CCE has been working to fight the devastating impacts of acid rain in New York and Connecticut since 1997. Acid rain is created when fossil fuels are burned, primarily in electric power plants and automobiles, producing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These air pollutants react with water vapor in clouds, oxygen and oxidants in air, forming sulfuric acid and nitric acid. The acids fall to earth in wet form, either as rain, snow or fog, or dry form, as gas or solid particles.
Photo courtesy of The Adirondack Council
Photo by Gary A. Randorf
Pollution from electric power plants that burn coal is a major source of acid rain in the Northeast. The prevailing winds blow pollutants for hundreds of miles from the Midwestern U.S., where the largest concentration of large coal-burning plants are located. When the pollutants reach the Northeast and Canada, they fall to earth in the form of acid rain. The acids change the pH of water and soil, ultimately killing aquatic life and altering soil chemistry, which plants and trees need to survive. Lakes and streams in high elevation areas such as the Adirondacks, Catskills and Berkshires are particularly hard hit. Acid rain also affects water quality in coastal estuaries such as the Long Island Sound, where nitric acids add to the problem of low dissolved oxygen, known as hypoxia. Acid rain also interferes with the growth of forests, negatively impacts agricultural productivity and damages monuments and buildings constructed with marble.
CCE advocates a national approach to solving the acid rain problem that is based on reducing the emissions of sulfur and nitrogen from major sources such as electric power plants. While CCE continues to advocate for strong federal legislation to address acid rain, there have been tremendous victories at the state level, as well as with EPA regulations to fight acid rain
Photo courtesy of The Adirondack Council
Photo by Jenny Hager
CCE Victory with new EPA Regulation
CCE had a major victory after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a regulation that will help fix the acid rain problem in New York State, Connecticut and the rest of the Northeast. In March of 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new regulation that would set achievable limits on Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions, the key pollutants that cause acid rain. The regulation entails a market-based cap-and-trade program for power plants in 28 states and the District of Columbia that will reduce NOx and SO2 by 70%, by the year 2015.
Programs proving successful
Federal efforts to fight climate change have been successful thus far, reaching its pollution-reduction goals two years ahead of schedule in 2008 and with a compliance rate of nearly 100 percent, according to a report released by the EPA in early 2010.
Power plants across the county decreased emissions of sulfur dioxide to 7.6 million tons in 2008. This level is well below the 2008 government-imposed annual cap of 9.5 million tons. In fact, it was also already below the statutory annual cap of 8.95 million tons set for compliance in 2010, according to the EPA.
Sulfur dioxide pollution fell another 25 percent in 2009, or 1.85 million tons, to 5.75 million tons nationwide. At the same time, nitrogen oxide pollution fell by 1 million tons, or more than 30 percent, to 2 million tons. These levels are record low emissions of both pollutants from coal-fired power plants. More EPA data
Even with the extraordinary progress that CCE has made on this issue, we will continue to fight for more. CCE will continue to advocate for even deeper cuts in these harmful emissions to help protect our valuable waterbodies and forests that have been adversely impacted by acid rain for decades.
Fighting Acid Rain at the State Level
CCE has also advocated that New York and Connecticut do all that they can on the state level to fight acid rain. In 2002, the Governors of both states announced that they would be implementing, on their own, deep cuts in sulfur and nitrogen emissions from power plants equal to the levels called for in the federal legislation. New York went even further and passed legislation discouraging utility companies that hold excess pollution allowances under a federal sulfur emission credits program from selling them for use up smokestacks in the Midwest that could create acid rain over the Adirondacks and throughout the Northeast.
More information on acid rain:
Updated by bsmith 3/31/10