The Politics Of Acid Rain

Scientific research on acid rain was sporadic and largely focused on local problems until the late 1960s, when Scandinavian scientists began more systematic studies. Acid precipitation in North America was not identified until 1972, when scientists found that precipitation was acidic in eastern North America, especially in northeastern and eastern Canada. In 1975 the First International Symposium on Acid Precipitation and the Forest

Ecosystem convened in Columbus, Ohio, to define the acid rain problem. Scientists used the meeting to propose a precipitation-monitoring network in the United States that would cooperate with the European and Scandinavian networks and to set up protocols for collecting and testing precipitation.

In 1977 the Council on Environmental Quality was asked to develop a national acid rain research program. Several scientists drafted a report that eventually became the basis for the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP). This initiative eventually translated into legislative action with the Energy Security Act (PL 96-264) in June 1980. Title VII of the Energy Security Act (the Acid Precipitation Act of 1980) produced a formal proposal that created NAPAP and authorized federally financed support.

The first international treaty aimed at limiting air pollution was the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-Range Trans-boundary Air Pollution, which went into effect in 1983. It was ratified by thirty-eight of the fifty-four UNECE members, which included not only European countries but also Canada and the United States. The treaty targeted sulfur emissions, requiring that countries reduce emissions 30% from 1980 levels—the so-called ''Thirty Percent Club.''

The early acid rain debate centered almost exclusively on the eastern United States and Canada. The controversy was often defined as a problem of property rights. The highly valued production of electricity in coal-fired utilities in the Ohio River Valley caused acid rain to fall on land in the Northeast and Canada. An important part of the acid rain controversy in the 1980s was the adversarial relationship between U.S. and Canadian government officials over emission controls of SO2 and NO2. More of these pollutants crossed the border into Canada than the reverse. Canadian officials very quickly came to a consensus over the need for more stringent controls, while this consensus was lacking in the United States.

Throughout the 1980s the major lawsuits involving acid rain all came from eastern states, and the states that passed their own acid rain legislation were those in the eastern part of the United States.

Legislative attempts to restrict emissions of pollutants were often defeated after strong lobbying by the coal industry and utility companies. Those industries advocated further research for pollution-control technology rather than placing restrictions on utility company emissions.

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