ANNAPOLIS – More needs to be done to protect Maryland’s streams from acid rain, environmentalists say, citing a new study showing that the state’s streams have not recovered since the Clean Air Act of 1990 was adopted.
Emissions from power plants that cause acid rain are carried by weather patterns across the East Coast and adversely affect stream habitats in western and southern Maryland, despite the regulations imposed by the Clean Air Act.
As much as 18 percent of stream miles, or about 12,000 miles, throughout Maryland have low fish and invertebrate counts from acid rain damage. Both factors measure stream health, according to the study released by the Clean Air Task Force last week.
In fact, as much as 28 percent of stream miles in Maryland may be considered chronically acidic or acidic after rainfall, said Ronald Klauda, a Department of Natural Resources stream expert.
Emissions have been in steady decline since changes were made to the Clean Air Act in 1990. However, national emission standards must be lowered even more, said activists who support the study.
“I think there is work that needs to be done on both the federal level and the state level,” said Kim Coble, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which supported the study results.
“We have been hearing about acid rain for a number of years. I think there’s a certain amount of complacency with regards to the issue,” she said.
People aren’t paying attention to the problem anymore, Klauda agreed. “Everybody thinks the problem has been solved,” he said.
When people see a stream that looks healthy they don’t realize that the number of fish and other smaller organisms are a better indicator of stream health.
“There are some streams in Maryland where there are no fish at all,” Klauda said.
Environmentalists and government officials agree acid rain is still a problem, but divide when talking about solutions.
Senate Bill 556, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, would further reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and mercury emissions by power plants.
The standards would be set by the Environmental Protection Agency in order to have a nationwide guideline for emissions.
Electric utilities like the concepts sketched out in the bill, said Janice Lantz, spokeswoman with Allegheny Energy Supply. However, she advocates a go- slow approach to the changes.
“There has to be a reasonable time for complying with the level of reduction,” she said, cautioning that the full results of the amendments made in 1990 are unknown.
“We really need to wait and see if the laws we have in place are working appropriately.”
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