The steel industry agreement announced by President Carter yesterday is more a truce than a final settlement of the long-running confrontation between the steel producers and the federal government.
Despite the agreement to ask Congress to grant companies more time to meet the next round of pollution-control deadlines, Big Steel is unlikely to abandon plans for a tough lobbying campaign next year to soften the clean-air and clean-water regulations, some steel officials said.
And despite the agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to use court-imposed deadlines to enforce compliance with existing pollution-control schedules.
But even a limited truce among business, labor and government regulators is significant when it involves an industry as important as steel -- and one with as many financial, environmental and competitive problems.
At best, the negotiations that produced the steel tripartite agreement represented an experiment in a different way of balancing the conflicting goals of companies, unions and consumers.
The Carter White House, which pushed hard for a consensus, sees the steel industry as the prime example of a new appraoch to solving the most serious, stubborn domestic policy impasses.
"We will have to rely more on cooperation between the private sector and government," Carter's chief domestic adviser, Stuart E. Eizenstat, told reporters yesterday. "We think this is an important process, and we need this cooperation to solve the problems of the 1980s."
Although the president didn't say so, the agreement is politically important for him, as well, meeting at least the basic requirements of labor and environmental groups, two critical sources of support four years ago.
The National Resources Defense Council yesterday said it had a "mixed reaction" to the agreement.
Had there been no agreement, the environmental lobbies would have felt the full force of the industry's campaign to change pollution-control rules, and the high unemployment in the industry would have been the industry's Exhibit A.
Industry's reaction is also mixed. Yesterday was a day to accentuate the positive, and companies did so. Harry Holiday, Armco Inc. chief executive, praised the tone of the president's remarks. "It points out in unmistakable terms that the first step toward rebuilding our economy is a greater sense of partnership by business, labor and government," he said.
Privately, industry officials say they hope the agreement is not primarily a political document aimed at the November election. There is no doubt that the company representatives and the United Steelworkers of America officials who sat on the committee reached a closer understanding, company officials agreed.
There is not as much common ground between the companies and the EPA, although company officials give credit to EPA Administrator Douglas Costle for his efforts to produce the agreement.
There is general agreement on all sides, however, that the negotiations produced much more of a consensus on the nature of the industry's problems and the potential remedies.