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Roundtable Focuses On Acid Rain In New York

Lucas Willard

The Adirondack Park is world-famous for its natural beauty, but it also has a dirty past. Environmental advocates and experts gathered in Saratoga Springs Thursday to discuss the challenges and progress associated with acid rain in the Adirondacks.

The workshop hosted by the Adirondack Council and the Environmental Defense Fund at the Saratoga Hilton was titled Acid Rain in the Adirondacks: A Road Map to Recovery.

Experts from academia and government talked about the current state of acid rain impacts in New York’s largest park and the Northern Forest, and how policy and advocacy has changed the crisis over the past few decades.

John Sheehan is Director of Communications at the Adirondack Council and moderated the event.

“This is a really important time in the effort to try and fight acid rain. We are at a point where the U.S. Supreme Court has just reinstated a just very important pollution control rule, that will be implemented now as soon as a stay is lifted by a lower court and that should happen very soon,” said Sheehan. “At this point we’re trying to determine not only what the complete impact of that pollution reduction will be, but what else needs to be done in order for the park to fully recover.”

The Adirondacks are one of the worst-affected areas when it comes to acid rain in the country. Acid rain is caused by airborne pollutants from across the Midwest that travel through the atmosphere and oxidize, and eventually falling on the Northeast. The acid rain can lower the pH of Adirondack waterways, devastating ecosystems.

Sheehan said over the years, New York has decreased its acid-rain causing power plant emissions by a significant margin, but the challenge remains in convincing other states to do the same.

“Since 1990 New York has reduced it’s sulfur emissions from electric power plants by about 95 percent, and we have the cleanest power plants in the country when it comes to acid rain. But trying to get our neighbors to do the same thing, especially Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, places that are very dependent on high-sulfur coal, has really been difficult. And we’ve had to show them why it’s hurting their economy and their people at the same time, and make the appeal that it’s not helping us here, either.”

Of the experts at the forum, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck advocated for proposed regulations to address climate change and power plant emissions.

The EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards, introduced in June, would set pollution reduction targets for each of the 50 states, and allow state governments to develop their own plans to meet those goals.

Enck has been traveling the country in support of the proposed regulations.

“I think this is one of the most essential federal environmental regulations that the EPA has ever done in our long history, and we want to make sure people are aware of it and they give us their ideas.”

The public has until December 2nd to weigh in. State governments would be due to submit their plans to address carbon emissions by 2016.

The proposed regulations have become a talking point during the campaign season, with some politicians warning they could hurt economies that rely on coal and drive up energy prices. 

Jared Snyder, New York Department of Environmental Conservation Assistant Commissioner of Air Resources, Climate Change, and Energy, gave a presentation on New York’s progress on reducing acid rain deposition.

“We’re not done yet, there’s more progress to be done on all these fronts, but there is a way to move forward, and it actually can be done more easily than some of the naysayers expect when we start these programs.” 

Snyder was one of a handful of panelists in a roundtable discussion on policy and science. He said he expects to follow up with some of the ideas offered by attendees.

“Good policy is grounded in good science and good data, and some of the suggestions that came out of this meeting are ways to develop the scientific base for making policy decisions going forward.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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