TESTIMONY OF THE ADIRONDACK COUNCIL
BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON CLEAN AIR, WETLANDS, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND NUCLEAR SAFETY
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
OCTOBER 6, 1998

Good Morning. My name is Bernard Melewski. I am the counsel and legislative director of the Adirondack Council. I would like to thank the chairman, and the members of the committee for the opportunity to be here with you this morning and to provide testimony on Senate Bill # 1097, the Acid Deposition Control Act.

I would like to begin with a brief explanation of what is the Adirondack Park, the role of the Adirondack Council in New York, and why we are particularly interested in the topic of acid rain and in this legislation.

The Adirondack Park is the largest park of any kind in the contiguous United States. It is nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park and covers one fifth of the State of New York making it equal in size to the State of Vermont. The Adirondack Park is roughly six-million acres of public and private land containing the largest assemblage of Old Growth forest east of the Mississippi River. The Adirondacks include the headwaters of five major drainage basins. Lake Champlain and the Hudson, St. Lawrence, Mohawk and Black rivers all draw water from the Adirondack Park. Within the Park are More than 2,800 lakes and ponds, and more than 1,500 miles of rivers fed by an estimated 30,000 miles of brooks and streams. The Park contains 46 mountain peaks more than 4,000 feet tall. Forty-five percent of the Park is publicly owned Forest Preserve protected as "Forever Wild" by the New York State Constitution since 1895. One million acres of these public lands are classified as Wilderness.

The Adirondack Council was founded in 1975, it is a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the natural and human communities of the Park through research, education, advocacy and legal action.

The Council receives moral and financial support from its more than 18,000 members and from private foundations. The Council's national and regional member organizations include the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks

Our interest in the problem of acid rain is long held. We were active contributors to the dialogue on acid rain in New York State in the early years of the 1980's, and helped craft the first acid rain law in the country which was adopted in 1984. The New York law identified both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide as precursors to acid rain, sought limits on total emissions from utilities sited within the state and even proposed an innovative trading mechanism that Congress would adopt nationwide in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

The Adirondack Council was also an active participant in the national debate that led to the adoption of the acid rain program in the clean air act amendments eight years ago. Our publication, "Beside the Stilled Waters," which was produced and distributed in cooperation with our member organizations, brought the problem of acid rain to the attention of the nation and to Congress.

We are here today because acid rain remains a continuing national tragedy. We ask that you now finish the job that was begun eight years ago.

We remember well that day when a deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency grandly pronounced in a press release that the new regulations implementing the new Clean Air Act Amendments would mean "the end to acid rain in the Adirondacks."

Certainly that was the intention of the Senate and the House. But wisely, Congress ordered a series of reports that would advise you of the success or failures of the goals of the acid rain program.

And the acid rain program as adopted was not without controversy. Congress adopted an innovative "cap and trade" program, modeled after the New York legislation, which would abandon the so-called "command and control" approach to regulation, in favor of a free wheeling pollution allowance trading program that would provide utilities with the flexibility to make compliance strategies part of their long-term business planning. The Adirondack Council, among others raised concern that the cap on total emissions might not be low enough to protect sensitive areas. Others debated both the need for and the cost of the program.

The wisdom of requiring these reports at that time is now apparent.

The first report was due in 1993, from the Environmental Protection Agency (ordered under sec. 404, Title IV appendix B of the 1990 CAAA) and was entitled the Acid Deposition Standard Feasibility Study Report to Congress. The report, dated October, 1995, was finally released in 1996 under the threat of litigation from the Adirondack Council and the State of New York. The report concluded that the pollution reductions accompanying the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments would not be sufficient to allow recovery of certain sensitive ecosystems and that some would continue to get worse. The report was particularly compelling for New Yorkers because it revealed that despite the reductions expected from the 1990 Amendments the loss of near fifty percent of its lakes and acidification of most streams in the Adirondack Park could be expected.

The second of two reports to Congress, the report of the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) was submitted to Congress as you left for the August recess (ordered under Sec. 901J of the 1990 CAAA). It was due in 1996 and it too was released under pressure from Senators Moynihan and D'Amato and the threat of litigation from the State of New York. In short summary, it confirms and substantially elaborates upon the findings of the earlier report to Congress submitted in 1996 from the EPA.

