House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) won an important vote on the Clean Air Act yesterday, signaling that he may have managed to heal the fracture in his coalition that had stalled efforts to rewrite the law for the past three months.
In the first markup session since Dingell abruptly halted the committee's work on the bill in April, the panel voted 25 to 17 in favor of an amendment on identifying and controlling airborne hazardous wastes. Critics warned that the change would weaken the current law and allow continuing delays in controlling cancer-causing air pollutants.
Opponents are expected to get another shot at the issue today, and the vote could be even closer.
The session was marked by a series of delaying tactics by opponents of the pending bill, who claim that it is an industry measure that would gut the 1970 anti-pollution law.
But Dingell's success on the amendment indicated that after months of behind-the-scenes wrangling, he may have recemented a majority in support of the rewrite, and the bill may have a chance of passing the House this year after all.
Dingell had planned to suspend the markup again if he had lost the test vote. But the committee now plans to meet as much as it can this week in hopes it can finish its work on the bill. A Senate version that has attracted strong criticism from industry also is being marked up.
Industry representatives and the White House have been pushing to revise the current law, which they claim contains overly stringent restrictions that have hindered industry's productivity.
Environmentalists also want to change the current law, but to add or tighten controls on so-called acid rain and hazardous pollutants.
While the act came up for reauthorization last year, its provisions will not expire if the bill doesn't pass Congress this year. But states must meet tough anti-pollution limits by December, and the Environmental Protection Agency has been threatening to enforce those to the letter if the law is not amended.
Yesterday's vote came on an amendment by Rep. Thomas A. Luken (D-Ohio) on the question of what to do about 37 substances that the EPA has identified as potential airborne carcinogens, but taken no action on.
In 1970 Congress ordered the agency to identify such substances and set special emission standards for them. But EPA has placed only seven chemicals on the hazardous pollutant list and has taken no formal action on the other 37, including dioxin, coke oven emissions and formaldehyde.
Reps. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) and W. J. (Billy) Tauzin (D-La.) have offered amendments that would require EPA to complete studies of the 37 within four years. If EPA did not act within that time, the chemicals automatically would be classified as hazardous and subject to emissions limits. A vote on the Tauzin amendment is expected today.
The panel yesterday gave preliminary approval to what supporters called a compromise measure, requiring EPA to determine within four years whether the pollutants were hazardous, but allowing the agency to keep a substance off the list by saying the agency had "insufficient evidence" to classify it.
"Announcing something as a compromise doesn't make it a compromise," Florio warned. "It is a vote for significantly weakening the already weak provisions" on hazardous airborne pollutants.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Dingell's main adversary on the committee, said, "If the EPA fails to meet the deadline, the only remedy will be a lawsuit that will drag on indefinitely," while "EPA could continue to drag its feet."
Amendment supporters argued against putting the 37 substances on the hazardous list automatically. Rep. James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.) said that "does not penalize EPA, but it could penalize the myriad industries which use these products.