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Whiteface smog

As a gondola takes skiers up Whiteface Mountain in April, an atmospheric monitoring center can be seen atop the summit, which is the fifth highest in New York state. Ozone levels have recently been reported as unusually high for this time of year in the area. The EPA must take immediate action regarding these concerns. 

Detecting high ozone levels on Whiteface Mountain last month set off alarms for environmental groups in the Adirondacks.A monitor found an abnormal amount of ground-level ozone at Whiteface Lodge. John Sheehan, director of communications for the Adirondack Council, said this is unusual for the region and raises concerns over pollution-control measures.

“It’s shocking,” he was quoted as saying in a story by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, published Wednesday in the Watertown Daily Times. “We don’t expect to have to deal with this in the Adirondacks. It’s a testament to the fact that the 40 dirtiest power plants in the country continue polluting unabated.”

“We saw Whiteface go out of compliance for over eight hours,” he said. “That represents significant smog. It’s unusual for it to happen in the Adirondacks at all, and even more unusual for it to happen this early in the year.”

The Adirondack Council and other organizations have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. They claim that Mr. Pruitt has refused to order the nation’s 36 dirtiest coal-fired power plants to turn on their already-installed pollution controls, according to the story.

“While New York state has closed all but two of its coal-burning plants, pollution from similar plants in the Midwest still travels here,” the story reported. “The lawsuit is joined by the state of Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund, and echoes a similar suit filed by the attorneys general of New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia and the city of Chicago.”

Coal-generated pollution from other states risks the health of New Yorkers. And more Americans could be adversely affected by the ongoing efforts of the Trump administration to salvage this dying industry.

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President Donald Trump recently ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent unprofitable coal and nuclear plants from closing. This could include mandating grid operators to buy energy from these facilities.

Coal is one of the filthiest forms of energy and has steadily lost its market. But Mr. Trump feels the need to fulfill his absurd campaign promise to revive coal mining.

The fact that it imperils people’s well-being and can’t sustain itself in the free market should dictate the administration’s actions on coal. And if environmental groups need to take the EPA to court to compel plants to use pollution controls they have already installed, this is a dysfunctional government.

“Last fall, the Trump administration announced its intent to repeal the federal Clean Power Plan, which would have cut acid rain by 10 to 12 percent by forcing Midwest coal plants to meet emissions requirements,” according to the story. “However, federal rules require that the CPP cannot be repealed without something to replace it, so the plan remains in limbo. The lawsuits against Pruitt and the EPA allege that the agency is ignoring its legal obligation to apply clean air standards that protect the public.

People in the north country should not be put in jeopardy by pollution caused by coal-fired power plants in the Midwest. And New York grid operators should not be forced to buy energy from such facilities that turn a profit.

The EPA is not living up to its name, and the president is enabling this agency to skirt its duties. It’s time for this administration to accept the dismal reality of coal and change course.

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This editorial was first run in the Watertown Daily Times on June 12.

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