A story on amendments to the Clean Air Act Thursday neglected to mention that Rep. Thomas A. Luken of Ohio was among the Democrats who voted in favor of the bill reported by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
In the first action of this Congress on the disputed subject of clean air, a House subcommittee yesterday approved an industry-backed bill that would significantly relax both the auto and factory pollution standards in current law.
Environmentalists called the bill, which was cleared 13 to 7, "a dirty air bill" and "a major, major retrenchment on the national clean air program which has been in place for a decade."
Spokesmen for auto, steel, utility, chemical and coal companies said the bill leaves basic health standards intact while relieving industry of unnecessary regulations.
The Clean Air Act, which industry has been seeking to amend and on which both sides have been lobbying intensely, has had the relevant committees in both House and Senate stalemated for a year. Billions of dollars in cleanup costs are involved; on the other side, the American Lung Association and other groups say amendments could have a significant effect on public health.
The politics are so sensitive that, with a third of the Senate and all the House up for reelection this year, some believe that Congress will end up simply ducking; current law will stay in effect if nothing is done.
The bill cleared yesterday is backed by a powerful coalition led by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.), ranking minority member. It is supported by the White House, which declined last year to submit its own legislation after drafts of an administration bill were leaked and a public uproar ensued.
Dingell is expected to bring the bill before the full committee next week. The vote is likely to be close between his bill and a rival measure sponsored by a subcommitee chairman, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). Both sides expect a sharp floor fight. No committee action has occurred yet in the Senate.
The bill would double emission limits for two auto pollutants: carbon monoxide, now set at 3.4 grams per mile, would jump to 7 grams; nitrogen oxides would increase from 1 gram to 2 grams per mile. Individual cars would not be required to meet the standard if a company's overall fleet average came within the limits.
Auto pollution is associated with respiratory and heart disease and impairment of the central nervous system. While environmentalists say such health problems would increase under the bill, auto companies say the amount of new pollution would be small, and consumers would save as much as $100 per car.
The bill would also extend the deadlines for states to comply with overall air quality standards until 1993, and remove sanctions allowing the federal government to withold highway and sewer money from states that do not comply. Without the extensions, industries say states will have to ban new construction in some areas.
The bill would also repeal current law's strict limits on pollution in parts of the country which are relatively clean, thus allowing more industrial growth, particularly in western states. In national parks and wilderness areas, pollution standards could be violated five times a year, instead of once a year. And for parks established after 1977 there would be an even more lenient standard.
Dingell beat back subcommittee amendments sponsored by Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants which cause acid rain in northeastern states, and by Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) to speed up control of 37 toxic air pollutants suspected of causing cancer.
The 13 members voting for the bill included all the subcommittee Republicans, plus four Democrats: Dingell, Phil Gramm (Tex.), Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.). Mikulski, who has a General Motors plant in her district, voted with Waxman during the markup sessions, but switched unexpectedly to the Dingell bill in the final vote.
In the Senate, a version written by Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is more palatable to environmentalists. Stafford is moving slowly in hopes of achieving a committee consensus to protect the bill from floor attacks, including one from Democratic Leader Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), who is expected to introduce a bill supported by the coal industry.