Guest Blogger: The Adirondacks and Acid Rain: Still a Problem

We sometimes forget that the mountains to our North are in constant danger from an invading enemy. This enemy has slowly but surely destroyed complex ecosystems in the Adirondack lakes, and has severely decreased the vegetation on mountain tops. And while public attention in the Northeast was focused on this issue in the 1970s and 1980s, it is sad to think that the attention has slowly subsided. The enemy which strikes silently, but indeed does kill is acid rain. Acid rain is a mixture of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide which mixes with the natural water molecules in the air. When normal rain falls, there is usually enough of a natural barrier where any acidity in the rain can be neutralized. However, in the most recent decades in the Adirondacks, “Precipitation [has been] more than 200 times more acidic than natural rain” (Student Case Studies 1). Naturally forming bases that counter the acidity simply can’t keep up with the amount of acid rain that is falling.

Acid rain does not just form naturally in high doses on a common basis, so it must come from somewhere. The nitrogen and sulfur dioxide is air pollution spewed out by factories and other industrial sites in the mid-west. This air pollution is carried on the natural wind belts, where it is dumped in the form of precipitation over the Adirondacks. This is the part of the acid rain debate that becomes complex. While it is easy to assume that less air pollution will mean less acid rain, that means industrial centers in places such as Illinois and Ohio will take an economic hit because regulations on production will cause those companies to lose money. And in this modern age of capitalism, we know how important money and profit is to everyone, so wouldn’t it be a shame if some of those companies lost some profit? It is an even bigger shame to
lose a natural wonder like the Adirondack Mountains, which at one point in the history of the earth, were taller than the Himalayan Mountains are now.

A solution to this problem is not easy to find. If all pollutants are cut substantially, people in the mid-west will be angry that their businesses and livelihoods are being threatened. This in turn gets the political side of the debate involved. Representatives from that part of America begin to attack representatives from the Northeast who are also hearing complaints from their constituents who want tighter rules to protect natural sites. It is interesting to learn that, “Utility companies that burn coal and produce the most acid rain also produce the cheapest electricity in the country” (Adirondack Council 23). So cheap and profitable electricity is fighting against lakes, trees, and dozens of different types of wildlife. Seems like a one sided fight, especially since the electricity is being backed by big businesses.
In 1992 in light of the Clean Air Act of 1990, the EPA created an acid rain control program, “Designed to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by 50 percent nationwide” (Adirondack Council 23). Experts on the subject still argue that this is still not low enough, and this does not solve the problems with nitrogen based air pollution, which still causes acid rain. According to a report created by the Adirondack Council, there are only a few solutions which are plausible in the political world of the present. One is to give the EPA more authority in making cuts as it sees fit. The EPA argues that it does not have the authority to make any more cuts by itself. A drastic measure which would surely help the acid rain problem, but would most likely anger people in the mid-west would be to, “Reduce the cap another 50 percent. This would bring the total reduction in pollution down to 75 percent below 1990s levels” (Adirondack Council 23). Of course all attempted solutions will now come with a political debate, as well as scrutiny from all angles of observation.
I have come to believe that many people think the problem of acid rain has dissipated since the 1980s when it was a major public concern. This essay has proven that there are many problems still unsolved in the issue of acid rain. Poisonous rain still falls, so not enough has been done yet. As a profound believer in the protection of our national parks, and with the Adirondack Park being one of the biggest, acid rain destruction must be stopped.
Matthew Barron is a History and Political Science Double Major at Rider University, and is an avid hiker, camper, and enthusiast of the Adirondack Park.
Bibliography Adirondack Council, 1998. Acid Rain: A Continuing National Tragedy.
Student Case Studies, Environmental Geology, 1997. Acid Rain in the Adirondacks. Colgate University.