WASHINGTON — President Bush plans to meet today with a who's who of corporate chiefs and then with the leaders of major environmental organizations in a last round of lobbying before he settles on his proposal for clean air legislation.
The meetings will provide a final opportunity for the two sides to directly influence the President on a series of major decisions that have not yet been made on the clean air plan, which Bush is expected to announce Monday.
After months of meetings by a sub-Cabinet working group that refined a series of options, Bush plans to make the final decisions himself over the weekend, he told congressional leaders in a meeting Tuesday. The remaining decisions include both broad questions of policy and some fairly small but important details.
Question of Degree
Bush's aides, for example, have agreed that the Administration should propose a broad new effort to switch cars from gasoline to cleaner-burning fuels such as alcohol. But Bush must still decide whether the federal government should merely encourage such action or order that it be taken.
Similarly, to clean up acid rain, lower-level officials have reached agreement that the Administration should seek a 10-million-ton reduction in the amount of sulfur that power plants, factories and industrial boilers pour into the air each year. But they have left to Bush the decision on how quickly that goal must be reached and which of several possible means should be used to get there.
Bush's first meeting today will be with an industry coalition that includes some of the most prominent figures in American business, including the chief executives of General Motors, Amoco, Du Pont and USX. Then, after a speech to Ducks Unlimited, a wildlife and hunting organization, Bush will meet with a delegation including the leaders of nearly all the major environmental organizations in the country.
The two sides will concentrate on a similar list of issues. But the industry group plans to limit its discussions solely to clean air, while several of the environmentalists plan to raise other issues, such as the Alaska oil spill and some of the controversial nominees of Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr.
The business leaders are "going to tell him very strongly that there are some things we're concerned about" in the plans the Administration is considering, said William Fay, director of the industry-backed Clean Air Working Group.
In particular, the business group opposes any plan to mandate the use of alternative fuels. It argues that the decision should be left up to state and local governments.
On acid rain, the business group will urge Bush to delay the deadline for sulfur reductions until at least 2005. Under the plan recommended to Bush by his Domestic Policy Council, the reduction goal would have to be met between 2000 and 2003.
Want Earlier Deadline
Environmentalists, meanwhile, would like to see the deadline set earlier, sometime during the 1990s, and will tell Bush that the reductions his advisers are proposing are too small. While the Administration talks of a 10-million-ton reduction, including 1 million tons from cleaning industrial boilers, the environmentalists would like a goal of 12 million tons without counting reductions from boilers.
The environmentalists tend to favor mandating the use of alternative fuels but also argue that the Administration is emphasizing that course too heavily and not pushing enough to clean up existing gasoline-powered engines.