A global prod on acid rain
No one disputes today that rain laced with acid is inflicting serious damage on lakes, streams, forests, crops, buildings, and wildlife over much of the Northern Hemisphere.
But lack of agreement on solutions has so far stymied attempts to take specific remedial steps in the United States.
The scope and seriousness of the acid-rain issue were made clear earlier this week in Munich when representatives of 31 Western and Soviet-bloc nations urged immediate measures to reduce acid rain. Most of the delegates, including those from the Soviet Union and East Germany, said their governments were ready to commit themselves to a 30 percent reduction by 1993 of the level of sulfur dioxide emissions as of 1980. The US and Britain held back, citing need for further study.
American officials also feel that, since pollution levels in this country were already considerably reduced by 1980, the 30 percent commitment would be much more expensive and difficult to achieve in the US.
Neither the White House nor the Environmental Protection Agency is ready to press for specific emissions controls aimed at diminishing acid rain. Reagan administration reluctance to impose new controls on industrial plant emissions is due in part to the administration's ''deregulation'' drive and concern over the effect expensive pollution-control measures might have on a rebounding industrial sector.
A US Supreme Court decision Monday upholding the EPA's so-called ''bubble'' concept of air-pollution control appears to legitimize a policy that permits industrial and utility plants responsible for a great deal of the acid in the atmosphere to continue to emit a level of pollution well above standards set in the Clean Air Act. Environmentalists argue that, in fact, the agency's method of applying the ''bubble'' policy will actually increase the level of pollutants released, including acid-forming sulfur dioxide.
The same environmentalists admit that imposing a ''bubble'' on a particular region where stacks are emitting concentrations of sulfur dioxide could be an efficient means for controlling acid rain.
Experience indicates that waiting for indisputable findings by physical scientists is likely to be fruitless. Two recent reports illustrate the point:
On June 11 a group of US government scientists with 12 federal agencies declared that more study is needed to determine the role of industrial plant emissions and questioned whether controls on Midwestern smokestack emissions would result in significant reduction in acid deposits in the Northeast.
On June 20 the Office of Technology Assessment, after conducting a four-year study, told Congress in effect that the time has come to quit studying the problem and mount a serious effort to reach a political decision on what to do about it.
And earlier this year a National Academy of Sciences report stated that reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions from smokestacks would result in a proportionate reduction in acid rain.
When a House subcommittee killed, May 2, a bill calling for sharp reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions, it was generally acknowledged that that was the end of acid-rain legislation for 1984.
Many members of Congress are probably awaiting clear indications that their constituents want action on acid rain - the kind of grass-roots support that resulted earlier in the passage of landmark environmental laws. Congress and the White House must give top priority to renewal of the Clean Air Act, which officially ''expired'' on Sept. 30, 1981. A key part of the drive to renew and strengthen that landmark law should be enactment of an acid-rain control program.