Press Releases

Adirondack Council Supports Push for Cleaner Air

U.S. EPA Will Review Rules for Nation’s Ambient Air Quality, Acid Rain 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Adirondack Council and a host of national and regional conservation organizations are working together to gather support for improvements to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. 

The move comes after the Trump administration balked at improving the standards designed to protect public health and the environment, instead leaving them at 2008 pollution levels that are generally inadequate, the organization said. 

“We are very pleased that new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan has chosen to strengthen the nation’s air quality standards for fine particles of soot and for smog,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “He came to visit Upstate New York last fall and spent time with our Forever Adirondacks Campaign Director Aaron Mair and DC Lobbyist John Sheehan, along with U.S. Rep Paul Tonko. He got an earful about the need to protect folks in urban public housing from air pollution and the need to protect the Adirondacks from acid rain caused by the same smokestacks and auto traffic. Clearly, Administrator Regan took it to heart. He is now proposing to deal with both problems with new standards.” 

The Adirondack Council worked with a coalition of clean air advocates to petition the EPA for new particulate matter (PM) standards in February of 2020. It also worked with the coalition in March of 2021 to petition the EPA for updated regulations for ground-level ozone (smog), caused by the same nitrogen-based pollution that causes acid rain in the Adirondacks. Regan announced in June of 2021 that he would reconsider the particulate standard and in October said he would revamp the ozone rules. 

In a recent letter to the EPA, the Council’s Sheehan wrote: 

“Fine particles entering aquatic ecosystems can affect all organisms both directly and through bioaccumulation. Similar to mercury, fish, frogs, snails, and other aquatic life can absorb PM, and as these animals are consumed certain components of particulate matter bioaccumulate, e.g. travels up the food chain. With each step up, the PM concentration increases, ultimately to fish-eating predators including eagles, osprey, otters, pelicans, and grizzly bears. Those concentrations of PM have harmful health effects on our wildlife. 

Fine PM is also a significant component of acid rain. When nitrogen and sulfur particles dissolve in rain and cloud water they contribute to the devastating effects of acid rain on our ecosystems, particularly in the eastern U.S. and in the Rocky Mountains at high elevations where ecosystems are more fragile and acidic cloud water can be more prevalent. There are numerous negative ecosystem effects of acid deposition like depletion of soil nutrients, aluminum mobilization, and acidification in waters that lead to accelerated plant die-off and depletion of oxygen, slower plant growth and damage to leaves, and overall decreases in species diversity.” 

Particulate matter pollution can also worsen nutrient loading in lakes and ponds, making harmful algae blooms more likely. Particles as small as 2.5 microns from gaseous pollution like sulfur dioxide, nitric acid, and ammonia can be carried on winds for hundreds of miles from their sources, he noted. Reducing the gases would help protect the Adirondacks and city-dwellers alike. 

The letter was also signed by Ulla Reeves of the National Parks and Conservation Association and Georgia Murray, Staff Scientist with the Appalachian Mountain Club. The Council also worked with Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Earth Justice, and Sierra Club on clean air standard advocacy. 

The EPA’s newly reconstituted Scientific Advisory Panels are reviewing the PM standards now, with a deadline for proposing a new rule this summer. If all goes well, the new rule would be enacted in the spring of 2023. An advisory panel is set to take up the ozone rule this summer and propose a new rule by spring of 2023, which could be in force by December of 2023. 

Janeway said members of the Northeast Congressional delegation were also working toward better air quality standards. 

“New York Reps. are working with counterparts in New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to enact a new standard for nitrogen and sulfur pollution, based on the threshold where ecological damage occurs in the Adirondacks – or the critical load,” he said. “This would finally fulfill a commitment Congress made in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 when it instructed the EPA to set a Secondary Ambient Air Quality Standard capable of halting ecological damage from air pollution. Legislation passed by Congress always carries more weight than new rules or regulations approved by a government agency, especially when there is a risk that some deep-pocketed special interest will sue to stop the new rules. That type of lawsuit has caused most of the delays in clean air rule implementation over the past half-century.” 

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities. 

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy, and legal action. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States. 

For more information: John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340 

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