Has the Clean Air Act Helped Reduce Acid Rain?

October 27th, 2006 by Adam

PLYMOUTH, NH- Do federal laws really work to reduce acid rain in northeast lakes? Plymouth State University’s Center for the Environment and partnering researchers have been chosen to help find the answer through a $1.1 million grant. The five-year grant, one of the largest ever received by PSU, will collect and analyze lake samples from Maine to the Adirondacks in an effort to gauge whether the Clean Air Act has helped reduce the effects of acid rain on Northeast surface waters. This grant is part of the national EPA program to collect long-term data on acid rain impacts on lakes.

Center for the Environment Director Dr. Steve Kahl has studied acid rain in New England’s surface waters for more than 25 years. The EPA grant will be instrumental in continuing this research to shed important light on the health of invaluable natural resources and whether current laws are effective in protecting them.

“The importance of the work relates directly to the federal Clean Air Act and future amendments in Congress. The key questions are; do reductions in acid-forming emissions from power plants and vehicles result in reductions in acid rain, and if so, do these reductions in acid rain result in less acidity in lakes? The answers to these questions will provide information for EPA to assess the need for future reductions in atmospheric deposition,” Kahl said.

The project will also collect samples from high elevation lakes in Maine, and with possible auxiliary funding from other sources, intends to sample high elevation lakes in New Hampshire. These lakes are the ‘canary’ lakes that are most responsive to acid rain.

Kahl worked on the 2003 EPA assessment of trends in acid rain while on sabbatical at EPA in Corvallis, Oregon. Kahl and his colleagues authored a report the results of which were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in 2004, available on the PSU webpage at www.plymouth.edu/cfe/pdfs/ES&T.pdf.

U.S. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) stated, “Plymouth State University is an emerging leader in scientific research, and its established meteorological program is one that has gained national attention. I am pleased that this EPA grant will help fund the University’s new Center for the Environment and it’s regional lake chemistry laboratory and will further our understanding about the health of our state’s surface waters.”

The new grant will help fund the new regional lake chemistry laboratory at PSU, being developed in partnership with the NH Department of Environmental Services to assist lake associations and other management groups with their need for environmental data in the north country and lakes district of NH. Graduate student Adam Baumann is funded by the grant to conduct his thesis research on the subject. Baumann is enrolled in the new Environmental Science and Policy graduate program at PSU.

Dr. Bill McDowell, director of the Water Resources Research Center at UNH, is a co-principal investigator on the grant and his laboratory will conduct some of the sample analysis. The grant will also fund researchers at the University of Maine and Dartmouth College to evaluate long-term changes in biological communities by analyzing changes in zooplankton over the past 20 years, using archived collections. The biological response is important because there are few records of fishery response to acid rain. The sampling of fisheries is destructive and effects the populations directly, so ‘indicators’ such as microscopic zooplankton are better suited for determining long term trends.
Federal officials are looking forward to reviewing the research findings. “Over the last decade, surface water chemistry data has played an important role in assessing ecological response to Clean Air Act programs, such as the Acid Rain Program,” according to Brian McLean, Director of EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. “As we move forward with implementing new programs, such as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, these data will be invaluable in helping us to understand whether we are adequately protecting sensitive ecosystems,” says McLean.

AFor more information contact PSU director of public relations Christopher M. Williams at cwilliams@plymouth.edu or (603) 535-2476.

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