News FocusEnvironment

Acid Rain Control: Success on the Cheap

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Science  06 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5391, pp. 1024
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5391.1024

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After 20 years of control, emissions of sulfur dioxide--the chief precursor of acid rain--are down by half in the United States, and most lakes and forests are on the road to recovery. And this success has come surprisingly cheap: The latest cost estimates are about $1 billion per year--dramatically lower than earlier forecasts of $10 billion or more, and about half as much as even the lowest estimates. Economists attribute this partially to the unusual flexibility of U.S. regulations and their use of the free market. As negotiators gather this week in Buenos Aires to try to figure out how to cut greenhouse gas emissions (see sidebar), the story of U.S. acid rain control offers a case study in the successful regulation of a wide-ranging pollutant.