Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Adirondack Earth Day at 50 

NY invests in environment, public health infrastructure, bond act;

Trump’s Federal Government tearing down 50 years of progress

loonAs we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in the Adirondacks today, we see a state and a nation going in opposite directions in terms of environmental and public health protections. 

In New York, we are seeing unprecedented support for environmental progress from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team, lawmakers and citizens.  Not only does New York have the most aggressive climate change law in the nation – the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act – but it is backing up its greenhouse gas reduction commitment with funding from a $300-million Environmental Protection Fund and a proposed $3-billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act. 

Environmental activists from around the state will be promoting the EPF and Bond Act today, explaining why they are needed and what they do: control overuse of wild lands, protect drinking water, build wastewater infrastructure, and curb climate changing greenhouse gas emissions.  

We will celebrate alongside the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, which also celebrates its own 50th Anniversary this year.  We recognize that environmental issues can and should be nonpartisan. We can’t rally in-person at the Capitol as we planned, so sponsors are helping to host virtual gatherings statewide.

At the same time, the Trump administration seems to be rushing to undo 50 years of environmental progress on the federal level, dismantling key protections against air pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, water pollution and other public health and environmental hazards.  

It is disheartening to watch this happen while the nation’s attention is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is disgusting to contemplate how many additional deaths will result from relaxed air pollution rules, while the nation struggles to overcome the impact of an incurable respiratory disease.  

The administration is inviting increases in pollution by relaxing standards for automobile fuel efficiency, smog, fine particles of soot, mercury, acid rain and greenhouse gases.  In the early phases of the pandemic, this increase in pollution will be less noticeable because it will be offset by the drop in auto traffic.  The air in Times Square and Los Angeles has not been this clean for 70 years.  But it won’t last.  As people get back to work, auto emissions will return.  

Combine the renewed auto emissions with the newly relaxed industrial pollution standards and thousands of additional Americans will die each year from lung- and heart-related diseases.  That was the prediction of Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency as it published the justifications for each new rule adjustment or refusal to enforce current law.  It didn’t call them premature deaths.  It called them “short-term morbidity endpoints.”  

Nearly all of the new premature deaths will take the lives of people living in the Northeast.  About two-thirds will be from New York City, where the health impacts from air pollution are the worst.  

Most of the ecological damage will happen in the Adirondacks, where acid rain and climate change already take their toll every day.  Expect that to get worse under the new regulations, too.  Changes include:

  • Decreased fuel economy standards for the auto industry
  • Loosened enforcement of regulations for air polluters, if they claim they are facing COVID-19-related challenges (Who isn’t?)
  • Eased requirements that climate change impacts be considered in the environmental reviews of most infrastructure projects 
  • Stopped penalize owners whose  oil rigs, gas wells, chemical pits, and major construction projects  kill rare wildlife and migratory birds. 
  • Advanced a rule that makes it harder for the EPA to use scientific research to inform its decisions and rule-making. 
  • Eased controls on coal plants’ toxic ash. 
  • Imposed looser restrictions on mercury emissions and stopped counting public health side-benefits when considering the merits of new regulations (i.e., cuts in mercury emissions protect public health on their own; but meeting new mercury standards also requires new power plants to stop burning coal and use better combustion controls. This reduces other harmful pollutants, saving even more lives.  EPA doesn’t want to count those when it decides whether rules are too expensive for polluters)

Adirondack Council members will be writing to their Congressional reps U.S. Senators this month to express their concerns – and in some cases outrage — over these changes and proposed changes.  I invite others to do the same. 

On the state levels, the Earth Day coalition will release a joint letter recognizing the changes that have been made since 1970 and New York’s leadership, ahead of any federal requirements. The letter will call for maintaining support for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, the Environmental Protection Fund, and to honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by ensuring the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act reaches voters in November.

Earth Day New York activities include:

  • 1:00 – 1:30 News Conference – Advocates will discuss Earth Day, the joint letter, and reflection on 50 years of progress. Reporters who register in advance by replying to this email will be able to ask questions directly.
  • Speakers:  MC Roger Downs, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Jessica Ottney, The Nature Conservancy;; Cecil Corbin-Mark, WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Andy Bicking, Scenic Hudson; Liz Moran, NYPIRG
  • Video with Tom Jorling, former DEC Commissioner
  • 1:30- 1:50 Conversation with Executive Staff and advocates including Kathy Curtis, Clean and Healthy New York; Cecil Corbin-Mark, WE ACT; Andy Bicking, Scenic Hudson
  • 1:50-2:10  Conversation with Senator Todd Kaminsky, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair and advocates, including Patrick McClellen, NY LCV; Karen Miller, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition; and Jeremy Cherson, Riverkeeper
  • 2:10-2:30 Conversation with Assemblymember Steve Englebright, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair, and advocates, including Kate Kurera, Environmental Advocates and Robin Dropkin, Parks & Trails New York

Video interviews with additional leaders and luminaries will be shared.  As part of the effort, recorded interviews with over 15 policymakers from the NYS Assembly and Senate will be available via YouTube.

Organizations hosting the event are the Adirondack Council, Alliance for Clean Energy New York, Audubon Society, Arbor Hill Development Corporation, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Children’s Defense Fund, Clean and Healthy New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition, Green Inside and Out, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, New York Climate Reality Chapters Coalition, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York League of Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy, New York Public Interest Research Group, New York Sustainable Business Council, Parks & Trails New York, PUSH Buffalo, Riverkeeper, Save the Sound, Scenic Hudson, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

As we head into the next 50 years of Earth Day celebrations, let’s try to export New York’s commitment to the federal level.  Let’s make real progress on clean air, clean water, climate change and other public health concerns.  

Remember that Earth Day is a time for expressing hope, even when the current outlook seems bleak.  Together, we will get through the current public health crisis.  Let’s also be sure we have a healthy environment and healthy Adirondack Park to return to when we are all free to leave our homes again.


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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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