Congressional Action on Clean-Air Bill Shifts to House

BEGINNING today, proposals to amend last week's clean-air compromise will echo through the Senate chamber for days. The oratory will make it sound as though the Senate is the battleground for this year's key environmental measure - clean air legislation. But few Senate efforts at change are likely to succeed. Senate passage seems assured by the compromise reached last week by Senate Democratic leaders and representatives of President Bush. The Senate likely will pass the measure with little change.

``It's pretty clear that changes to this compromise are going to be difficult in the areas they've agreed on,'' says Bill Fay, executive director of the Clean Air Working Group, an industry coalition. These areas include: automobile tailpipe emission, toxic air pollution, and acid rain.

Next week the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will begin drawing up its version of a clean-air bill, by amending the one that is based on President Bush's original proposals.

Few are certain what will happen in the House committee. Environmentalists will press for tighter antipollution controls which industry says will substantially raise costs and eliminate jobs while producing only minimal improvements in air quality.

Chief White House domestic policy adviser Roger Porter has served notice that the administration may try to make further changes in the House agreement.

After the House Energy Committee completes its work - likely around the middle of next month - the full House of Representatives will consider and vote on the measure.

It will be the first time since 1974 that the full House has voted on a clean air proposal. Presuming eventual House passage, action will shift to yet a third arena later this year, the Senate-House conference, sometimes called the third branch of Congress.

Several members of the Senate and House committees that originally dealt with the clean-air issue will try to reach a new compromise between the Senate and House versions.

``I foresee rather difficult conference negotiations,'' says Kent Jeffrey, looking well ahead. Mr. Jeffrey is the environmental analyst of the Heritage Foundation.

If the Senate and House measures continue roughly on their current paths, major differences are expected between them in the degree of environmental cleanup, its total cost, and its effect on jobs.

All that is way down the legislative road, far in the background.

In the foreground now for all sides is the details that will be contained in the formal legislation, which has been written over the weekend, that is based on the Mitchell-White House compromise now being considered.

``These are compromises of people shaking hands across the table,'' Jeffrey says cautiously. ``Let's see what they actually write down.''

The compromise gives automakers two additional years to meet the first of two stages of more stringent auto emission standards.

In addition, it changes the second stage from mandatory, as in the Senate bill, to conditional, depending on air quality in several large cities.

The compromise empowers the Environmental Protection Agency to decide the air pollution levels at which industry must install technology to control 191 toxic pollutants.

On acid rain, the agreement does make some concessions to states that mine high-sulfur coal, but it requires the same amount of reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions as the original Senate proposal.

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