Read the full story in Atlantic Cities.
In the 1980s, the dying red spruce trees of New England—many of them taller than eight-story buildings and more than three centuries old—furnished frightening proof of the power of acid rain. The trees were seen as a canary in the coal mine, and it was easy to imagine the ensuing consequences for the forest at large.
“Half the red spruce… are dead,” Dudley Clendinen wrote for The New York Times from New Hampshire in 1983. “Some of the balsam fir are beginning to look sick. Sugar maples have fallen, as have beech trees, and Dr. Richard M. Klein, one of the two directors of the university’s research project, worries that with spring, they may find that ash trees are down on the mountain, too.”
The prospect of dead forests galvanized Americans and their representatives. In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to include the Acid Rain Program. The impact on the targeted pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power generation, was remarkable. Between 1995 and 2011, emissions of sulfur dioxide fell by 64 percent; nitrogen oxides by 67 percent.