Bush's Acid Test

ENOUGH trees have wilted and lakes died to leave no doubt it's time to act on acid rain, as President Bush has promised. His commitment was reemphasized during a recent brief visit to Canada, which has long implored the United States to clean up its sources of acid rain. The Reagan administration's stock answer was that ``more study is needed'' - even as the winds bearing millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitric oxides from Midwest utility plants blew into eastern Canada.

The Canadians have spent billions since 1970 to lessen emissions from their own coal-burning industries. It's time for the US, whose natural and scenic resources are just as blighted by acid rain, to do the same.

Bush and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, William Reilly, promise strong legislation to curb acid rain and strong enforcement of emission standards.

Following through on this commitment, they should avoid putting too many of their scarce dollars into development of new technologies to combat acid rain - lumped together in the ``clean coal'' program. This program sprang from a Reagan administration agreement with the Canadians a couple of years ago and has been haphazardly funded since.

Its effect has been to put off using solutions already at hand. Advanced clean-coal technology may someday help reduce acid rain, but modern ``scrubbers'' installed in the stacks of utility plants and ``fluidized bed'' burning (where limestone is burned in a boiler along with coal to cut down on sulfur emissions) are ready now.

They're expensive, of course, but proven. West Germany just finished installing a new generation of more efficient, less costly scrubbers in its coal-burning plants.

If the same were done in the US, the likely rate increase to electricity consumers is in the range of 3 percent. The job would add about $6 billion to the $130 billion that utilities spend yearly to produce electricity. The add-on is relatively small and the benefits potentially big.

The costs of continued dawdling on acid rain mount all around us - from dwindling maple syrup production to higher water purification costs to pitted fa,cades on buildings. So set firm deadlines for pollution reduction, Mr. Bush, and let's get on with it.

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