Adirondack Advocates Reflect On President George H.W. Bush’s Environmental Legacy

Dec 5, 2018

The funeral for the 41st President of the United States was held in Washington today. While George Herbert Walker Bush leaves a mixed environmental legacy, northern New York advocates says his tenure as president benefitted the environmentally-sensitive Adirondack region.

The Clear Air Act was enacted in 1970. President George H.W. Bush signed a revised Clean Air Act in 1990.  His cooperation with the late New York U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to get amendments passed, according to Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan, was crucial for the Adirondacks.  “Those brought us not only the acid rain program that helped to reduce our pollution in the Adirondacks an enormous amount between 1995 and today but it also brought some changes in the way that the smog program operates and really brought the authorization for the Cross State Pollution Rule that continued to reduce our sulfur and nitrogen pollution here in the Adirondacks to the point where we’re getting very close to being able to say that the damage being done by acid rain is over.  We’re not quite there yet. But we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 25 – 30 years.”

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve Partner David Gibson agrees that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 were significant for the Northeast and the Adirondack Park.  “In four years he accomplished quite a bit. And we in the Adirondack Park who are concerned about the Adirondack Park can be grateful for his term in office because he took scientific consensus and research being done and applied that to public policy in the Clean Air Act Amendments. And the results can be seen in the recovery of our lakes in the Adirondack Park. It’s a stunning, stunning example of how science and regulatory policy can be married together successfully.”

In 1992 President Bush attended the first international summit on climate change in Rio de Janiero and signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Yet Ethan Allen Institute Vice President John McClaughry fears President Bush’s environmental successes may be fleeting. “He had put the United States into the IPCC process and attended conferences. And that’s certainly part of his political legacy. However we’ve had three presidents since then and I think whatever legacy he left us in 1992 has been seriously overtaken by events. And while we’re paying tribute to George Bush, and deservedly, I don’t really think the fact that he supported the initial stages of the climate movement back in 1990 and ’91 are going to have any lasting effect.”

Sheehan says Bush’s actions in office led to a nearly 93 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide and an almost 85 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide from coal-fired power plants.  “So we have seen lakes recover. We have seen loons return to waters and we’re seeing heritage strain brook trout that we thought were extinct reemerging. We’re not quite out of the woods yet. But his legacy is that he got the ball rolling on all of this good news.”