Conference panel makes progress on clean-air bill

September 15, 1990|By Robert W. Stewart | Robert W. Stewart,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- In a major compromise, Senate negotiators accepted yesterday tough provisions of House clean-air legislation that would toughen emission controls in the United States' smoggiest cities to include small industrial polluters such as breweries, bakeries and auto body shops.

As part of a larger accord on the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, negotiators rejected Senate language that would have weakened the Environmental Protection Agency's existing authority to force states to write and comply with plans to reduce pollution from industry.

Although negotiators still face a host of unresolved issues, including development of cleaner fuels and reduction of acid rain, yesterday's agreement "represents a great victory from the environmental point of view," said Representative Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., author of the clean-air legislation in the House.

Speaking for House Republicans, Representative Carlos J. Moorhead, R-Calif., said that the congressional negotiators "have removed some 300 pages from the table, dramatically increasing the probability that we will accomplish something [this year] that has eluded us for 13 years -- passing a comprehensive revision of the Clean Air Act."

Congressional staff members have been working since May to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of the complex and far-reaching Clean Air Act amendments, the first major revision of the law since 1977.

Yesterday's accord covers the core of the legislation -- the 300-page Title I that sets air quality standards for the nation and establishes a rigid compliance program for approximately 100 metropolitan areas that fail to meet those standards.

Los Angeles, with the worst air in the nation, would have 20 years to meet the new federal standards for smog-forming ozone, carbon monoxide and airborne particles. The legislation would grant other cities between three and 17 years, depending on the seriousness of their air quality problems.

To meet the new standards, polluted areas would be required to adopt plans to force industrial and commercial polluters to reduce emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. When combined with sunlight, the two compounds are the principal agents that form smog.

The compromise language continues to give the EPA authority to impose a federal pollution abatement plan in areas where state and local officials fail to devise one. That power would have been greatly diluted under the Senate proposal.

Other key provisions would require the dirtiest cities to impose emission controls on smaller polluters. For example, current federal law requires even the most polluted cities to impose controls only on those industrial plants that annually spew into the air more than 100 tons of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Auto assembly plants, refineries and power generating stations fall into that category.

The tougher House language would require controls in Los Angeles on plants that produce as few as 10 tons of pollutants each year. That could include such small sites as a printing plant, commercial bakery, brewery, dry cleaning plant or auto body shop.

The eight next-dirtiest cities, including Chicago, New York and Houston, would be required to place controls on plants that produce more than 25 tons a year.

Yesterday's agreement also includes Title IV, which outlines procedures for granting emission permits to a broad range of industrial and commercial polluters. The compromise includes language sought by industry to help small businesses meet tougher permit requirements.

Despite the accord, congressional sources said that there is still tough bargaining ahead. The Senate and House bills seriously differ in sections that would:

*Set tougher standards for tailpipe emissions and promote the development of fuels cleaner than standard gasoline and the development of automobiles, trucks and buses that run on the cleaner fuels.

*Reduce acid rain caused by power generating plants that burn high-sulfur coal.

*Limit release of toxic chemicals by oil refineries, steel mills and other industrial facilities in all parts of the nation, not just in areas already suffering from pollution problems.

* Grant authority to the EPA to regulate industrial emissions from offshore oil rigs.

*Establish a five-year, program, that would offer unemployment compensation and retraining benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of the clean-air bill.

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