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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Hot Over ‘Acid Rain’

Rarely have I seen Canadians so hopping angry as they are about “acid rain.”

“It’s killing our lakes, poisoning our drinking water, damaging our soil and most of the bloody stuff comes from stateside,” said an elderly cab driver. He avowed that his own respiratory problem gets him really upset when he hears company polluters dismiss the seriousness of “acid rain.”

Over and over again Canadians are asking visitors from the United States why Americans know and care so little about acid rain. After all, they say, New York state and New England also are getting the fallout of sulphur dioxide from America’s industrial Midwest on their land and water, as do the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. I suggested that this summer groups like the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain might consider an information caravan through New England and Middle Atlantic states to help mobilize their neighbors to the south.

Such transnational agitation would highlight a common economic and health interest between the two countries. For acid rain—sometimes as acidic as vinegar or lemon juice—is a rapidly worsening problem. Ontario University students are distributing a public alert titled “Endangered Ontario” which unsettles civic apathy with the following warnings:

–“In Ontario, 2,000 to 4,000 lakes have already been killed—robbed of all their fish life and much of their plant life—due to acid rain. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment says a total of 48,500 Ontario lakes will meet the same fate within the next 10 to 20 years unless something is done quickly to reduce emissions.

—”Increased acidity leaches toxic heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury from the soil into the water. making it unsafe for animal or human consumption.

—”Forest and plant life are expected to suffer serious long-term damage; acid precipitation significantly reduces the durability of many building materials.”

Although the United States “exports” four times more sulphur dioxide than it receives from Canada, thoughtful Canadians know they have to clean up their own back yard, too. Nitrous oxides from Canadian motor vehicle emissions also feed the acidity of the rainfall. Yet, Canadian government standards are much weaker on this pollutant than U.S. standards. The giant utility Ontario Hydro has yet to put one scrubber on any of its seven coal-burning plants. And it wants to bring two more scrub­berless plants on line to export electric power to the utility that owns Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

The latter move by Ontario Hydro has provoke the latest uproar. The Canadian federal government an­nounced that unless Hydrocontrols its pollution, it will not be permitted to sell this electricity to the United States. In early February, scores of members of Parliament from all three parties signed a petition demanding an “unequivocal guarantee” that the “best available technology” will be used to reduce acid rain emissions.

There is nothing new about this technology. Japan reduced its sulphur dioxide level by 50 percent while in­creasing its energy consumption by 120 percent between 1970 and 1975. The fact that industrial lobbyists and the Reagan administration are pushing Congress to weaken the Clean Air Act of 1970 is most nettling to the Canadians. In an unusual move, the Windsor, Ontario, Utilities Commission has sent the auto industry’s chief advocate, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) a resolution opposing his bill. “Windsor,” the commission, reminded Dingell, “has one of the highest respiratory disease rates in Canada.” Dingell’s crippling bill displays no concern whatsoever with the acid rain menace.

In August 1980, the Canadian and U.S. governments signed a memorandum of agreement which pledged both countries to work together to control acid rain. Ottawa officials are not reluctant to denounce the Reagan ad­ministration for foot-dragging and gross indifference A remark by David Stockman about the minimal worth some fish is often alluded to here as representative of Washington’s ignorance. Perhaps the powerful outdoor-sport lobby and the fishing-recreation-tourist industry will begin flexing their muscles to get Washington thinking a little. Quiet waters mean no dollars, which means no jobs.

The Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain is taking no chances, however, and has opened offices in Washington, D.C., (1825 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20036) to make sure the Reaganites receive the message.