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Lake George in autumn

The sun shines in patches, revealing bright autumn colors on the eastern side of Lake George in October. Former President George H.W. Bush's contributions to reducing acid rain in the Adirondacks were remembered Saturday as part of his legacy. 

The many efforts of government officials and scientists has made acid rain less of a threat in the Adirondacks than it had been, but some worry that the federal administration's proposed rollbacks on pollution regulations could ruin that progress.

Scientists, advocates and local officials gathered for a conference on Nov. 29 called "Acid Rain: Protecting Our Gains, Finishing the Job," held in Saratoga Springs. The conference was hosted by the Adirondack Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, and sponsored by the F.M. Kirby Foundation.

Acid rain was a devastating problem in the mid-1980s. Researchers found that 25 percent of the Adirondack Park's 11,000 lakes and ponds were so acidic that they could not support native aquatic life, according to a news release. Soils became mixed with heavy metals like aluminum and mercury, both detrimental to wildlife and people.

But since 1990, the Adirondack Council said, state and federal regulations have helped reduce sulfur dioxide pollution by 93 percent and nitrogen oxides by 85-percent. 

"One of the greatest concerns expressed at the conference was for backsliding on major air pollution rules that have produced dramatic environmental results at modest cost," said Charles Driscoll, professor of environmental engineering at Syracuse University, in a news release. "The water chemistry of the Adirondacks has made a remarkable recovery from acid rain because of the steep reductions in air pollution since 1990. It took a long time to achieve those reductions and already-sensitive soils were damaged from past acid deposition."

Driscoll added that some places of the Adirondack landscape suffered so much damage from past pollution, that if it experiences new pollution, it could take decades or centuries to recover.

The conference discussed certain proposals by President Donald Trump's administration that worry them, including rollbacks to weaken the Clean Power Plan, Cross-State Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule. They're also currently part of litigation against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its lack of action against states downwind, whose smog pollution are affecting about half of the population of New York state, among other states.

There was some encouragement for actions happening on a state-level, however. For example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to stop coal-fired power production by 2020 in addition to several state renewable energy initiatives.

The Adirondack Council also highlighted the work the late President George H.W. Bush did when he signed the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, creating the first acid rain program. 

"President George H.W. Bush understood that the United States was supposed to set an example for the rest of the world when it comes to protecting the environment," said William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, in a release. 

— Gwendolyn Craig

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1


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