Diplomacy: The 30% Club

  • Share
  • Read Later

A treaty to curb acid rain

It is believed to be responsible for the slow death of one-third of West Germany's forests, the poisoning of lakes and woods in North America and the contamination of drinking water on both continents. But in part because acid rain is an insidious form of air pollution that is carried long distances before falling as rain and snow, there has been little cooperation between those who create the problem and those who suffer its consequences. That is changing. At a meeting in Ottawa last week, representatives of Canada and nine European nations* signed an agreement to reduce the sulfur dioxide that spews forth from industrial plants, a major cause of acid rain, by at least 30% before 1993. The "30% club," as the group was quickly dubbed, hopes to pressure other nations, principally the U.S., to adopt similar controls. Said Canadian Environment Minister Charles Caccia: "You can't continue to dump on us the garbage that you are producing on your own property."

Acid rain has become a major point of contention between the U.S. and Canada. In February, the Canadian government sent a stiff letter of protest to Washington, accusing the U.S. of ignoring "principles contained in bilateral treaties directed at protecting the North American environment." The Reagan Administration insists that the huge outlays necessary to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions significantly in the U.S. cannot be justified without further study. The U.S. last year spent $28.8 million on acid-rain research, and, if Congress approves, that will rise to $55.5 million this year. By contrast, Budget Director David Stockman puts the cost of eliminating acid rain at $21 billion, a sum that he has cavalierly translated as $6,000 for every fish saved. The Ottawa agreement, said Environmental Protection Agency Official Fitzhugh Green, "may add some heat, but it won't add much light."

Critics of this slow-motion approach warn that a broad-based environmental emergency may already exist. Said Swedish Minister for the Environment Svante Lundkvist: "We know enough to take action now. We must act before it is too late."

If the U.S. is unmoved by the rising chorus from other Western nations, it may find it harder to ignore critics at home. All of the Democratic candidates for President have talked about acid rain in their campaigns. Additional pressure on the White House came last week when six northeastern states—New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—brought suit in Federal District Court in Washington to force the EPA to enact tougher restrictions on sulfur-dioxide emissions.

* West Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.