Court should let EPA help Adirondacks

Hopefully the Supreme Court will recognize that the people of the United States need their federal government to reduce acid rain and mercury pollution.

On Monday, justices of the high court agreed to review a lower court’s ruling that limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to stop pollution and lessen acid rain. We hope they reverse the decision and let the EPA do the job it was founded to do.

Prevailing winds carry emissions from Midwest power plants right toward upstate New York, and the clouds often dump their acidic rain and snow when they hit our mountains. Exhaustive studies and constant monitoring, which continues today, have long proven that power plants’ poisonous emissions have killed untold numbers of fish – making many Adirondack lakes completely fishless – and have done horrible damage to forests as well. Native brook trout, the favorite of anglers, were on their way to being extirpated from this area.

If you want to bring up the old environment-vs.-economy thing, listen – up here, our fish and our trees are economic necessities. When someone from another state kills them by belching out toxic fumes, that’s not OK. We need the federal government to step in to stop it and police the situation over time to make sure there’s no backsliding.

So it’s hard to defend the polluters, yet some do. Critics say the Obama administration is waging war on the coal industry and that the EPA’s cross-state air pollution limits are part of that. Our rebuttal: By knowingly creating acid rain, the coal industry has been waging war on the Adirondacks – specifically its fish, anglers, birds, trees and plants – for decades. Every president’s administration since George H.W. Bush has defended the Park and many other innocent victims against this chemical weaponry.

This is not an example of presidents running amok. The Clean Air Act of 1990, an enduring piece of legislation, was passed by the people’s representatives in Congress.

Americans made a major choice back then that they did not want a polluted nation, one where lakes and forests were killed to keep electricity a little bit cheaper. Many power companies are still resisting that decision at their dirty Midwest plants, and they are lobbying politicians to speak for them.

We are convinced that most Americans stand by the choice – no backsliding.

Twenty-three years later, the Clean Air Act and subsequent updates have largely worked, and Adirondack lakes are recovering – a man recently caught a state-record brook trout in the once-fishless Silver Lake in the southern Adirondacks. But it’s been slowed down because the offending companies have done much foot-dragging. Sometimes, to avoid installing air scrubbers, they’ve stuck with old-school plants that were grandfathered in before the Clean Air Act. The act’s drafters assumed that these plants would eventually have to be replaced, but power companies have circumvented that by building all around the old core – cyborg plants that are mostly new but still allowed to be dirty.

The American people need the EPA to keep the air clean.

If the court does find that the EPA has overstepped its legal bounds, Congress should respond by passing a law authorizing the agency to do its job and put more pressure on the polluters. Our Adirondack environment and economy depend on that job being done.