Adirondack Council Takes Part in International Acid Rain Conference Being Held in Rochester

Tuessday, October 20, 2015
By: John F. Sheehan - Adirondack Council Communications Director

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The Adirondack Council will play an important role in the 2015 International Acid Rain Conference being held this week in Rochester. This once-every-five-years event has never been held in New York before. The 2010 conference was in Beijing.

Since 1975 when it was founded, the Council has been fighting to stop acid rain. Council staff members were among the first Americans to join with colleagues in Canada to bring the issue to national attention and compel both nations’ governments to action.

Today, the Adirondack Council continues to be a national leader on acid rain. That role will be recognized this week as policymakers, advocates and scientists come together at this very important conference.

The theme of this year’s conference revolves around the successes we have had in curbing the air pollution that leads to acid rain (principally sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) in North America and Europe.

In the Adirondacks, for example, sulfur pollution has been reduced by more than 90 percent, while nitrogen pollution is down by more than 70 percent. Those success stories will be shared with colleagues from Asia, South America and Africa who are struggling with the same problems we are now solving. It will also give us a chance to hear and learn from their experiences.

On Thursday, Rocci Aguirre, the Council’s Conservation Director, and I will co-chair the portion of the conference dealing with public policy initiatives. Part of that session will discuss the idea of establishing “critical load” standards that will protect the most vulnerable plant and animal species. These standards would require pollution reductions upwind of sensitive locations, such as the Adirondack Park, to protect critical ecosystems.

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High-elevation spruce forests damaged
by acid rain
In the past, pollution reduction levels were chosen more randomly. For example, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 created a federal acid rain program requiring a 50-percent cut in sulfur dioxide from power plants. While regulators knew this would result in a 40-percent drop in the total amount of sulfur falling on the Adirondack Park, it was unclear what effect that would have on the ground. Further research and experience showed that additional cuts were needed to save sensitive species such as high-elevation spruce forests, low-elevation maple forests, brook trout, and loons.

In 2014, the Council worked with the Environmental Defense Fund and the Kirby Foundation to create a regional acid rain conference in Saratoga Springs, where the concept of a critical loads standard was embraced by state advocates, scientists and regulators. The group agreed to take the concept to the Rochester meeting and then to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for action and eventually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for incorporation into updated federal standards.

The International Acid Rain Conference continues through October 23 at the Rochester Convention Center.



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For the past 25 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.  John develops and executes the Council’s public relations and communications programs. 

He works with the media to explain the unique nature of the Adirondack Park and to help the public understand the Council’s efforts to sustain its clean air, wilderness, wildlife, clean water and vibrant communities.  He is the principal author of our annual State of the Park Report and assists with the editing of all Council publications. 

John was an environmental and political journalist before joining the Adirondack Council.  He was managing editor of a daily newspaper (The Malone Evening Telegram) when he joined the Council’s staff in 1990. He has overseen the production of two films about the Council (The Adirondack Council, 1992; and, ACID RAIN: A Continuing National Tragedy, 1998), appeared in the independent film Inside the Blue Line (1993) and has produced a series of radio and television public service announcements with entertainers Bonnie Raitt (1994), Natalie Merchant (1997) and brothers/band mates Michael and Kevin Bacon (2009-10).

John is a frequent guest lecturer at several New York colleges and universities and regularly addresses civic and not-for-profit organizations, chambers of commerce, scientific societies and community forums.

Born in Troy, NY, John Sheehan is a graduate of Catholic Central High School and the State University at Albany.  Today,  John and his wife Deborah live in Albany and have a family camp in the Adirondacks. Their daughter Hannah attends Clarkson University.

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