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Warnings And Concerns That Acid Rain Could Return To Adirondacks

Adirondacks Elk Lake Dix Mountain
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Adirondacks Elk Lake Dix Mountain

The Adirondack Council is warning that Trump Administration rollbacks of Clean Air Act regulations threaten a resurgence of acid rain in the region.
A 1995 federal rule requires the EPA to track emissions from all power plants. Since then, sulfur dioxide emissions have been cut by 90 percent. But EPA data compiled by the Adirondack Council shows that between 2017 and 2018 sulfur dioxide emissions began to increase. The Council also reports that measurements at UAlbany’s Whiteface Mountain Atmospheric Sciences Research Center found more acidic clouds at the summit.

Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway says the reemergence of acid rain threats can be traced to Trump Administration rollbacks of environmental rules.  “We did see some data that scared us that perhaps we were beginning to see a turning of the corner in the wrong direction combined with hard data on increased emissions from coal plants in the Ohio Valley. So we have gone from being concerned and watching to looking for folks to take aggressive action before it’s too late.”

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve Managing Partner David Gibson says the Council’s concerns are valid because the Trump administration has not upheld the Clean Air Act.  “Due to the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act that were passed in 1990 all these years since sulfates have dropped 90 percent, nitrogen oxides and the nitrate acid that has fallen through snow, rain and fog has dropped almost 80 percent and the benefits for the Adirondacks have been remarkable. What many of us fear is that there’ll be backwards steps taken.”

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says some, but not all, monitoring stations have found acidic samples.  He says acid rain will return if the current federal administration continues to weaken three key areas of the Clean Air Act.  “They  are scrapping a very important provision of the Clean Air Act called the Good Neighbor Rule which allows a state that’s affected by acid rain to actually go after the sources of pollution.  The next thing is they appear to be getting ready to roll back the Mercury Air Toxics rule and even the industry’s against a rollback of the mercury rule. Finally they are in the process of appealing the Clean Power Plan which would have not only addressed acid rain but also started the nation on reducing carbon emissions.”

While the ecosystem of the Adirondacks has experienced an 80 to 90 percent recovery over the past four decades, Janeway is concerned that the Adirondacks remain extremely sensitive to setbacks.  “The long term acid buffering capacity is not what it once was.  The Adirondacks are like a patient who has survived treatment for cancer and is still on an underlying basis weaker. So the implications of a sustained small reversal and declines are that we would have a disproportionally large impact.”

The Adirondack Council has posted a petition on its website that calls for strengthening federal environmental rules to protect the Adirondacks from acid rain.

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