EPA Fails to Protect Nation from Acid Rain

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed a legal challenge on June 1 against the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to fix woefully out-of-date air quality standards. The agency itself admits that these standards are inadequate to protect the nation’s parks, forests, rivers and lakes from acid rain.

Instead of following the law and doing what is necessary to protect our natural resources, the EPA has chosen to sit on the sidelines when even its own scientists have identified the problem and provided a formula for action. Meanwhile, acid rain continues to poison our waters and threaten our forests.

“Acid rain isn’t a thing of the past, but an ongoing and very real threat to forest ecosystems and wild fisheries across the country,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA is ignoring the hard work of its own scientific experts and instead relying on outdated air-quality standards that it knows are not protective enough.”

Power plants and other industrial operations pump pollution, including sulfur and nitrogen compounds, into the air. When this pollution later falls onto forests, rivers and lakes, it has an acidifying effect — hence the term “acid rain.” Acidic waters harm fish and other aquatic organisms. In the Adirondack Mountains, for example, lakes with more acidic water support only half the species of fish that might otherwise live there. Reduced growth rates in trout and salmon have also been attributed to acid stress.

Acid rain threatens entire forest ecosystems, national parks and wilderness areas. Although places across the country are at risk from this pollution, the eastern United States — including the Adirondacks, the Green and White mountains, and the Appalachians — and the upper Midwest are among the most sensitive areas.

This legal battle has a long history. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set so-called “secondary” air-quality standards limiting ambient concentrations of air pollutants that affect “public welfare,” which includes ecosystems and natural resources. The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups sued the agency in 2005 over its failure to review the secondary standard for acid rain-causing sulfur and nitrogen compounds — a standard first established in 1971 and not strengthened since. That litigation led to the EPA’s current review of the standard, in which the agency admitted that existing standards are inadequate to protect sensitive ecosystems and fish species from the effects of acid rain. Yet the EPA chose to leave these inadequate standards in place, rejecting efforts by the agency’s own scientific experts to devise a new, more protective standard.

Related Stories:

Big Coal Gets Desperate, Begs Customers to Complain to EPA

10 Ways EPA Has Improved Your Life: An Anniversary Retrospective

BP’s Dispersants Could Cause Acid Rain All Over East Coast


Photo of acid rain-contributing power plant courtesy of flickr commons/zacheryjensen


Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago


Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson5 years ago


Georgia L.
Georgia L5 years ago

The republicons who want to weaken standards further do have the available option to move to places in the US where they can light their tap water, get lead poisoning, or even mercury poisoning for themselves and their families. Don't drag the rest of us there with you.

Kelly Rogers5 years ago

Just think of four years with the Rethuglicons. You think our environment and animals are hurting NOW.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Ron B.
Ron B5 years ago

How ironic that the EPA was founded by Republican Richard Nixon of all people, but after the Bush 2 administration finished with it, the EPA was just a demoralized shell of it's former self. It's inexcusable that Obama hasn't restrengthened it with adequate funding. He is the equivalent of a moderate Republican just as Nixon was, but Obama won't even give the EPA the power that it had back then. This is just another example of how much more power corporations have today over whoever is in the White House, Republican or Democrat.

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

It's obvious the EPA is taking a hands-off approach, letting the polluters control the situation.

Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson5 years ago


Adam S.
Adam S5 years ago

Maybe it's time to get rid of the EPA?

Bill Eagle
Bill E5 years ago

EPA was weakened by the last Administration and now it is very much underfunded. It is hard to do a good job, when you don't have the money to pay people to do it. The Ryan House is starving our Civil Service, and most agencies don't have enough people to properly do their work.