In a vote that sharply diminishes the chance for any rewrite of the Clean Air Act this year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday narrowly rejected an industry-backed amendment on airborne hazardous pollutants in favor of one supported by environmental groups.
The vote, which reversed an initial test of the measure Tuesday, was hailed by environmentalists.
"When the doors opened this morning nobody knew how it was going to turn out," said Richard Ayres, chairman of the National Clean Air Coalition, an amalgam of environmental and health groups that had been lobbying against the industry-backed amendment, offered by Reps. James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.) and Thomas A. Luken (D-Ohio).
Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who suspended mark-up of the reauthorization in April, had reconvened the sessions this week in the belief that he had the votes to pass the Broyhill-Luken amendment on the hazardous pollutants.
But the defections of several Republicans produced a 21-to-20 vote against the Dingell-backed amendment and a 22-to-20 approval of an alternate amendment by Reps. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) and W.J. (Billy) Tauzin (D-La.).
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Dingell's main adversary on the committee, said the coalition in support of the industry-supported bill "has fallen apart," and industry will not get its "wish list."
Industries and the Reagan administration had been pressing Congress to relax some provisions of the Clean Air Act, the nation's major air pollution law, contending that it was overly stringent and hampered productivity.
Industry representatives tried to make the best of yesterday's setback, saying there were still parts of the bill they wanted to change and the hazardous pollution amendment might not be an insurmountable sticking point.
"I still believe there will be a Clean Air Act this year," said Douglas Walker of the Chamber of Commerce.
"The consensus is there are a lot of issues to be decided, and this was one but not the only critical one," said E. Bruce Harrison of the National Enivonmental Development Association, a business-labor coalition pressing for a rewrite.
Committee staffers said Dingell planned to continue mark-up, although procedural tactics prevented continuation of the session yesterday. But it was not clear whether Dingell, representing Detroit and wanting desperately to relieve the automobile industry from existing auto emission controls, still controlled a coalition that could get the bill out of committee.
"The odds are against our doing a clean air bill this year," Waxman said after the vote. "Time is running out."
The law's provisions will remain in effect if no rewrite is passed. 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.
But Waxman said, "I find it hard to believe that EPA is going to move . . . . They're not moving on anything else."
The amendment approved by the panel yesterday set a four-year deadline for EPA to complete studies of 37 substances that the agency has identified as potential airborne carcinogens, including dioxin, PCBs, coke oven emissions and formaldehyde.
Congress told EPA in 1970 to identify such pollutants and set special emission standards, but the agency has placed only seven substances on the list so far and taken no action on the other 37 pollutants it has identified as potential hazards.
Under Florio's original amendment, the chemicals would be automatically listed as hazardous and subject to emissions limits if EPA doesn't finish the studies within four years. But changes added by Tauzin gave industry several escape hatches to prevent the hazardous listing from taking effect without prior hearings.