House conferees on the controversial water pollution bill yesterday rejected a Senate provision to ban sale of phosphate detergents in eight Great Lakes states.
Sen. Wendell Anderson (D-Minn.) said the measure has overwhelming popular support in the midwest where the Great Lakes - the nation's largest collection of fresh water - are deteriorating due to phosphate pollution.
Phosphares from laundry detergents, agricultural fertilizers and other sources cause excessive growth of algae, which use up the oxygen in water, creating large dead areas, as in Lake Erie.
However, Rep. William Harsha Ohio) argued that phosphate detergents get clothes cleaner and nonphosphate detergents would cost each household $5 more per year.
The Carter administration has emdorsed the regional prohibition because expensive new sewage plants would be required to remove phosphates at public expense.
In recent weeks, soap manufacturers have lobbied heavily against the phosphate provision: congressional aides said. Environmentalists and Senate staff members blamed the feat of the amendment on the "special interests" of Harsha and House conferee chairman Ray Roberts (D-Tex.).
Harsha said he was partly influnenced by the concerns of constituents who work for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, which abuts his district. Roberts said his district includes two Monsanto Co. plants, but that they manufacturer auto parts. He denied he was influenced by the company, which also manufacturers phosphate.
House conferees rejected the provision on a voice vote with only two dissenters Rep. Henry Nowak (D-N.Y.) and James Oberstar (D-Minn.).
In a heated exchange with Harsha, Anderson said, "I don't know where the opposition comes, except from the soap companies," adding that no jobs would be lost because major manufacturers make both phosphate and non-phosphate products.
Several Great Lakes cities and states have already banned phosphate detergents, but the approach is mixed. For instance, Chicago has a ban but Illinois does not. "There's no more ring around the collar in Chicago than there is in the suburbs," Anderson claimed.
Harsha argued that the issue is a local matter and the federal government should not impose a ban on states such as Ohio, where only a portion of the area drains into the lakes. Most of the phosphate, he said, come from agricultural runoff.