Project 88 included 36 recommendations in 6 broad problem areas. The White House decided to tackle acid rain, which was damaging forests especially in the northeast and Great Lakes region. Acid rain is caused by electric power plants which burn coal with a high sulphur content. Previous efforts to curb acid rain, such as proposals to require that all coal plants install “scrubbers”, had been politically infeasible due to their high cost.
Project 88’s solution, later adapted in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, was to “Initiate an Acid Rain Reduction Credit program”. Essentially, emissions of sulphur dioxide were to be reduced by 50%. It was not considered important that each coal-burning power plant reduce its emissions by 50% - only that the collective emissions of all coal plants be reduced 50%. Utilities could install the expensive scrubbers, switch to a lower sulphur coal, switch to a different fuel, improve conservation or, somewhat controversially, pay another utility to over comply at whatever price was determined by the market.
Critics assailed the legislation as “paying for the right to pollute”. The emissions market for SO2, however, is generally considered a success. In 1991, the estimated price of reducing emissions by installing scrubbers was over $600 per ton. In 2009, the price of emissions credits had dropped to $88 per ton. (The price today is near zero. The coal industry is declining in the United States for economic, not environmental, reasons as fracking produces natural gas more cheaply than coal can be mined.)
The acid rain program is an example of “cap and trade”, a strategy that has been proposed on an international scale to combat global warming. The acid rain program only applies to a relatively small number of smokestacks, however, whereas there are billions of sources of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide – not to mention no international consensus of how credits should be awarded. Also, many who support economic incentives to combat global warming favor a carbon tax (revenue neutral or not) rather than cap and trade – there are fierce academic debates between advocates of these two principal forms of economic incentives.
California water – the Central Valley Project Improvement Act
In 1992, numerous environmental advocates in California, including EDF, worked with Senator Bill Bradley and Congressman George Miller on the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. There was growing consensus that the diversion of water that had been so beneficial to Central Valley agriculture had also caused significant damage to rivers and wetlands, and that the Central valley Project’s priorities should be “rebalanced”.
The CVPIA was an historic effort to protect and restore California’s wetlands, rivers, migratory water birds, salmon and other fish species, and also to promote more sustainable water supplies. Principal elements include:
· Guaranteed water for Central Valley wetlands,
· Flow improvements to aid fisheries,
· A restoration fund to improve habitats,
· A mandate to restore California’s Trinity River, and
· Water marketing provisions to encourage and reward agricultural efficiency.