Shaking Hands on Acid Rain

April 01, 1991

Finally, President Bush has quietly junked a long-standing Reagan administration policy of stonewalling Canadian complaints on acid rain. It was nearly overlooked in the rush of news about the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, but on March 13 Mr. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed a new agreement to fight cross-border pollution.

Canada has complained repeatedly that acid rain, most of it from the United States, was jeopardizing aquatic life in as many as 14,000 lakes. Environmentalists in New York state and New England, for their part, have long argued that Canadian industry, while smaller in scope than in the U.S., causes serious acid-rain problems there. A quarter of the acid precipitation falling on the Adirondack Mountains is said to come from Canada. President Reagan, meanwhile, stood on the shaky ground occupied by those who wanted more study and no action.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Mulroney's new agreement, signed after the 1990 revisions of the Clean Air Act, finally commits both governments to some action. Described as implementing the Clean Air Act standards, and thus not requiring Senate ratification, the new agreement's major provisions:

* Establish a bilateral Air Quality Committee to monitor all types of pollution, not just acid rain, and to seek ways to avoid or mitigate potential risks;

* Provide for cuts in U.S. sulphur dioxide emissions to levels 10 million tons below 1980's emissions by the end of this decade;

* Require Canada to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions in its seven easternmost provinces sharply by 1994;

* Set a permanent U.S. cap on sulphur dioxide emissions of 8.95 million tons a year for electric utilities, to be achieved by the year 2010;

* Adopt a permanent Canadian sulphur-dioxide cap of 3.2 million tons per year by 2000;

* Reduce U.S. nitrogen oxide emissions by 2 million tons by 2000, with cuts also in Canada.

"This agreement looks beyond the acid-rain problem,' Mr. Bush said at its signing. "It strengthens the formal framework for dealing with future cross-border air quality concerns of all types." Let's hope so. The time is long past due for recognizing that controlling trans-boundary pollution requires cooperation and not stonewalling.

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