Skip to content

Outreach and Education in the Acid Rain Program

2010 April 27

Since I started working here at EPA I have been amazed by all the tools available to the public.  For today’s blog, I wanted to write a post with the “greatest hits” of goodies available on the topic of acid rain.  While working here as an intern I found not only outreach and informational materials, but tools to help educators and students as well.

The first thing I found was this great video with Brian McLean, Director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs (the EPA Office that runs the Acid Rain Program) and some middle school students from KIPP KEY Academy in southeast Washington, D.C.  In the video, Brian McLean and the kids talk about acid rain and the “grand experiment” of the Acid Rain Program.  They also run through a science experiment testing the acidity of various substances.  The video even reminded me of how we can help prevent acid rain — a young student suggests using less electricity, which means fewer emissions put into the air, which means… less acid rain.  So simple!

Watch the video here.

The video also describes the latest version of EPA’s Learning About Acid Rain: A teacher’s guide for grades 6 through 8, a great resource for students and teachers.  It was designed to help students better understand the science of acid rain, and how the EPA addresses the problem of acid rain.  The guide includes a few science experiments you can do at home.  One of my favorites involves testing the pH level of rainwater and your local water body.  This experiment requires only a few simple materials: pH paper and a color chart or a pH meter (range pH 2 to 7); a water sample from a local lake, pond or stream near your house; and rainwater collected during a rainy day.  Once you’ve tested and figured out the pH of your rainwater, you can compare it to the maps showing officially measured rainwater pH levels collected by the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP). As you read in last week’s blog, “Monitoring the Air and Rain,” NADP is a monitoring network that collects and analyzes rainwater to see if the Acid Rain Program is successful in reducing acid rain.  If you follow certain protocols when collecting and testing your samples, you can even upload your data to the GLOBE Program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) website and share it with the whole world!

The last educational resource I want to share with you is the Acid Rain Students Site.  This site has tons of tools for both educators and students with lots of simple and straightforward information about acid rain.  There are even games and activities which are fun for kids of all ages!

How can you save electricity to do your part to reduce acid rain?  What else can you do to reduce acid rain? What experiments have you done involving acid rain?  What tools do you use to teach kids or adults about acid rain?

Josh Stewart is the Communications Intern with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. Josh is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Political Management at The George Washington University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

International Influence of the Acid Rain Program

2010 April 26

Smog

As an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, I spent almost 6 months studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Famous for being one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse cities in the world it was easy for me to get lost in the beauty of my surroundings. I was fortunate enough to study at the University of Cape Town (UCT), which is perfectly situated high up on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, providing every student with a bird’s eye view over the city below and the waters of Table Bay. However, just to the east, that same view reveals an unsettling image of the dense air pollution over many of the nearby township communities. Some days the pollution was so thick that you could not see anything else, and it was that constant reminder of needed environmental attention that sparked my interest in international environmental protection. Now, as an intern in EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division, I decided to find out how EPA was helping to address situations like these abroad.

For most people, EPA isn’t the first agency that comes to mind when thinking about international outreach. However, pollution knows no boundaries and many of our recent air quality challenges have been global in scope. In response to this problem, EPA has been providing support in clean air policy on an international level for several years now. The success of the Acid Rain Program has generated interest in other countries and EPA has responded to invitations and requests to offer guidance to those countries.

Sharing a five-thousand mile border with the United States, Canada was the first country that EPA began working with in an attempt to provide cleaner air for both countries through international cooperation. In a joint effort to limit acid rain-forming air pollution that crosses country borders (such as NOx and SO2), the U.S. and Canada signed an agreement in 1991 called the U.S.-Canada Air Quality Agreement. This agreement outlines specific objectives related to the reduction of air pollution for both the U.S. and Canada. After nineteen years of success, the EPA has formed a longstanding relationship with Canada in which each country has worked cooperatively at improving air quality.

In more recent years, several individuals in EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division (CAMD) have played an integral part assisting in the research necessary to build clean air programs in countries abroad. EPA has met with representatives of more than 50 countries to communicate lessons from the Acid Rain Program that might apply to their air quality challenges.

