Breaking a 10-year deadlock, Congress gave final approval yesterday to a sweeping revision of the nation's clean air laws.
The legislation, the product of months of intricate negotiations, toughens and expands the Clean Air Act of 1970 and calls for a series of innovative prescriptions for a wide array of environmental ills. It establishes a blueprint for significantly reducing acid rain, urban smog, airborne toxics and ozone-depleting chemicals by the turn of the century through a complex set of regulatory provisions affecting everything from coke ovens to the neighborhood dry cleaner.
The Senate's 89 to 10 vote, following approval by the House Friday night, culminated 16 months of debate that pitted regional economic interests against a growing public desire for a better environment. President Bush, whose original bill provided a framework for the debate, said yesterday that the law's enactment was "an important milestone in preserving and protecting America's natural resources."
The legislation is likely to have a major impact on American industry and cost $25 billion a year to implement, passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for new cars, gasoline, electricity, dry cleaning and a host of products containing newly regulated chemicals.
With the power to make or break entire industries, the bill inspired a massive special-interest lobbying campaign. Oil industry representatives kept pressing for changes even after the conference reached agreement Monday, hoping to persuade the bill's drafters to change the time by which new, less-polluting gasoline must be ready for sale.
Environmentalists regard the bill as a vast improvement over current law, but argue that real gains for public health and natural resources will not be realized for a decade because of long grace periods conceded to industry and the severity of environmental problems.
The battle of health protections versus costs dominated the final hours of Senate debate yesterday, with Sen. Steve Symms (R-Idaho), the bill's leading opponent, calling it "so costly that it probably will do more damage to the economy than the good it may do for the air."
Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) replied that "there are greater costs to doing nothing. . . . No single factor is as critical to our future as the health of the American people. And no single factor potentially undermines the health of every single American more than the quality of the air we breathe."
For Mitchell, the vote rewarded years of struggle to overhaul the Clean Air Act, an ambitious, even radical law when it was passed in 1970 that was resisted by industry and haphazardly implemented by federal regulators. Congress, sharply divided by regional and economic interests, failed repeatedly in the 1980s to toughen its enforcement provisions.
The Clean Air Act of 1990 seeks in large part to realize the objectives of 1970. To combat urban smog, now a virtual epidemic afflicting 100 cities, it imposes tighter limits on auto emissions, requirements for cleaner-burning gasoline and controls of polluters as small as bakeries and dry cleaners.
Strict pollution cutbacks are demanded of midwestern utilities to reduce acid rain, which kills lakes and forests of the Northeast. The bill calls for a nationwide cap on acid rain emissions by 2000, cutting 10 million tons from 1980 levels.
To protect industrial communities exposed to chemicals so toxic that even a small dose can kill or cause serious illness, the bill calls for requirements to install technological controls capable of reducing 90 percent of carcinogens and other airborne toxics by 2003.
The bill employs the traditional regimen of technological requirements, health standards and deadlines to clean the air. But a number of innovations were approved that have implications for other environmental statutes.
New concepts include the acid rain cap -- the first nationwide emissions limit on a pollutant; a pollution-credit trading system, based on free-market principles, to help dirty utilities pay for acid rain cleanup and allow clean utilities to grow beyond their cap; and requirements that industry limit cancer risks based on theoretical assessments of the risks remaining after technology is installed.
Perhaps the greatest feat of the 748-page bill is surviving the centrifugal effects of Congress. The bill that emerged from 15 weeks of conference was a patchwork of compromises, accommodating regional and economic interests that have defeated attempts since 1981 to pass legislation.
Now as the bill moves to the White House for the final step in becoming law, even lobbyists who rarely agree on anything are ready for Bush to sign it.
"It could've been written more affordably, but we're not going to fight it," said William Fay, administrator of a business coalition called the Clean Air Working Group.
Daniel Weiss of the Sierra Club said that Bush "kicked off the clean air debate last year and now he can score the final point by signing this bill."
State obligations: To end unhealthy levels of smog in cities by Dec. 31, 1987.
Industrial sources: Controls required on larger plants that emit 100 tons or more of the two primary ingredients of smog -- hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.
