Press Releases

Don't Stop Critical Northeast Air Quality Monitoring Adirondack Council Says To The U.S. EPA

May 13, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Adirondack Council today called upon U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Admin. Michael Regan to reconsider the decision to stop funding the collection of air quality data from four air-science monitoring stations in New York, including two in the Adirondacks in Newcomb, and at stations in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine collectively responsible for monitoring air pollutants from power plant and industrial smokestacks that cause acid rain, soot, smog and climate change. 

“This decision will have dire consequences for clean air, clean water, forests, fisheries and public health across the Northeast,” wrote Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “We believe that the decision runs contrary to the House Interior Appropriations Committee Report and a recent Government Accountability Office report calling for additional funding for air quality data collection, not reduced funding, and progress addressing acid rain.

“We ask that you meet with us to discuss this issue before cutting this funding. We further ask you not to make a final decision that would result in the permanent closure and removal of these vital research stations in New York and across the nation,” Janeway wrote.

Acid rain from Midwest smokestacks has been a scourge to the forests, lakes and rivers of the Northeast, especially New York’s priceless Adirondack Park for most of the 20th Century and beyond. 

The monitoring stopped this week, but stations have not been dismantled. The monitoring stopped includes: CASTNet (the Clean Air Status and Trends Network, which measures ambient air quality for key pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act); NTN (a nitrogen measuring network, tracking ozone/smog and excess nutrient loading), and; AMON (testing for ammonia).

According to research conducted by New York State under the auspices of the Adirondack Lakes Research Corp and others, by the 1980s, roughly 25% of the park’s 2,800 larger lakes and ponds (10 acres or more) were rendered lifeless by air pollution that poisoned the soil and spread mercury pollution into fish and wildlife.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 brought the first federal acid rain control program, and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule made additional progress. 

Those pollution control measures were created because New York and other Northeast states had evidence to show regulators – first, evidence that cuts were needed; then, evidence that the cuts were working, he explained.

“Someday we hope to have evidence that no further cuts are needed because our once-tattered ecosystems have recovered,” he wrote.  “The one thing needed to collect all of that evidence is an air-quality monitoring network capable of measuring the progress of federally mandated air pollution cuts.  We have one now, although it is showing signs of age and obsolescence.  Please do not dismantle it.”

There are currently some signs of recovery from acid rain beginning to emerge in the Adirondacks, where the worst damage in the nation has been documented.  Some fish species are more plentiful.  Some species are no longer toxic due to humans due to mercury contamination.  But progress varies from lake to lake. 

“To cut the funding for air quality monitoring now would leave this potential success story untold,” Janeway wrote.  “Worse, New York and other states defenseless against all future pollution increases allowed by upwind state-level regulators.  Losing the stations would also close the EPA’s eyes and ears to violations of federal law.”

The 2022-23 House Interior Appropriations Committee Report included the following language, referring to a request for $5 million in additional annual funding for EPA’s air quality monitoring network, which EPA gives out in grants to states that carry out the on-the-ground research:

“Despite continued progress under the Clean Air Act to improve air quality and curb the effects of acid rain, forests and watersheds throughout the Northeast are still experiencing long-term impacts from acid rain, smog, and mercury. To better protect these eco-systems, enhance data collection, and improve long-term monitoring of these threats on the Northwoods Region, the Committee provides increased funding, consistent with the request, within EPM and S&T for the Clean Air Allowance Trading Program to support such efforts. The Committee directs the Agency to provide a briefing on its critical loads approach for climate and acid rain damage documentation not later than 180 days of enactment of this Act. As part of this briefing, the Agency should discuss opportunities to partner with research institutions and scientists in the Region to improve its critical loads approach, to collaborate on water body and ecosystem restoration projects, and to advance acid rain mitigation and monitoring in the Northeast."

Janeway wrote that this language was clearly seeking enhanced funding and a new EPA emphasis on measuring when “critical loads” of pollution have been exceeded in the sensitive ecosystems it is mandated to protect.  To determine this, EPA needs to measure not just what goes up (out of the smokestacks in the Midwest and Appalachian region), but also what comes down (what is measured by the virtual drop-cloth that is the network of air quality monitoring stations across the Northeast).

In addition, the GAO warned Congress in December of 2019 that the nation’s air quality monitoring network was becoming antiquated and needed an influx of capital for modern equipment.  That modernization has not begun.  The recent decision to close monitoring stations would seem to run counter to that advice, Janeway said.

Janeway wrote that the Adirondack Council appreciates and applauds what Regan has done to keep these programs working during his first year or so on the job.  He urged the administrator to find a way to prevent these station closures.  We request a meeting at your earliest convenience to further explain our position and to seek a way to keep this vital science alive.  Not long ago the EPA Administrator was in New York and met with Congressman Tonko and environmental experts including the Adirondack Council’s John Sheehan and Aaron Mair.

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: William C. Janeway, 518-441-7665 cell

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