By Dan Plumley
The current crisis of anti-environmental leadership at the federal level under the Trump Administration has potentially far reaching implications here at home for New York’s Adirondack Park. Taken as a whole, these threats to New York State and the Adirondack Park could degrade or imperil natural resource integrity and environmental sustainability over the long-term. Threats include:
- proposed draconian cuts to the budget and professional staffing of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and elimination of climate research under various agencies;
- proposed weakening or elimination of regulations facing coal burning, “tall stack” polluting industries and degraded water quality protections.
While U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t often make environmental headlines in the Adirondacks, the EPA contributes several million dollars in federal grant moneys for environmental causes across the region. From the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) to the work of the New York State Department of Environment Conservation (NYS DEC), EPA grant funding has proven of critically importance to the region for decades. Moreover, EPA staff in New York and Boston are heavily involved in environmental monitoring for air and water pollution regionally. This monitoring is also threatened by the Trump administration.
Recently, New York State’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expressed serious concerns about potentially “disastrous impacts” from President Trump’s proposed 31% budget cuts to the EPA. Mr. Schneiderman stated that proposed cuts to climate change programs “will have an overall detrimental effect on New York State air, water, and overall health, safety, and welfare. “
The Adirondack Park is a unique ecological transition zone between northern deciduous hardwood forests in the south and boreal forest ecosystems to the north which are experiencing negative impacts from climate change today and will continue to into the future. Climate change has serious implications for Adirondack boreal forests, low-elevation boreal wetlands and high elevation Alpine tundra, boreal wildlife such as native brook trout and a dozen declining endemic bird species, as well as large megafauna like moose. Eliminating research funding threatens ongoing knowledge and data that are documenting how these species are responding to climate change in the Adirondacks.
Schneiderman went on to describe the threat of the proposed 45% cut in grants to States from the EPA that help develop and implement water, air, waste, pesticide and toxic substance control and monitoring programs. While many of these program funds are utilized in larger cities downstate and in western New York, the Adirondack Park stands to lose critical funding as well. The Trump Administration is proposing a 50% reduction in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the total elimination of funding for the Clean Power Plan, climate change programs and research totaling $100 million. Much of this research is critically needed to detect trends and monitor change in the Adirondack Park.
In addition, Trump’s EPA budget is proposing a 30% reduction in Superfund site cleanup funding. While these sites may be uncommon in the Adirondacks, polluted industrial sites may exist in the Adirondacks that could qualify for Superfund clean-up costs. Absent critical federal funding levels, such polluted sites will only languish.
A 30% decrease in EPA’s enforcement and compliance budget may also threaten the quality of enforcement and compliance for a vast array of pollution sources that could eventually impact the Park. Judith Enck, our former EPA Regional Administrator, recognized how dangerous these budget cuts and deep reductions of in staffing could be. In particular, she noted these cuts will weaken EPA enforcement officers who patrol and protect Catskill reservoirs and who help ensure that parasitic and harmful bacteria such as Cryptosporidium are not in drinking water supplies to millions downstate.
Joel Kupferman, Director of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project, has noted recently in online magazines that after the EPA cutbacks at this level “our air will be even worse.” This seriously implicates challenges to protecting clean air and water resources in the Adirondacks. Reducing or eliminating air research, enforcement monitoring and compliance of polluting industry in the Midwest could result in increased acid rain precursor pollution from coal-fired power utilities deposited downwind onto sensitive Adirondack aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. NYS DEC's Air and Water programs rely on cooperative projects and funding with the EPA to monitor air quality associated with the federal Acid Rain Program (ARP) and to maintain standards of clean air quality associated with the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).
As a participant in the 1990 Federal acid rain advisory committee, I am particularly concerned over the potential loss of EPA staff associated with enforcement and compliance of clean air and clean water regulations. Our past success in the implementation of the Acid Rain Provisions (Title IV) of the 1990 Clean Air Act depends on strong federal enforcement and compliance monitoring. Polluting power plants in the Midwest whose tall stacks send acid rain causing sulfur and nitrogen oxides to the Adirondack Park are required to maintain Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (CEMS) to monitor stack pollution directly at their source. This data is evaluated by the EPA and cap and trade allowances are assigned according to provisions in the law that enable acid rain permit trading that has been shown effective in making the law a true environmental and economic success.
