Ohio power company funded UVM acid rain research

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(Host) We’ve been hearing on NPR that American Electric Power of Ohio has agreed to spend four-point-six billion dollars to clean up emissions from its power plants.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, American Electric helped fund groundbreaking research at the University of Vermont that demonstrated the company’s emissions contributed to acid rain in Vermont and the Northeast.

(Sneyd) Hub Vogelman calls American Electric Power his favorite utility.

Vogelman broke scientific ground in the 1980s when he published the results of his studies on Camel’s Hump.

He was able to show that the death of conifers on the mountain was related to acid rain.

That was of concern to power companies in the Midwest because their emissions of sulfur dioxide were believed to fall in the Northeast as acid rain.

American Electric had hoped Vogelman and his colleagues at UVM would find a different culprit for the damage that was sweeping forests across the Northeast.

But it was clear to Vogelman that acid rain played a key role. And that’s what he wrote.

His publication came two years into a three-year funding grant from American Electric.

(Vogelman) “It literally changed our lives around here. They wrote to me and said they were very unhappy that I published what I did. They thought it was premature, which it wasn’t. But they continued to fund us. They honored their promise to fund us for three years. I’m sure it hurt, but they did it.”

(Sneyd) And now, more than 25 years after Vogelman’s article, American Electric has settled a nine-year-old lawsuit.

It has agreed to put scrubbers and other equipment on its power plants to reduce their emissions.

Vogelman says it’s better late than never.

(Vogelman)“ I feel optimistic about these things because Mother Nature and her forests are very resilient and they bounce back if you give them a little break. So any reduction is going to help. Now whether you’re going to suddenly see all the hillsides bursting in green color, I don’t know if it’s going to be like that. But I think you can put the brakes on this and ultimately reverse the damage that’s been done”.

(Sneyd) Officials say the agreement with American Electric calls for an 80 percent reduction in harmful emissions within about a decade.

Granta Nakayama of the Environmental Protection Agency says the improvements to American Electric power plants will be felt in New England.

(Nakayama) “The best news of all is that this settlement will result in record-breaking environmental and public health benefits, not only in the areas near the plants, but also in the vast downwind plants that are affected by emissions from these plants.”

(Sneyd) Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell says that’s been the goal of the lawsuit since it was filed in 1999 by Vermont and seven other states, the EPA and a coalition of environmental groups.

(Sorrell) "This is really a great victory. And if in 1999 I thought that this result was reasonably possible I would have been dancing then. But now there’s cause for huge celebration".

(Sneyd) Vogelman, the retired UVM researcher, says there’s reason for celebration.

But he says there’s also cause for new concern.

He says that’s because emissions from cars and trucks create even more acid rain than the power plants.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

(Host) Vermont Edition will take an in-depth look at the science of acid rain Wednesday at noon on VPR.


AP Photo/Paul Vernon

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