The NAPAP report also confirms that acid rain is not just an Adirondack problem.

The damage that sulfur and nitrogen pollution causes is far from a regional issue. It is an issue of national, even international importance. Excess nitrogen in waters and in soils- "nitrogen saturation" - can be found in the North East and in West Virginia's Allegheny Mountains, Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, Colorado's Front Range of the Rockies and even as far west as the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. High levels of nitrogen deposition are causing nitrate to leach into stream water from these watersheds. This nitrate leaching acidifies streams and strips base cations from soils. In snow covered areas the flush of nitric acid stored in the snowpack is the leading cause of "acid pulses" which are responsible for fish kills during spring thaws.

NAPAP found that high elevation areas in the Northeast and the Appalachians are bathed in acidic cloud water for extended periods of time. Sulfuric acid from sulfur dioxide emissions is the significant cause of the widespread spruce die back in these areas. The mechanism for the die back is the leaching of calcium from the spruce needles by the acidic fog which makes the trees susceptible to frost and winter injury.

The coastal estuaries of the entire east coast suffer from airborne inputs of nitrogen that can make up nearly 40% of the total nitrogen loaded into their systems. From the Long Island Sound to the Chesapeake Bay to Tampa Bay in Florida, nitrogen-based pollution is overloading the water with nutrients. This causes "eutrophication"- an overabundance of algae. These blooms are associated with fin fish kills, shellfish kills and human illness. When algae dies and decays, it depletes the water of precious oxygen needed by all aquatic animals. This condition is known as hypoxia.

Perhaps even more alarming was NAPAP's finding that areas of North America that are not seeing damage now are likely to in the future due to an effect known as soil acidification. Over the long term, acidic deposition is slowly leaching away key soil nutrients like calcium and magnesium (known as base cations) that are essential for plant growth. This nutrient depletion is occurring in high and mid elevation forests in New England, New York and the Southern Appalachians. Fifty nine percent of the commercial pine forest soil in all of the South East has low enough reserves of these chemicals to warrant concern.

Acid deposition, whether from sulfur or from nitrogen based pollution, not only leads to base depletion, but also the release of toxic compounds from soils to living things. For example, the release of Aluminum from soils rapidly accelerates when pH drops below 5. The release of aluminum interferes with plant biochemistry. It is also the leading cause of fish mortality in affected lakes. In other words, it is not the acidity directly, but the aluminum toxicity that is responsible for the damage. This effect is very wide-spread. Studies conducted in the Shenendoah National Park show that fish species richness, population density, condition, age distribution, size and survival rate were all reduced in streams no longer able to neutralize acidity. A study of streams in the Adirondacks, Catskills and Northern Appalachians in Pennsylvania showed that episodic acidification "acid pulses" had long term adverse effects on fish populations including significant fish mortality. Lake acidification, whether from sulfur or nitrogen is also implicated in the increase in mercury concentrations found in fish. Acidity leads to greater conversion of mercury from its less toxic elemental form to methyl mercury, which is much more toxic. Fish consumption warnings due to mercury contamination are common in many states and are on the rise.

All of this disturbing information has been exhaustively peer reviewed and verified by the May 1998 National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program Biennial Report to Congress.

Other studies have found similar results;

Environment Canada, in its 1997 report "Towards a National Acid Rain Strategy", said that reducing sulfur emissions significantly beyond the current Clean Air Act requirements in both countries would be needed for all of eastern Canada to be protected from acid rain. In southern Canada an area the size of France and Britain combined receives harmful levels of acid deposition. As many as 95,000 lakes in the region will remain damaged.

A study recently released by Trout Unlimited that was conducted by the University of Virginia. The study found that without deep additional deposition reductions up to 35% of Virginia trout streams would become "chronically acidic" and would no longer support trout populations. The study further estimated that thousands of trout stream miles in the Southern Appalachians may be lost to acidification.

We believe that a fair reading of the two reports to Congress lead to two very clear conclusions:

First, that the mechanism of a national cap in emissions coupled with the pollution allowance trading program has been an outstanding success. All facilities are in compliance and there is every reason to believe that the target cap will be reached. The Administrative and implementation costs of the program are less than a traditional regulatory approach. Furthermore, the actual cost of the program is substantially less than projected at the time of adoption.

