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Acid Rain:
Fixing Our Problems




Acid rain is a problem that effects everyone that comes into contact with it. It can be bad for the plants and animals in an area, as well as be bad for our personal health as human beings. Here you will find some policy options that are available to those who make public policy, both on the national and local levels, that can help to reduce the negative effects of acid rain, and help to improve public awareness about the problem.

In 1970, the U.S. government passed the Clean Air Act. Since then, electricity-producing energy plants, that produce that electricity through the use of burning coal, have invested in technologies that clean the sulfur, sulfuric acid, and nitric acids from the smoke that is emanated from the burning of this fossil fuel. For example, on the south side of Indianapolis, there is a coal-burning power plant that is near the intersection of Harding and Raymond Streets. A few years ago, they sent everyone that lives close by, and uses power from that power plant, a letter saying that they constructed a new smokestack with scrubbing technologies, that is meant to clean the sulfur from the exhaust fumes of those impurities that can cause air pollution and acid rain.

The Canadian governments, including their national and provincial governments, have created legislation that requires a 50% reduction in acid-rain-causing emissions. Of course, even if there are heavy fines on power-providing companies because they haven’t followed the law, the truth of the matter is that this is something that is difficult for the Canadian governments, federal and provincial, to control. First of all, much of the acid rain that happens in Canada, especially over Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories is from pollution caused in the United States. In other words, Canada can try to push their own businesses to stop pollution of this sort, but with no success since they are not the primary culprit. Secondly, even if they succeed in getting their own coal-burning power-producing plants to eliminate all sources of acid rain pollution within their process, they have only succeeded in eliminating one source of that acid rain – they have not stopped the acid rain that comes from the burning of fossil fuels (oil-based fuels) in all the automobiles that cross their roadways.

The United States finally passed legislation in 1990, as amendments to the original Clean Air Act, that was quite similar to the legislation passed in Canada earlier, requiring a mandatory decrease in acid-rain emissions.

In 1991, an agreement was signed, bilateral in nature, between the United States and Canada that made each nation responsible for any air pollution it caused on the other nation, including acid rain. Within this agreement there is a permanent limit on how much sulfur dioxide emissions are caused by the power plants and other manufacturing facilities of both nations. There is also an agreement that reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions from the using of automobiles over time. This requires both nations to put up heavy investments, in order to make sure their power plants and manufacturing facility smokestacks are equipped with scrubbing technologies that eliminate sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants from being emitted into the atmosphere, developing other technologies that eliminate the need for coal-burning power plants, as well as developing the proper technologies that can be placed on automobiles to keep them from emitting nitrogen oxide from their exhaust, and even to eliminate the use of the burning of the fossil fuels that cause the pollution by replacing it with other propulsion systems that are more eco-friendly.

So, what kind of public policy decisions can the United States make that might improve our problems when it comes to acid rain? There are several things the United States could do:

  • In place of some of the taxes that businesses, such as electricity providers, pay, some of that money, that used to be allocated for tax-payment purposes, would be set aside, and placed in a special savings account. This account would provide the funding for the scrubbing technologies that these providers would need to clean the fumes from their coal-burning plant’s smokestacks. There would not be a mandatory timeline as to when an electricity provider would need to have that technology in place; there would only be a mandatory percentage of their income that got put into that savings account. Not all providers would have the money needed to get scrubbing technology at the same time, but would get it eventually, and construct those systems when they acquired the proper amount of money. Perhaps this type of policy is already in place.
  • After they construct the scrubbing systems to eliminate sulfur dioxide from their emissions, they would then continue to save the same amount of money, this time to be used for purposes of purchasing and constructing the equipment needed to produce electricity from renewable energy sources, including wind turbines, solar-panel roofing, or geothermal systems, allowing for the total percentage of electricity that is provided by burning of fossil-fuels to decrease over time.
  • They would allow funding of research and funding of new technologies to take place that could eventually replace our present automobile propulsion systems which rely on the burning of fossil fuels. Of course, it could be stated that there are several times, supposedly, in the past few decades that people have invented either carburetor systems that greatly increased fuel efficiency, or other type of propulsion systems, but none of these things have made it to market. Part of the problem is that there are so many jobs at stake in the oil industry, including construction, extraction, refining, distribution, and even gas station attendants, as well as a host of other secondary and tertiary service jobs, as well as the fact that it happens to be a large sector of the total economy as a whole, as well as the fact that some nations rely almost entirely on the oil industry for their own national economies, that bringing these new technologies to the forefront could cause high unemployment, social upheaval and instability, a deep economic recession, if not a depression, strained relationships between our nation and other oil-dependent nations, as well as the possibility for war, including a world war triggered by worldwide national economic collapses, and a host of other possible calamities as well – all leading our government, perhaps the oil industry, and perhaps even the automobile manufacturing industry, to acquire these technologies and suppress them. We're not dealing with a conspiracy theory here, just a desire to not cause all the negative consequences of being in a socio-economic system that is tied so heavily to oil-industry money.

These are just a few of many different ideas that we could come up with, if given more time, that would help to alleviate the whole problem of acid rain. As for public awareness about the problem of acid rain, efforts have been made, including the making of some documentaries on PBS for the viewing public, as well as having that issue be part of our education in our high schools and colleges, perhaps either as part of a basic science, or social science curriculum. Hopefully, in the future, we will continue to make even more of an effort to bring about public awareness of our environmental problems, as well as more effort to create new eco-friendly technologies.

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