Thursday, March 29, 2018

John Sheehan: EPA’s Budget, Acid Rain Research

dead spruce trees

The Adirondack Council on Wednesday praised New York’s Congressional delegation for its efforts to secure approval of a $1.3-trillion federal appropriations agreement that eliminated significant cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Congress has approved and President Donald Trump has signed a resolution continuing the current funding plan for the federal government through the end of FY2018. The plan increases EPA’s budget, while providing funds for other important environmental and public health priorities.

Overall, EPA received a $763-million increase, including $300 million each for the Clean Water Fund and Safe Drinking Water Fund; $63 million for implementation of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act; and, $50 million for new grant programs to address lead in drinking water. Funding for acid rain and climate research remained at current levels.

Upstate Congressional reps Elise Stefanik, Paul Tonko, the late Louise Slaughter and John Faso, as well as Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for urging their colleagues to keep EPA’s budget unharmed. They accomplished that feat, despite a Trump administration proposal to slash EPA’s budget by 31 percent.

EPA’s acid rain research and clean water funding are two of the most important federal programs affecting the future of the Adirondack Park.

Saving EPA’s funding meant EPA would still have the money to provide grants for acid rain and climate research in the Adirondacks. The organization was concerned that cuts to those grant programs would conceal the impact of increased air pollution, as the Trump administration has loosened regulations on emissions from coal and other fossil fuels.

Reversals in federal clean air policies could interrupt or reverse the Adirondack Park’s impressive-but-incomplete recovery from the damage caused by acid rain. If we lost the ability to document the damage, we lose the ability to stop that pollution. We can’t hope to persuade Congress or the courts to protect us from damage that we can’t prove. Science is our only means of defense against acid rain and climate change.

According to Stefanik’s office, the EPA’s Science & Technology Clean Air Account that provides acid rain research funding was fully funded at FY17 levels of $6.05 million. EPA’s Environmental Program Management Clean Air Account got a slight bump up overall. All told, the two accounts are at $21.28 million.

Other portion of the appropriations agreement that can help the Adirondack Park include:

  • $425 million for the Land Water Conservation Fund (a $25-million increase) for conservation easements and other open space protection projects;
  • $8.4 million for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, to monitor and improve the health of the lake;
  • Reauthorization for the Brownfields Law that provides clean-up funds for contaminated, abandoned industrial and commercial properties.

We don’t like a “policy rider” in the spending plan that declares wood-based biomass energy to be “carbon-neutral,” encouraging federal support for its expansion. This provision was also in the FY2017 omnibus spending bill.

That is not universally true for wood-fired biomass power plants. Only when forests are carefully managed and emissions are carefully controlled can you begin to make that claim. We are concerned also that intensive harvesting for fuel will lead to more aggressive clear-cutting and to increases in emissions of soot particles that contribute to lung disease.

NADP trends mapWe object also to another policy rider in the 2,000-page spending plan that would restrict disclosure of toxic and hazardous air pollution, like ammonia or hydrogen sulfide, released by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Most CAFOs are in rural communities. The provision would deny rural communities the right to know their exposure to these harmful pollutants.

On acid rain, the next step for the Adirondack Council will be to ensure that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt actually spends the money on acid rain and climate research in the Adirondacks.

In the House of Representatives, Congressman Tonko, D-Amsterdam, rallied environmental advocates and fellow lawmakers for a series of new conferences, including one on Feb. 12 at the State Capitol, calling on all of Congress to support EPA.

Adirondack Rep. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, as well as Slaughter, D-Rochester and Catskills rep Faso, R-Kinderhook led a coalition that sought to protect the EPA’s grant programs. Supporters also included Rep. John Katko, R-Syracuse, Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, Kathleen Rice, D-Garden City, and Tom Reed, R-Corning. They contacted House leaders explaining the importance of EPA’s grant funding and its impact on acid rain and climate research. Most of New York’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of the budget, which passed easily.

Stefanik also led an effort to persuade the EPA to continuing providing grants for Adirondack air, water and soil monitoring, including funding for the Ray Brook-based not-for-profit Adirondack Lakes Survey Corp.

We would love to see the EPA’s commitment to acid rain and climate research increase in the future. EPA’s funding for lake and river chemistry testing – $250,000 a year – has not changed in more than a decade, while expenses have grown. We will work to bring those funding levels up to keep pace with increasing costs here in the park. We hope to expand the scope of the grant program in an effort to accelerate the park’s recovery from more than half a century of serious acid rain damage.

Over the past five years, waters that once were too acidic to support their native life have shown signs of recovery. Not only have acidity levels declined, but fish and other aquatic plants and animals are returning. This trend is very new.

smokestacksThe Adirondack Park has suffered the worst acid rain damage of any region of the United States. Research proved that acid rain has killed native fish and other aquatic life in more than 25 percent of the park’s 11,000 lakes and ponds, rendering hundreds lifeless. It has killed high-elevation spruce forests and caused significant declines in maple forests. It depletes the calcium and other alkaline minerals from the park’s thin soils, causing chemical reactions that release toxic mercury into soil and water.

State health officials continue to warn women of child-bearing age and children in the Adirondack and Catskill parks to avoid eating most predatory fish species (sunfish, bass, perch, pike, etc.) due to elevated mercury levels in those species, and recommend no more than one meal per month for others who consume local fish. Mercury causes nerve and brain damage and birth defects in mammals and birds.