Second, that despite the success of the regulatory scheme, the overall cap in emissions is too high to accomplish one of the primary goals of Congress, which was to protect sensitive resource areas from the harmful effects of acid rain.

Senate bill #1097, is the best proposal we have seen to address the shortcomings of the acid rain program without doing harm to the positive accomplishments of the current program.

The proposed Acid Deposition Control Act would essentially accomplish three things:

First, it would build on the successful sulfur dioxide cap-and-trade program by creating a third phase of reductions further along the current time line. All of the advantages of the current program are preserved. It is predictable, flexible, and cost-effective. The legislation would reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by an additional 50%.

Second, it would create a new cap-and-trade program for nitrogen-oxide emissions from utility smokestacks that mirrors the successful program already in place for sulfur. The role of nitrogen deposition both in high elevation waters and forests and in our coastal estuaries is much better understood and accepted by the scientific community. The proposed cap and trade program would reduce nitrogen emissions from utilities nationwide by approximately 70% of 1990 levels, resulting in a substantial and beneficial cut that is also reasonably achievable. Similar in structure to the existing sulfur program, the cuts would be phased in by two stages.

We fully expect that utility executives will audibly grumble about the stringency of the proposal and its cost. But we fully expect that the additional reductions can be accomplished within the costs that were projected when Title IV was passed.

It is also important to address the subject of the new air regulations issued just a week ago by the USEPA.

It is a fair question to ask whether the nitrogen program proposed in Acid Deposition Act is necessary in light of the adoption of these new federal regulations. We think the answer is quite definitely yes. USEPA has proposed a twenty-two state voluntary utility cap and trade program for nitrogen emissions as the preferred response for state compliance with its new ozone program.

The EPA ozone proposal, which is only summer seasonal, will not address in any significant way, the acid rain problem. The issue is the total loading of nitrogen to sensitive areas. For high elevation areas the main concern stems from the buildup of nitrogen in the snow pack and the subsequent "acidic pulse" to aquatic systems in the spring of the year. Year-round controls will be necessary to address the nitrogen problem. Furthermore, only nationwide reductions will address the problems outside of the twenty-two state region covered by EPA's plan.

The proposed Acid Deposition Control Act, will be a more effective and efficient way to accomplish both the public health goals of the ozone rules and the atmospheric loading of nitrogen to our sensitive ecological resources.

Not only would the nitrogen program of the legislation under discussion today accomplish the same goals of the USEPA regulations, but will insure uniformity and an expanded market which will be more efficient and cost effective. The legislation will also level the competitive playing field for the utility industry. The Congressional Budget Office (Factors Affecting the Relative Success of EPA's Nox Cap-and-trade Program, June 1998), identified similar benefits to providing additional statutory authority in a report on the proposed rules this summer.

Third, the Acid Deposition Control Act would provide additional resources to the monitoring and research networks that on a shoe-string budget have provided the nation's research scientists with invaluable data on the actual state of affairs on the ground and in the air. The level of scientific certainty and confidence on acid rain has improved substantially since 1990 because we now have the ability know what goes up the stack coupled with an accurate monitoring of our air and water resources. The Acid Deposition Control Act would continue to improve our monitoring and therefor our ability to assess the success of these programs.

As advocates for the preservation of the wild character of one of the nation's greatest parks, imagine our dismay in reading the reports from USEPA and NAPAP on the future of the Adirondacks.It is small wonder then that more than 150,000 New Yorkers have signed petitions urging more action on acid rain in the past year, collected by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, our member organization.

The need for additional action on acid rain is not just a New York perspective. In May of this year the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers recommended additional reductions in utility emissions of SO2 and NOx nearly identical to those called for in S.1097. The problems these pollutants bring are felt from the Chesapeake to Tampa Bay, and in the Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Appalachian Mountains. The Acid Deposition Control Act will improve the environment and public health to the benefit of virtually every American.

Mr. Chairman, the scientific uncertainty that existed in the early 1990's has been removed. The basis for strong action could not be better articulated than in the significant findings of these reports which we believe wholly support the actions and elements of S.1097. We urge the Committee to move this bill to the floor for consideration by the full Senate at the earliest opportunity. Thank you again.