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Opinions mixed on court's rejection of clean air regulations

The implications of a recent federal court decision striking down clean air laws has prompted a variety of responses from environmental groups, but its not a chorus of dismay as one might expect. The court ruling is currently being analyzed by state agencies and environmental non-profit groups, and its consequences to the purity of air and the future of legislation to protect environmental and human health. New York State environmental officials and environmental activists are expressing concern, while one Adirondack non-profit organization sees the ruling as an opportunity for necessary improvement. On July 11, a federal court struck down the signature Bush Administration environmental program, entitled The Clean Air Interstate Rule a cap-and-trade regulatory system established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005. Duke Energy and other power companies with substantial emissions argued the E.P.A had overstepped its jurisdictional boundaries and usurped congressional authority with the adoption of CAIR regulatory practices. The three-justice panel agreed. We are extremely disappointed with the courts decision we feel the court had other options, said John Sheehan, a spokesman for The Adirondack Council, a regional environmental non-profit organization. We are now without overriding federal regulation every month that passes means another power company turns off its pollution scrubbers. Sheehan explained that CAIR regulations required a 60 percent reduction in Nitrogen oxide and a 70 percent reduction of sulfur dioxide by 2015 relative to an arbitrary 2003 baseline within the 28 most eastern states. NOX and SO2, which originate from coal-burning power plants in the Midwestern U.S., travel great distances in the atmosphere before falling to Earth as precipitation, often downwind. The geology of the Adirondack Park and its position in relation to prevailing weather patterns have made the Adirondacks particularly vulnerable to pollution, and acid rain. This phenomenon has been blamed for a decline in water and air quality within the Park over the last several decades, Sheehan said. We are taking the D.C. courts ruling very seriously, Lorie OConnell, a spokeswoman for the New York State DEC Bureau of Air Quality said in a recent phone interview. We are still trying to come to terms with all of the implications, she said. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide can have significant ramifications on public health and the water supply we are very concerned. However, not all environmental organizations are adopting such a negative outlook. Neil Woodworth, CEO and legal council for the Adirondack Mountain Club said that this is an opportunity for the lawmakers to fix a festering problem. The CAIR regulations were not comprehensive solutions to combat the NOX and SO2 onslaught the park is facing, he said. Furthermore, they were not consistent with the intent of congress when initially drafting the legislation, he said. CAIR let these companies run as they always did, Woodworth said. Cap and Trade creates pollution hot spots, which is what the Adirondack Park is, a hot spot. Woodworth said that cap and trade simply allowed companies to buy more pollution credits from other companies who had not released their total allowed tonnage of the ecologically damaging compounds. Thus, the 75 largest coal power plants, mostly in Ohio and the Tennessee Valley, have not reduced their emission outputs. It is these plants that contribute most of the NOX and SO2 to the park, he said. Woodworth explained that there were also large maintenance loopholes in the regulations that only furthered their ineffectiveness. With the striking down of CAIR the Mountain Club sees an opportunity to adequately address the issue, now that acid rain is at the forefront of public consciousness. The Adirondack Mountain Club is calling for a holistic piece of federal legislation that would effectively reduce emissions of not only NOX and SO2, but also mercury and CO2, he said. The current legislation requires comprehensive revision, Woodworth said. This is an opportunity to address all of the devastating pollutants which are harming the Park and the people who live within it.

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