China is currently at the core of CAMD’s international effort as China is working to implement a national SO2 emissions trading program. This would be a market-based program to achieve emission caps established by the central government. In addition to communicating experience from implementing market-based programs, EPA is also assisting China in improving their emissions monitoring.

Mexico is also receiving a fair amount of attention as the U.S. is working with Canada on a project to aid the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in the production of a countrywide air pollution emissions inventory. This inventory will be the foundation for future regulations for the country. EPA is providing expertise and technical support in areas such as emissions monitoring, reporting and verification.

After my experience in South Africa, I can greatly appreciate the international efforts EPA is making toward cleaner air. Coming from a country that has the resources and cares so much about our environment, it was easy for me to recognize how lucky we are to have the Acid Rain Program and similar efforts to protect the environment.

For more information on our international partnerships, check out the Clean Air Markets Partnerships web page. Also, we’d like to hear from you. What other international partnerships would you like to see EPA develop to combat air pollution problems related to acid rain?

Kyle Campbell is the Geographic Information Systems intern in the Clean Air Markets Division. He is completing his senior year at North Carolina State University in Environmental Technology.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Health Benefits of the Acid Rain Program

2010 April 23

Growing up in the early 1990s, I heard a lot of buzz about acid rain and its damaging effects on our forests and aquatic environments. It wasn’t until I started interning in the Clean Air Markets Divisionof EPA that I began to investigate how sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the emissions that cause acid rain, could also harm my health.

Since the Acid Rain Program began requiring SO2 and NOx reductions from power plants, the drop in emissions has improved air quality around the country, preventing some negative health impacts and leading to a higher quality of life for many Americans…

To continue reading this post check out EPA’s Greenversations blog here.

About the author: Elyse Procopio was an intern in EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. She recently graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Acid Rain Program and Water Quality Monitoring

2010 April 22

While many people think of acid rain as an air problem related to air emissions (which it is), acid rain eventually falls to the ground, often ending up in many of our nation’s lakes and streams.  Acid rain can cause water bodies to become too acidic, lowering pH to the point where fish and other aquatic organisms can no longer survive.  EPA monitors lakes and streams for the impacts of acid rain using two programs: (1) Temporally Integrated Monitoring of Ecosystems (TIME) and (2) Long-Term Monitoring (LTM).  These programs have been in existence for over 20 years and the data collected from them has helped researchers at EPA, universities, and several states study trends in water quality to see how lakes and streams are responding to decreases in emissions.

Hard to access, isolated lake and stream sites are sampled in New York, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.  The sites have to be far from cities, roads, and people to make sure that any changes we see in the water quality are not coming from other potential sources of pollution.  In some cases, sites are so hard to get to that researchers must use skis or helicopters or hike long distances to reach them.  Every year, just as the snow begins to melt, various researchers head out to the sites to start collecting water samples.  Since lake samples need to be collected from the deepest part of the lake, researchers generally have to use canoes or inflatable rafts to get to the middle of the lake.  Water samples are usually collected several times a year during the spring, summer, and fall.  Once at the site, the sample is collected in a bottle and then sent to a lab to be analyzed for sulfate, nitrate, and acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) levels.  ANC measures the ability of a system, like a lake, to neutralize or buffer acid.  Lakes or streams that have been impacted by acid rain tend to have lower ANC levels and higher levels of sulfate and nitrate.  The data from these samples are eventually sent to EPA and posted online so that you can see the sulfate, nitrate, and ANC levels from all of our active sites.

Jim Kemmererstamford
LittleWood-HP

Since the monitoring programs began, we have seen improvements in the water quality at many of the lake and stream sites.  This generally means that the water has a higher ANC level than it did when the monitoring began and decreasing nitrate and sulfate concentrations.  These trends can be linked to the decreasing SO2 and NOx emissions from power plants under the Acid Rain Program.  In some lakes and streams, researchers are now seeing fish that hadn’t been seen in many years due to the low pH levels.  However, there are still lakes and streams that have low ANC levels and continue to be impacted by acid rain.  EPA continues to monitor all the lake and stream sites in the TIME/LTM programs to see what future changes we might see.

site location map

Now that you’ve learned a little more about our water quality monitoring programs in the Acid Rain Program, let’s hear from you.  If you’ve ever been involved in lake or stream monitoring in your community, tell us about your experience.

