Saratoga County

Speakers: Acid rain, climate change related

Climate change and acid rain damage in the Adirondacks are related issues that would both benefit fr

Climate change and acid rain damage in the Adirondacks are related issues that would both benefit from reducing fossil fuel use, speakers said Thursday at a conference on acid rain.

“There’s no question that there’s more to do, but we’re going in the right direction,” said Judith Enck, Region 2 director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

She encouraged those attending the “Acid Rain in the Adirondacks: A Road Map to Recovery” conference at the Saratoga Hilton Hotel to comment on proposed Clean Power Plan regulations. EPA is taking public comment through Dec. 1.

The EPA plan — proposed after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld EPA’s power to regulate cross-state air emissions — calls for states to reduce their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, though it doesn’t require the reduction from every power plant. The draft rules are unpopular in Midwestern states with many coal-fired power plants.

“There’s a fair amount of opposition to this regulation,” Enck said.

The conference attracted the Adirondack Park’s leading environmentalists to discuss next steps following recent decades in which the amount of acid rain coming into the Adirondacks from the Midwest has declined, prompting recovery in some areas.

Acid rain has been blamed for acidifying mountain lakes and ponds, killing fish populations and damaging common trees like red spruce.

“Driving down the pollutants that cause acid rain will also affect our climate change situation,” Enck said in a later interview.

Enck, who for many years was a leading figure in the Capital Region environmental community, devoted much of her talk to climate change. “The Adirondacks are warmer, and they are wetter,” she said.

She said carbon emissions need to be regulated at the national level, because “we can’t wait for every state to act.”

Continued warming of the oceans and atmosphere will lead to more costly storms like hurricanes Sandy and Irene, she said. Irene, in 2011, caused extensive flooding and other damage in the eastern Adirondacks.

“We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and the last generation that can do anything about it,” she said, quoting a statement of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that President Obama has quoted.

“It is a big mistake to say the United States cannot act until China and India act,” Enck said. “We need every nation to act, and the United States needs to be a leader.”

The amounts of both sulfur and nitrogen oxide discharged from power plants have dropped significantly since the Clean Act of 1990, but some attending the conference noted that while waters are recovering, soil chemistry responds much more slowly from the acid rain these emissions cause.

“That makes recovery in soils in the Adirondacks much more problematic,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

He also said concerns are growing about damage to the Adirondacks from ammonia discharges, but they are more difficult to address because they are probably tied to numerous agricultural operations, not utility-owned power plants.

Scientists like acid rain researcher Charles Driscoll of Syracuse University said soil chemistry, in particular, needs continued monitoring despite the progress made to date.

But one attendee warned against thinking the fragile mountain environment will ever be what it was before the impact of acid rain began to be seen in the 1960s.

“We’re not going back, folks. There have been too many changes in the environment,” said Charles Canham, a forest ecologist and senior scientist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook.

“We don’t expect fish to come back to a lot of these lakes,” he said.

The conference was sponsored by The Adirondack Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The proposed EPA rule, supporting technical information and information on how to comment are available at

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