Shortly after taking the oath of office last week, President Joe Biden signaled his intent to address lingering environmental problems.
In June 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would withdraw a rule put into place by former President Barack Obama to reduce carbon emissions produced by coal plants. The new EPA ruling offered states greater leeway in deciding what restrictions to place on these facilities.
Such policies don’t bode well for the environment. States hosting coal plants weren’t likely to toughen their regulations once money from the coal industry began flowing into the campaign coffers of elected officials.
Pollution doesn’t respect state boundaries. Emissions from one state will drift into another region, and the North Country region of upstate New York experienced a nightmare as a result in the form of acid rain.
Years ago, pollution from Midwest coal plants caused acid rain in parts of Northern New York. This severely harmed lakes throughout the Adirondack Park, greatly diminishing their stocks of fish.
Amendments passed to the Clean Air Act in 1990 limited coal plant emissions. The fish returned to the lakes once acid rain was reduced. Tests showed that the quality of the soil in the park also improved.
Biden signed executive orders Wednesday on “… Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.” They require all executive departments and agencies to conduct an immediate review of actions, policies, regulations and guideline documents pertaining to environmental issues.
One objective is to create national standards for hazardous air pollutants. The president’s actions received the approval of the Adirondack Council.
“We are extremely pleased to see these important policy reversals happening on day one of the Biden administration,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway said in a story published Jan. 15 by WTEN-TV/News10 in Albany. “It gives us great hope that we can make real progress as a nation on issues such as climate change, smog and acid rain, all of which harm the Adirondack Park and its communities. Reversing executive orders is an important step, since it leads to immediate action. In some cases, however, orders will have to be followed up with legislation to ensure the next president doesn’t undo them. We urge the president to act quickly while he has a cooperative majority in both houses of Congress.”
Janeway is correct that this is an excellent start for the Biden administration. It’s important to work on problems that could result from previous policies.
But Janeway also has a valid point in the need to follow up on these executive orders with congressional action to turn these agency policies into law. It would be easy for a future president to reverse rules enforced by federal departments. Creating laws based on these regulations, however, would ensure the durability of Biden environmental goals.
We commend Biden for moving on this so quickly. U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-21, U.S. Sen. Antonio Delgado, D-19, and U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., need to take the lead on Capitol Hill to turn this policy objective into nationwide laws. It’s in the best interests of their constituents to protect the forests and waterways we’re privileged to have in New York.