In politics, more so than in other endeavors, power is the ultimate commodity. At least, that is what some officials in Connecticut are beginning to think as the result of a continuing battle with the Environmental Protection Agency over clear air standards.
The EPA plans to force most of the service stations in Connecticut to install vapor recovery devices on gasoline pumps because a legislative committee voted four times to reject a much more modest plan to trap airpolluting gasoline fumes only at the largest service stations.
"We were willing to accept a state regulation, even if it was not as severe as federal standards. But Connecticut will now be severely regulated to make it conform to federal standards because the state is unwilling to do the regulating itself," said Merrill S. Hohman, regional EPA director.
The dispute goes back more than a year, when the EPA, which in the past has proved itself willing to impose its will on recalcitrant states, ordered the state to adopt new auto emission standards under the threat of having virtually all new economic development halted.
Next to California, Connecticut has the worst air pollution in the nation, partly because prevailing southwesterly winds carry polutants from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York to the state, where they are trapped in the atmosphere, particularly in the summer.
To help curtail the release of fumes, which send an estimated 8 million pounds of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere each year, EPA ordered the state to force service stations to install devices that trap the vapors at the points of transfer from delivery truck to underground tank, and from the pump to the automobile.
After the major oil companies protested that the recovery equipment would cost each station about $3,000, plus $10,000 for each delivery truck, a regulations review committee in the state legislature voted down the proposed regulations.
After the EPA threatened to cut off new economic development, the committee again voted down the proposal, even though it was urged by the state Department of Environmental Control. Henry Beal, director of the state air pollution control division, argued that Connecticut would be better off imposing its own regulation, since it would not affect smaller service stations that pump under 125,000 gallons a year.
Phillip Florkoski, senior engineer in the state environmental unit, said in a telephone interview that the proposed state standards still would have trapped 95 per cent of the fumes now being released.
State Rep. Cloris Osiecki, a member of the legislative committee, said she and her colleagues voted down the state regulations "because they seemed costly and ineffective. There was a general reluctance on the committee's part to [believe] that this could work."
Asked whether the state would not have been better off with the original regulations, Osiecki said in a telephone interview, "Well, we didn't know that federal regulations would go though.They said, 'Do this or you get the federal rules,' but they never told us what they were."
She said the legislative committee reviews scores of proposed regulations each week and rarely has time to listen to proponents or opponents.
"There was no intent on this committee to avoid clean air standards. We just thought we should spread some of the [cost] burden around, and the [original] plan didn't do that," she said.
Hohman said he expected the strict federal regulations proposed for Connecticut would be published in the Federal Register in June, and that a hearing would be in August.
"Why should Connecticut get away without regulation when 17 other states have been forced to adopt recovery systems?" Hohman asked.
He said the Connecticut legislature could still adopt the EPA plan, but that the federal government would probably supplement it with additional regulations.