I miss Richard Nixon. I really do. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forty-six years ago. Since then, the EPA has been at the forefront of issues that have improved the environment and public health. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Adirondack Park.
Remember acid rain? In the early 1970s, air pollution from fossil-fuel plants had made rain and snow so acidic it killed wildlife in hundreds of Adirondack lakes and streams. Ironically, the water looked crystal clear, but the pH balance could not sustain healthy fish and plant populations.
EPA came to the rescue.
EPA adopted new clean-air rules that required fossil-fuel power plants to reduce the pollution belching out of its smokestacks. The results were dramatic. From 1970 to 2012, national emissions of particulates, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide had dropped an average of 72 percent. When we reduced the levels of air pollution, we lowered acid rain by 70 percent. This is not to say that the EPA has solved the entire problem, but Adirondack lakes and streams, once damaged by acid rain, are bouncing back.
Under President Donald Trump’s proposed policies, the EPA could not have accomplished this and, sadly, will not be able to effectively address our current environmental threat — climate change.
The president appointed former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. During his short tenure, Pruitt is shaping up to be the worst EPA head in the history of the agency. When he was a state attorney general, he sued the EPA fourteen times. He recently said that he does not believe that carbon pollution is the main source of climate change, a position at odds with 97 percent of scientists.
Our climate is changing rapidly, and the impact could wreak havoc on the Adirondacks. Temperatures are rising, and weather is becoming more extreme. Anyone who lives in the Adirondacks knows this from experience. Noted scientist Jerry Jenkins literally wrote the book on this (Climate Change in the Adirondacks, Cornell University Press, 2010). He predicts that by the year 2100, the climate in the Adirondacks will be similar to the current climate of West Virginia. This difference will radically change the forest-products industry, the ski industry, tourism, and the kinds of birds and wildlife that live in the Park. You and I may not be alive to see this change, but our grandchildren certainly will.
One would think that this would sound the alarm in Washington. Remarkably, we see just the opposite. The president’s proposed budget would slash EPA funding by 31 percent. He wants to cut the EPA science office by half. His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, recently said: “We are not spending money on climate change anymore. We view it as a waste of our money.” I had to read that quote a few times before it fully sank in.
Without resources and responsible leadership, EPA will not be able to enforce the environmental laws of our nation. Without the enforcement of our laws, EPA will not be able to ensure clean air and clean water for the American people.
When I served as EPA regional administrator, I visited the Adirondack Park Agency to announce a major federal grant to protect wetlands in the Park. Wetlands, home to scores of fish and wildlife, also help prevent flooding.
I also had a great afternoon at Paul Smith’s College to announce a grant to the school to combat aquatic invasive species that are wreaking havoc on lakes in the Adirondacks. The project at Paul Smith’s focused on keeping them out of the lakes rather than trying to fix the problem after the fact. Unless Congress steps in, do not expect projects like these to be funded by the EPA.
It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the environmental threats coming from the Trump administration. We have never had an EPA Administrator so hostile to the mission of the EPA, and we have never had a president so unwilling to make decisions based on science and the law.
You have a role to play. Make your voice heard. Attend the March for Science on April 22 in Washington, D.C., or Albany or New York City (see #MarchforScience). Attend the People’s Climate March on April 29 in Washington, D.C., or Albany. Can’t make it south? Reduce your fossil-fuel use and organize a satellite march on these same dates. One is planned in Keene Valley on April 22.
Look for me at one of the marches. I will be the one wearing the Nixon button.
This article will appear in the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.