Press Releases

Supreme Court Decision Underscores Why U.S.E.P.A. Must Continue Measuring Impacts of Acid Rain in the Northeast

Court Gives Polluters a Reprieve; Five-Decade Lake Testing Program Due to End in August; Air Testing to Continue, But in Fewer Locations

Released: Wednesday, July 3, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Adirondack Park advocates and a member of Congress today said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to prevent enforcement of federal Good Neighbor Rule would endanger public health and the health of Adirondack forests and waters by exempting two coal states from new limits on interstate air pollution. 

The June 27 decision came as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was cutting funding for acid rain research, shutting down air quality monitors and lake chemistry testing that determines whether polluters are complying with the law.  Deregulation of polluters, coupled with a loss of compliance monitoring, could undo the progress New York has made in the fight against acid rain damage from other states. 

The federal Good Neighbor Rule prohibits any state from emitting enough air pollution to cause a health hazard in another state.  Emissions from Kentucky and West Virginia were each found (via EPA testing) to cause health and environmental impacts in several other states. 

Since the 1970s, the Adirondack Council has been fighting to stop acid rain caused by fossil fuel emissions primarily coming from poorly regulated coal-fired smokestack emissions from the Midwest and South.  Acid rain has damaged Adirondack lakes, forests, wildlife and fisheries by making the soil and water too acidic and toxic to support native life.  The same air pollution can cause life-threatening smog and soot pollution in New York’s cities.

Thirty Years of Progress in Jeopardy

After 30 years of air pollution cuts ordered by the EPA, new signs of improvement are emerging. Some Adirondack lakes that were once rendered lifeless by air pollution are now supporting abundant aquatic life again, including trophy-sized brook trout.  Not all of the 6-million-acre park has recovered yet.  Federal studies show some areas will need centuries to regain their vitality and will only recover if pollution reductions continue. 

“The EPA is assuming that acid rain is a a problem of the past that will never come back.” said Adirondack Council Executive Director Raul J. Aguirre.  “We urge the EPA not to shift its research and compliance funding away from protecting the forests and waters of the Northeast.  Combined with growing climate change impacts, the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision and EPA’s budget cuts on the Adirondacks, this globally significant ecological landscape and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, will be powerful.  It has the potential to unravel decades of critical conservation measures.” 

“The Supreme Court’s decision to prevent the EPA from enforcing the Good Neighbor Rule is a win for polluters and a loss for everyone else,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20), who served as president of New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority prior to being elected to Congress, in addition to serving 25 years in the state Assembly. “Pollution from upwind states causes irreparable harm to New Yorkers and other Northeast states. The court’s decision to allow them to continue to pollute is irresponsible. 

 “In light of this decision, it is clear greater federal support is needed to maintain New York’s environmental recovery,” Tonko said. “We won’t know how much pollution is falling on us until we start to see lakes and forests dying again. That’s too late. We won’t have the proof needed to stop the polluters in court. The fossil fuel industry would be off the hook entirely.” 

Meanwhile, New York and nine other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are complying with the Good Neighbor Rule by reducing their emissions to avoid causing acid rain, smog and soot pollution in states downwind of them.  It is illegal under New York’s air pollution and climate laws to burn coal to make electricity.  Similar rules are in effect in Canada, whose emissions were once a major source of acid rain but are no more. 

Scaling Back  

Two years ago, the EPA announced it was cutting funding to air quality monitoring stations in the Adirondacks and beyond.   

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, worked with the Biden administration to restore most of the funding for the Clean Air Science and Trends Network in the Inflation Reduction Act, with the support of Rep. Tonko.  Even with that support, some important CASTNET monitoring sites will only continue if private funding sources emerge.   

 This winter, the EPA told Northeast states that it was cutting funding for the Long-Term Monitoring Program that had been testing 50 lakes monthly for acid rain-related chemical and biological changes since the mid-1980s.  That dataset has been key to the EPA's rulemaking and to New York’s legal actions compelling polluters to cut their emissions. 

New York Shouldn’t be Going it Alone 

New York is searching for ways to keep that program operating, but most of the other states in the air monitoring program have already begun dismantling their equipment, the Council’s Aguirre said. “As a region we have been grappling with the significant impacts air pollution can have on human and natural communities at a landscape scale for over 50 years. We support the EPA’s decision to spend more money on air pollution monitoring in urban areas, it is smart, necessary, and needed. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of maintaining long-term monitoring and research in our most sensitive natural and rural areas across the Northeast. We can, and must, do the necessary research in both areas.”  

Rep. Tonko said the United States can afford to do both. 

“The federal Acid Rain Program has been the most effective and least costly federal pollution control program in American history,” said Tonko. “The cost/benefit studies EPA submitted to Congress show that every one dollar spent controlling air pollution brings back more than $70 in public health and environmental benefits.  Protecting nature and public health are some of the best investments we can make in America’s future.” 

Established in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded, not-for-profit environmental advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The 9,300-square-mile Park is one of the largest intact temperate forest ecosystems left in the world and is home to about 130,000 New York residents in 130 rural communities. The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy, and legal action. The Council supports a Park with clean water and clean air, core wilderness areas, farms and working forests, and vibrant, diverse, welcoming, safe communities.  

 For more information:John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340  

 

 

 

 

 

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