SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
April 05, 1982
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April 05, 1982


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In seeking to justify its continued inaction in combating acid precipitation, the Reagan Administration professes to be uncertain about the precise origins of that increasingly troubling phenomenon. For example, it refuses to accept as conclusive a wealth of evidence that the acid precipitation that has devastated lakes and rivers in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada is caused by nitrogen oxide emitted by automobiles and by airborne pollutants, primarily sulfur dioxide, spewed into the atmosphere by power plants in distant Midwestern industrial states. Far from embracing any such cause-and-effect relationship, the White House has given its support to a bill to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970 that fails to address itself to the problem of acid precipitation and, in fact, would allow sharp increases in nitrogen oxides and possibly in sulfur dioxides as well. The bill, sponsored by Representative Thomas A. Luken of Ohio, is expected to come before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week.

The evidence concerning the origins of acid rain that the Administration refuses to accept is circumstantial. That is, there is no way of directly proving that a specific smokestack in Ohio might be responsible for killing fish in a particular lake in the Adirondacks. Yet, as judges instruct juries in the courts every day, the law gives as much weight to circumstantial evidence as it does to direct evidence, i.e., evidence based on firsthand observation, such as eyewitness accounts. And the collective judgment of scientists is increasingly one-sided in accepting that acid precipitation in the Northeast U.S. and Canada is indeed caused by distant power-plant emissions. Thus, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences concluded last fall that the problem of acid precipitation "is disturbing enough to merit prompt tightening," by up to 50% in some areas, of emission standards for power plants and other sources of pollution.

Interestingly, the Reagan Administration last week did embrace circumstantial evidence relating to precipitation-borne toxic agents of another kind. The State Department issued a 32-page report providing what it said was proof that the Soviet Union and its allies had employed lethal chemical agents—so-called "yellow rain"—against civilian populations in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. However, even as the report was released, The New York Times was quoting one "senior Administration official" as acknowledging, "We still don't have the kind of hard, direct evidence that would remove all doubts."

The point to be made here isn't whether the State Department report is wrong or right but rather that the Reagan Administration is guilty of applying a double standard. Scientists conversant with both of the issues say that the circumstantial evidence the Administration accepts in the case of yellow rain is no more compelling than that which it rejects in the case of acid rain. Indeed, it may be instructive to contrast the somewhat defensive statement by the Administration official quoted above with the tone of the National Academy of Sciences report on acid precipitation. The report concluded: "Although claims have been made that direct evidence linking power-plant emissions to the production of acid rain is inconclusive, we find the circumstantial evidence for their role overwhelming."


It's not every day that a city of 47,333 inhabitants has two of its young men named All-America in basketball in the same season and playing against each other in the NCAA championship game, so townspeople in Gastonia, N.C. had every reason to be proud of the goings-on Monday night in New Orleans. Some of them were rooting for Georgetown, featuring Gastonia's own Eric (Sleepy) Floyd (all the more so because Judge William Gaston, for whom the city was named, was the first student ever to enroll at Georgetown), and others were rooting for North Carolina, starring Gastonia's own James Worthy. Still others were pulling for both teams, including the city's passionately neutral mayor, Thebaud Jeffers, who has tentatively scheduled Worthy-Floyd Day in Gastonia for May 28.

Floyd and Worthy grew up within a couple of miles of each other in Gastonia, but because they lived on different sides of Route 321, roughly the boundary between two school districts, Floyd went to Hunter Huss High School, Worthy to Ashbrook High. Gastonia fans still talk about the rivalry between Huss and Ashbrook during the '76-77 season, when Floyd was a junior, Worthy a sophomore. Ashbrook won the first four times the two teams met that season and was unbeaten all the way to the state 4A finals. Way to go, Worthy. But Huss also made it to the finals, and in the championship game, Huss's Scott Harper made a basket with three seconds left for a 60-59 victory. Way to go, Floyd.

By coincidence, the coaches of Huss and Ashbrook, Green Burge and Larry Rhodes, each quit soon after their stars, Floyd and Worthy, respectively, left for college. Both coaches evidently knew for whom the bell tolled, and, indeed, high school basketball in Gastonia hasn't been the same since the Floyd-Worthy era. But as he and old rival Worthy prepared for their dramatic reunion in the Superdome, Floyd said, "James and I were in Gastonia during an up time. Now it's been down. But the talent will come back." In fact, some locals feel that twins named Daryl and Dirk at Gastonia's Southwest Junior High School are destined for basketball stardom. They're distant relatives of a famous Gastonian, and their last name is Floyd.


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