Canada bullhorns US on acid rain to help save its lakes and forests
Jack Jennings, an outdoorsman, grew up catching crayfish in the streams around this popular lakeside resort area. He hasn't seen a crayfish in years.Skip to next paragraph
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David Hatch, a contractor, replaced an 18-year-old canvas deck on a local boathouse. Now, three years later, the new deck is deteriorating rapidly - pocked with holes that look like cigarette burns.
The contractor's wife, Sheilah, noticed that the metal window screening on their home was rotting away. She was not alone: Last spring, she says, there was such a demand for screening at the local hardware store that the owner could hardly keep it in stock.
To these citizens of the Muskoka Lakes region, these three problems have one explanation: acid rain.
In the past decade the question of acid rain - where it comes from, and what damage it does - has grown from a pet peeve of fringe environmentalists to a major topic of scientific research.
And over the past several years it has taken yet another turn - into an issue of international proportions. It has become, in the words of Canada's minister of the environment, John Roberts, ''the single most important issue or irritant'' in Canadian-American relations.
Most significantly, however, it has led Canadian diplomats in the last six months into the uncharted waters of so-called ''public diplomacy.'' In their attempts to negotiate an agreement on acid rain with the United States, they are bypassing the typical diplomatic channels. Instead, they are mounting a lobbying effort on Congress and the American public.
In a Toronto hotel last month, the youthful-looking environmental minister articulated the Canadian view to a group of American journalists. He observed:
* That acid rain, thought by a number of scientists to result when air pollutants mix with moisture in the upper atmosphere, is ''killing'' millions of lakes in eastern Canada and the northeast corner of the US, and may be damaging forest growth.
* That a growing body of evidence suggests that the worst pollutants - sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides - are generated by coal-burning utilities and factories.
* That if acid rain does indeed come from power plants, then the worst offenders are most likely in America's industrialized Ohio Valley, which allegedly ''exports'' its pollutants northeastward for hundreds of miles along prevailing winds.
The message from the Canadians is blunt: The US should impose tough controls on its polluters, aimed at reducing the ''atmospheric loading'' of harmful compounds by 50 percent in 10 years.
''We are extraordinarily concerned,'' says Mr. Roberts, noting that the damage falls most heavily on Canada's lucrative tourist and sport-fishing businesses. The added acidity also, he says, may impede tree growth - a serious concern to the nation's forest industry, which has sales running to $24 billion per year and employs one out of every 10 Canadians. He notes that Canada has reduced its stack emissions by 25 percent in the past decade and is scheduled to cut another 25 percent.
But the message seems to be falling on deaf ears. Relations between US Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt and his Canadian counterpart are said by Canadians to be extremely poor. Canadians feel that further meetings with Anne M. Gorsuch, the director of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), would be fruitless.
As a result, the Canadians have undertaken an intensive and sophisticated lobbying effort:
* They issue scientific studies, slickly printed booklets, and singing radio ads for use by US news media.
* They have played host to several carefully designed visits by US journalists and congressmen - especially those from the Northeast, which also suffers from acidified lakes.
* Their ambassador in Washington, Allan E. Gotlieb, hops across the US to tell the Canadian side, while federal and provincial ministers accept numerous invitations to speak to conferences south of the border.
* The Washington office of the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain - officially funded by $150,000 in contributions from 39 Canadian citizens' groups but in fact supported by materials, personnel, and another $200,000 from Canadian government sources for its Toronto office - works closely with the embassy to push the issue.
"It's a landmark in the degree and intensity of involvement in the internal affairs of the United States by a foreign country,'' says James M. Friedman, a Cleveland attorney who represents utilities. A US State Department official, taking a dim view of the lobbying efforts, notes, ''We've told the Canadians that we didn't think they were helpful and could be harmful'' to bilateral negotiations.