300 conservationists ready
By Corydon Ireland
April 21, 2004
On the eve of the 34th Earth Day, Rochester-area conservationists
last night used an environmental forum to highlight local
issues, including wetlands preservation, light-rail transit
Add to that water quality, organic farming, hiking trails,
energy conservation, recycling and neighborhood notification
before using lawn pesticides, “something we’re just not
going to give up on,” said Frank Regan of Rochester.
He’s conservation chairman for the Sierra Club, Rochester
Regional Group, sponsor of the sixth annual environmental
At last 300 people attended, including about 30 exhibitors,
whose displays were arrayed around a hall in the First
Unitarian Church on Winton Road South.
”It’s a significant gathering of grassroots groups,”
said David Higby, who was on hand to talk about Great
Lakes and solid waste issues for Environmental Advocates
of New York, an Albany-based advocacy group. “They’re
the people making a difference today.”
The heart of the evening was an overview of air quality
issues by Peter Lehner, assistant state attorney general
in charge of the environmental protection bureau.
New York is in the lead among states fighting to uphold
federal clean air and clean water standards — in the absence
of a “strong federal presence” under the Bush administration,
The state has filed suit and taken other steps in the
last three years to counter weakened federal rules related
to power plant emissions, acid rain and mercury pollution,
”We know how to clean up the air — it’s technologically
and economically feasible,” he said. “Really what we’re
lacking now is the political will in Washington.”
Bad air costs $100 billion a year nationally in related
health care, including $400 million a year in New York,
Lehner said, adding that 80 percent of New York’s bad
air is from outdated Midwest power plants that burn coal.
Added to the costs are acid rain that kills Northeastern
lakes and haze that drifts hundreds of miles to settle
over unlikely scenic places.
Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency
reported that 30 counties in New York failed new air standards
for ozone, a pollutant linked to respiratory disease.
Starting in 1999, Lehner and his legal team helped the
EPA defend studies on the health effects of fine particulate
pollution and lean on Midwest states to reduce pollution.
But the EPA under the Bush administration, he said, has
sometimes turned into an adversary by attempts to weaken
controls on power plant emissions, acid rain and mercury
The EPA’s proposed mercury rule would cut power plant
pollution of the toxic heavy metal by 70 percent over
two decades. The original rule would have decreased mercury
from power plants 90 percent by 2007.
Reversing the trend, and supporting a diversity of alternative
fuels, would take “federal leadership on a scale we haven’t
seen in a while,” said Lehner.
He offered one strategy for citizens: “Get out and vote