WASHINGTON — Barely two weeks before conferring in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, President Reagan said Wednesday that the United States will seek $2.5 billion over five years for projects to combat acid rain.
Mulroney called Reagan's announcement "welcome news . . . a demonstration of his commitment to implement" the agreement the two leaders reached a year ago in which the President indicated support for a proposal to spend that amount on anti-pollution projects. Wednesday's action was seen by Canada as a recommitment of that support.
Reagan's announcement, made in a written statement, addresses an issue that has become a major irritant in U.S.-Canadian relations. Half the acid rain that falls in Canada originates in the United States, but the Administration previously had held that more study was needed before taking action to combat the problem.
Canadian officials were particularly pleased at the apparent elimination of the politically embarrassing situation. Until the announcement, it appeared that Mulroney would have to confront Reagan, since some Canadians were accusing him of reneging on the U.S.-Canadian agreement reached when the two leaders met in Ottawa in April, 1986.
"What we didn't want was the opposition hammering Mulroney that he had either sold out to Reagan or didn't have the ability to get him to keep his word," a Mulroney aide said.
In his statement, Reagan said that the $2.5 billion will be used for test projects, adding that he will encourage private industry to at least match the federal government's contribution.
Funds Not in Budget Request
Specific funds were not included in the Administration's budget request for fiscal 1988, which begins Oct. 1. The request for $2.5 billion would expand funding for another program intended to reduce air pollution caused by coal fires, for which the Administration is seeking about $150 million in fiscal 1988.
The U.S. commitment "goes some distance toward our ultimate goal--a bilateral agreement eliminating acid rain," said Paul Frazier, spokesman for Canada's Department of External Affairs.
As part of the Administration's program, Reagan has ordered the formation of a special advisory panel, which would include Canadian members, on funding and selecting pollution control projects.
Bush Will Conduct Review
Reagan also said he would ask Vice President George Bush, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief, to review federal and state programs to find opportunities to address the environmental problem under existing laws.
But Daniel Weiss of the Sierra Club called for more immediate action than that envisioned by Reagan, saying: "Unless you're going to use the money to clog smokestacks, you're not going to get any emission reductions in the short term."
The announcement, said Edward R. Fried, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied Canada and energy policies, is "an attempt by the White House to pave the way for the President's trip."
Reagan is scheduled to meet with Mulroney in Canada on April 5-6.
James Gerstenzang reported from Washington and Kenneth Freed from Toronto.