Dani Newcomb works with the TIME/LTM programs in EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Monitoring the Air and Rain

2010 April 21

As we’ve mentioned several times in this discussion forum over the past few weeks, the Acid Rain Program has been called the most successful environmental program in the past 40 years. We heard yesterday about how using continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) and other methods that measure the pollution that comes out of smokestacks gave us confidence that power plants were reducing pollution. But how do we know that those emission reductions are translating to better air quality and reductions in acid rain? In today’s blog, I’m going to talk about air monitoring and how EPA tracks changes in the chemistry of the air and of rainfall in order to show that the Acid Rain Program is actually having an effect – air quality is improving and acid rain is declining.

To track results of the program, EPA relies on data from two monitoring networks: the National Trends Network of the National Atmospheric Deposition Network (NADP/NTN) and the Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET).

NADP/NTN is a national, long-term monitoring network that began in the late 70s and collects and analyzes data from wet deposition – the rain, snow, fog, sleet, etc. that falls to the ground after coming in contact with pollution.  NADP’s more than 240 sites are operated by a collaboration of federal state, local and tribal government agencies; educational institutions; private companies; and non-governmental agencies.

CASTNET is a national, long-term monitoring network run by the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. It began in 1991 under the Clean Air Act Amendments, which created the Acid Rain Program, with the goal of assessing trends in air quality and also dry deposition – the dry dust, gases, and particles that fall to the ground after coming in contact with pollution. Many of the CASTNET sites have been around for a lot longer, with over 40 sites that have collected data for more than 15 years! Most of CASTNET’s 84 monitoring sites are located in rural areas around the country, where the influence from urban areas on pollution levels does not dominate the data. Twenty-five of these sites are located in national parks and other areas which need special protection from air pollution.

EPA doesn’t operate the NADP and CASTNET sites and so we rely on dedicated site operators around the country who actually go out to the monitoring station and collect the filter packs (which collect the dry deposition data from the air) and buckets (which collect wet deposition data from rainfall). One of the longest working and best known CASTNET site operators is Tom Butler from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and Cornell University. I had a conversation with Tom recently to talk about his experience with CASTNET.

Tom Butler has worked on acid rain since the mid-70s when he began working with Gene Likens, a pioneer in the study of acid rain. Most of Tom’s work focused on the chemistry of rainfall and air related to pollutants. He was particularly interested in how changing emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) affected the environment. He has been involved with CASTNET since its beginning and with its predecessor and has been collecting and analyzing data at his site, one of the originals, since the late 70s.

I asked Tom what it was like to operate a CASTNET site for so long. I was surprised to learn that even after 30+ years and a reputation as one of the leading scientists in his field, Tom is the one who drives out to the remote site southwest of Ithaca, NY (through rain or multiple feet of snow!) to collect the samples. And it’s clear that he loves this part of the job. He says it’s great to get out from behind a desk and a computer…something I can certainly appreciate!

Tom Butler

Connecticut Hill CASNTET monitoring site

But it’s also clear that Tom believes in the importance of his work. He noted that we spend billions of dollars on pollution control devices to reduce emissions at power plants so it’s equally important that we also invest some money in monitoring networks to study the impact of these pollution controls. The money spent on monitoring is small compared to the cost of reducing emissions, but well spent and achieves a lot of bang for the buck. The bottom line is that, through air and rainfall chemistry monitoring networks like CASTNET, we’ve been able to demonstrate that reducing SO2 and NOx emissions has reduced acid deposition by more than ½ in much of the eastern U.S. Monitoring might not be a sexy chunk of science, Tom explains, but it is vital. I couldn’t agree more.

What do you know about the CASTNET or NADP/NTN monitoring networks? Why do you think they are important? Tell us about your experiences with air or rainfall monitoring.

