More Pollution Cuts Needed To Protect Northeast From Acid Rain

A peer-reviewed study published in the March 26th BioScience underscores the need

for further air pollution reductions to protect ecosystems from acid rain. The

study chronicles the effects of acid rain on sensitive ecosystems in the

Northeast, estimates the impacts of pollution reductions currently required

under the Clean Air Act, and projects the ecosystem benefits from further

cuts.

“The conclusions of the study are compelling,” said Michael Oppenheimer,

chief scientist of Environmental Defense. “It shows that pollution cuts to date

are a good beginning, rather than the solution, to the Northeast’s acid rain

problem. The study documents the need for further reductions in air pollution

that harms ecosystems in the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and throughout the

Northeast.”

Acid rain occurs when emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of

nitrogen (NOx) in the atmosphere react with water and air pollutants to form

acidic compounds. In the U.S., power plants produce nearly 70% of annual

SO2 emissions and 25% of annual NOx emissions. The transportation sector

— including passenger cars and trucks, large diesel trucks and buses, and

nonroad engines — is responsible for about 50% of the nation’s annual NOx

emissions.

The study reports that:

  • Across the Northeast, acid deposition alters soils, stresses forest

    vegetation, acidifies lakes and streams, and harms fish and other

    aquatic life.

  • Acid deposition has contributed to the decline of red spruce trees

    throughout the eastern U.S. and sugar maple trees in central and

    western Pennsylvania.

  • Conservatively, 41% of Adirondack region lakes and 15% of New

    England lakes exhibit chronic and/or episodic acidification; 83% of the

    impacted lakes are acidic due to acid deposition.

  • Current SO2 pollution reduction requirements for power plants are

    having a positive effect but will not adequately protect acid-sensitive

    ecosystems.

  • An additional 80% reduction in SO2 pollution from power plants

    would facilitate the recovery of sensitive northeastern ecosystems in

    20-25 years.

The full study can be found at:

www.aibs.org/biosciencelibrary/vol51/mar01special.ldml and a

summary can be found at:

www.hbrook.sr.unh.edu/hbfound/hbfound.htm.

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