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Pollution control is great for Adirondacks

December 31, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Americans a Christmas present last week by finally holding smoke-spewing power plants to the terms set by the Clean Air Act more than 20 years ago, back when George H.W. Bush was president.

Now, with President Barack Obama's blessing, the EPA will enforce rules on noxious emissions like mercury and the gases that cause acid rain, especially in places like the Adirondacks. Not only are our mountains directly downwind of the bulk of these Midwestern plants, but our bedrock of metamorphic rock doesn't counter the acidity the way limestone would. For decades now, acid rain and mercury have been killing Adirondack fish and trees at an appalling rate. These are the prime assets of our tourism economy. These polluters are doing the equivalent of poisoning our well.

Mercury is especially dangerous in that it accumulates in the body over the years and works its way up the food chain to creatures that eat fish, including people. Even if there isn't enough mercury in your system to poison you, if you're a woman of childbearing age, there could be enough to endanger your fetal child. These power generators are the reason New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation warns women of childbearing age to largely avoid eating fish caught in the Adirondacks.

And beyond the Blue Line, the fumes from these power plants are a health risk to all who breathe them in.

Yes, people need electricity and lots of it, but that's no excuse for a free-for-all on pollution. It's abundantly clear that we can get all the energy we need and also have our power producers be considerate toward those they are smoking out. But that kind of responsibility has been shamefully lacking in the leaders of these industries, and too often, politicians have bowed to them.

Over the last two decades, the nation's dirtiest plants got out of enacting required cleanup measures like air scrubbers on their smokestacks because they were supposedly so old and inefficient they were about to be closed anyway. But their owners took a yard for every inch of leniency given. Instead of closing those plants, the companies built what amounted to new ones around the old, dirty cores to circumvent the laws. The money they spent lobbying to avoid the required cleanup would better have been better spent on making it happen.

A recent Associated Press study showed that the coal and power industries are right when they say some plants will have to close but that there is no real reason to worry about overall power production. The industry will adjust, as it was supposed to do many years ago, and we'll all be better off.

In addition to the Obama administration, now is a good time to thank those who have worked to hold power producers to responsible standards. There are too many for a comprehensive list, but former Gov. George Pataki held New York's power plants to higher standards than the federal government, and environmental groups like the Adirondack Council have lobbied hard on the Park's behalf. And state attorneys general from Eliot Spitzer to Eric Schneiderman have sued, on behalf of all New Yorkers, plants that violate the Clean Air Act - for instance, Schneiderman's recent action against Homer City Station in Pennsylvania.

Our lakes and lungs would be cleaner today if this rule-abiding revelation had come sooner. Nevertheless, if the EPA is able to do its job as it says it will, our children will have much better fishing than we do, and be able to eat what they catch.



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