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Adirondack environmentalists pleased with Obama Administration's appeal of court decision

North Country Now
June 26, 2013

Adirondack environmental advocates say they are glad that the Obama Administration is appealing a court decision that threw out a plan to combat air pollution that crosses state lines, resulting in acid rain.

The Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club, among others, said a decision in the case has implications for acid rain, the product of nitrogen and sulfur compounds from pollution being washed out of the air by falling rain that has resulted in dead lakes and pools in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.

The Environmental Protection Agency has appealed the earlier ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday announced they would hear the case.

“We called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to appeal this decision when it was handed down last summer, so we are pleased that the EPA has taken this step and thrilled that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “The future of the Adirondack Park – the largest park in the contiguous United States – rests on the EPA’s ability to regulate air pollution crossing state lines. Most of the acid rain falling on the Adirondack Park comes from smokestacks in the Midwest and beyond, where New York is powerless to protect itself. We need the federal government to step in.”

The EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August 2012, in a split decision.

The rule would have required deep cuts in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from electric power plants east of the Rocky Mountains whose emissions cause pollution in neighboring states. Two of three judges said the EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act when it determined how deeply upwind states would have to cut their power plant emissions.

In a 26-page dissenting opinion, a third judge stated that the EPA was within its authority and that its actions would protect public health as Congress had intended. EPA said at the time it would proceed with a re-write of the rules, but would also consider appealing the decision.

Several Adirondacks advocate groups called on the Obama Administration to do both.

“The Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to curb emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide air pollution, purely in an effort to protect public health,” said Janeway. “Further, we believe the EPA has an obligation to do so. It is a fortunate coincidence that those same levels of cuts are what the Adirondack Park needs to recover from acid rain, which is caused by the same pollutants that bring us the smog and fine particulate pollution that the EPA is trying to control with this rule.”

New York’s 9,300-square-mile Adirondack Park has suffered the worst acid rain damage in the United States, according to research showing that 25 percent of the park’s 2,800 large lakes and ponds were “critically acidified,” meaning at least half of their native aquatic life had been killed off. A large portion of the park’s 30,000 miles of rivers, brooks and streams have been damaged as well.

In addition, acidic conditions cause mercury contamination to spread throughout the food chain, because acid can cause changes in soil chemistry that convert mercury from a harmless, inorganic form into harmful organic mercury. There is a park-wide warning from the state Department of Health against eating predatory fish such as pike, bass, and perch because they eat other fish and retain all of the mercury those smaller fish had eaten. Mercury contamination is expected to ease, but not until acid rain levels are reduced further.

The Adirondack Park is home to most of the wilderness and old-growth forests remaining in the Northeast. It is also home to 130,000 year-round residents in 130 small communities, who rely on tourism and outdoor recreation to sustain the local economy, according to a news release fro the Adirondack Council.

Following the recent cuts in sulfur-based and nitrogen-based air pollution that were ordered by the EPA between 1995 and 2010, many but not all of the park’s lakes and ponds are showing some signs of recovery, the council said, but they add that more cuts are needed to nurse the park’s remaining water bodies, forests and rivers back to health.

“The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is the solution we need to finally end the daily damage done here by air pollution drift towards us from smokestacks hundreds of miles outside New York’s borders,” said Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth. “We are encouraged that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case.”

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