Contrary to the assertion in the Nov. 15 editorial "Assault on the Clean Air Act," electric utilities are not seeking to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Rather, they are seeking a solution that would allow them to continue generating electricity for customers while pending lawsuits filed against them by the Environmental Protection Agency are being resolved.

The EPA lawsuits, announced Nov. 3, came as the agency was negotiating with utilities over interpretation of EPA regulations governing what maintenance functions they could perform to keep power plants running reliably. Many utilities sought guidance from the EPA on which kinds of turbine blades or steam tubes, for example, could be replaced without triggering penalties under EPA's "New Source Review" regulations. Regrettably, specific guidance never arrived.

What did arrive, however, were lawsuits. As a result, utility companies are wondering whether doing routine maintenance functions could land them in court -- or even in jail. If plants cannot perform routine maintenance, the reliability of electricity may be compromised.

The utility industry sought legislation to protect its work force from criminal charges arising from normal maintenance work. Any such solution would be short-term only, would not increase utility emission rates (as defined by the Clean Air Act) and would not prejudice enforcement actions or erase civil sanctions rendered by the courts.

Finally, on the "last-minute" insertion of "fine print" into a spending bill: The timing of this matter was set by the filing of EPA's lawsuits several days ago, not by the utilities.

PAUL C. BAILEY

Vice President

Environmental Affairs

Edison Electric Institute

Washington