Photos from above: Dead spruce trees on Gothics Mountain; NADP trends map; and Smokestacks.

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John Sheehan

Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.


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21 Responses

  1. ADKresident says:

    From my reading of your article, it seems you will never be satisfied with anything.

    • John Sheehan John Sheehan says:

      I don’t understand your complaint. Here is the first sentence of my article:

      The Adirondack Council on Wednesday praised New York’s Congressional delegation for its efforts to secure approval of a $1.3-trillion federal appropriations agreement that eliminated significant cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  2. Paul says:

    “lung disease”, Yikes. I have burned wood (from my property) at my house for years. Are we toast?

    Happy to see the increases in NIH and NSF funding that came from this one.

    • John Sheehan John Sheehan says:

      Not toast. People have been burning wood for a long time. There have been some significant improvements in home wood heating systems lately, so anyone can limit their exposure by making an upgrade, especially anyone using an outdoor wood boiler.

      In terms of lung disease, I was referring mainly to the volume of soot particles from large commercial power plants.

  3. Paul says:

    Coal burning is not that economical. You won’t see much of an increase. Let’s all get behind nuclear power and make it easier and cheaper. It is our fastest path to zero emissions and solving this problem. We don’t need a Paris agreement if we do what France has already done. Problem solved, next generation saved. Better than this incessant childlike arguing. Once we are desperate enough we will do it. Just like the claim water act. Gotta see the river burning before people do anything substantive.

  4. Paul says:

    clean not claim

  5. Richard Jarvis says:

    Great news that air and water quality monitoring money provided in the federal budget. All must be sure the money is utilized, even with short time remaining in fiscal year. Continuous long term scientific monitoring is critical to protecting human health and the environment.

  6. Tim says:

    I don’t have much hope when I see this headline in today’s Times:
    “E.P.A. Prepares to Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars to Be Cleaner and More Efficient.”

    • Paul says:

      This is what we get for allowing presidents to rule like kings. The stoke of one presidents pen is erased by the stoke of the next.

  7. Jesse B says:

    Unfortunately, Scott Pruitt is able to still take action against the EPA far beyond the impacts of a 1-year budget. For example, the EPA has recently proposed rejecting any scientific study where health data is not publicly available (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/climate/epa-scientific-transparency-honest-act.html). Enacting this plan would remove from consideration many of the largest, most influential, and most important scientific research regarding health impacts of air pollution exposure. Scott Pruitt is ignoring that health data is sensitive and confidential. Us researchers go through extensive steps to report findings that still ensure the privacy and security of individuals. Releasing the data publicly would violate this relationship and be ethically wrong.

    However, this is only half the argument. Industry/lobbying groups claim that unless data is publicly available they cannot ‘verify’ these findings, therefore they should have little influence. But this is a false argument. If industry disagrees with the thousands of papers linking air pollution to adverse health, they are welcome to perform their own epidemiological studies and collect patient data to demonstrate the lack of association between air pollution and health. Yet they won’t do this because a) it is hard, b) it is time consuming, and c) there is a clear link between air pollution and health. So instead, Pruitt is assisting these groups by attacking the existing science without putting any burden on industry to prove their own claims.

    The sad part is that through advancements in technology, we have managed to mitigate and reduce many environmental hazards and improve health. Focusing our efforts on accepting the science and working to solve it will make an impact. Ignoring the issue will only compound the problem in the long-term and for what gain? Seemingly the short-term profits in the hands of a few overwhelmingly win out over the health of us all.

  8. Chjarlie S says:

    “The provision would deny rural communities the right to know their exposure to these harmful pollutants.”

    Less Government! That’s what we want! Less regulations! So we can pollute more!

  9. Chjarlie S says:

    “recommend no more than one meal per month for others who consume local fish.”

    It must have been fifteen years ago when I saw a small blurb in the news reference the same thing. The US government recommended we don’t eat fish but once a month due to high concentrations of mercury in all bodies of water. Which is the same thing as saying ‘Don’t eat the fish!’ I quit eating fish before then, haven’t eaten it since. Surely the mercury levels in our waters have increased since then. Surely they will increase even more these next few years with these neurotic fools who are in, er… out of, control.

  10. Charlie S says:

    Charlie!

  11. Charlie S says:

    Paul says “Let’s all get behind nuclear power and make it easier and cheaper.”

    Easier and cheaper? Always the best way to do things as has been proven over and again hey Paul? What do you have to say about Fukushima? Easier maybe but not cheaper once she blows hey? Yes let’s build nuclear power plants everywhere so that the terrorists we create have better targets to aim at. Let us end life on planet earth sooner than later and let us do it on the cheap because it’s easier that way.

  12. Charlie S says:

    “..the EPA has recently proposed rejecting any scientific study where health data is not publicly available…Enacting this plan would remove from consideration many of the largest, most influential, and most important scientific research regarding health impacts of air pollution exposure.”

    Yes so that many of the largest, most influential polluters can wreak their havoc on what remains of our clean water and air and unspoiled lands. Is what they mean by ‘Less government’ when they throw that out to the gullible, ignorant, self-absorbed masses that support them…..them die-hard orthogonal fools!

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