A U.S. Supreme Court decision today has revived the Cross-State Pollution Rule that makes it illegal for states to cause air pollution that harms neighboring states. The rule was reinstated in a 6-2-1 ruling, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. Justice Samuel Alito recused himself.
“The Cross-State Pollution Rule should never have been struck down in 2011 and we are thrilled that the Supreme Court has revived it,” William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, said in a statement to the press. “The Adirondack Park has suffered for decades from pollution drifting in from Midwest states. Nearly all of our acid rain is created by smokestacks hundreds of miles away.”
Acid rain changes water and soil chemistry, harming fish and forests, and adding to mercury contamination of the food chain. Acid rain also impacts buildings, monuments, cemeteries and outdoor sculptures. The pollution that causes acid rain – sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – also causes smog and creates fine particles that are harmful to human health.
“No longer can power companies in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania pollute the Adirondacks and get away with it,” Janeway’s statement said. “This rule requires them to make cuts in their pollution until it stops harming the states next to them. That is precisely what we needed.”
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens issued a statement in support of the ruling: “Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Cross State Air Pollution Rule will lead to cleaner air in New York. Our strategies to reduce emissions from power plants, factories, vehicles and other sources over the past decade have led to cleaner air across New York State. Yet pollution continues to blow in from out-of-state sources. Today’s decision will require polluting upwind sources to do their share, providing New Yorkers with cleaner, healthier air and helping to level the playing field for New York businesses.”
Acid rain was identified as a corrosive pollutant in the mid-19th century. Local and national environmental organizations have spent nearly 40 years proving acid rain impacts were significant, and identifying their source.
What follows is a portion of a press release sent by the Adirondack Council, who along with the Adirondack Mountain Club, has led the fight for stricter clean air rules. It details the recent history of legislation against acid rain:
“The worst of our problems began in the 1970s, when federal officials ordered coal-fired power plants to clean up air quality in their home states. Midwest plants built very tall smokestacks that allowed winds to carry most of the pollution away; but ‘away’ turned out to be right here in the Adirondack Park.
“We are situated just downwind of the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes, where the largest number of coal-fired power plants are located,” Janeway said. “So air pollution and moisture reach here first, and fall in the form of rain, snow, sleet and fog.”
By 1990, federal research showed that more than 700 Adirondack lakes and ponds (about 25 percent) had become too acidic to support their native life. Many high-elevation spruce and fir forests had been destroyed. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 helped to reduce that number, but there is still too much pollution falling to halt the damage entirely.
“Since 1990, power companies in the Midwest have lobbied against federal legislation to protect the Adirondacks and the rest of the Northeast. We have been getting nowhere in Congress,” Janeway explained. “We thank the Supreme Court for reinstating this rule and acting to save the Adirondack Park.”
Janeway noted that New York had been the first state in the nation to adopt acid rain legislation in 1984, cleaning up its power plant emissions in an effort to save the Adirondack Park from destruction. When this proved insufficient, the Council and other environmental organizations pressed for federal action.
The result was the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which cut sulfur-based air pollution by about 50 percent. That program caused significant improvements in the Adirondacks, but didn’t stop the problem entirely.
After several major scientific studies showed additional pollution cuts were needed to finish the job – and to protect people from lung diseases – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was thrown out by the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. EPA then proposed the Cross-State Pollution Rule. It too was negated by the DC court in August 2012.
In June 2013, the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club urged the Obama administration to appeal that decision. The administration filed its appeal shortly thereafter.