The House voted yesterday to allow a substantial increase in air pollution in national parks and other areas of the country, mainly in the West, where the air is relatively free of pollition.
By 237 to 172 the House adopted an amendment to the 1970 Clean Air Act that would allow industries to exceed certain polution standards in clean air areas for up to 18 days out of the year. But enviromentalists and Health Subcommittee Chairman Paul Rogers (D-Fla.) said the effect would be to increase from three to 12 times the amount of pollution allowed by the bill in clean air areas. This is because the 18 worst days of polltuion would be substracted from the total pollution a plant puts out.
"It would be the same as putting a city of half of a million people next to a national park," Roger said.
"It would allow a large power plant to be built on the lip of the Grand Canyon," Rafe Pomerance, chief lobbyist for the National Clean Air Coalition, said. "The scenic aspect of parks will be destroyed for a portion of the day. You'll drive up to an overlook and instead of seeing the horizon you'll see smog."
But Rep. Mike McCormack (D-Wash.), who said he has several parks and wilderness areas in his district, claimed the standards for clean air areas in the bill were so stringent "it would be illegal for someone to walk through half my district smoking a cigarette."
Supporters of the amendment argued it was necessary to allow building of coal-fired power plants and copper, zinc and lead smelters in those areas of the country and would amount to only a 5 per cent variance.
THe amendment's author, Rep. John B. Breaux (D-La.) said the waiver was necessary to build the proposed $6 billion Intermountain power plant in Utah which would provide increased electricity for Los Angeles.
The plant would be built eight miles form the Capitol Reef National park and close to Bryce Canyon Park and a portion of the Grand Canyon.
he said the plant, because of prevailing winds, would only blow pollution into the park about 13 days a year, but could not be built without his amendment.
In 1972, the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act of 1970, the first air pollution law with any teeth in it, required preventing clean air areas form getting significantly dirtier, but it did not define what that meant in terms of how much dirtier they could get. So the Environmental Protection Agency issued standards that caused widespread complaints.
Congress, in a bill which died in the Senate last year and again in this year's bill, is attempting to establish a new "significant deterioration" program to supersede the EPA standards.
Each state must divide areas cleaner than the national clean air standards into three classes.
National parks and wilderness areas over 25,000 acres and monument areas, primitive and recreation areas over 100,000 acres must be in class one, which would allow 2 per cent more pollution than they now have.
Class two areas would allow a 25 per cent increase in pollution and class three a 50 per cent increase. Smaller parks and recreation areas would be class two and a city such as Portland, Ore., would be in class three.
THe effect of the amendment would be to allow class one areas to become in actuality, class two, and class two to become class three, according to Rep. Andrew maguire (D-N.J.), "This destroys the significant deterioration section of the bill," he said.
But it was a mixed day for environmentalists because the House also voted agaisnt allowing big urban areas, dirtier than the standards allow, from becoming increasingly polluted.
It upheld by 242 to 162 the bill's compromise on the EPA "trade-off" policy.
Most big city aras exceed the national ambient air qualify standards, which are supposed to be the minimum standards necessary for protecting health form six major pollutants. The bill gives them an extension, until 1982 for most pollutants, and until 1987 for oxidants, in meeting the standards.
Howere, in the meantime, EPA has adopted a controversial "trade-off" policy, which says that if a new industry wants to move into a dirty air area, pollution in that area must be decreased by the amount that the new industry would increase pollution.
The bill allows states to forgo the "trade-off" policy if they can show progress every two years toward meeting the standard.
Today, the House moves on to the most controvesial section of the bill, the portion setting auto emission standards.