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Acid rain imperils lakes and pollutes United States-Canadian relations

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Mr. Hawkins also blames the coal lobby, the utility industry, and others for ''ganging up'' on the US Clean Air Act. One of the people involved in that ganging up is James Friedman, a key spokesman for the US Coalition for Environmental Energy Balance, a lobby group composed mainly of companies generating coal-fired electricity.

According to Mr. Friedman, acid rain is just a Canadian invention to cover up domestic problems. He has told US congressmen, ''Political and economic conflicts have encouraged the Canadian federal government to seek external issues which might unify Canada. The acid rain issue is clearly one of these.''

Whether Friedman's distorted views win points in Washington is questionable. What is disturbing is the amount of sniping between Ottawa and Washington over what should be done. According to Dr. James Regens of the US Environmental Protection Agency, governments must ''determine the extent of the effects and secondly, identify the way in which the effects are produced, because if you're going to take any type of regulatory action, you have to know what the problem is and what's causing the problem.''

Not so, says Canada's environment minister, John Roberts. ''The US is suggesting we need to know a lot more before we apply specific remedies. Our view is that that's a little like saying you're not going to clear out the swamp until you know exactly which mosquitoes are carrying the malaria.''

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. And history shows that much can be accomplished if the two nations settle down and work on a problem together. In 1972 Canada and the US signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. At that time, Lake Erie was reported to be dead, or at least dying. Ten years and more than $6 billion later, the international joint commission was able to announce in Cleveland last November that Lake Erie is very much alive.

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