Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Court Guts Acid Rain Clean Air Rules

Forwarded from the Adirondack Council fyi:

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [Friday] struck down a crucial component of the federal government’s rules that were designed to curb the Midwestern air pollution that damages Northeastern forests and lakes and causes lung disease.

“By striking down the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the US Court of Appeals has left all of the Northeastern states vulnerable to acid rain and fine particles of smoke that damage people’s lungs,” said Scott Lorey, Director of Government Relations for the Adirondack Council, a national leader in the fight against acid rain. “CAIR was our only hope that significant reductions would be made over the next decade in the Midwestern smokestack pollution that has killed our forests and fish, tainted our drinking water and poisoned our food and wildlife with mercury. Now the rule is gone – struck from the books. We need quick action from the US Environmental Protection Agency to reissue the rule. Failing that, Congress must act right away to pass a bill that would require similar, or deeper, cuts in smokestack pollution.
“CAIR was the single most effective environmental rule issued by the Bush Administration,” said Lorey. “The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 weren’t enough to stop acid rain in the worst-hit places in the nation. We aren’t alone in our plight. The entire East Coast is suffering. It’s time for the ecological damage and unhealthy air days to stop.”

New York’s 9,300-square-mile Adirondack Park is the largest American park outside of Alaska. It is larger than Massachusetts. The Adirondack Park has suffered worse damage from acid rain than any other region of the United States. More than 700 lakes and ponds have become too acidic to support their native aquatic wildlife. Heritage strains of brook trout have gone extinct. Thousands of acres of high-elevation forests have been killed. Mercury pollution from the same coal-fired power plant smokestacks is poisoning fish, birds and mammals. The Catskill Mountains, Hudson Highlands, Long Island’s eastern Pine Barrens and the Finger Lakes are also suffering long-term damage from acid rain. Acid rain damages East Coast ecosystems from the Florida Everglades to the forests of Maine.

CAIR was created by EPA to require cuts of 70 percent in sulfur dioxide and 60 percent in nitrogen oxides from electric power plants ranging from Maine to Texas. About half of the cuts would have been made by 2009, while the remainder would have been made by 2015.

The court’s decision came after a legal challenge to technical aspects of the rule by two power companies, Minnesota Power Corp. and Entergy.

Lorey said the remedies available are:

* EPA could review the decision and adjust the rules to comply with the court’s objections.

* EPA could appeal the decision, which would take longer than a rule revision.

* Congress could pass a law similar to, or more aggressive than, the CAIR.

* Congress could pass legislation such as that proposed by US Rep. John McHugh, R-Jefferson County, which would require cuts slightly deeper and faster than CAIR, and also require deep cuts in mercury and carbon dioxide. Several other similar bills have been proposed as well.

“Any of those options would be better than allowing acid rain and smog to continue unabated across the nation,” Lorey concluded.

Lorey noted that New York’s environmental standards are much tougher than federal rules, so New York power plants won’t get a reprieve from in-state air pollution standards from today’s decision. However, a significant portion of the acid rain falling in the Adirondacks and Catskills comes from the Midwest, not New York.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded, not-for-profit environmental research, education and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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