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Power plant pollution rule aids Northeast

ALBANY -- A new air pollution rule approved by the Obama administration will help plants and wildlife in the Catskills, Adirondacks and other Northeastern mountains recover from decades of acid rain, an environmental group said Thursday.

"This is a historic day for the Adirondack Park, the Catskill park and the neighboring Appalachian Mountain Range, from Maine to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," said Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council. "The worst-hit places in the nation now have a real chance for a healthy future, free of contaminated soils, dying forests and fish poisoned by mercury."

The new rule, given final approval by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, requires 27 states to reduce both smog and acid-rain causing pollutants, specifically sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The regulation is one of several expected from the EPA to target pollution from the nation's 594 coal-fired power plants.

Houseal said Congress must reinforce the EPA's authority to impose the new rule. That would prevent it being blocked by lawsuits from power companies. That's what happened the last time the EPA tried to control power plant emissions with a different rule in 2008.

The new rule is expected to raise the air clarity in national and state parks and increase protection for sensitive ecosystems, including Adirondack and Appalachian lakes and streams, coastal waters and estuaries, and sugar maple, spruce and fir forests.

Acid rain caused by smokestack emissions has wiped out native aquatic life in hundreds of Adirondack lakes and ponds and killed high-elevation forests. High-elevation smog is currently dense enough to harm hikers on Adirondack mountain peaks on hot summer days, Houseal said.

The industry had mixed reactions.

"Based on our initial review of the final rule released today, we believe the compliance dates and emission reductions are reasonable and achievable, while maintaining the reliability of the electric system," said Michael Bradley, executive director of the Clean Energy Group, a coalition of electric power companies.

A pro-coal industry association, however, called the regulations and other pending EPA rules "among the most expensive ever imposed by the agency.