US and Canada report major air pollution cuts

The United States and Canada are congratulating themselves on their success in meeting emission reduction targets set by their environmental agencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published US-Canada 2000 Air Quality Agreement Progress Report, the fifth in a series of biennial reports resulting from the 1991 United States-Canada Air Quality Agreement. The bilateral agreement set out to address the issue of trans-boundary air pollution. The report cites significant reductions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. Both countries exceeded the targets they set for reducing emissions of these acidifying chemicals. Overall rainfall acidity in the eastern USA has been reduced by up to 25% compared to the 1980s.

The US ended the first phase of its sulphur dioxide reduction programme this year and begins a new phase working towards stricter emissions caps. Utilities covered under the first phase reported SO2 emissions of 4.9 million tonnes, which was 28% below allowable levels for 1999 and a reduction of more than 50% from 1980 levels. Full implementation of the US sulphur dioxide program in 2010 is projected to result in a 10 million ton reduction of SO2 emissions, which will be about 40 % below 1980 levels.

Canada’s national cap of 3.2 million tonnes for SO2 emissions becomes fully operational this year. The nation’s SO2 emissions are already below the cap, at 2.7 million tonnes, and they are projected to stay below the cap in the future. Canada also reduced its year 2000 nitrogen oxides emissions from stationary sources like power plants by more than 100,000 tonnes below the forecast level of 970,000 tonnes.

In the United States, NOx emissions from power generation for 2000 are expected to be reduced by more than two million tonnes below forecast levels. NOx emissions from all sources are expected to be two million tonnes below 1980 levels this year. As a result of the reductions, some ecosystems in New England are beginning to show signs of recovery from acidic damage.

Acid rain was the initial focus of the bilateral agreement. Later the remit was expanded to include ground level ozone and particulates. In April 1997 the countries’ environmental ministers signed an agreement to develop a Joint Plan of Action for Addressing Transboundary Air Pollution.

The report includes data on the progress in expanding co-operative efforts to reduce air emissions of ground level ozone (smog) and particulates. The report includes information about new co-operative efforts to assess the impact of particulate transport and to develop a joint work plan to address the problem. Other areas of co-operation include data analysis, modelling, monitoring and information sharing.

This year’s negotiations between Canada and the US to develop an ozone annexe to the Agreement indicate that both governments are committed to continued development of the air quality initiative.

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