U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   02/01/2005
 
Statment of Brian Houseal
Executive Director
Adirondack Council
Legislative Hearing on S.131, the Clear Skies Act of 2005

Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Committee members, for the opportunity to testify before you today. I am Brian Houseal, the Executive Director of the Adirondack Council.

The Adirondack Council is a privately-funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. This year, the Adirondack Council and our 18,000 members are celebrating our 30th anniversary of protecting the Adirondack Park. We have been fighting to stop acid rain for 25 of those 30 years.

New York’s six-million acre Adirondack Park is the largest park of any kind in the lower 48 states. It is nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park and roughly the size of Vermont. It contains the largest assemblage of old growth forest east of the Mississippi River. The Park contains over 1,500 miles of rivers and 30,000 miles of streams and brooks. It also has 46 mountain peaks of over 4,000 feet tall. The nearly three million acres of public land has been protected by our state constitution as “Forever Wild” for over 100 years, with one million acres being classified as Wilderness.

The Adirondack Park has suffered some of the greatest damage from acid rain due to its geology and geography. Prevailing winds bring power plant emissions from outside New York into the Adirondacks where it is deposited in many forms including acid rain, acid snow and acid fog. The acid deposition then leaches nutrients out of the soil affecting the growth of vegetation. On many mountaintops, 80 percent of the lush red spruce and balsam fir forests have turned brown and died as the soil has been poisoned. Sugar maples and the maple syrup industry are also profoundly affected by acid rain.

Acid rain has reduced the pH of some of our lakes to the same level as vinegar. Approximately one quarter of the Park’s 2,800 lakes and ponds are biologically dead, meaning they can no longer sustain their native plant and animal life. Those lakes and additional waterways are further impacted seasonally by “spring shock,” a phenomenon that occurs when the winter snowpack melts and sends a high level of nitrogen into the water.

Haze obscures the view for hikers who climb to the tops of the state’s highest peaks. Whiteface Mountain, a place where the air should be clean, crisp, and healthy, is out of compliance for national air quality standards. Without federal action, our Park will not recover and our ecosystems will continue to be unhealthy and unproductive.

Acid rain affects all parts of the state, not just the Adirondack Park. A recent study found that many locations where historic marble, limestone and sandstone buildings are being eaten away by acid rain are in New York State. Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, and Syracuse all made the list of the top 20 areas (“The Effect of Acid Rain/Budget Cuts on Helping Our Community Treasures.” DOC Communications, July 31, 2003). Our cities and our heritage can no longer withstand the effects of this pollution.

In addition, grape growers from Long Island to the Finger Lakes note that their harvests are diminished in vitality each year as the nutrients needed to grow vines and fruit are depleted from the soil by polluted rain and snow. The Long Island Pine Barren, the Catskill Park, the Taconic Mountain Ridge near Massachusetts and the Hudson Highlands are all suffering extensive environmental damage from decades of acid rain.

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 Northeast 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 of California. 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.

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

Acid rain is also falling on the District of Columbia. Acid rain is eating away at the marble of the Capitol building and many of the great monuments on the mall. The Lincoln memorial corrodes more every year. So it is with buildings and monuments throughout the Capitol. The monuments to the fallen on the great battle sites of the Civil War, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, lose their inscriptions and carved features from the acid bath they endure each rainy day. The Statute of Liberty simply slowly melts away, day by day. This is why the fight to stop acid rain has been joined by many of the nation's prestigious organizations dedicated to historic preservation.

Although the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have begun to lessen the impacts of acid rain, the problem has clearly not been solved. Some early data has shown a slight improvement in the acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) of a handful of our lakes. This evidence, along with a litany of reports from government agencies and non-governmental organizations indicates that the 1990 amendments targeted the right pollutants to combat acid rain, but did not reduce the pollution levels sufficiently.

Today, we are here to make three requests as you consider new legislation in order to help solve the acid rain problem. First, action to stop acid rain must be taken this year. Second, it must be as good as or better than the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). Finally, no individual state’s current enforcement mechanisms should be eroded.

The Adirondack Council has been actively calling for further reductions in the emissions that cause acid rain for almost a decade since the EPA first reported in 1995 that further reductions beyond the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments would be necessary. In 1997, we encouraged then-New York Senators Moynihan and D’Amato to introduce legislation that would stop the damage and start the recovery process. That roughly translated into an additional 50% reduction in sulfur emissions below the phase 2 levels and a 70% cut in nitrogen from 1990 levels, including a year-round cap-and-trade program. This bill was later sponsored by New York's entire Congressional delegation and reintroduced several times through 2002 when it was sponsored by our current New York Senators Clinton and Schumer.

