With expression of cynicism and futility, Washington's regional bureaucracy led by the Council of Governments is cranking up for a third try at drafting a workable and politically acceptable plan to clean the air.
The two previous plans - one drafted by regional officials, the other imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - collapsed after four years of effort, chiefly because it was locally impossible to restrict the chief culprit, automobile usage.
In and near the center of this capital city, as many as 42,275 government-controlled parking spaces exist, most of them used free or at low cost by federal workers, who vigorously resist any changes in those arrangements.
Last summer, the EPA Administrator Russell E. Train and then Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman Jr. asked the White House Office of Management and Budget to eliminate all parking subsidies. They contended this would divert thousands to mass transit, improve air quality and save energy.
The Ford administration left office yesterday without taking any action. An OMB spokesman said, however, that the proposal has not been dropped, although preliminary date indicate the federate workers probably would pay higher costs rather than switch to other means of transport.
The abortive clean-air plans for the region would have restricted all-day parking in congested areas, and put a steep tax on those who do park.
Despite past problems, EpA has the Washington region to produce a new clean-air plan by mid 1978 that would include transportation restraints.
Dennis Bates, health and environmental protection director for COG, stood last week before chart with dozens of boxes depicting a complex, committee-laden bureaucracy for drafting the new plan.
"We'* ve completed identification of what our problem is here," Bates said at one point in his briefing of COG's transportation planning board.
The reaction from board members was one of outspoken doubt, and after the meeting, of privately expressed cynicism.
"I find this is just a kind of dream world," said Ben W. Gilbert, D.C. municipal planning director, the first to respond. Gilbert said he had concluded that "the feds have just about given up on being able effectively to enforce this world (clean air) process."
Hal Kassoff, regional representative of the Maryland Transportation Department, said each state-level jurisdiction - the District, Maryland and Virginia - should make its own recommendations, then get together with the others and "negotiate out the inconsistencies."
If officials follow the process outlined by Bates, Kassoff predicted, "We will raise expectations, and raise them in unrealistic directions."
Montgomery County Council Member Neal Potter said it would be impossible to attain any goals "unless Congress stops slipping the dates on auto emission (controls)."
Under existing federal law, the automobile industry has a deadline for reducing emissions in next year's models that industry leaders claim is impossible to meet. The issue will be reopened by Congress this year.
At the urging of ALexandria City Council member Robert Calhoun, staff officials were told to analyze pollution proposals already introduced by Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) with an eye toward testifying at hearings on them.
"We have peculiar problems in this area because of the presence of the federal government," Calhoun said, adding that government agencies sometimes frustrate the government's own clean-air goals.