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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — New field experiments reinforce 1990 research showing that acid rain harms red spruce forests in the Northern Appalachian highlands, a University of Tennessee economist said Thursday.

Dr. Milton Russell of UT-Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory chaired a committee which reviewed the earlier study by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program.

NAPAP’s 1990 study, based on laboratory experiments, showed the threat to red spruce.

The new study by TVA and the University of Vermont, the first based on actual field tests, shows that acid rain weakens red spruce seedlings and makes them susceptible to disease and damage.

The 1990 study showed the same thing, Russell said.

”We’re already reducing acid rain just about as fast as is practical, based on NAPAP findings,” Russell said. ”This new study reinforces those findings, so now we know that what we’re doing (to combat acid rain) is the right thing.”

The 10-year NAPAP study led to the current acid rain policy requiring coal-burning power plants to cut sulfur dioxide emissions in half by the year 2000.