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.
We 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.
The 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.