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Midwest Pollution Up, Adirondack Clouds Dirtier Following Trump Air Pollution Rollbacks

Nation’s Dirtiest Coal-Fired Plants Crank Up Emissions, Clouds Over Whiteface More Acidic

WILMINGTON, N.Y. -- The Trump administration’s attempts to re-establish coal as a major fuel source are causing air pollution increases of 200% to 323% from coal-fired power plants that cause acid rain and contribute to climate change, harming the Adirondacks and public health, the Adirondack Council noted today.

“It is troubling to see acid rain re-emerge as a threat to the Adirondack Park after several decades of steady progress at reducing the air pollution that causes it,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, an environmental organizations that has been a national leader on acid rain. Acid rain has caused more damage to New York’s vast Adirondack Park than any other location in the United States.

“We had seen significant reductions in sulfur dioxide air pollution from power plants since 1995,” said Janeway. “Now, as we seek the reductions to secure a complete recovery from acid rain and prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change the numbers are going in the wrong direction.”

Janeway noted that cloud water measurements above the Adirondack Park are showing a reversal of the gains made over the past 30 years. This is unfortunately no surprise, he said.

“The EPA has refused to enforce the Good Neighbor rule in the Clean Air Act, it is weakening the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, it repealed the Clean Power Plan and it is eroding the effectiveness of several other areas of the nation’s clean air regulations,” he said. “All of these rollbacks and the Trump administration move to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord mean more not less air pollution falling on the Adirondacks from the coal-fired power plants of the Midwest.

Janeway released a chart showing 40 years of steady progress in reducing the acidity (raising the pH) of clouds passing over the Whiteface Mountain Atmospheric Sciences Research Center operated by the University at Albany. The chart shows pH rising 10-fold (from 4.0 to more than 5.0) since the 1980s -- growing 10 times less acidic, which is good -- while conductivity of the water fell sharply. Clean water doesn’t conduct electricity.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Whiteface_Mt_NADP_SiteGraph.jpgHowever, since 2017, both measurements have reversed their previous trends. Cloud pH is falling again and conductivity is rising. More acidic clouds release more acidic precipitation.

“Emissions data from power plant smokestacks confirmed our suspicions about where the new pollution was coming from, raising the risk of a return of acid rain, and undermining efforts to combat climate change,” Janeway said.

A review of national emissions data shows that between 2017 and 2018, emissions of sulfur dioxide increased by more than 1,000 tons at each of 16 coal-fired power plants in 9 states whose emissions create acid rain and smog in New York.  The figures were provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency and compiled by the Adirondack Council.

While some other plants in upwind states reduced their emissions over the same period, the overall trend was more pollution falling on the Adirondacks via some of the dirtiest power plants in the United States, he explained.

The 1995 Acid Rain Program and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule require EPA to track emissions from all power plants. The EPA administers several programs designed to reduce those emissions over time. All previous administrations, from Nixon onward, have made progress. The Trump administration is the first to reverse this course, Janeway noted.

New York’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park protects the world’s largest, intact deciduous forest ecosystem. The Park, its waters, forests and small human communities have suffered the worst acid rain damage in the United States, including the chemical sterilization of hundreds of high-elevation lakes and ponds. 

Since 1995, pollution cuts ordered by Congress and carried out by the EPA under the Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have reduced sulfur dioxide pollution falling on the Adirondacks by more than 90%. Lakes are recovering and trout are return to formerly dead lakes.

However, the Trump administration has been repealing and replacing clean air laws with weaker standards. This has already led to emissions increases from power plants whose pollution causes acid rain, poor visibility and fine-particle air pollution in the Adirondack Park.

For example, in Iowa, emissions increased at George Neil South by a total of 1,247 tons, or 28% of the plant’s total annual emissions. At Iowa’s Louisa Power Station, sulfur-dioxide increased by 2,095 tons, or 40%, Janeway noted.

The largest increases affecting New York’s air came from West Virginia, where the Harrison Power Station increased its emissions by 4,437 tons, or 56%; while the Fort Martin Power Station increased it emissions by 3,381 tons, or 220% percent.

By comparison, most New York power plants registered 0% (zero-percent) increases. Of those whose emissions rose, most rose by fewer than 10 tons. The largest increase in New York was 603 tons by the Somerset Operating Company, an increase of 65%. At 14 of New York’s power plants, emissions of sulfur dioxide decreased. 

By the end of 2020, it will be illegal to burn coal to make electricity in New York.

The Adirondack Council, together with the Environmental Defense Fund and other partners, is suing in federal court to compel EPA to enforce the Good Neighbor rule of the Clean Air Act.           

Other 1,000-ton+ emissions increases affecting New York/the Adirondacks include:

Joppa Steam Plant, 1,558 tons, 15%
Marion, 1,282 tons, 33%

Gibson, 2,565 tons, 19%
Merom, 1,165 tons, 44%

Ghent, 1,987 tons, 23%
RD Green, 1,006 tons, 32%

Belle River, 1,464 tons, 6%
St. Clair, 2,999 tons, 21%

Avon Lake, 1,764 tons, 91%
General JM Gavin, 2,166 tons, 9%

Cheswick, 1,387 tons, 16%

Yorktown Power, 3,139 tons, 323%

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring 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, and vibrant communities. 

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations.  Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019

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