EPA’s Acid Rain Program

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 Health Benefits of the Acid Rain Program

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 Division of 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.

In fact, the greatest benefits are the 20,000 to 50,000 lives saved per year because of cleaner air and lower pollution levels. SO2 and NOx emissions can lead to the formation of fine particle pollution and smog, also called ground level ozone. Smog and particle pollution have been linked to health problems including aggravation of asthma and increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Even though I’m relatively healthy and am not considered particularly sensitive to these effects, I can still feel the impact when I’m playing or working outdoors. I spend a lot of time outside with my two dogs, Bella and Lucy. I love taking them hiking near the Occoquan River in northern Virginia. Even though I’m not affected by asthma, the hills are a lot harder to climb on bad air days. Fortunately for me (and my dogs), the good air days far outnumber the bad and we don’t have to cut our adventures short because of polluted air.

It’s pretty amazing that a program originally designed to fix the environmental problem of acid rain saves so many lives every year! EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, and the Acid Rain Program is doing both.

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

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.

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Whatever happened to acid rain?

Recently, my coworkers and I have started tracking the internet chatter about acid rain. We were curious about what the world was saying about this iconic environmental issue. Acid rain is taught in most schools across the country so imagine our surprise when we found a pretty significant number of people who thought the problem of acid rain has been solved.

So…what really did happen to acid rain? It was a big problem in the 80s and early 90s, but now we don’t hear much about it. This year marks the 20th anniversary of EPA’s Acid Rain Program—a program that requires power plants across the country to reduce SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and NOx (nitrogen oxide), the pollutants that form acid rain.

Because of our program, we’ve seen power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx plummet. Many sensitive lakes and streams in the East are starting to recover from the effects of acid rain. And the days of dying forests and lakes totally devoid of fish are, increasingly, a thing of the past.

The success of the Acid Rain Program has been impressive: 63 percent lower SO2 emissions, 70 percent lower NOx emissions, and 100% compliance! We’ve come a long way but, unfortunately, acid rain is still a very real problem in some parts of the country and it is one that EPA is committed to continuing to address.

So – whatever happened to acid rain? We’d like to tell you what we’ve been doing about acid rain, but more importantly, we’re very interested in hearing what YOU guys think. How did you first learn about acid rain? What did you know about the Acid Rain Program and what EPA has been doing over the past 20 years to try to solve the issue?  How has acid rain affected your community?  What more do you think EPA should be doing  to address this issue? Tell us what you think and please join us over the next few weeks as we continue our dialogue documenting the past 20 years of the program on Facebook , and Twitter .

About the author: 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.