Erika Wilson works in communication for the Clean Air Markets Division in the Office of Air and Radiation.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Monitoring and Reporting Emissions

2010 April 20

As we’ve learned in some recent blogs, one of the key components of successful cap and trade programs is regular monitoring and reporting of emissions by sources. I’ll use our Acid Rain Program as an example to explain why.

In the Acid Rain Program (called ARP for short), all power plants must adhere to monitoring guidelines in The Code Of Federal Regulations Part 75, Volume 40.  We have a link on our website to a plain English guide to Part 75.  Basically, these regulations say that all power plants must monitor and report accurate emissions data to the EPA. Most power plants are required to use CEMS, which stands for Continuous Emission Monitors.   These CEMS monitor important information such as the amount of pollution coming out of a smokestack (pollution concentration) and how fast the emissions are coming out of the stack (stack gas volumetric flow rate).

Photo of a CEMS monitoring system

Photo of a CEMS monitoring system

While some sources are not required to use CEMS, they still must report their emissions; however, they are allowed to do it in a different way depending on the type of fuel that the power plant burns.  Regardless of the method used, the highest emitting power plants have to use the most accurate monitoring methods for their fuel type.  The power plants that emit a lower level of emissions are allowed to use less rigorous methods as long as that method does not underestimate the amount of emissions. I thought it was interesting that in 2008, 32 percent of power plants in the program used CEMS to monitor their emissions but this meant that over 99 percent of emissions were monitored by CEMS.

No matter what kind of monitoring a power plant uses, the data they collect and report still go through very strict testing to make sure that the data collected are accurate.  This process is called Quality Assurance, or QA.  In the ARP, these QA procedures have resulted in very accurate and reliable emissions data.

In the ARP, the data that the power plants collect are reported to the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division (CAMD)  CAMD uses this emissions data to make sure that the power plants are in compliance with the ARP’s goal of reducing emissions.  Every unit that is in the ARP must report emissions to CAMD for every hour that the unit is operating.  That’s a lot of data!   CAMD then makes this data available on the EPA website so anyone can analyze it.  Brokerage firms, environmental organizations, university professors, and the general public can analyze these data, providing an incredible amount of transparency and credibility because anyone can look at any time to see what a regulated power plant is emitting.  Making this information available is very important for the allowance trading market to work efficiently and is essential to getting emission reductions at the lowest possible cost.

EPA’s Acid Rain Program would not be successful in reducing pollution if we didn’t have a strong system in place for power plants to collect and report their data.

Before reading our blogs on EPA’s Acid Rain Program, were you aware of all of the components that make a cap and trade program successful?  Share your thoughts!

Cindy Walke has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Policy from the Johns Hopkins University.  It’s this degree that inspired her to seek employment with EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division, where she currently manages website communications.

Source:  “Fundamentals of Successful Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification under a Cap-and-Trade Program” written by John Schakenbach, Robert Vollaro, and Reynaldo Forte, of CAMD’s Emissions Monitoring Branch.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Scrubbing Away Pollution

2010 April 19

In general, the action of scrubbing can be quite effective at cleaning things. For example, scrubbing helps remove dried leftovers from dirty dishes or soap scum from shower walls. But can scrubbing actually clean up pollution? Well, not exactly the same type of scrubbing described above, but “scrubbers” are one of several pollution control technologies used by power plants to reduce harmful emissions and comply with the Acid Rain Program.

As we’ve discussed, the point of the Acid Rain Program is to have power plants reduce emissions of SO2 and NOX (contributors to acid rain). One way they can do that is to install advanced pollution control technologies, like scrubbers (technically called flue gas desulfurization). Scrubbers are devices that are used to remove pollutants from power plant emissions. They are one of the most common pollution control devices found in the power sector today.

There are many types of scrubbers that use different methods and technologies, and they can generally be grouped into two categories: wet and dry. Both achieve the same goal of cleaning up emissions before they enter the air.

Fast Facts

  • The wet scrubber is the most common type found in the United States. It cleans the emissions from power plants by rinsing them down with a liquid pollution removal agent.
  • Dry scrubbers remove SO2 emissions without using liquid. A limestone slurry is added to the emissions and as this slurry dries out, the limestone particles are suspended in the mixture. The SO2 then reacts with the limestone particles instead of the air.

