Conferees settle differences on Clean Air Bill

October 23, 1990|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Senate and House negotiators approved a new Clean Air Bill yesterday that analysts said would significantly reduce air pollution from automobiles, power plants, refineries, factories and workshops -- large and small -- over the next 15 years.

Congressmen from both parties predicted that the bill would pass in both chambers later this week and that President Bush would sign it into law.

White House spokesman Stephen Hart said that the administration was "very encouraged by the progress overall in the conference" but that it would withhold final opinion until it had seen the final language of the bill.

But an administration official indicated that President Bush was satisfied by the compromises in the mammoth 700-page bill, which is an amalgam of the original proposal he sent to Congress last year and subsequent bills developed by the Senate and the House.

The president had threatened to veto the legislation if it contained a House proposal for a special multimillion-dollar fund for workers -- primarily coal miners -- who might lose their jobs if utilities stop using polluting high-sulfur coal.

The final draft does contain the fund -- $50 million a year for five years -- but the money would be administered under the Job Training Partnership Act instead of becoming a new, separate entitlement. When the conference committee struck agreement yesterday, administration officials "did not reiterate the standing veto threat," an administration official said.

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, a prime mover during the months of bargaining between the two chambers, called the legislation "national in scope, comprehensive in coverage and historic in its significance."

Representative Norman F. Lent of New York, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the clean air measure was a "truly momentous step" and a "tough but fair compromise that will ensure cleaner air in every part of the United States."

Under the legislation, there would be drastic reductions in emissions of acid rain pollutants and toxic industrial chemicals. In addition, more than 100 cities would be given five to 15 years to bring their air quality up to federal standards, mainly by controlling pollutants that cause smog.

Both proponents and opponents of the legislation say that the new bill will be costly, but estimates vary widely.

The White House estimates that it would cost the economy $11 billion a year by 1995 and $22 billion to $25 billion annually by 2005, when the act's provisions would take full effect.

Industry estimates have put the cost in the $30-billion-to- $50-billion range by the end of the decade.

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