Attack on acid rain. Two-track effort under way: step up research, cut down on pollution

Eastern states New York. The state Acid Deposition Control Act, signed by Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) in August, established a program to identify areas that are highly sensitive to acid deposition. The law requires that the state control its own sources of sulfur and nitrogen emissions to ensure that sensitive areas receive no more than 18 pounds of wet sulfate a year from those in-state sources.

Pennsylvania. Under a plan initiated in 1979, the state has limited sulfur-dioxide (SO2) emissions from coal burning to 3.7 pounds per million British thermal units (Btus) of heat produced. This has resulted in an annual reduction of 150,000 tons of SO2 emissions.

New Jersey. A state science advisory committee has been conducting a study of acid-rain damage to identify areas in which additional research is needed. The committee's report is expected to be released soon. Working within the Coalition of Northeast Governors, New Jersey has developed a plan to provide no-interest loans to utility plants to install retrofitted pollution controls. Midwest

Illinois. The state has invested $6 million in research on techniques for removing sulfur from emissions, and $56 million to support ``clean-coal utilization programs.'' State agencies, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Illinois have ongoing research programs on how to deal with acid rain.

Ohio. SO2 emissions have been cut by 740,000 tons in the last 10 years, and the state has launched a major effort to eliminate the backlog of violations in its air-pollution control program. Ohio is involved in several initiatives to develop coal-burning methods for power production and other uses.

Michigan. Between 1974 and '80, the state reduced emissions of SO2 by 794,560 tons and nitrogen oxide by 342,000 tons. As of this year it is in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act.

Minnesota. A new state Acid Deposition Control Act will be fully implemented by January. Following the completion of a study now under way to identify sensitive areas, statewide standards for limited acid deposition will be set. Since 1974, the state has reduced SO2 emissions by 30 percent.

Wisconsin. A new state law limits utilities' total emission of SO2; requires major utilities to provide plans for limiting emissions; and establishes an acid deposition review committee to monitor compliance. During the last four years more than $2 million has been invested in research on the effects of acid rain. New England

The region has a cooperative air-pollution control pact called NESCAUM (Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management). The governors of the six states adopted a resolution in 1984 calling for an absolute cap on emissions for the region and for each state. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont already meet its requirements. Maine needs to reduce SO2 emissions by 35.1 percent, Massachusetts by 18.9 percent, and New Hampshire by 52.7 percent. They will achieve this in two stages, the first ending in 1989, and the second in 1995. The three states have compliance legislation pending:

Maine. A bill is pending in the Legislature that would impose a cap on sulfur emissions in the state and set a schedule for adopting new regulations to limit sulfur content in fuels.

Massachusetts. Pending legislation would require a statewide emission rate of 1.2 pounds of sulfur per million Btus by 1995 unless national legislation providing similar limits is enacted.

New Hampshire. A bill that has passed its first committee hurdle calls for a 25 percent SO2 reduction in the state by 1990. It also provides for a report to the legislature and governor on how to reach full compliance with the regional plan by 1995. Canada

In March the Canadian government announced a plan to reduce emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides in the Eastern provinces of the country by 50 percent in the next nine years. The plan includes spending $109 million by 1994 to clean up smelters in Ontario. Tougher automobile emission standards will be adopted in 1987, it was also announced in Ottawa.

On the provincial level, Ontario, which is said to produce up to half of the pollutants in eastern Canada, plans to reduce emissions by 53 percent by 1994. Quebec is committed to lowering emissions by 45 percent by 1990. Who's to blame?

An indication of how volatile the state of research and knowledge on air pollution continues to be is an article which appeared in the April issue of Science magazine. In it, chemists Kenneth A. Rahn and Douglas H. Lowenthal of the Center for Atmospheric Chemistry Studies at the University of Rhode Island indicate that the Northeast states are responsible for much more of the sulfur-derived pollution in their area than has generally been supposed.

``Even if the Midwest were to eliminate all emissions of sulfur dioxide,'' said Mr. Rahn, ``we would still see only a 50 percent reduction in the Northeast pollution.'' This is so, he said, because ``although the Northeast emits 10 times less pollution, it's not removed from the atmosphere before it has a chance to affect us.''

Contrast that with the typical assumption that 70 to 75 percent of sulfur-based pollution in New England comes from outside the region.

At a recent acid-rain conference in Quebec City, Paul Guthrie of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Department concluded: ``What you find when you cut through all of the rhetoric is not that we disagree over there being a problem, but rather we disagree on how big it is . . . . As a result, we find ourselves working on the margins of the issue, . . . but not committing ourselves to the central challenge -- the needed national and international coordinated effort to eliminate the air pollutants issuing from our industrial societies.''

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