British government and Parliament at odds over acid rain

Both houses of the British Parliament have declared war on acid rain. But the government, with support from powerful industrial interests, is reluctant to take the urgent measures proposed in two parliamentary reports.

The House of Lords European Communities Committee declared that Britain should aim at reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide by at least 30 percent - a target now accepted by a growing number of countries.

The Environment Committee of the House of Commons proposed even more sweeping reforms. It demanded a 60 percent cut in emissions within 10 years. Britain's Central Electricity Generating Board, which operates most of the nation's power stations, immediately attacked the Commons proposals as too sweeping and expensive. It said they were based on scientific misconceptions.

Of the two reports, the House of Commons study was by far the more comprehensive. It pinpointed several ''proofs'' that acid rain is a menace in Britain and beyond:

* Damage to fisheries in Scotland's lochs and rivers.

* Forest damage in Scotland and Wales.

* A falling off of living organisms in Norway's lakes.

* Damage to venerable buildings in Britain.

The Commons report charged that more than 50 percent of Britain's sulfur dioxide pollution originated in electric power stations operated by the CEGB. It urged greater attention to the fitting of filters to power stations.

CEGB reaction to the report was sharply adverse. It claimed that meeting a 60 percent target for cutting sulfur emissions would cost (STR)2 billion ($2.6 billion) and that this would raise electricity costs by 10 percent.

The CEGB also claimed that scientific evidence for the parliamentary claims was dubious.

But the Lords and Commons committees relied heavily on research of the Natural Environmental Research Council. They noted that Britain is the largest producer of unfiltered sulfur dioxide in Western Europe.

Until now the CEGB has been able to rely on government reluctance to back measures to reduce the emission of chemicals that are believed to cause acid rain.

Government ministers have sided with those who doubt the validity of the available evidence. Opposition politicians claim the government is frightened to pass on to the consumer the cost of cleaning up the power-generating activities of the CEGB.

It seems certain, however, that the government will have to respond positively to the parliamentary reports - possibly accepting the more modest targets set by the House of Lords and sidestepping the more radical case for pollution control made by the lower house.

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