“Acid rain was the first environmental issue where it became crystal clear to everybody that we can’t address this as a problem in isolation. In the past, we looked at a problem and would say, ‘okay - the Cuyahoga River caught on fire; well [therefore] we have to reduce the emissions that are going into the Cuyahoga River.’ It’s a fairly geographically limited, tiny package. But acid rain, the air moves everywhere: one day it’s blowing this way and one day it’s blowing that way, and there are sources on both sides of the border. “
- Dr. Gregory Pratt, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

To experienced organizations committed to protecting Minnesota’s natural resources, acid rain presented a major but, ultimately, manageable threat. The citizenry of Minnesota took forceful action through the democratic process, and seemed to value environmental protection over their pocketbooks. Perhaps the most exciting and hopeful result of this political action was that it worked. The air quality is better today than it was in 1980 when the danger was first recognized. The threat of acid rain was recognized, combated, and to an extent, curtailed.

This remarkable accomplishment is indicative of an environmental awareness and a proactive electorate. This is an example of what can be achieved when people recognize a threat to their environment and well-being, and take concerted democratic action to alter the course of events. Furthermore, Minnesotans chose to make personal and economic sacrifices to benefit the environment, costing themselves to protect the nature around them.

This seems like a teachable moment in which one state confronted a national environmental problem and effected positive environmental changes. In setting our sights on new environmental issues, Minnesota’s acid rain story serves as a valuable reminder of the power of civic action taken against an environmental obstacle.

Images

Audio

Dr. Gregory Pratt of Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency discusses forms of progress to combat air pollution. Interviewed by authors.
"We have made progress... the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act -- all of those passed in the early ‘70’s [and] they’ve all been very successful… The air quality has gotten better over time....
View File Record

Map