Attack on acid rain. US states and Canada take the initiative
``Acid rain is the `Silent Spring' of the 1980s,'' declares Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. This comparison to the dangers of uncontrolled pesticide use that the late Rachel Carson warned about in her famous 1962 book is just one tactic being used by the Democratic governor and others to rally public support for state, regional, and federal action to stop acid rain at its sources -- chiefly, industrial and power-plant smokestacks and automobile tailpipes.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
And they are getting action, in spite of the Reagan administration's refusal to propose a national program before obtaining more information on the sources, extent, and effects of the problem.
``Acid rain'' is a blanket term for natural processes through which pollutants in the atmosphere are converted into substances, among them nitric and sulfuric acids, which are then spread over wide areas by prevailing winds and borne to earth far from their sources. In recent months there have been a number of straws in the prevailing winds at the federal, regional, and even international levels:
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is spending $65 million in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 on research projects to identify ``sensitive'' areas and study the effects of acids, nitrates and sulfates, ozone, and heavy metals on forests, soil, and bodies of water. The proposed federal budget for fiscal 1986 contains $85 million for continuing research.
Leaders of Northeastern states and Canada's Eastern provinces are pushing ahead with programs to control their own sources of acid deposition -- assuming that their admonitions to states that ``export'' pollution are more likely to be heeded if they clean up their sources at home.
A number of acid-rain bills have been introduced in Congress this year. Typical of them is HR 1030, filed in the House of Representatives by Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R) of Massachusetts. Its purpose is ``to reduce emission of sulfur dioxide by 12 million tons within 10 years and to reduce emission of oxides of nitrogen by 4 million tons within 12 years.''
In Quebec City, at a recent international conference on acid rain, representatives from 15 states and seven Canadian provinces showed an impressive commitment to working out mutual problems. James Hoyte, Massachusetts secretary of environmental affairs, said at the end of the meeting that a ``multinational program'' to reduce acid rain will be presented at a June meeting of eastern Canadian premiers and New England governors in St. Andrews, N.B. ``We're not going to wait for action by Washington,'' Mr. Hoyte said.
The US and Canadian acid-rain ``envoys'' appointed in March by President Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney were invited to appear at the Quebec City conference. But the two men -- former US Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and former Ontario Premier William G. Davis -- declined, indicating that they felt they should first meet in private. Such a meeting apparently has yet to occur.
Meanwhile, researchers continue to find new evidence of damage to waterways and forests. Although the most serious effects have been documented in the upper Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States and the Eastern provinces of Canada, few areas in North America are untouched. A recent report by the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., cited three areas of the Mountain West as ``particularly vulnerable'' to acid rain and associated pollutants: the Cascades, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada. Metal smelters in Arizona and across the border in northern Mexico are cited as sources of pollution that affects lakes and forests in the Rockies. California's millions of automobiles produce much of the pollution that is causing lakes in the Sierras to become more acidic. Results of a survey of more than 4,500 Massachusetts lakes, ponds, and streams were released in mid-April. They showed that 5.2 percent of the waterways have no alkalinity and are considered ``dead,'' according to Paul J. Godfrey, coordinator of the state's Acid Rain Monitoring Project.