Mobile sources: Limits on auto emissions of .41 grams per mile (gpm) for hydrocarbons, 1 gpm for nitrogen oxides. Antipollution equipment to last for 50,000 miles.
Motor fuels: Limits on gasoline volatility.
State obligations: Required to bring about smog reductions of 15 percent in first six years and 3 percent annually after that until same health standards are attained.
Industrial sources: Controls imposed on smaller emitters including bakeries, printers and dry cleaners. Threshhold would be as low as 10 tons in Los Angeles and 25 tons in areas considered to be "severely" polluted, including New York, and 50 tons in "seriously" polluted cities, including Washington.
Mobile sources: Limits on auto emissions to be tightened by 1996 to .25 gpm for hydrocarbons and .4 gmp for nitrogen oxides, and tightened after that by 50 percent unless the Environmental Protection Agency says it's not necessary, feasible or cost-effective.
Motor Fuels: Requires gasoline sold in nine smoggiest cities to be reformulated with additives capable of reducing smog-forming and toxic emissions by 15 percent in 1995 and at least 20 percent by 2000. In cities with unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide, oxygenated fuels are to be sold.
Sets up pilot program in California requiring ultra-clean fuels for 300,000 cars by 2000 and allowing 27 "seriously" polluted states to opt-in. Centrally-fueled fleets larger than 10 cars located in those cities will have to burn ultra-clean fuels by 1998.
EPA told to set technological limits on emissions of most dangerous toxic pollutants. Agency directed to protect public health with an "ample margin of safety," which, in case of carcinogens, is defined as limiting lifetime risk of getting cancer to 1 in 10,000 odds. Only seven pollutants have been regulated after 20 years of industry pressure and bureaucratic timidity.
Among sources of toxics not controlled are coke ovens, utilities and incinerators.
Clean Air Bill:
Industrial emitters of 189 airborne toxics required to install "maximum achieveable control technology" by 2003. If there is still a cancer risk, the EPA is to impose standards by 2008 tough enough to protect public health with "ample margin of safety."
Coke ovens get extension to 2020 to meet residual risk standard if they install increasingly stringent control devices over the next thirty years.
Utilities emissions, including dangerous mercury and cadmium, exempted until EPA determines need for regulation.
Municipal incinerators subject to similar regulations as other industrial other sources of toxics, but operating permits last 12 years, instead of five years for other sources.
Current Law: Limits set on emissions of sulfur dioxide, primary acid rain pollutant, but no regulation of tall stacks used by midwestern utilities to disperse emissions, which traveled downwind, fell in rain and damaged ecology of New England.
Clean Air Bill:
Imposes an overall cap on utility emissions of sulfur dioxide of 8.9 million tons-a-year by 2000,a 10 million ton reduction from 1980 levels.
Requires dirtiest 111 utility plants, mostly in Midwest and Appalachia, to account for biggest cuts in first five years, with less polluting plants responsible for cuts later.
Sets up system to provide pollution credits to dirty utilities in return for cuts in sulfur dioxide below their required limit. Credits can be sold to other utilities, with cash used to defray costs of cleanup technology, saving high sulfur coal-mining jobs. Other credits given to clean utilities to permit some growth beyond the cap.
Requires annual reductions by 1996 of another acid rain pollutant -- nitrogen oxides -- by 2 million from 1980 levels.
CHLOROFLUOROCARBONS (CFCs) and OTHER OZONE -- DEPLETING CHEMICALS:
EPA autorizied to regulate if there was evidence of damage to stratospheric ozone layer.
Clean Air Bill:
Halts production of CFCs and halons, a similar chemical used in fire extinguishers, by 2000, the deadline imposed by an international treaty.
Freezes production of less corrosive CFC substitutes, called HCFCs, by 2015 and eliminates their use 15 years later.
Eliminates popular solvents -- carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform -- by 2000 and 2002, respectively.
Mandates recycling program starting in 1992 for CFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.
No special provision.
Clean Air Bill:
$50 million a year in benefits for workers displaced as a result of law as long as they remain in a retraining program and had enrolled in the program at least halfway through the 26 weeks of regular unemployment insurance.