The nation's most powerful industries have called a conference in San Francisco today to plan a broad new attack on the Clean Air Act, which they say will cause inflation, threaten jobs and stop economic growth.
The conference's list of sponsors reads like a who's who of American commerce; the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the American Mining Congress, the American Paper Institute, the Construction Industry Advancement Fund, the National Forest Products Association.
Several labor unions are also participating. The keynote speaker is Robert Georgine, president of the building trades department of the AFL-CIO. His topic: "The Clean Air Act: Can We Afford It?"
"This is their opening salvo," David Hawkins, assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said of the sponsoring groups. Hawkins, who oversees the federal government's effort to clean up air pollution, predicted that industry will try to force Congress to amend the act this year.
"What we are seeing is... exaggeration and distortion of the act's provisions as part of a scare campaign to change the law; legalistic obstruction of the regulatory process; and uncritical use of scientific studies which suit industry's needs no matter how implausible the results," he said.
A far-reaching package of compromise amendments was passed in 1977 after a bruising legislative battle. New automobile emission standards were set, schedules established for cleaning up urban smog and cancercausing air pollution, and strict standards adopted for industrial smokestacks.
While Congress may be less than eager to deal with these emotional issues again so soon, businessmen may push for changes before the next scheduled revisions in 1981.
"Join a coalition effort to reform the Clean Air Act. Exchange information and strategies for changing legislation," the brochure for the threeday National Air Quality Conference said.
But while some groups are pressing to "reform" the clean air legislation, others -- including some unions -- are fighting to keep it as it is.
William W. Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, termed the conference "another example of the corporate state gone beserk. If the Business Roundtable mafia doesn't want clean air, what in the hell does it want: lung disease for everyone?" he asked.
A coalition of environmental groups and unions is organizing a news briefing to counter industry arguments and printing an eight-page paper to distribute to the more than 300 businessmen expected at the conference.
The U.S. League of Women Voters, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union, the United Steelworkers, Common Cause and the National Clean Air Coalition issued a statement declaring that the act will not endanger economic growth.
"America's heritage of breathable air is a national treasure of incalculable value," they said. "The costs of clean air are exceedingly modest for the benefits received. Billions of dollars are spent on health care and thousands of work hours are lost annually as a direct result of pollutionrelated heart and respiratory disease."
However, Angelo Sirancusa, one of the conference organizers said, "At its worst, the Clean Air Act speaks of the potential wholesale shutdown of industrial facilities should a state not be able to attain the standards by set dates -- 1982 and 1987. At its best, the act will require the imposition of new and expensive technology and will severely limit the location of new industry in major metropolitan areas."
Another organizer, Bruce Beyaert of Chevron U.S.A., said, "The Clean Air Act is a threat to development of domestic energy resources and will force a greater dependence on costly foreign oil."
Among those scheduled to speak on how to "reform" the act are former EPA administrator William D. Ruckelshaus, now working for Weyerhauser Co., former EPA deputy administrator John Quarles, now with a Washington law firm, and former congressman Robert C. Kruger (D-Tex.).
Some strategies may not be discussed publicly, however. An alleged internal Chamber of Commerce memo, leaked to the Air and Water Pollution Report -- and hotly disowned by chamber officials -- described a chamber meeting where chemical, petroleum and automotive companies agreed to "orchestrate a rebellion against the act by motoring consumers."
The plan would be to press state agencies to restrict automobile use and enact vehicle inspection and maintenance programs rather than place the burden of cleanup on industry smokestacks.