Congressional negotiators reached a tentative agreement Monday on a wide-ranging clean-air bill that will require factories, automakers and utilities to cut pollution dramatically over the next decade.
The legislation, which toughens federal air-pollution laws for the first time in 13 years, was expected to be formally approved by a House-Senate conference, possibly late Monday, and then go back to the two chambers for endorsement.The bill's controls, aimed at cutting urban smog and ridding the air of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals, are expected to touch on almost every sector of industry and cost the economy between $22 billion and $25 billion when all its provisions go into effect.
Under the legislation, pollution from automobiles would be cut 30 percent to 60 percent, oil companies would be required to provide cleaner gasoline, industries would reduce the amount of toxic chemicals released into the air and about 100 cities would be ordered to meet federal air-quality standards.
The compromise bill retains a five-year, $250 million aid program for workers who lose their jobs because of tougher pollution controls. The White House had objected to financial assistance and had threatened to veto the bill if it were included.
But the administration appeared to soften its opposition to the provision after language was included to keep the program from becoming too costly.
Congress began considering the clean-air measure more than a year ago.
Agreement on the last sections of the massive bill, which covers nearly 700 pages, came as House and Senate negotiators worked through most of night Sunday and much in the early hours Monday. Congressional leaders had wanted a bill by the end of the weekend to give it enough time to clear Congress before adjournment Friday.
Negotiators reached agreement early Sunday on steep pollution cuts from electric power plants to reduce acid rain. Coal-burning power plants in 21 states will be directed to cut their sulfur dioxide releases almost in half, reducing annual emissions by about 10 million tons by the year 2001.
The acid-rain provision, which will hit utilities and consumers of electricity in the industrial Midwest the hardest, was the last major section of the bill to be resolved. Agreements had been reached previously that cut smog-causing emissions from automobiles and toxic chemical releases from factories and businesses.
"We're getting real protection. It meets the acid test on acid rain," said Rep. Gerry Sikorski, D-Minn., a leading proponent of acid-rain curbs.
House-Senate conferees have struggled since mid-July to resolve differences in separate bills approved earlier by each chamber.
Among the bill's major provisions:
- Utilities must reduce their annual sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 million tons, or nearly in half, by installing "scrubbers" or switching to low-sulfur coal. They also must cut nitrogen oxides, which also contribute to acid rain.
- About 100 cities now considered to have unhealthy air must meet federal air-quality standards within five to 15 years, depending on the severity of the problem, by reduce smog-causing emissions. Los Angeles is given 20 years.
- Industry must install new pollution-control equipment to cut the release of toxic chemicals into the air by 90 percent over the next decade. Only the steel industry's coke ovens would be given more time, until 2020. Even stronger pollution-control measures could be required if the Environmental Protection Agency concludes that residents near a plant are not ensured "an ample margin of safety" from the risk of cancer.
- Pollution from automobiles must be cut 30 to 60 percent through additional controls on tailpipe emissions and the phase-in of alternative fuel vehicles in fleets. A California pilot program also would require 300,000 personal cars powered by alternative fuels by 1999. It could be copied by other states.
- Oil companies must provide cleaner gasoline blends in cities with the worst smog problems. The requirement is aimed at pushing the sale of "reformulated" gasoline or blends that include additives such as ethanol.