The Council has testified before this committee twice before on the problem of acid rain since the Moynihan bill was first introduced. It has now been ten years since EPA’s 1995 report detailing the need for additional cuts to help places like the Adirondacks recover. Something must be done this year to stop acid rain. Studies have shown that approximately 25,000 U.S. citizens die annually because of power plant pollution. In essence, the lack of action by Congress since the first time that the Adirondack Council testified here over 5 years ago has resulted in roughly 133,000 lives being needlessly cut short. We need progress this year—you cannot come home empty-handed yet again. Action is long overdue. While I am honored to testify before you and this committee, I would be even more honored if the problem was solved this year and I did not have to return again to testify.

In the late 1990’s the Moynihan proposal was considered neither politically nor economically feasible. However, we now know that this level of reductions is possible on both counts. For several years now, the Moynihan bill, once considered a radical notion, has become the “floor” that other proposals would have to exceed. Numerous members of this committee have introduced or soon will introduce legislation, all of which go beyond what Senator Moynihan first suggested.

Today, we have a new “floor” in the form of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). CAIR represents a reduction of 65% of nitrogen emissions and 70% of sulfur emissions respectively from current levels in 29 eastern states plus the District of Columbia. This rule, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in December 2003, is scheduled to be finalized in March. Any legislation that is passed must build upon the floor established by CAIR. In order to achieve this, Clear Skies would have to be amended to move the compliance dates up from 2018 to 2015. We believe this is possible as it would follow the model of the ten-year phase-in of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Even lower emissions caps and compliance dates would serve to speed up the recovery process of our lakes, streams and mountains. Lowering the cap on sulfur dioxide further would also produce a significant co-benefit in terms of reducing mercury emissions.

We would like to see deeper cuts for mercury, and do not agree with the proposed trading scheme due to the demonstrated neurotoxicity of mercury in both human and wildlife populations.

This bill does not include reductions in carbon dioxide—one of the major ingredients of global climate change. While we are very concerned about the serious environmental impacts that are already underway, we do not think that progress on ending acid rain should be delayed while carbon is further debated. We support Governor Pataki’s twelve-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and the McCain-Lieberman bill, which we are hopeful the Senate will on soon.

While we support CAIR, we would like to see legislation to ensure more legal certainty in the cap levels and timelines. We have witnessed numerous regulations tied up in the court system for many years. Another benefit of legislation is that reports to Congress on the progress of the program, along with funding necessary to expand the chemical and ecological monitoring of sensitive ecosystems like the Adirondacks, can be mandated. We would encourage you to consider strengthening these provisions of the legislation as it is marked up in the near future.

We would also urge the committee members to carefully consider whether or not it is necessary to make other changes to the existing Clean Air Act. While we understand the need for regulatory certainty for industry compliance, changing programs such as regional haze, Section 126 petitions, and rigorous monitoring from continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) should be closely examined. Including new requirements such as early reduction credits (ERC’s), opt-ins and safety valve provisions could also have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the successful acid rain program started by EPA and the Clean Air Markets Division fifteen years ago.

Enforcement tools currently used by the states to clean up their air should not be diminished in any way. A prime example of the usefulness of these enforcement tools came last month from New York’s Governor George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, two men who have done a great deal to protect the Adirondack Park from acid rain. They announced an agreement with the current and former owners of some of New York's largest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants to settle potential violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) requirements. These settlements will result in the largest reductions in air pollution ever attained through a settlement in New York.

Last week, our governor and Governor Schwarzenegger of California sent you a letter stating, in part, “These states, like ours, will need all the tools available under the Act to craft effective strategies to meet the standards,” [referring to eight-hour ozone and particulate matter (PM 2.5) standards.] We wholeheartedly agree with their position, which was also echoed by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

The Adirondack Council first testified before this committee on the need to address acid rain in October of 1999. On that same day, Governor Pataki announced that he would enact the toughest acid rain regulations in the country. After several court challenges, those rules went into effect on October first of 2004 with year-round nitrogen controls, and a month ago, further sulfur reductions. New York’s regulations mirror the Moynihan legislation. New York has now taken exhaustive measures to clean up its own plants. We are now asking the rest of the country to do the same.

Thank you again for allowing me to testify here today.