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Acid rain eats away at Northeast

Avalanche Lake in Adirondack Park, New York State. Watersheds are especially vulnerable to acid rain  
ENN



April 3, 2000
Web posted at: 12:08 a.m. EDT (0408 GMT)

Acid rain continues to plague the northeastern United States, and legislation enacted in 1990 has done little to remedy the situation, according to a recent report by the federal General Accounting Office.

"This report provides fresh and credible evidence that acid rain continues to damage ecosystems in Vermont and throughout the Northeast," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).

"If we do not act soon to aggressively crack down on acid rain, the region's economy and public health will be endangered beyond repair. We need to update our Clean Air laws with comprehensive national legislation that forces antiquated power plants to either modernize or shut down," said Leahy.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

Leahy and Rep. John Sweeney (R-New York) asked the GAO — Congress' nonpartisan watchdog agency — to analyze acid rain trends in the Northeast to determine whether the 1990 update to the landmark Clean Air Act successfully curbed sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

When released into the atmosphere, these chemical compounds constitute two of the primary causes of acid rain. The GAO report found that progress had been made in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions, but emissions from nitrogen oxides remain essentially unchanged.

"Acid rain is having a tremendously damaging effect on the Northeast, and this report details just how the dire situation really is," said Sweeney. "The Adirondack Park is dying faster than the EPA predicted and is actually losing its ability to buffer acid rain. EPA's worst-case scenario now appears to be the likely outcome."

Acid rain pollutes watersheds, creating highly acidified and nitrate-laden lakes where fish are unable to survive. Acidified soil is stripped of necessary nutrients that help plants survive cold temperatures.

Vermont's maple trees are particularly susceptible to the effects of acid rain  

A recent environmental conference at the University of Vermont revealed how vulnerable the state's syrup-producing maple trees are to acid rain. And Leahy cited another recent report detailing the declining air quality of America's national parks as evidence of acid rain's destructive effect.

Total sulfur dioxide emissions declined 17 percent from 1990 through 1998, but total emissions of nitrogen oxides changed little during the same time period, according to the GAO report, "Acid Rain: Emissions Trends and Effects in the Eastern United States." In the eastern states, total deposition of sulfur decreased 26 percent from 1989 though 1998, while total deposition of nitrogen increased 2 percent, according to the report.

Nitrates also increased in 48 percent of the lakes sampled in the Adirondacks, a sensitive ecosystem that is protected under the Clean Air Act.

Leahy believes the GAO report will provide the impetus for more stringent national regulation of all nitrogen oxide sources. He also hopes GAO's findings will provide momentum for his "Clean Power Plant and Modernization Act of 1999," legislation introduced last year that would force 1950s-era power plants to modernize their operations.



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RELATED SITES:
General Accounting Office
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Environment Canada
acid rain resources
Encarta
Congressman Leahy
Congressman Sweeney
Appalachian Mountain Club
Gerry M. Serianni
Vermont Life

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