Judith Enck: Adirondacks

Apr 18, 2017

Environmental conditions in the Adirondacks and Catskills have improved because of strong national environmental protection policies.  Those improvements are now at risk if President Trump’s proposed budget, coupled with his anti- science policies, are put in place.

Remember acid rain?  In the early 1970’s, air pollution from distant fossil fuel power plants had made rain and snow so acidic, it killed fish in hundreds of lakes and streams in the Adirondacks and Catskills.  The lakes were crystal clear but most fish could not survive in the acidic waters.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to the rescue.

EPA adopted new national clean air rules that required fossil fuel power plants to reduce the pollution belching out its smokestacks.  The results were dramatic.  From 1970 to 2012, national emissions of particulates, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide had dropped an average of 72 percent.  Consequently, acid rain was lowered by 70 percent.

Most of the pollution was coming from the Midwest.   Federal action was needed and now lakes and streams, once badly damaged by acid rain, are bouncing back. 

Air pollution and other pollutants do not stop at state boundaries.  We need strong national policies to protect downwind and downstream communities.

Under President Trump’s new policies, EPA could not have led national reductions in acid rain.  And today, EPA will not address the very real threat of climate change.

The President has proposed cutting the EPA budget by 31% in one year.  He wants to cut the EPA science office by half.  His budget director recently said: “We are not spending money on climate change anymore.  We view it as waste of money.” 

The President announced that he will eliminate all the national regulations and programs and research at multiple agencies to address climate change.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan, designed to cut carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants, was rolled back in the President’s Executive Order.  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others have announced they will attempt to block the repeal of the Clean Power Plan in court.

These draconian policies come at a time when our climate is changing rapidly and the the impact could wreak havoc on the Adirondacks.  Scientist Jerry Jenkins, who literally wrote the book on climate change in the Adirondacks, predicts that by the year 2100, the climate in the Adirondacks will be similar to the current climate of West Virginia.  This difference will radically change the forest products industry, the ski industry, tourism, and the kinds of birds and wildlife that live in the Adirondack Park.

The President has also proposed slashing funding for protecting Lake Champlain and a myriad of other programs that benefit the Adirondacks. 

The way EPA tackled acid rain reminds us that strong federal environmental policies can provide tremendous local benefits.  Nowhere is that more evident this in Adirondacks and Catskills.  Few regions of the country have more at stake if these anti -environmental policies are put in place.

Judith Enck is the Elisabeth Haub Visiting Scholar at Haub Law School at Pace University.  Ms. Enck is the former EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator, appointed by President Obama.

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