Bush administration accused of hampering enforcement of Clean Air Act EPA caught in red tape, panel chairman says

February 08, 1992|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A day after supporting Senate action to hasten the elimination of chemicals eating away Earth's protective ozone layer, the Bush administration yesterday was accused of hamstringing its own Environmental Protection Agency in its efforts to do the same.

A congressional panel said the Bush administration has been dragging its feet in writing the regulations needed to enforce the 1990 Clean Air Act. The law was passed to cut urban smog, auto emissions, acid rain and toxic air pollution, and phase out pro

duction of ozone-depleting refrigerant gases, known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.

Alarmed by evidence that ozone-depletion is worse than previously reported, the White House on Thursday reversed its policy against industrial restriction and backed a Senate amendment that would force companies to phase out CFCs several years earlier than originally mandated.

But the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and Environment, Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., charged yesterday that a federal council headed by Vice President Dan Quayle was using red tape to block the EPA's efforts to draw up regulations for the Clean Air Act -- including the CFC phaseout.

"Through the White House Council on Competitiveness, the president has allowed industry a back door through which to delay or dictate changes in EPA's Clean Air Act control programs," Mr. Waxman said at a subcommittee hearing.

Administration officials deny that the EPA was dragging its feet or that the Council on Competitiveness was trying to sabotage the Clean Air Act.

The EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, William Rosenberg, emphasized to the subcommittee yesterday the progress that the agency has made, rather than its failures, in writing rules for the act.

Mr. Rosenberg said the EPA has undertaken "77 major actions," including issuing 39 proposed rules and 12 final rules, in the 14 months since the act was approved. He called the actions "unprecedented activity for the agency" because the EPA usually manages only six to eight final rules annually.

But Mr. Waxman said the Council on Competitiveness' intervention has been largely "surreptitious."

The council exercises its power through its link to the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees all federal rule-making. As a result, the council has been able to review all regulations proposed by the EPA and other agencies.

A report released by the subcommittee yesterday said the EPA was unable to enforce at least 19 provisions of the Clean Air Act -- representing "the vast majority of the act's key regulatory programs" -- largely because they had been held up in White House review.

The Clean Air Act outlines a series of pollution limitations to be phased in over 20 years. Because the regulatory deadlines are set by law, Mr. Waxman said, their delay was illegal.

Most of the 19 sets of rules should have been completed in November.

According to the subcommittee report, these included regulations to reduce smog in the more heavily polluted parts of the country; to introduce reformulated gasoline and oxygenated fuels; to inhibit gasoline vapors; to limit toxic factory emissions; and to phase out CFCs and ban products containing the harmful chemicals.

CFCs have been identified as primary offenders in the gradual erosion of the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which scientists say filters much of the sun's cancer-causing ultraviolet rays.

A senior OMB official told the subcommittee that he knew nothing that indicated the council wanted to subvert the Clean Air Act.

"Because of the complexity of the Clean Air Act, it has taken several months to resolve the important legal questions arising from the permitting rule," said James B. Macrae, deputy administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

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