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Great Lakes Article:

Earth Day: 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 and sprawl.
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 forum.

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, he said.

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, said Lehner.

”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care, including $400 million a year in New York, Lehner said, adding that 80 percent of New York’s bad air is from outdated Midwest power plants that burn coal.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 pollution.

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 in November.”

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