Other types of advanced control technologies power plants use to reduce SO2 emissions include fluidized bed combustion and reagent injection.

To find out where scrubbers are installed and how effective they have been in reducing SO2 pollution, you can go to the following table and sort by the column titled, “SO2 Controls.”  Take a look at the data and tell us what you discover about SO2 controls in your state.

This blog was a joint effort between Colleen Mason and Elyse Procopio. Colleen Mason is a Physical Scientist and Elyse Procopio was an intern in EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division.

Flue gas desulfurization (“scrubber”) at Dickerson Generating Facility in Dickerson, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Maryland Department of the Environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Perspective on the Allowance Auction

2010 April 16

As you now know from our previous posts, EPA uses “cap and trade” within the Acid Rain Program to help regulate the pollutants that cause acid rain.  A small component of this process is the sulfur dioxide (SO2) allowance auction.  To be honest… I did not really know that much about this part of the Acid Rain Program so I set out to find out as much as I could.

The first thing I learned was that an allowance is a authorization that allows a utility or industrial source to emit one ton of SO2.  A small portion of these allowances (about 2.8 percent of all allowances) are auctioned off once a year.  Any allowances can be bought, sold, and traded at any time by any individual, corporation, or governing body, including brokers, municipalities, environmental groups, and private citizens.  On March 23, 2010, EPA announced the results of the eighteenth annual acid rain allowance auction.  The annual auction gives power plants, brokers, and private citizens an opportunity to buy and sell SO2 allowances.  It is part of EPA’s successful cap and trade program to reduce emissions contributing to acid rain, fine particle pollution, and regional haze.

I figured I might learn something if I interviewed one of the participants in the allowance auction.  I was fortunate enough to talk to one of the participants in the most recent Acid Rain Program Allowance Auction for 2010.  Dr. Lynne Lewis is a Professor at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.  Dr. Lewis is Chair of the Economics Department and teaches environmental and natural resource economics, among other topics.  I asked Dr. Lewis a few question about why the class she teaches at Bates College participates in the allowance auction and how that is valuable to her students.

Can you explain how you got involved in the ARP allowance auction?

I started this as a classroom experiment at Bates back in 2001.  It is an Environmental Economics class so participation in the Acid Rain Program (ARP) allowance auction allows us to experiment with material learned in class about cap and trade.  The ARP is the longest running successful cap and trade program in the world.

That makes perfect sense in the context of an Environmental Economics Class, before we move on can you tell me in your own words, how the allowance auction works?

Utilities, brokers and other individuals or groups submit sealed bids and the highest bidders win.  There are 125,000 allowances available for auction and you pay what you bid.

Environmental Economics students at Bates have been very successful bidding close to the clearing price (winning bid) by researching the factors that contribute to the price of allowances.

So just to clarify… it is a student project?

It is a class project yes, and it helps us take (Environmental Economic) theory and put it into practice.  We are able to examine this program in close detail since we can participate directly.

Why do you feel like this is a valuable exercise?

It teaches students what cap and trade is and why economists promote market mechanisms.   An interesting anecdote is that back in 2001 not many students  were familiar with the term “cap and trade” but over the past couple of years I have seen an uptick in interest and knowledge level regarding “cap and trade” programs.

It is also valuable for my students to learn how these auctions work.  Every year since 2001 we have bought at least one allowance.  We explore the positive and negative effects of an allowance trading system.

Here are some great quotes from Dr. Lewis’s students discussing what they have learned about cap and trade and the ARP Allowance Auction.

” I learned a lot about what factors influence the price of tradable SO2 allowances and why it is cost-effective to employ a cap and trade scheme.”

“(I learned about the) understanding of trading and the importance of stringent caps as well as the politics and other factors that make these systems complex.”

“I learned the difference between cap-and-trade and taxes.”

“This exercise helped me get a grasp on how the program actually works.

Thanks Dr. Lewis for speaking with us!

What do you think about the Acid Rain Program’s SO2 allowance auction?  Have you participated in the SO2 Allowance Auction?  How do you think SO2 allowances should be auctioned off? Let us know what you think and if you have any questions!

