Budget cuts could threaten acid rain monitoring stations

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(Host) Environmental researchers are worried that proposed federal budget cuts threaten ongoing studies of acid rain.

The cuts could affect about 20 monitoring sites in Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Gary Lovett is a senior scientist at the Institute of Ecosystems Studies in Millbrook, New York.

He says acid rain is still a problem, and that proposed cuts will make it hard to tell if pollution control measures are working. If the budget is reduced as planned by the Bush Administration,
a program that monitors acid rain impacts on streams and lakes may have to be shutdown.

(Lovett) "We simply won’t have the data that we need to track the trends in acid deposition. All that 20 years of surface water – monitoring that – we’ve done will be lost."

(Dillon) The federal government funds the work with about $5 million dollars in annual appropriations. Lovett says that’s a relative bargain compared to the approximately $3 billion that it costs each year to control the pollutants that form acid rain.

The monitoring sites are scattered throughout New England, New York’s Adirondack Mountains and the Appalachian plateau in Pennsylvania. About 20 of the sites are in Vermont. Lovett says that the work in Vermont may end if the cuts go through

(Lovett) "Those are sites, particular lakes in the case of Vermont, where repeated samples have been taken of the chemistry and it’s been tracked over time, in the Green Mountains for the most part. And there just wouldn’t be any more sampling of them. So we’d have the previous years’ data, but there wouldn’t be any information going forward if the program was cut."

(Dillon) The 1990 Clean Air Amendments required new restrictions on sulfur dioxide from power plants – one of the pollutants that cause acid rain.

(Lovett) "But it hasn’t solved the problem. Most of these streams are still acid, and they’re recovering slightly. We can see slight trends toward recovery but most of them haven’t recovered to the point where they were before."

(Dillon) The budget cuts are part of the Environmental Protection Agency annual appropriate and include a 25% reduction for key monitoring programs. The House has already approved the budget, but it’s still under consideration in the Senate.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy is a senior member of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the EPA budget. A spokesman says Leahy is aware of the cuts and hopes to restore the funds.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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