Governments take action on acid rain but the problem is far from resolved

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Snow -- shoveling it, driving in it, skiing on it -- is of more concern now to New Englanders than acid rain. But snow also spreads acidic compounds originating from industrial smokestacks and motor-vehicle exhausts.

Recently, environmentalists and researchers in New England have had ample cause for elation about progress attained:

Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis signed a law Dec. 17 prohibiting any increase in sulfur-dioxide emissions from sources in the Bay State.

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On the same day, Ontario Province, Canada, announced a program to reduce acid-causing industrial emissions 67 percent by 1994.

Earlier in the year, New Hampshire passed legislation calling for a 25 percent cut in sulfur-dioxide emissions by 1990, with a goal of a 50 percent reduction by 1995.

New York, as well as Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (three states whose pollutants fall as acid rain in Canada and New England), are also imposing tougher emission standards.

Not all the news is rosy however.

Preliminary data from research conducted in 1984, and released in early December by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indicates that after declining for the past several years, emissions of pollutants that result in acid rain began to rise in 1984. While disclosing the apparent rise at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Dec. 11, Dwain L. Winters of the EPA noted that no conclusions about the increase in emissions will be drawn until data for the full year are analyzed.

Mr. Winters added that it would take several more years to assess the environmental significance of fluctuations in air-pollution trends. That long-term approach to the problem of acid rain by federal agencies is decried by leaders in the American Northeast, such as Governor Dukakis, and by his Canadian contemporaries.

An official of Canada's Forestry Service reported last month that a survey of 39 US and Canadian researchers found wide agreement that acid rain is damaging forests in central and eastern Canada. Doug Ketcheson, director of economics for the Forestry Service, indicated that his agency hopes by spring to have a ``ballpark'' estimate of the economic cost of acid-rain damage to the important Canadian forest-products industry.

Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R) of Vermont, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said at the Dec. 11 hearing that a US Forest Service report indicates that, in the last 20 years, the mortality rate of Southeastern softwood trees had doubled and the rate of growth of Southern yellow pine trees had declined by 40-to-50 percent. A Forest Service official at the hearing said there was no conclusive evidence linking the trends to acid rain.

In August, Senator Stafford criticized an EPA report on a survey of lakes in the Northeast, Southeast, and upper Midwest. The report found ``the number of acidic lakes is small'' and only a few ``have been affected to the point where biological effects would be expected.'' Stafford faulted both the wording of the report and the research methods used.

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