Clearing the Air

The Bush administration has an opportunity to clear the air – both literally and in its policy – by implementing a vital environmental regulation.

A federal appeals panel has just ruled that clean-air standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1997 pass legal muster and can be enforced. This after five years of constant legal combat by power companies, truckers, and other industries to cancel the rules. The new standards would reduce the level of emissions that create ozone and fine soot particles, the basic components of smog.

EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman welcomed the court decision, which upheld her agency's authority, under the federal Clean Air Act, to set such standards. She talked of "ongoing efforts to protect ... Americans from the dangers of air pollution."

Despite Ms. Whitman's enthusiasm, the nature of those "efforts" by the current administration are, to put it mildly, controversial. Even as the EPA gets ready to enforce the tougher rules, it's reportedly on the verge of announcing policies that will discourage government lawsuits against power companies that have balked at installing new antipollution technology in old coal-burning plants – notably the plants in the Midwest that are major contributors to dirty air in the Northeast.

Ms. Whitman, as a former governor of New Jersey, a Northeastern state, knows the importance of such regulations. Her agency will need to work closely with state and local officials to devise ways of complying with more- stringent antismog standards.

And, hopefully, her point of view will rein in an administration that may not see the obligation of power companies to clean up older power plants.

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