid rain and prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change, the numbers are going in the wrong direction.”
“Janeway released a chart showing 40 years of steady progress in reducing the acidity (raising the pH) of clouds passing over the Whiteface Mountain Atmospheric Sciences Research Center operated by the University at Albany,” the news release reported. “The chart shows pH rising 10-fold (from 4.0 to more than 5.0) since the 1980s — growing 10 times less acidic, which is good — while conductivity of the water fell sharply. Clean water doesn’t conduct electricity. However, since 2017, both measurements have reversed their previous trends. Cloud pH is falling again, and conductivity is rising. More acidic clouds release more acidic precipitation.”
This trend is unacceptable, and we’re grateful that the D.C. Circuit Court has taken a stand. The entire delegation of U.S. House and Senate members from New York also must make their voices heard.
The EPA needs to return to working on behalf of all of us who are being adversely affected by an increase in smog. Enduring more acid rain would devastate large sections of the Adirondack Park. The government cannot sit idly by and allow this to happen.