State grant aimed to help restore Ad’k waters

ALBANY – The state has created a $400,000 grant program to fund projects aimed at restoring hundreds of lakes and streams in the Adirondacks still suffering from the damages of acid rain.

The funding for the Adirondack Acid Rain Recovery Program comes from a multi-state settlement with Cinergy Corp., now Duke Energy Corp., over violations of the federal Clean Air Act, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press release issued Friday.

“The Adirondack Acid Rain Recovery Program will speed the recovery of hundreds of lakes and streams by identifying the most effective tools available for reversing the damages of acid rain,” Schneiderman said. “Through this program and my office’s continued legal action against acid rain polluters, we will help to restore the Adirondacks for future generations of New Yorkers.”

Although acid rain has decreased significantly in recent years as a result of federal and state efforts to limit air pollution, parts of the Adirondacks have been slow to recover. In fact, scientists believe that over 500 water bodies in the Adirondacks continue to suffer from the damage caused by acid rain.

The grant program is intended to jump-start research projects for reducing the impacts of acid rain pollution and advancing recovery efforts. It will be administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and will be conducted through an open, competitive project solicitation and grant award process. It is expected that some projects will involve the testing of newly-designed methods for neutralizing acidity in soils and waters.

Acid rain is caused when air emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), generated predominately by coal-fired power plants, interact in the atmosphere to form acid compounds that fall back to earth as acid rain. Because of its unique geology, the Adirondacks are particularly sensitive to acid rain. When acid rain falls on the Adirondacks, it acidifies forest soils, reducing growth and survival of tree species, and acidifies lakes and other water bodies, which impacts fish and other aquatic organisms and reduces recreational and economic opportunities in the region.

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth called the launch of the recovery program a milestone in the battle against acid rain.

“ADK applauds and thanks Attorney General Schneiderman for taking this initiative to help restore our precious Adirondack lakes, streams and forests, as well as the wildlife and recreational opportunities they support, for the benefit of all New Yorkers for generations to come,” Woodworth said in prepared statement.

“The newly created program will enable the use of modern science to speed the recovery of our lakes, rivers and wildlife from decades of abuse from Midwest smokestacks,” said Diane Fish, acting executive director of the Adirondack Council.

Funds for the Adirondacks Acid Rain Recovery Program were obtained in a 2010 settlement with Cinergy Corp. after the company failed to install technology for controlling SO2 emissions at its Midwestern coal-fired plants in violation of the New Source Review provisions of the federal Clean Air Act. In addition to providing funds to establish the program, the settlement required Cinergy to modify its operations and control pollution at its facilities – steps that have reduced SO2 emissions by 35,000 tons per year, according to a recent federal government estimate.

Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of similar legal actions that Schneiderman has taken to curb air pollution in New York. The attorney general is suing the current and former owners of a major Pennsylvania electric power plant – Homer City Station – over multiple violations of the federal Clean Air Act that cause more than 100,000 tons of SO2 pollution to enter New York.

Early last month, Attorney General Schneiderman, as part of a coalition of seven states, notified the federal Environmental Protection Agency of his intent to sue the agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to address methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.

Also last month, after legal actions by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office and partnering states, the EPA adopted national air quality standards that protect the public from the adverse health effects of fine particulate matter – commonly known as soot – as is required under the federal Clean Air Act.