EPA touts cap-and-trade success

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released data Monday that, the agency says, shows cap-and-trade has been extremely successful in cutting pollution.

The data concerns a 20-year-old, GOP-backed cap-and-trade program that has helped cut power plant emissions that cause acid rain. It is separate from cap-and-trade proposals to cut greenhouse emissions, which are now politically radioactive. 

The cap-and-trade program targeting acid rain was meant to reduce power companies’ sulfur dioxide emissions. It was a key part of 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which then-President George H.W. Bush proposed and Congress overwhelmingly approved.

“Since its inception in 1995 as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, EPA’s Acid Rain Program has earned widespread acclaim due to dramatic sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) emission reductions that are saving American lives and ecosystems," the EPA said as it released its latest report Monday on the effects of the acid rain initiative.

"An analysis estimates annual public health benefits of the program in 2010 alone at more than $120 billion, about 40 times the estimated cost,” EPA said, summarizing the report. 

“Power plants have decreased emissions of SO2, a precursor to acid rain, to 5.7 million tons in 2009, a 67 percent decrease from 1980 levels and a 64 percent decrease from 1990 levels,” according to EPA, which says that many Eastern lakes and streams affected by acid rain are showing signs of recovery.

A broader cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions narrowly passed the House in 2009, but sputtered in the Senate and never came up for a vote amid resistance from Republicans and some centrist Democrats.