THIS WEEK MARKS a rare moment of harmony between the Bush administration and environmentalists -- so rare, in fact, that it calls for reflection. The source of this sweetness and light was the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement Tuesday of new regulations limiting pollution emitted by bulldozers, tractors, road-building and irrigation equipment and other "off-road" diesel vehicles. It sounds like a small change, but it is expected to greatly improve air quality. A handful of major environmental lobbyists praised the new rules, which will ultimately slash the sulfur content of emissions by 99 percent. So too, though, did a handful of industry lobbyists, including the American petroleum industry, whose spokesman complimented the EPA for "consulting with all stakeholders early on."
For that indeed is what the EPA did. Environmental groups, from the National Resources Defense Council to the Clean Air Trust, were brought in to discuss the measure; so were industry representatives. As a result, some concessions were made by both sides. The rules will not, for example, come into effect quite as quickly as originally proposed: The full cut in emissions will be reached only in 2010. But it is a compromise that most who care about the issue are willing to live with and one that should, according to industry experts, prevent small refineries from going out of business.
What went right? Possibly the openness: For once, an EPA announcement was made on an ordinary working day -- and not late on a Friday afternoon -- by the EPA administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, at a news conference. Possibly the fact that this rule will not alter something already in place: There are no defenders of the environmental status quo on this issue, because off-road vehicles are not, at the moment, comprehensively regulated. But the wide and successful consultation was important too. The greater the range of people involved in crafting environmental legislation, it seems, the broader its ultimate acceptance. Other rulemakers might like to take note.