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Acid Rain Agreement Bolsters Mulroney

March 20, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan's endorsement Wednesday of a multibillion-dollar program to reduce acid rain was praised by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as "a real commitment" to eliminate a serious cross-border environmental danger.

Reagan ended two days of talks with Mulroney by endorsing a report that called for a five-year, $5-billion American pollution control plan. Mulroney had vigorously sought support for the proposal, which was made by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and former Ontario Premier William Davis.

However, while calling the President's actions "an essential first step," the Canadian leader said that Reagan "needs to move to a reduction" of actual emissions of the pollutants that cause acid rain, which attacks life forms in lakes, streams and forests.

'Confident' of Improvement

"I am very encouraged by your statement, Mr. President," Mulroney told Reagan, adding that "I am confident that we can move to early and substantial reductions" of the sulfur and nitrogen emissions that cause acid rain.

Although Reagan was willing to endorse the Lewis-Davis report, including its call for the federal government to pay half of the proposed costs, Administration officials said he has no plans to set specific goals and schedules to force industry to reduce pollutants that cause acid rain.

The report that Reagan accepted provides only for research into ways to develop cleaner burning coal. Some environmentalists and Mulroney's political opponents at home say the President's action Wednesday is therefore little more than window dressing.

"That's just silly," the prime minister said of such criticisms after he met with Reagan.

Expects Action Soon

However, he declined to answer directly questions about when he expects a specific U.S. commitment to match a Canadian law requiring a 50% reduction in acid rain emissions by 1995. He would say only that "I expect some action fairly soon."

Mulroney has come under fire from critics at home for what they say is his "yes, boss" attitude toward Reagan.

However, despite doubts about the effectiveness of Reagan's endorsement of the report, Mulroney returns to Ottawa today with a political bonus in his briefcase.

"We proved that Mulroney's tactics work to our benefit," one Mulroney aide said Wednesday, noting that previous Canadian leaders had failed to get even an acknowledgement from Reagan that acid rain is a problem.

Mulroney Needed Support

One U.S. source, who asked not to be named, agreed. "When it comes down to it," he said, "the President doesn't really care about acid rain, but he does care about Mulroney. The Canadians convinced him that Mulroney needed and deserved this" support on acid rain.

Mulroney also said that he was leaving Washington encouraged about the other major issue in U.S.-Canadian relations, the prime minister's hope to negotiate a new trade agreement that would guarantee his country unimpeded access to the huge American consumer market.

Reagan already had proposed to Congress that talks with Canada begin but Mulroney was worried that opposition on Capitol Hill had reduced the President's interest. However, Reagan reaffirmed his support for a free-trade agreement.

Furthermore, Mulroney appeared Wednesday to have picked up some key congressional allies, particularly House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who told the prime minister in a meeting that Congress will approve the start of the talks by the end of April.

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