Studies performed by the EPA in 2014 showed that current sulfur dioxide pollution was emitted at 3.2 million tons per year, a 69% decrease below 2005 levels. Nitrogen oxides 1.7 million tons annually emitted amounted to a 44% decrease below 2005 levels. These demonstrate dramatic levels of success due to the combined Acid Rain provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act (Title IV) and the Clean Air Interstate Rule. Significant reductions in EPA staffing, compliance monitoring and enforcement will threaten the achievements of the current Federal Acid Rain Control Program. This could significantly impact Adirondack lakes, ponds, rivers and streams and many aquatic organisms which are especially sensitive to acid rain.
Wet sulfate deposition (causing acidity impacts) has been reduced by as much as 69% percent over the same period due to these critical laws and regulatory programs. The acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) of Adirondack lakes in the western Adirondacks has improved, consistent with a reduction of these precursor emissions. After 27 years of successful acid rain control, it would be the height of folly to have that progress reversed.
In discussions with NYS DEC officials, I learned of their concerns over the budget cuts proposed at EPA, including the aforementioned cuts to air monitoring of stationary sources as well as the monitoring of mobile sources - cars buses and trucks. Both stationary and mobile sources have downwind impacts that negatively affect ecosystems sensitive to acid and mercury pollution in the Adirondacks. One DEC official that collaborates with federal EPA programs stated that should these cuts be realized “we will clearly see increases in acid precursor emissions that will impact the Adirondack Park.”
NYS DEC officials are also concerned that EPA budget cuts may eliminate the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) altogether. This collaborative program between New York State, Vermont and the province of Québec in Canada has provided many millions of dollars over many years for significant programs to clean up and sustain the sensitive ecosystems of historic Lake Champlain, along with their attendant recreational and economic values.
Also concerning, President Trump recently signed an executive order rolling back the EPA’s Clean Car Standards. This could eventually impact the Adirondacks and other sensitive ecosystem regions due to higher pollution levels coming from automobiles with the weaker emissions standards adding to increased nitrogen oxide emissions from mobile sources – contributing to both smog and nitrogen-oxide based acid rain.
President Trump is also expected to recall a rule that would protect the public from mercury discharges. The elimination of this rule and the weakening of compliance monitoring for tall stack industry in the Midwest could results in higher levels of atmospheric mercury as well as mercury seepage from lake bottom soils that could further in endanger Adirondack water quality and wildlife.
The NYS Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is also not immune to the potential devastating impacts of President Trump’s deregulation policies and proposed budget cuts to EPA. The APA has utilized over $1 million of EPA grant funding to map many of the park’s regional wetland systems. The Executive Director of the APA, Terry Martino, hopes that EPA grant funding can continue to be available in order to extend wetland ecosystem monitoring in the face of both air pollution and climate change.
Finally, proposed cuts to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Interior Department (DOI), Forestry Service (USFS) may also impact State and private forestry grants that that have long benefited New York State projects in forest land conservation, sportsmanship conservation programs and the control of invasive species here in the Adirondack Park.
National wildlife conservation organizations have rightly expressed serious concerns that a weakened USFWS threatens protection for species like the grey wolf in the east, mountain lion, Bicknell’s thrush and a host of other endangered species under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which has long been derided by some in the U.S Congress despite its critical value and many success stories, such as the comeback of the American bald eagle.
APA and DEC officials have also recently described how they are unsure at best what the future will hold because they are being told different things from different arms of the Trump administration and his agencies. One State official called the new President’s administration of federal environmental agencies to be “unclear and immature.”
Recently, an annual work planning meeting between EPA officials and the DEC was postponed indefinitely by the EPA without explanation. Initially, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had promised the states that he would fight to maintain EPA’s grants in the 2018 budget. Ironically, the new Office of Management and Budget (OMB) went against Pruitt’s suggestion and came up with the 45% cut in EPA grants to state environmental programs.
The overriding sense from State officials whom I interviewed is that the states are soon to be left on their own – forced by the EPA cuts to abandon programs altogether or find new in-state funding mechanisms to keep these programs going. Federal clean air and clean water laws absolutely require a federal commitment to compliance, monitoring and enforcement. States on their own have little power to regulate, monitor or enforce such standards against upwind or upstream states.
The Adirondack Park is of course a Park known around the world, with truly national and international significance as a model of sustainable development and wild land protection. It is truly disturbing that President Trump’s anti-environmental policies and penchant for deregulation at any cost will imperil or degrade our own global treasure, the Adirondack Park.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is communicating our concern and opposition to these drastic cuts and loss of environmental progress in the Adirondack Park and North Country Region. We urge all who share our concerns to communicate with their U.S. Congressional representatives.
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