Acid rain is one of many manifestations of how actions of society can have adverse effects on human health and welfare. Now more than ever before, the breadth of socioeconomic as well as environmental impacts associated with air pollutants, connections among pollutant contributions to these many impacts, and the implications of these connections are being recognized for policy making and development of management strategies.
It can no longer be argued that it is very costly to mediate acid rain and related air quality concerns. Assessments are beginning to suggest that multiple benefits associated with addressing acid rain in combination with other issues outweigh the costs of control of key responsible pollutants. In addition, when innovative strategies, which include market trading and incentives for conservation and use of clean fuels, are initiated, the costs of pollutant management become even lower. As factors that are not easily quantified monetarily are considered more directly in assessments, the benefits become even greater.
Recent analyses show that the implementation of the acid-rain-related part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments has resulted in reductions in acidity in the northeastern United States. Improvements in acid-related impacts have also been suggested. However, projections of future conditions over the next 20 to 50 years suggest that, unless more dramatic steps are taken, the overall burden of harmful pollutants could continue to rise in general in different parts of the country. Dramatic reductions in sulfur oxides, the current main contributors to acidity, alone are probably not enough. Planned reductions in nitrogen oxides may or may not be adequate. Similarly, continued close monitoring, if not increased management, of volatile
Handbook of Weather, Climate, and Water: Atmospheric Chemistry, Hydrology, and Societal Impacts, Edited by Thomas D. Potter and Bradley R. Colman. ISBN 0-471-21489-2 © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
organic compounds and fine particulates, and reassessment of their importance to acid rain and related concerns will be important over the next few years.
Of course, all of these issues are part of the bigger international picture of energy, environment, and economy. While the United States may be more aggressively and wisely addressing acid rain and related issues here at home, the projections for future fossil fuel use worldwide must be considered for the sake of regional air quality as well as the global climate condition. Capital investment in cleaner technologies such as renewable energy and the promotion of conservation strategies worldwide could bring long-term environmental and economic benefits that far surpass the initial costs. The alternative, continued growth in fossil fuel usage in developing countries, could exacerbate air quality problems that already exist in many of these areas and, in the long term, could cause the same acid rain damages experienced in many parts of North America and western Europe. In addition, it would contribute to adverse long-term carbon-dioxide-induced climate change.
As a contribution to our understanding of the atmospheric pollution problem and our role in the solution, this chapter summarizes:
• Acid rain and its relationship with other major issues
• U.S. response to the acid rain issue
• Current assessment of progress on reducing the effects of acid rain
• Projections and speculation on the future of acid rain
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