US eyes international pact on acid rain

The United States has until July 1 to decide whether it will go along with a multinational treaty regulating nitrogen-oxide emissions. Nitrogen oxides are major contributors to acid rain and ozone pollution. The protocol was drawn up by the US, East and West European nations, Canada, and the Soviet Union under provisions of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

The treaty calls for a freeze in nitrogen-oxide emissions to be accomplished by the end of 1994. Emissions would be frozen at 1987 levels or at levels of ``any specified previous year,'' a clause included at the sole request of the US.

The clause allows the US to freeze releases at higher 1978 levels, provided emissions crossing the borders to Canada and Mexico do not increase. According to William Nitze, negotiator for the US State Department, the provision gives the US a little less than a 6 percent emissions ``cushion.''

According to projections by the Environmental Protection Agency, the US should have little problem meeting the requirements of the protocol except during the year 1995, which would require some ``sacrifice.''

By 1996 participants hope that technologies will be developed enough to trace acid rain back to its source - even to the exact plant causing the problem. This would allow international regulators to adjust emissions standards based on the sensitivity of ecosystems.

Richard Mott, a lawyer with the Washington-based Environmental Law Institute and a nongovernmental delegate to the talks, says that ``after receiving concessions from Europe ... it would be regrettable for the US to sit out the protocol.''

Mr. Nitze says the decision is still up in the air, although he ``personally hopes that in the end we are able to sign on.''

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