Who remembers the acid rain scare of the 1980s? As an environmental professional the fear and hysteria resulting from the Acid Rain “Armageddon” is a prime example of how too many environmental policies are being formed based upon emotion and not sound science.
If you will recall, photos of forests annihilated by acid rain, buildings dissolved, and lakes and rivers destroyed created widespread fear. Since that time we discovered that the forests that were affected by the power plants that released SO2 where actually effected by the particles in the emissions and minimally if any by the formation of Sulfuric Acid (the byproduct of SO2). In fact, in some areas the SO2 actually had a beneficial effect on plant growth, and in certain areas farmers are now required to add sulfur as a fertilizer where previously it was a byproduct of coal combustion.
There is no question that SO2 treatment equipment on power plants fired by sour coal or coke is beneficial. The effects of this treatment equipment can be seen in the decrease of annual average SO2 concentrations in the US decreasing from 70 micrograms per meter cubed in 1960 to 12 in 2000. That is an 82% reduction, and the trend continues to decrease. This indicates that the current policies we have implemented are working, and if we are allowed to stay the coarse we can produce energy from the combustion of coal (soar or “clean”) without any adverse environmental effect from SO2.