That NASA report on the surprisingly rapid deterioration of the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere was followed by a similarly rapid turnaround in Bush administration attitudes. Atmospheric scientists have complained since 1970 that chlorine- and bromine-based chemicals were stripping the Earth of its protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation, but even after the discovery of the Antarctic "ozone hole" in 1985, the White House has held back on banning the chemicals.
Now, at last, that has changed. A proposal to end production of chlorofluorocarbons and halons, amended to the Energy Bill, sailed through the Senate last week, 96-0. The proposal, which had been bottled up by Republican senators acting for the White House, is now likely to become law. Support was already strong in the House of Representatives, even before NASA's warning showed the potential of an ozone hole over the Northern Hemisphere.
It is healthy to see President Bush finally accept this environmental reality. Projected costs deterred him before, but the urgency of the situation no longer can be denied. Scientists say the protective upper-air layer will remain damaged until the middle of the next century, even with an immediate ban on the ozone-damaging compounds, because these chemicals persist in the atmosphere long after they are released. It's too late to stop the damage we can now measure with our new satellite tools from worsening, but the sooner we start to scrub these harmful chemicals out of the air everyone breathes, the better it will be for the environment that affects us all.