Breathing easier

March 11, 2005

THIS MAY not be much consolation, but however sooty and smoggy the air gets this summer, just know it was spared this week from getting worse - and might even be cleaned up a bit.

A Senate committee on Wednesday dealt what may be a lethal blow to President Bush's attempt to loosen and delay pollution-reduction requirements in the Clean Air Act just before the Environmental Protection Agency imposed new curbs yesterday on the coal-fired power plants that do much of the damage in the East, South and Midwest.

Taken together, the two moves protect the overall status quo while allowing a small step forward. It's nothing to cheer about, but perhaps the most progress that can be achieved while the federal government is led by officials who regard environmental protection as an impediment to industry.

Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee provided the critical swing vote that allowed Vermont Independent James M. Jeffords and the minority Democrats to block approval of Mr. Bush's perversely named Clear Skies legislation from winning approval of the Environment and Public Works Committee. An attempt may yet be made to graft the measure onto another proposal on the Senate floor. But for the moment, at least, its advocates seem to have tired of the fight.

Meanwhile, the new power-plant curbs should help Marylanders and millions of residents in 27 other states breathe easier until Congress is ready to enact an update of the Clean Air Act that reflects the enhanced powers of cleanup technology instead of regulatory opponents' political heft.

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