With the chances for a major revision of the Clean Air Act this year fading fast, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday struggled in vain to agree on a scaled-down, compromise bill that industry and environmentalists would find acceptable.
Parliamentary moves by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the chief committee foe of the pending industry-supported bill, blocked the committee from continuing markup during the day.
But committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), anxious to get automobile emissions standards relaxed and make other changes in the law, called the panel back for an evening session and vowed to continue late-night meetings "in order to get ourselves a piece of legislation if it is humanly possible."
It did not appear yesterday evening that rewriting the law would be possible. Saying that committee members should have kept on trying to hammer out a compromise, Waxman said he regretted "the fact that the chairman has continued to try to press this on," adding that he saw no alternative than to continue trying to block the bill by offering amendment after amendment.
Dingell abruptly suspended work in April on reauthorization of the nation's major air pollution control law and reconvened markup this week in the belief that he had realigned a majority of the committee in support of his version of the bill. Environmentalists have blasted Dingell's bill as a "dirty air act."
In a major victory for environmentalists Wednesday, however, the committee voted 21 to 20 against a Dingell-backed amendment on hazardous airborne pollutants, one of the most controversial issues facing the panel.
The one-vote margin left Waxman uncertain whether he could muster a majority on other controversial areas of the rewrite, including auto emissions and acid rain.
When Dingell continued to freeze Waxman out of the negotiating process and refused to discuss possible compromises after Wednesday's vote, Waxman threw a parliamentary monkey wrench into the proceedings.
"Those rules can be used for political purposes," Waxman said at the markup yesterday. "I'm invoking the rules today until such time as I can convince the chairman of this committee to talk to me ."
The tactic worked. Key committee members, including Dingell, Waxman and ranking minority member Rep. James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.), met in closed-door sessions yesterday afternoon to work out a streamlined compromise measure that had some chance of getting out of the committee in this Congress. They apparently were unsuccessful.
A Senate version of the bill, strenuously opposed by industry and the Reagan administration, is moving toward completion in the Environment and Public Works Committee, which hopes to report the measure for floor debate early next week.
While the provisions of the Clean Air Act will not expire if Congress doesn't pass a reauthorization this year, tough pollution control deadlines for states come up in December, and the Environmental Protection Agency has been threatening to enforce them to the letter if the law isn't amended.
As a result, there is industry pressure for Congress to pass a streamlined measure to extend the deadlines and to ease other parts of the law.