Coalition of Adirondack groups push back against decision
By Gwendolyn Craig
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision last week to halt certain air-quality monitoring work instrumental in curbing the impacts of acid rain in the Adirondacks region and Northeast has New York groups calling on the federal government to reconsider.
Two EPA acid rain stations, one at Akwesasne and another at Bennett Bridge in Oswego County, will be closed, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. In the Adirondacks, a Newcomb station will cease atmospheric deposition and ammonia monitoring. The stations have provided data on ozone, nitrogen, sulfur and other pollutants in rural and ecologically sensitive areas, according to the EPA. The Adirondack Council said the air monitoring work was instrumental in the fight against pollution from the Midwest responsible for poisoning Adirondack lakes.
An EPA spokesperson said the federal agency “has made difficult decisions to suspend, but not close, operations of air quality and atmospheric deposition monitoring at 11 Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET) and 30 National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) sites at 26 locations throughout the country.”
“Suspending sampling is necessary to realize critical cost savings needed to continue collecting data at remaining sites through the end of the fiscal year,” said Taylor Gillespie, spokesperson for EPA. “EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs (OAP) will undertake a scientific review of long-term rural air quality and atmospheric deposition monitoring assets to inform next steps.”
Gillespie did not respond to the Adirondack Explorer’s question about how much the agency was saving.
The Adirondack Council was shocked by the news considering EPA Administrator Michael Regan, visiting a public housing complex in Albany last year, celebrated “the modest increase in EPA’s budget compared to the budgets of the prior administration.”
In an EPA budget hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, asked Regan about the budget cuts.
“I’m very disappointed by this decision,” Tonko told the EPA administrator.
“I share your frustration,” Regan said. “The fact that the agency had to make a decision to pause 28 monitors is not something that we take pride in, but we were forced to do so because we did not receive the request that we had asked for through the appropriations process in 2020. … I can assure you if we receive the resources we’re asking for in the 2023 budget, we won’t be facing these kinds of closures.”
In a May 13 letter to Regan, a coalition of Adirondack and environmental organizations writes: “There are currently some signs of recovery from acid rain beginning to emerge in the Adirondacks, where the worst damage in the nation has been documented,” the letter reads. “But progress varies from lake to lake. To cut the funding for air quality monitoring now would leave this potential success story untold. … Losing the stations would also close the EPA’s eyes and ears to violations of federal law.”
In addition to Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Protect the Adirondacks, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Environmental Advocates NY and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter also signed the letter. Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said other groups joined this week including the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Ausable River Association and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.
In response to the Adirondack Explorer’s question about whether the DEC was concerned with the EPA’s decision, a spokesperson said there are several agencies funding similar programs including DEC, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“There will still be four NYSERDA-sponsored acid rain sites in the Adirondacks including Newcomb, Piseco Lake, Nick’s Lake, and Whiteface,” according to the department. “These sites have field support from DEC and SUNY ESF (College of Environmental Science and Forestry). DEC-sponsored CASTNET and ammonia monitoring will continue at Nick’s Lake and Whiteface.”