Advocates call for action on clean air

Posted Aug. 05, 2010, at 11:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — In a thick fog and light drizzle, representatives from a handful of environmental and health advocacy organizations held a press conference Tuesday at the summit of Cadillac Mountain to draw attention to the issue of air quality.

They urged members of Maine’s congressional delegation, particularly Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to support federal climate change legislation.

“We are the tailpipe for the United States,” said Stephanie Clement, conservation director for Friends of Acadia. Clement was referring to wind patterns that bring pollution generated in the Midwest to the Northeast, where it can affect air quality in Acadia and the entire region.

The pollution not only creates smog and high ozone levels, but it also can damage vegetation and lead to increased mercury levels in fish, Clement said. Climate change, she added, also has created stronger storm systems that have caused damage in the park such as Hurricanes Hanna in 2008 and Bill in 2009. Hanna caused damage to dirt roads in the western side of the park while Bill swept several people off the rocks near Thunder Hole and resulted in the drowning death of one of them, a 7-year-old girl from New York City.

“All these have their root cause in the pollution that blows its way into the region,” Clement said. “The time for action to improve air quality in Acadia is now.”

Health advocates at the event said that pollution in the air leads to health problems.

Dr. Paul Liebow, a physician at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and a member of Maine Medical Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility, said that higher pollution levels have contributed to increased cases of asthma in children in the region and other respiratory ailments.

“It’s a real problem,” Liebow said. “More decisive action is required by the Senate as soon as possible.”

Emily Figdor of Environment Maine said she is concerned about air quality in the state in part because she has a daughter who is asthmatic. She blamed the fossil fuel industry for blocking meaningful action on climate change legislation.

“At the heart of the problem is America’s dependence on coal and oil,” Figdor said. “Big Oil and Coal have a stranglehold on the U.S. Senate. We’re here to make clear today that we are not giving up.”

Peter Didishiem, advocacy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Academy of Sciences each have said that global warming is happening.

The Obamas visited Acadia last month because of its natural beauty, he said. If Congress won’t act, he added, the Environmental Protection Agency needs to mandate carbon pollution reductions.

“One way or another, we must move toward a cleaner energy future,” Didisheim said.

Doug Clopp of Repower Maine, which organized the press conference, said Collins and Snowe should take the lead in helping to preserve air quality in Acadia and the rest of Maine.

“There’s still time in this Senate for meaningful action,” he said.

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