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Adirondack Council joining possible EPA lawsuit

Adirondack Council joining possible EPA lawsuit

New York state has yet to file similar action
Adirondack Council joining possible EPA lawsuit
Photographer: Shutterstock

The Adirondack Council will join the state of Maryland and other environmental groups in a planned lawsuit over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's alleged failure to enforce anti-air pollution measures at Midwestern power plants.

The failure to enforce existing Clean Air Act rules is leading to smog and acid rain falling in the Adirondacks and elsewhere in the Northeast, they charge.

Maryland and the environmental groups have filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA because, they say, the EPA isn't requiring coal-burning power plants to use existing pollution control equipment, which violates rules that have been in place since 2008. The notification gives the EPA 60 days to respond before the state and the groups can go to federal court.

Because heat contributes to the formation of acid rain chemicals in the atmosphere, problems with smog and acid rain are generally worst during the summer months. The power plants have equipment for reducing their summer emissions but aren't required to use it unless notified by the EPA — and the prospective lawsuit contends the EPA, under the Trump administration, isn't willing to make those notifications.

"To have to force EPA to comply with 2008 standards is very discouraging," Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said.

The environmental groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, filed notice with the EPA on Friday, two weeks after the state of Maryland did so.

"Turning on the equipment — as is required by the Clean Air Act — would save lives and prevent environmental damage by reducing smog and acid rain significantly," the council said in a prepared statement.

Maryland is primarily concerned about ground-level ozone — or smog — and nitrogen pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

The Adirondack Council, however, said the same pollutants lead to the formation of acid rain, which has been a major problem in the Adirondacks for decades.

New York state has not filed suit over the issue, though state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has been a leader in other efforts to fight EPA regulatory rollbacks. He won a victory last week, when the EPA agreed to continue consideration of ground-level ozone rules proposed in 2015, rather than face a U.S. District Court lawsuit in Washington, D.C.

"We’re not involved in this particular lawsuit, but we are leading a group of states (including Maryland) in defending EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution update rule in the DC Circuit," Schneiderman spokeswoman Casey Aguglia said in an email. "That rule similarly compels upwind power plants to limit their emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that are transported into New York."

New York City and the Lower Hudson Valley have issued smog alerts several times in recent weeks.

New York is downwind from many Midwestern power plants; the planned legal action cites facilities in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

While acid rain has been reduced through federal regulations since 1990, Sheehan said it remains a problem in the ecologically fragile Adirondacks.

"We've seen reductions since 1990, and that has made a deep dent, but it isn't enough to address what is falling in the Adirondacks," Sheehan said. "We have seen some backsliding, especially in the summer months."

The Adirondack Council said the Adirondacks have suffered some of the worst acid rain damage in the nation, with high-elevation forests and wildlife habitat being destroyed and the acidification of lake water and the accumulation of mercury and other metals in fish. Sheehan said smog is also a problem in the Adirondacks, especially at higher elevations where upper-level winds are more prevalent.

"People hiking at higher elevations can actually be breathing worse air than those farther down," Sheehan said.

Because heat contributes to the formation of acid rain chemicals in the atmosphere, problems with smog and acid rain are generally worse during the summer months. 

The EPA said it doesn't comment on lawsuit threats.

The Adirondack Council is also collecting online petition signatures urging the Trump administration not to reverse — or roll back — environmental regulations.

"These roll-backs threaten the progress we have made over the past two decades in limiting acid rain causing pollution in the Adirondacks and elsewhere," the petition states.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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