Clean air gamesmanship

Is there, as many environmentalists charge, some political gamesmanship underway at the Environmental Protection Agency? The EPA is apparently preparing to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid as well as impose sanctions against 12 cities that are not in compliance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Agency officials point out that they are merely upholding the law. But it is no secret that the Reagan administration would like to use the aid cutoff as proof that the act, which is now before Congress for revision, should be significantly weakened.

Amid the political manuevering now taking place it is vital that the long-range public interest not be overlooked. Opinion polls have repeatedly indicated that the American public favors clean air as a general objective, as well as enforcement of existing regulations. That is not to say that modification may not be in order to avoid cases of genuine, demonstrated hardship. But the evidence seems overwhelming that, once businesses and communities make the concept of clean air part of their overall practices, meeting the act's provisions becomes just one more normal day-to-day activity.

The Clean Air Act represents a great environmental achievement. To alter it so as to dilute its purpose would be short-sighted. Similarly, enforcing the act in a draconian fashion would also be irresponsible. The goal should be to maintain the progress already been made -- and to seek fair compliance with existing standards.

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