Air pollutants that contribute to acid rain in eastern mountains and water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay would have to be dramatically reduced under legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate. The bill, introduced by Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and Alfonse D'Amato, (R-NY), would require that utility sulfur dioxide emissions be reduced 50 percent below what is now required, and that nitrogen oxide emissions from utilities be reduced 70 percent from 1990 levels. The nitrogen oxide cuts would go further than those recently proposed by the EPA.
"Studies on the combined effect of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide strongly suggest that the Clean Air Act will not be adequate to prevent long-term deterioration of national treasures, such as the Adirondack Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay," Moynihan said. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments required utilities to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by half - about 10 million tons a year - and capped total emissions at the lower levels. The act also required a 2-million-ton-a-year reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions, though no cap was established for utility nitrogen oxide emissions.
Research has suggested that the cuts in the 1990 acts were not enough to stem acid rain problems. In addition, research has suggested that nitrogen oxide emissions are a more important component to the acid rain problem - as well as a bigger problem for coastal waters - than was thought when the 1990 legislation was written. About a quarter of the nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay is thought to originate from airborne deposition, most of which originates from nitrogen oxide emissions.
"This pollution is a form of airborne terrorism, and it's killing our forests, lakes and streams," D'Amato said. While the EPA has recently proposed sharp reductions for nitrogen oxide emissions to curb ground-level ozone problems, those cuts are needed only during the summer months when smog is a problem. That means emissioncontrol devices used during the summer ozone season could, in some cases, be turned off the rest of the year. Because NOx emissions throughout the year contribute to acid rain and Chesapeake water quality problems, the legislation would require emission cuts in all seasons.
The reductions required in the "Acid Deposition Control Act of 1997," would have to be achieved by 2003. The bill would also set, for the first time, a cap for annual nitrogen oxide emissions. To make the program more cost effective, an emission trading system would then be established so plants with low emissions could "sell" credits to plants with high emissions, as long as the total emissions remained under the cap. Greater reductions would be required during the summer ozone season.
For sulfur dioxide, the cuts would take place within the framework of the existing emission trading system that was established under the 1990 legislation.
The legislation also directs the EPA to develop scientifically credible environmental indicators to determine whether those emission reductions are enough to protect the Chesapeake and other sensitive ecosystems. Those indicators could serve as the basis for additional action in the future.
The legislation also authorizes a $5 million research program by the EPA to study the impacts of nitrogen deposition on coastal watersheds and estuaries of the Eastern United States. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-NY.