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The Acid Rain Controversy.

The Acid Rain Controversy, by James L. Regens and Robert W. Rycroft. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 (1988). Numerous tables and graphs; 228 pp.; hardcover, $24.95; paperback, $12.95.

Deciding what to do about acid rain is a problem whose shape resembles the controversy about affirmative-action hiring. It raises profound philosophical questions about why the living should pay for the sins of the past. The goals are always painfully clear and simple-employ more minorities, reduce air pollution. In each case, if we send the bill to the people who benefit from past sins, we are billing the innocent. Even if they were alive when harmful decisions were made, they did nothing illegal. All of society went along-even most of the victims. We now know atmospheric pollution affects crops and trees. There is overwhelming public outcry to do something. What to do and who will pay involves philosophy, politics, and ethics.

How to deal with acid rain would be 100 percent guesswork without science, but there would be no deal at all without opening a political path. Democratic Americans join scientists and businessmen in believing all men are equal in discussing moral, political, and philosophical questions. Unfortunately, they are not as expert as the authors of this book.

The first part of the book provides a good summary of how acid rain rocketed into the first magnitude of environmental problems. As W.H. Auden said of poetry, science makes nothing happen. Public opinion does. The authors have provided a valuable service by telling us how acid rain became a political problem.

The two chapters on the science of acid rain and control strategies provide an admirable summary of a complex problem. The last three chapters, which occupy half of the book, describe the economic dimension and the political options. These are chapters filled with numbers, names, and events. It's an inside story: co-author James L. Regens chaired an Environmental Protection Agency Task Force on Acid Precipitation at the beginning of the Reagan administration when ideological battle lines were clearest.

This book doesn't make the reader an expert on the chemistry of air pollution. It does outfit him with an understanding of the interest groups that must be accommodated and the political processes that must be used as we reach for solutions.
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Author:Kaufman, Wallace
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1989
Words:383
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