acid rain program

Thank you 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, you have enhanced my autumn experiences on the back of an Appaloosa

By Cindy Walke

This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and as an avid horsewoman, the anniversary highlights why autumn is still my favorite time of year.  I’m able to get out on the trails with my horse and enjoy all of the sights and smells that the fall season brings.  It’s not uncommon for us to encounter wild turkey, quail, deer, and various little critters scampering in the woods as my horse and I make our way through the wooded trails of the Liberty Watershed in Sykesville, Maryland.  It is truly an amazing sight to see!

When I’m out on the trails, I realize how fragile our ecosystems are.  The freshwater streams and trees provide the habitat that wildlife need in order to thrive.  My life has truly been enriched by these outdoor experiences and I cannot imagine how different they would be without the actions taken under the Clean Air Act.

Title IV of the Clean Air Act, also known as the Acid Rain Program, regulates SO2 and NOx emissions from power plants.  It’s these emissions that cause acid rain, which affects our ecosystems by making our lakes and streams acidic, harming fish populations, and slowing forest growth.  These emissions also contribute to health problems like premature mortality, cardiovascular issues and respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis.  The Acid Rain Program has reduced SO2 and NOx emissions and as a result, we can see improvements in our environment.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments also addressed toxic air pollutants and urban pollution, established tighter pollution standards for cars and trucks, helped eliminate ozone depleting substances and much more.

In the coming weeks, my colleagues and I will be sharing our personal stories about the outdoor activities we enjoy and how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have helped improve our environment, making our favorite activities possible.  Please follow our discussion series on Greenversations, and contribute your own stories about how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have improved your enjoyment of your favorite outdoor activities.

About the author: Cindy Walke is the website manager for the Clean Air Markets Division.  One of her favorite fall activities is horseback riding along the beautiful trails of Central Maryland.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

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The Future of the Acid Rain Program

In 1980, as an intern with the House Natural Resources Committee, I spent hours summarizing legislative proposals to address acid rain, an issue captivating public consciousness. Thirty years later, I can see the great progress we’ve made and, along with hard-working EPA staff, I’m pleased to spread the word about that progress.

On April 8, we launched the 20th Anniversary Acid Rain Program Discussion Forum to talk about what we’ve been doing to address acid rain over the past 20 years and to create a space for open dialogue on this issue. I encourage everyone to check out the discussion forum posts to learn about the large emission reductions and high compliance rates we’ve seen under the program. You’ll also find information about improvements in air quality and human health, recovering ecosystems, and improved visibility in our parks.

Assessing where we are with acid rain is also done every few years in the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) report. The newest report, scheduled to be sent to Congress later this year, is a collaboration among EPA, other government agencies and scientists. It contains hard data on the success we’ve had in addressing acid rain, but it also underlines the work we still need to do – work that EPA is ready to tackle.

Administrator Lisa Jackson’s seven priorities for EPA specifically list reducing SO2 and NOx as top priorities for improving air quality. And so, building on the success of the Acid Rain Program and other programs, the Agency is getting ready to propose a new rule this spring that will deepen SO2 and NOx emission reductions in the East. Until that rule is finalized (sometime in 2011), the Clean Air Interstate Rule is in place and already achieving NOx and SO2 reductions from power plants. Check back with us this summer to see our progress report on results from the first year of the CAIR annual and ozone season NOx programs.

We are certain that in another 20 years we will have even MORE environmental and public health progress to share with you.

We hope you’ve enjoyed all the posts and comments on our discussion forum. Please continue the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter.

About the author: Rick Haeuber is Chief of the Assessment and Communications Branch within the Clean Air Markets Division which implements the Acid Rain Program and other cap and trade programs.

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.

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The Grand Experiment

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.

We were breaking new ground on environmental policy but we also needed a strong, national solution to a multi-state problem with local impacts. Writing the legislation was a wild ride full of Washington intrigue but we knew we had to – and we did – create a carefully designed program that provided a firm environmental goal (the emission cap) while giving industry the flexibility to decide how to achieve their emission reductions.

We were looking for certainty, simplicity, accuracy and an approach that wouldn’t require a lot of people to run it. And the program has proven to be all of these things. Power plant SO2 emissions have fallen dramatically since the program began in 1995. Some sensitive ecosystems are starting to recover from the damages of acid rain. By making huge reductions in SO2, we achieved one of the largest improvements in public health. Compliance cost 70% less than originally expected. Monitors on smokestacks collect data, available online, providing transparency and confidence in results. We’ve seen the market flourish while achieving over 99 percent compliance every year.

Looking back after 20 successful years of the Acid Rain Program, the world now knows that cap and trade works. For the right pollution problem, we don’t have to control every action – just the emissions – and we can allow flexibility AND achieve high compliance. Most importantly, we have shown that a strong economy and a healthy environment CAN exist together.

Interested in learning more? Join our Discussion Forum and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About the author: Brian McLean is the Director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs in the Office of Air and Radiation and EPA manager for the Acid Rain Program.

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.