Thrawn Rickle 36


Acid Rain—NAPAP
© 2003 Williscroft

A country vocalist croons that we “burn fossil fuel and get it back as acid rain.” 

A popular conception is that our forests are being depleted to manufacture paper, and that the remainder is dying because of acid rain; that our lakes are becoming acid laden, killing fish and other aquatic life. This is based in large part on the mineral titration theory, which was the key to environmentalist alarms regarding the acid rain threat during the 1980s. As quoted by Chetly Zarko in a 1992 article The Michigan Review, William Anderson, Professor of Economics at the University of Tennessee, succinctly summarized mineral titration theory: This theory asserted that acidic soils “…have little buffering capacity against acid rain. Because much of the soil in the Northeast and eastern Canada is acidic, many scientists simply assumed that acid rain ran off directly into streams and lakes and made them acidic. ... Scientific models based on the mineral titration theory predict that eliminating half of the acidity of rain could raise the pH level to a more neutral and life-supporting…” level over 50 years. The mineral titration theory also predicted that the sulfur-dioxide in acid rain was destroying forests by stripping soil of nutrients, eroding tree bark, and leaching soil metals into the groundwater. 

In order to assess this potentially devastating problem, in 1980 Congress created and funded the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP). Seven hundred leading environmental scientists participated in NAPAP research, spending $540 million to define the problem, establish its extent, and develop solutions. 

After ten years, these eminent researchers reached several startling conclusions. The late Warren T. Brookes, the eminent hard-hitting economics columnist, summarized the results in The Quill, and the late Dixy Lee Ray, scientist, Washington State Governor, and ecological gadfly, wrote about them in her best selling book Environmental Overkill

Forests aren’t dying — they’re expanding. For example, in 1952 U.S. forest land consisted of 664 million acres containing 610 billion cubic feet of growing stock. In 1987 this had increased by 24 percent to 728 million acres with 756 billion cubic feet. Most of this increase has been on private land in the Northeast and South. 

Acid rain seems to affect only a relatively small number of Red Spruce growing high in the northern Appalachians, but the evidence is ambiguous — the acidic level of the rain may not be the problem at all. It seems that these trees are under environmental duress as the cost of existing where they grow — primarily wind and cold. Furthermore, throughout the Northeast, many species of trees and bushes actually thrive on acidic soil. Red and Black Spruce, eastern hemlock, balsam fir, oaks, rhododendrons, and blueberries prefer acidic soil. The nitrogen and sulfur contained in rain that falls in these areas actually fertilizes some three hundred million acres on which it falls. Crop yields and protein count in these areas is up significantly as a result of the acid rain. This has not been reported by the media in the United States, although the same result figures prominently in a Swedish report on the same subject as reported by Edward Krug in a 1991 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The best available information taken from a review of Indian history and the evidence of lake bottom core samples show that they were acidic and fishless before the 1800s. Dr. Edward Krug who led the original NAPAP study, says the Iroquois word ‘Adirondack’ means ‘bark eater.’ According to Zarko, Anderson says that lake fish at the turn of the century were due to “…extensive slash-and-burn logging. Eliminating the acid vegetation caused the soil to become more alkaline (a high pH), reducing the acid flowing into lakes and streams. In turn, the lakes became more hospitable to fish. After ‘forever wild’ legislation stopped the logging in 1915, the watersheds reverted to acid soils and vegetation, and the lakes became acidic again.” NAPAP measured the highest acid rain level in the Ohio Valley—but no acid lakes at all. Florida, New Zealand, and Australian lakes all are more acidic than Adirondack lakes, even though their soil is similar and they have essentially no acid rain. In fact, the most significantly acidic lakes were found in Florida. 

The information contained in this report should have been welcome news for every concerned citizen. Although these results were widely accepted by the scientific community, unfortunately, the information was not acceptable either to the Environmental Protection Agency or to the Greens. Environmentalist political pressure on congress, and action by several members of congress, including especially Rep. James Scheuer (D-N.Y.) who called the report “intellectually dishonest,” eventually persuaded the EPA to replace the original Director of NAPAP, Dr. J. Lawrence Kulp, with Dr. James Mahoney, and to fire Krug. According to Brookes in Consumer Alert Comments, Dr. Mahoney was then directed to rewrite the report and repudiate its findings. 

Science had virtually overturned every tenant of the mineral titration theory. Nevertheless the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act ignored this. They mandated pH balance improvements to 75 lakes at an estimated cost of $200 billion over fifty years — $2.7 billion per lake; and they required installation of scrubbers in old power plant smoke stacks to remove 10 million tons of sulfur by the year 2000 — costing consumers $5 to $7 billion per year. 

Under Kulp, NAPAP had recommended liming selected lake watersheds and mandating a phase-in of “clean coal” technology. The total cost for this proposal, which encompasses every acidic lake in the United States and Canada, is $50 million. There is no additional cost to power consumers, and — in the estimate of these 700 scientists — the entire problem would be solved. Ironically, when Mahoney, was asked what would happen to lake and stream acidity if nothing at all were done over the next fifty years, he replied: “Nothing.” 

The scrubbing mandated by the Clean Air Act amendments produces three tons of toxic limestone sludge and one ton of carbon dioxide (the major “greenhouse gas”) for every ton of sulfur dioxide removed. Brookes predicted that if this act were actually to be enforced, by 1999 we would need landfill space for 30 million tons of this toxic sludge. 

The revised NAPAP report was issued in stages during 1990. The original information contained in this report should have been welcome news for every concerned citizen. Unfortunately, the information was suppressed by environmental concerns, and congress went on to pass the legislation. Mid-west coal-burning power plants were required to install scrubbing equipment, even though the coal immediately available to them the was low-sulfur and met the EPA requirements without scrubbing. The overall economics made it cheaper for them to purchase high sulfur coal from the northeast. A complete pollutant accounting of their situation shows that the overall pollutant level has risen as a result of all this. The only beneficiaries appear to be coal mining operations in the northeast and the environmental organizations they generously supported during the lobbying effort in congress. 

Kulp and Krug were eventually redeemed in the EPA’s eyes, since they had the backing of essentially the entire scientific community, but the damage had been done. The report was heavily edited and modified to fit the political requirements forced into place by the environmental lobby backed by the northeastern mining interests. The amendments to the Clean Air Act were passed and signed by President Bush before the report’s release. Since these amendments contained market-based provisions for trading pollution credits, the Bush administration was reluctant to tamper with it, in order not to risk losing these provisions in a rewrite. 

More recently, in 1996 NAPAP conducted an assessment of costs benefits and effectiveness of acid rain controls. Among other things this report concluded that “Most forest ecosystems are not currently known to be adversely impacted by acid deposition.” But under pressure from the Greens, it then dropped a significant acorn: “…if deposition levels [of SO2] are not reduced in areas where they are presently high, adverse effects may develop in more forests due to chronic, multiple-decade exposure.” Significantly, this speculative statement is completely unsupported by data in the report. 

You can draw your own conclusions about who would benefit most from these programs: we tax-paying citizens who live and work in the environment, or those individuals and organizations who are responsible for administering the vast sums that you and I pay, and those groups who benefit from the continuing lobbying effort by the unholy marriage between tree huggers and northeast mining interests. 

Perhaps Chicken Little knows more about the sky than she lets on.