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Editorial: EPA must protect natural resources from pollution

Editorial: EPA must protect natural resources from pollution

Poisonous smoke from industrial plants still drifts from other states into New York
Editorial: EPA must protect natural resources from pollution
Trees damaged by acid rain in the Adirondacks.
Photographer: Courtesy Adirondack Council

Adirondack lakes shouldn’t be as clear and lifeless as a swimming pool.

Adirondack forests shouldn’t look like sentries of thin gray ghosts.

When you stand at the top of an Adirondack mountain, you shouldn’t be choking on smog. 

The spectacular views of Adirondack vistas should be seen through bright blue skies, not a toxic haze.

These are the places many of us venture off to to spend our weekends and vacations enjoying, particularly this time of the year when the foliage is at its peak.

It’s hard to believe, but despite all the advances this country has made over the years in environmental technology and shifts to greener energy like solar, wind and natural gas, poisonous smoke from industrial plants still drifts from other states into New York and wreaks havoc on our environment.

Particularly vulnerable are the forests of the Adirondacks, which have endured decades of acid rain, sustaining more damage than any other place in the nation.

The acid rain generated by air pollution in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky makes the lakes and ponds unlivable for plants and fish, alters the nutrients in the soil so plants can’t grow, and contributes to the accumulation of mercury in fish, which is then passed up the food chain to other wildlife and people.

Excess nitrogen from the industrial plants contributes to algal blooms that create underwater “dead zones,” making it impossible aquatic life to survive.

At elevations over 3,000 feet, a full 1,000 feet lower than what’s considered the High Peaks, clouds of smog envelop the summits, forcing hikers to breathe it in and spoiling views they hiked there to see.

The damage is particularly notable during the warmer months. The warmer weather helps nitrogen oxides turn into ozone, which is the smog that people have difficulty breathing.

Other Northeast and East Coast states are experiencing the same kind of impact.

Reminiscent of those old “no-smoking” sections in the restaurants and airplanes of our youth, there’s nothing to stop the smoke and chemicals from drifting over our state except cutting the pollution off at the source.

That means the federal government has to protect us. And if recent months are any indication, it’s not doing its job enforcing existing laws designed to protect people and sensitive environmental areas from damage.

According to litigation filed by the state of Maryland and a group of environmental and health organizations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to enforce laws under the Clean Air Act that require 19 Midwestern coal-burning plants, totaling 36 polluting units, to use existing pollution control equipment to prevent pollution in other states. They already have the equipment in place. They just don’t use it.

Maryland, which has seen damage to its Chesapeake Bay from out-of-state plants, had given the EPA 60 days notice to act. But it didn’t, and that prompted officials there to file the lawsuit.

Maryland isn’t alone in this suit. Also participating in the lawsuit are top environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, as well as other state and local environmental and health organizations.

On Friday, the Adirondack Council, a 42-year-old Albany-based nonprofit that fights for the “ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park,” announced that it, too, had joined the litigation.

This isn’t just an Adirondack problem. It’s not just a state problem. It’s a national problem. But only through action generated on the local and state level will this problem be addressed.

Contact your state and federal representatives and urge them to speak out and force the EPA to do its job. Lend your support to environmental groups that put their money and reputations on the line.

We all need to speak out and support efforts to halt the proliferation of pollution, for our environment for ourselves and for future generations.

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