State lawmakers shy away from acid-rain challenge

State lawmakers, like the nation's governors, are in no mood even to politely suggest how to combat the acid-rain problem. Three proposals for facing the environmental challenge - one of which would have gone little beyond calling for speedy federal action - were voted down at last week's gathering of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Instead, the senators and representatives threw their support behind a carefully worded but noncontroversial clean-air resolution embracing a recommendation that the US Environmental Protection Agency accelerate research on the effects of acid rain.

Earlier this month, the National Governors' Association, meeting in Portland, Maine, similarly sidestepped the acid-rain issue, choosing rather to call for the creation of a task force to study the matter.

That move came after the governors were given assurances by federal EPA administrator William D. Ruckelshaus that the Reagan administration will have its recommendation for dealing with the problem ''by late September.''

Besides support for passage of a new federal Clean Air Act, the legislators meeting here also endorsed a stronger voice for state governments in the site selection for high-level radioactive waste disposal.

This would include states getting federal money to do independent studies of prospective nuclear-waste dump sites.

Although veto power is not proposed, the NCSL resolution calls on the US Department of Energy to ''comply with all reasonable state laws during the siting, construction, operation, and decommissioning of such waste depositories.''

Consideration would be given to ''minimizing the risks associated with transportation of the nuclear waste'' and the states involved given ''substantial input'' in determining the routing, scheduling, and advance notification of such shipments, the resolution urged.

The lawmaker delegations, comprising both Republicans and Democrats from across the nation, approved 97 other new or revised positions on a broad range of issues during the five-day convention. These actions included support for:

* Variable-rate, low-interest loans for beginning farmers.

* Greater federal assistance to state utility commissions and companies ''to help make electric consumption forecasting more accurate and reliable.''

* More preparedness for energy shortage emergencies.

* Federal, state, and local partnerships to seek ''permanent solutions to the corrections crisis,'' including the problem of prison overcrowding.

* Increased federal highway aid on non-Interstate road projects (from 75 to 80 percent), and on construction substituted by the states for Interstate roads (from 85 to 90 percent).

Boosters of more decisive action on acid rain, led by state Sen. Joseph Strohl (D) of Wisconsin, favored a pollution-control effort ''supported by a tax on electricity generated from fossil fuels'' to be paid by the utility companies.

Opposition forces, spearheaded by state Sen. Kenneth Buzbee (D) of Illinois, argued that such an arrangement would impact unfairly on coal-producing states like his. Rather than outright rejection of the Strohl amendment, which was clearly their intent, they got the proposal set aside on a 29-to-19 vote of the delegations.

Similarly turned down, in what proved to be a largely regional battle pitting delegates mostly from the Northeast and upper Midwest against those from other states, were two later proposals aimed at lowering the levels of acid rain.

The mildest of these was almost identical in wording to one adopted last month by the National League of Cities. It was tabled on a voice vote by the NCSL, however, despite pleas for support from New York Democratic Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, who had opposed the earlier, stronger proposals on acid rain.

Besides shying away from anything approaching a firm stand on acid rain, the lawmaker gathering sidetracked or spurned outright four other controversial resolutions which would have given the organization's backing to:

* Provision for federal incentives to ''encourage reduction in the volume of dairy production.''

* Protection against the takeover of private hydroelectric plants by public utilities through the federal relicensing process.

* Encouragement of legislatures to ''review the severity of penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use.''

* Repeal of the heavy-truck user tax provided under the 1982 federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act, and its replacement with an increase in the federal diesel fuel tax from the current 9 cents a gallon to 14 cents.

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