Acid Rain: Acid rain is a term used to describe several ways that acidic compounds fall out of the atmosphere, causing a variety of ground-level environmental effects. These effects include damage to forests and soils, fish and other living things, and human health. Acid rain also reduces how clearly we can see through the air, an effect called visibility reduction.

Carbon Dioxide: A naturally occurring gas, and also a by-product of burning fossil fuels and biomass, as well as land-use changes and other industrial processes. It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas that affects the earth’s radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other greenhouse gases are measured and therefore has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 1.

Climate Change: Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer).

Coal: Coal is formed from plant and animal matter that has been subjected to geologic heat and pressure, transformed over millions of years into hard black solids. Because coal is a readily available resource in the United States, coal power plants provide about half of the nation’s electricity. However, coal-fired power plants generally cause more pollution per unit of electricity than any other fuel. Most coal plants are required to have several pollution control devices to reduce the amount of pollutants that are released into the air from burning the coal.

Dioxins: Dioxins are man-made chemical compounds that enter the air through fuel and waste emissions, including motor vehicle exhaust fumes and garbage incineration. Skin rashes, liver damage, weight loss, and a reduction in the effectiveness of the immune system have all been attributed to human exposure to dioxins.

Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuels are the nation’s principal source of electricity. The popularity of these fuels is largely due to their low costs. Fossil fuels come in three major forms — coal, oil, and natural gas. Because fossil fuels are a finite resource and cannot be replenished once they are extracted and burned, they are not considered renewable.

Green Power: Electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources is often referred to as “green power.” Green power products can include electricity generated exclusively from renewable resources or, more frequently, electricity produced from a combination of fossil and renewable resources. Also known as “blended” products, these products typically have lower prices than 100 percent renewable products. Customers who take advantage of these options usually pay a premium for having some or all of their electricity produced from renewable resources.

Methane: (CH4) A hydrocarbon that is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential most recently estimated at 23 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2). Methane is produced through anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition of waste in landfills, animal digestion, decomposition of animal wastes, production and distribution of natural gas and petroleum, coal production, and incomplete fossil fuel combustion. The global warming potential (GWP) is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Third Assessment Report (TAR).

Natural Gas: Underground deposits of gases consisting of 50 percent to 90 percent methane (CH4) and small amounts of heavier gaseous hydrocarbon compounds such as propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10).

Nitrogen Oxides: (NOX) Gases consisting of one molecule of nitrogen and varying numbers of oxygen molecules. Nitrogen oxides are produced in the emissions of vehicle exhausts and from power stations. In the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides can contribute to formation of photochemical ozone (smog), can impair visibility, and have health consequences; they are thus considered pollutants.

Oil: Oil, a liquid fossil fuel, is formed from layers of buried plants and animals that have been subjected to geologic heat and pressure over a long period of time. The energy that the plants and animals originally obtained from the sun is stored in the oil in the form of carbon. In addition to carbon, oil contains elements such as nitrogen, sulfur, mercury, lead, and arsenic. Oil is a nonrenewable resource because it cannot be replenished on a human timeframe.

Renewable Energy: The term renewable energy generally refers to electricity supplied from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, geothermal, hydropower, and various forms of biomass. These energy sources are considered renewable sources because they are continuously replenished on the Earth.

Small Hydro: In addition to very large hydro plants in the West, the United States has many smaller hydro plants. Like large plants, small-scale hydroelectric systems capture the energy in flowing water and convert it to electricity. Although the potential for small hydroelectric systems depends on the availability of suitable water flow, these systems can provide cheap, clean, reliable electricity where the resource exists.

Smog: Smog is the brownish haze that pollutes our air, particularly over cities in the summertime. Smog can make it difficult for some people to breathe and it greatly reduces how far we can see through the air. The primary component of smog is ozone, a gas that is created when nitrogen oxides react with other chemicals in the atmosphere, especially in strong sunlight.

Sulfur Dioxide: High concentrations of sulfur dioxide affect breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Sensitive populations include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid rain, which causes acidification of lakes and streams and can damage trees, crops, historic buildings, and statues. In addition, sulfur compounds in the air contribute to visibility impairment in large parts of the country. This is especially noticeable in national parks. Sulfur dioxide is released primarily from burning fuels that contain sulfur (such as coal, oil, and diesel fuel). Stationary sources such as coal- and oil-fired power plants, steel mills, refineries, pulp and paper mills, and nonferrous smelters are the largest releasers.

The terms and definitions for this issue’s Word Search come from a glossary of terms compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov).