N.Y. governor: U.S.’s toughest acid rain controls approved

Strict new rules to reduce emissions to be phased in beginning in 2004

April 2, 2003 — Governor George E. Pataki recently announced that the New York State Environmental Board has approved the nation’s strictest regulations to reduce emissions of acid rain causing pollutants from electric generators.

“This historic initiative represents another important step toward protecting public health and the State’s natural resources from the harmful effects of these pollutants,” Governor Pataki said. “I’m proud that New York State is implementing the nation’s toughest standards to combat acid rain, and we look forward to working with the federal government to continue the progress that has been made to improve air quality nationwide.”

The regulations target emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), pollutants that have been identified as primary contributors to the formation of acid rain and respiratory-inhibiting smog. Beginning January 1, 2005 and phased in over a three-year period, the stricter controls will require electric generators in New York State to reduce SO2 emissions an additional 50 percent below levels allowed under the federal Clean Air Act’s Acid Rain Program requirements. The regulations also implement year-round reductions in NOx emissions, beginning October 1, 2004.

Overall, the regulations are projected to reduce SO2 emissions from New York sources by approximately 130,000 tons per year and NOx emissions by 20,000 tons annually, further protecting the State’s sensitive natural resources, including the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Highlands.

The regulations were initially proposed for public comment in February 2002, and the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held hearings in New York City, Buffalo and Albany to present the proposal and receive public comment.

DEC Commissioner Erin M. Crotty said, “As a result of Governor Pataki’s unwavering commitment to protect New York’s citizens, environment and natural resources from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, the State remains a national leader in controlling these harmful pollutants. Adopting stricter pollution standards, as championed by Governor Pataki, greatly benefits our State’s precious ecosystems and all New Yorkers.”

Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said, “Governor Pataki has done what Congress has thus far failed to accomplish. He has moved us beyond the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and made real progress. If Congress did what the Governor has done today, America’s worsening acid rain problems would disappear.”

Jim Tripp, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, Inc., said, “Even with significant reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions and modest controls on nitrogen oxide emission from power plants under the federal Clean Air Act since 1990, New York still suffers from acid rain and environmental and health effects from these emissions in the eastern U.S.

“We therefore welcome New York State’s initiative to require significant, additional reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions from its in-state power plants. With the adoption of this rule, New York will have the toughest limits on these pollutants of any state. This will not only have beneficial in-state impacts, but, in so doing, the State will be setting an example for what other States can and should do and what the Congress can and should do.”

Marcia Bystryn, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “This has been an arduous task and we=re pleased that Governor Pataki has remained committed to adopting the nation=s toughest standards to combat acid rain. These regulations put New York in a leadership role at the national level.”

State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H. said, “Governor Pataki is taking significant steps towards promoting public health for all New Yorkers by approving these strict controls. Exposure to these two pollutants can result in adverse respiratory effects, such as asthma attacks. I am especially pleased about the health benefits that will be afforded for children with asthma and other high-risk individuals with pre-existing respiratory disease.”

State Public Service Commission Chairman William Flynn said, “These regulations clearly demonstrate Governor Pataki’s dedication to improving New York’s environment. While these new acid rain regulations will provide important environmental benefits, they also highlight New York’s need for newer, cleaner, state-of-the-art electric generating facilities that will exceed even these rigorous emission standards.”

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Acting President Peter Smith said, “[The March 26] decision represents another major step forward in our efforts to reduce acid rain causing pollutants. New York is already recognized as a national leader in employing innovative technologies and strategies to protect and improve our environment. The new regulations, combined with those efforts already underway, will go a long way toward improving the environmental quality of life for all New Yorkers.”

In a 1998 National Acidic Deposition Assessment Program report, Biennial Report to Congress: An Integrated Assessment, it was estimated that 24 percent of Adirondack lakes are seriously acidic, and nearly 50 percent are sensitive to acidic deposition. This report, as well as a 1995 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, estimated that additional reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions in the range of 40-50 percent beyond reductions mandated under the federal Clean Air Act were necessary to protect environmentally sensitive ecosystems.

Acid rain forms in clouds when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides chemically react with water, oxygen and oxidants to form a mild solution of sulfuric and nitric acid, known as wet deposition. Acidic deposition, or acid rain, occurs when either wet deposition or dry deposition (gases and particles) falls to the earth.

Acidic deposition causes lower pH levels (acidification) in lakes, ponds and streams, and also impacts air quality and soil. When water bodies become very acidic, they are often unable to sustain plant and/or aquatic life, and this damage may also affect the interdependent ecosystem in the area.

Many water bodies in the Northeast are especially sensitive to the effects of acid rain since their surrounding soils do not have strong buffering capacity, or the ability to neutralize acid rain. In addition acid rain also damages high elevation soils and forests like red spruce trees above 2,000 feet, and is a contributing factor to visibility degradation.

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