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The Obama administration is turning the tables on Republican foes of climate regulation, demonstrating not only that cap-and-trade works — it significantly reduced acid rain — but that the program was started by one of their own, George H. W. Bush.

A 1990 revision of the Clean Air Act shepherded by the first President Bush imposed overall emission caps on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, the primary pollutants contributing to acid rain, and then let industries trade allowances to meet their business needs.

The program has been extremely successful, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Monday. Power plants decreased emissions of sulfur dioxide to 5.7 million tons in 2009, a 64 percent drop from 1990 levels and well below the targeted cuts envisioned when the law was passed and then implemented starting in 1995.

The agency added that the law had saved $120 billion in pollution and health costs, about 40 times the estimated cost.

“The program’s success has demonstrated that market-based trading systems can cost-effectively reduce pollution and address environmental damage,” the EPA declared in a report released just a few short weeks before Republicans who oppose a similar cap-and-trade scheme for greenhouse gases take control of the House.

The administration is bracing for an onslaught of attacks by conservative climate science critics and industries who oppose the EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases from large emitters starting in January.

Critics, including Democrats such as West Virginia Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, argue the new regulations could put American energy producers at a disadvantage and hurt the economic recovery. Rockefeller is proposing the rules be delayed by two years but his plan has yet to get a vote in the Senate.

The EPA’s report, however, gives ammunition to supporters of greenhouse gas regulations, who now can argue that companies face little harm and the environment benefits from caps on pollution when combined with allowances for trading. The report also reminds Americans that the idea of cap-and-trade originated with Republicans during the elder Bush’s years and was passed overwhelmingly by Congress.

The full report can be viewed here.

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