From The Wall Street Journal, 6 March 1990, p. A20:3.

Mr Singer,  a  professor of  environmental  sciences  at the
University  of Virginia,  has  written ``Global  Climate Change''
(1989) and ``The Ocean in  Human Affairs'' (1990), both published
by Paragon House. [He is also a charter subscriber of AtE.] 

                 [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   A billion-dollar  solution for a  million-dollar problem: This
is perhaps  a facile  way to  summarize the  acid-rain issue, but
it's not far  from the truth.  The  proposal to control emissions
that could  spur acid  rain --  now being  debated on  the Senate
floor as part of  the Clean Air Bill --  could cost $5 billion to
$10 billion a year; the benefits, in terms of reduced damage, are
uncertain and, at best, quite small.
   This  appears  to  be  the  conclusion  of  the  National Acid
Precipitation   Assessment   Program  (NAPAP),   which   is  just
completing at 10-year scientific  study.  This monumental federal
program  may be  worth every  penny of  the half  billion dollars
spent -- if only it substantiates that the ecological damage from
acid rain would take  decades, not years, to  occur, if it occurs
at  all.  There  is time  for measured  responses that  avoid the
costly mistakes that come from panicky over-reaction.
   Acid  deposition, commonly  referred to  as acid  rain, occurs
when  sulfur  dioxide  and nitrogen  oxides,  emitted  from fuel-
burning  power  plants,  motor vehicles  and  other  man-made and
natural sources, are transformed into acid compounds.  Carried by
the winds, they either fall out in  dry form or rain out in water
droplets, often  quite far from  their sources  of emission.  The
scientific debate  has been  about the  precise relationship that
the levels and  locations of emissions have  with the acidity and
locations of the  rain, and about the  severity of the ecological
effects.  The policy debate has  been about the degree and timing
of emission control  and about who  -- and what  sectors and what
regions -- should pay the  bills (read: billions) that ultimately
are passed on to consumers.
   NAPAP brings some answers  to these debates.  First, America's
best-kept secrets:  From 1973  to 1988,  sulfur dioxide emissions
decreased 23%, to 24 million tons, despite a 45% increase in coal
use; nitrogen oxides  have declined 14% since  a 1978 peak.  Both
decreases are the result of current clean-air laws.
   And now  the kicker, the  outcome of this  grand experiment in
emissions  reduction:  ``No  apparent  trend  in  the  acidity of
rainfall  has  been  detected,''   according  to  James  Mahoney,
director  of   NAPAP,  in  October   testimony  before  Congress.
``Because of complex atmospheric reactions, percentage reductions
in emissions may  not result in  similar percentage reductions in
depositions,'' he  added.  Thus  the relationship  is not  at all
proportional  -- as  was claimed  in a  1983 National  Academy of
Sciences report,  widely used as  the basis for  proposals to cut
sulfur dioxide emissions, including the Senate bill.
   NAPAP also counters  the common wisdom  that acid rain effects
are caused only  by sulfur dioxide  from industrial sources.  The
Adirondacks, Catskills  and Poconos  are all  downwind from major
sulfur dioxide  sources in the  Midwest, yet  according to NAPAP,
only  11%  of  the  lakes  in  the  Adirondacks  and  2%  in  the
Catskills/Poconos  have  enough  acidification  to  damage  fish.
Mostly small  lakes are  affected, further  suggesting that local
geology  and  soil  drainage  may  be  a  contributing  factor in
   Another surprise:  Except for  red spruce  at high elevations,
acid rain hardly  seems to bother trees,  and may even contribute
to fertilization.  Similarly, agricultural crops are sensitive to
ozone, but not  to acid rain.  Acid  rain's effects on materials,
buildings and  statues are  difficult to  quantify.  In  spite of
lurid claims by the American  Lung Association, there is no solid
evidence on health effects.  Finally, acid droplets do cause some
deterioration  of   visibility,  but  so   do  all  particulates,
including sand and dust.
   So what's all the fuss  about?  Asking this question about the
emperor's clothes got a former  NAPAP director into trouble.  His
successor,  Mr.  Mahoney, had  to  admit to  Sen.  Daniel Patrick
Moynihan  (D.,  N.Y.) at  the  October hearing  that  even heroic
efforts to reduce  emissions may not  improve small lakes located
in  acidic  drainage  basins   --  certainly  not  very  quickly.
Treating these lakes with lime every  few years would be far more
   Acid rain has  become a symbol  of national sin  -- the sin of
prosperity  -- calling,  it  seems, for  national  expiation.  We
offer in sacrifice jobs and economic growth.  Scientific evidence
no longer seems  to matter; nor  does an analysis  of the cost of
controls vs. the  benefits that might be  achieved.  The odds are
that the debate in  Congress on the Clean  Air Bill will continue
to  ignore the  NAPAP results  -- the  only scientific  basis for
determining benefits  -- since  NAPAP doesn't  produce the answer
that regulators want to hear.
   Why does the bill still call for a sulfur dioxide reduction of
10 million tons?  Why  not two million, or  five million, or even
all 24 million tons?   It's hard to answer  this when there is no
cost-benefit analysis to  guide policy.  Yet  everyone knows that
as the degree  of control is raised,  costs escalate wildly while
benefits increase only slightly.
   The  proper course  is not  hard to  find.  With  no impending
catastrophe  on  the  horizon, the  current  improvements  due to
existing  clean-air laws  should be  speed  up by  easing certain
restrictions rather than by imposing new ones.  For example:
   o Encourage policies that lead  to a more rapid replacement of
old power plants and of older, heavily polluting cars.
   o  Allow a  free  choice of  the  technology or  of  any other
measure to reduce  emissions, coupled with  an expanded system of
flexible emissions trading.
   o Increase the utilization of existing nuclear plants.
   o Conserve more energy wherever it makes economic sense.
   Only after  this first stage  of emission  reductions has been
exhausted,  and any  reduction  in acid  rain  documented, should
legislators even consider the  more drastic control measures that
threaten the economic well-being of Americans.

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