A consortium of midwestern utility companies that has been supporting ground-breaking acid rain research at the University of Vermont has pulled the plug on the project.

No conclusions have been drawn, but three years of experiments on Ca w0090 ----- r a BC-05/29/83-A-RAIN 05-29 0001 Utility Group Pulls the Plug on Acid Rain Study By Hamilton Davis Special to The Washington Post

BURLINGTON, Vt.--A consortium of midwestern utility companies that has been supporting ground-breaking acid rain research at the University of Vermont has pulled the plug on the project.

No conclusions have been drawn, but three years of experiments on Camel's Hump mountain in northwestern Vermont have increasingly tended to indict acid rain in the massive death of trees on the 4,100-foot peak. The mountain stands directly in the path of prevailing westerly winds.

The American Electric Power Service Corp. of Canton, Ohio, recently informed the university's botany department that it would no longer fund the Camel's Hump study, to which it has contributed nearly $200,000.

AEP is the largest single seller of electricity in the nation. Its member firms, located in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, would be significantly affected by any emission-control regulations aimed at curbing acid rain in the Northeast and Canada.

R.W. Reeves, an assistant vice president at the utility firm, said Friday that the decision not to continue funding the Vermont project had nothing to do with the project's findings. "We had a contract to run three years and the three years is up," he said.

Nonetheless, the decision followed a bitter exchange of letters between Reeves and Hubert Vogelmann, the botany department chairman and one of the project leaders, over a Vogelmann article on the project in Natural History magazine last fall. Reeves wrote that he found several statements in the article, as well as its tone, "deeply disturbing."

Reeves conceded that something is happening on Camel's Hump but rejected what he called Vogelmann's clear implication that acid rain and deposits of airborne metal particles were the cause.

"Based on the results and information you have reported to us over the past two years . . . , I believe many of the claims in the article to be unsupported," he wrote.

Joseph Dowd, an AEP senior vice president, recently told a trade journal that the firm was "miffed" by the Vogelmann article, but that, as for future funding, the company would "cross that bridge in a professional manner."

Vogelmann said his article was based directly on the findings of his research team and qualified sufficiently to take into account scientific uncertainty. But he said the work will be crippled unless new funding is found.

While expressing disappointment at the AEP decision, Vogelmann and team co-leader Richard Klein said they were appreciative that AEP supported their research when nobody else would.

"They never stuck their nose in on what direction our research should go," said Klein. "They've never leaned on us, and that's . . . unusual."

Vogelmann said that another three years of work will be needed in order to complete the project. Its overall purpose is to determine whether acid rain causes the tree "die-back" on the mountain and how that process proceeds.

The importance of the Vermont research stems partly from a base line of data established on Camel's Hump in 1965 by Thomas Siccama, then a graduate student and now a faculty member at Yale. His data make it possible to check changes on the mountain during the period that acid rain has been identified as an environmental problem.

The AEP-financed study showed, among other things, that more than half of the red spruce on the mountain have died since 1965, along with one-third of the sugar maples, 46 percent of the beech, 21 percent of the white birch, 72 percent of the mountain maple and half of the mountain ash.