Josh Stewart is the Communications Intern with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. Josh is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Political Management at The George Washington University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Grand Experiment

2010 April 15

A few weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post that praised the Acid Rain Program as an example of how people with different perspectives could come together to create a successful program to solve an important problem. Reading this article twenty years after I helped write the bill that created the Acid Rain Program, I couldn’t help but ask – How did we do it?

The Acid Rain Program is often called “the grand experiment” because it is the world’s first large-scale air emissions cap and trade program. Signed into law in 1990, it created a cap and trade program that requires power plants to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in order to address acid rain…

To continue reading this post please check out EPA’s Greenversations Blog here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Six Pillars of a Successful Cap and Trade Program

2010 April 14

There has been a lot of discussion in the news recently about using cap and trade to reduce a variety of pollutants. EPA’s experience with the Acid Rain Program shows that cap and trade can be a very successful way to reduce emissions as long as the program is designed in a certain way and contains a few very important features. In the past few posts of our series on the 20th Anniversary of the Acid Rain Program, we’ve talked about HOW cap and trade works to reduce acid rain. Today, I’m going to talk about WHY cap and trade has been successful for reducing sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions.

In the Clean Air Markets Division where I work, we run three cap and trade programs: the Acid Rain Program (ARP), the NOX Budget Trading Program (NBP) and the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). All three focus on lowering SO2 and/or NOX from power plants. Results for all three programs have been tremendous and we have seen big reductions of both SO2 and NOX emissions along with cleaner air and a healthier environment.

There are some differences among the three programs, but they all use a cap and trade approach to lower emissions. And they all have six essential features that work together to make these three programs so successful:

  1. The cap – The most important feature of a cap and trade program, the cap is essential to achieving environmental and public health goals. Together, all the facilities in the program have to keep their emissions below this cap even if they expand or new plants are built. The cap also provides certainty and predictability to the trading market because it limits the number of allowances (permission to emit one ton of pollution) available to buy or sell. FIGUREa1
  2. Strong emission monitoring – Accurate, publicly available emissions monitoring data gives the program credibility and helps us make sure that facilities are really reducing emissions. Monitoring also is important for the market because allowances are like currency – so all participants know that a ton of emissions at one power plant is equal to a ton at another power plant.
  3. Full sector coverage – If all facilities of a certain type are in the program, from power plants that already exist to those that could be built in the future, then there can’t be any leakage or shifting of the making of electricity to plants that are not in the program. What’s more, if all facilities are in, then the government doesn’t need to spend lots of time and money reviewing whether one of them should be included on a case-by-case basis. Now that’s government efficiency!
  4. Compliance options – Cap and trade programs work best when facilities have a variety of ways (with a variety of costs) to reduce emissions at their plant. Experience has shown us that more options produce a stronger market because industry has the flexibility to choose the best and most cost-effective way to reduce emissions at their particular facility. That also means the program costs less for the industry and consumers.
  5. Unrestricted trading and banking – Moms, teachers, mentors, and bosses everywhere remind us to KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! The same holds true for cap and trade. The simpler a program is, the easier it is to comply with and operate, saving money and time for everyone. Some cap and trade programs have failed simply because they were just too complicated to operate. Many people worry that cap and trade does not address local air quality issues and so they add on all these complex features to try to deal with the local problem. It’s important to remember, however, that a regional cap and trade program can be used alongside other programs that address hotspots or areas where specific emission reductions might be needed to deal with unique air quality issues in certain communities.
  6. Automatic penalties – It’s hard to argue with this one. Like playing tag in the neighborhood, there are rules to the game and if you don’t follow the rules, there are consequences. It’s best if everyone knows the rules ahead of time and if everyone knows the consequences; if the penalty is automatic there is no negotiation or wiggle room. If you get tagged, you’re it.

So there you have it, folks – the six pillars of a successful cap and trade program. We have developed this list based on our own experience with running three successful cap and trade programs. What other features do you think are important to a successful cap and trade program? Why do you think the Acid Rain Program’s cap and trade approach has been so successful?

Erika Wilson works in communication in the Clean Air Markets Division in the Office of Air and Radiation.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.