U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly came to smoggy Southern California on Monday to drum up support for President Bush's sweeping new clean air proposals and said he is confident that Congress will approve the package before the end of the year.
"With this bill, the President is saying, 'Enough. Now is the time to act,' " Reilly told delegates to the 82nd annual convention of the Air and Waste Management Assn. meeting at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The President announced the broad outlines of his plan two weeks ago in a White House speech, and Reilly said further details will be circulated within various federal agencies this week. He said the proposal will be sent to Congress soon after members return from their Fourth of July recess.
"Clean air is good politics. The people want it," Reilly told the nation's leading air pollution scientists and regulators at Monday's meeting. "But it's more than good politics. Clean air is good health."
The plan calls for tougher federal controls to reduce acid rain, toxic air contaminants and urban air pollution and will cost an estimated $14 billion to $19 billion in the decade after it takes effect. Within that time, Bush said all but three of the nation's 81 smoggiest areas will meet clean air standards. Los Angeles County and the rest of the four-county South Coast Air Quality Management District basin, New York and Houston will be given until 2010.
The AQMD has a separate air quality proposal before the state Air Resources Board that, if adopted, would bring the Los Angeles Basin into compliance by 2007. The basin includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Reilly said the Administration's plan for setting tougher air quality goals, and at the same time permitting industry to find the most economical ways of achieving the goals, could become a model for how the Administration addresses other issues.
"I support this proposal to use market forces. I think it's one of the strongest parts of the bill . . . and could be the first step toward a fundamental change in the way the federal government approaches problems," Reilly told the delegates.
In the past, the EPA has relied on a so-called "command and control" approach in which industry has been told not only what standards to meet but also how to meet them. Businesses have long complained that if they were allowed more flexibility, they could find a cheaper way to accomplish the same goal.
The approach is not wholly new. It has been used for some time among stationary air pollution sources.
But with this plan, the principle for the first time is extended to automobile tailpipe emissions. Auto makers would be allowed to build new cars that failed to meet tailpipe emission standards as long as the manufacturers produced other cars that were cleaner than required, including those running on cleaner burning fuels, such as natural gas and methanol.
The Bush proposal would also allow owners of coal-burning electrical plants to choose between adding expensive "scrubbers" to their stacks or using low-sulfur coal or other fuel to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide that cause acid rain.
The proposal is not without controversy. California officials and environmentalists question how an "average" tailpipe standard can be enforced if individual cars are no longer tested against a set emission limit. In addition, influential congressmen from states that produce high sulfur coal are alarmed that the Bush proposal could put miners in their states out of work.
At a press conference after his speech, Reilly said there will be a continuing need for a command and control "floor."
"What we want to do is not relax for one minute" existing environmental safeguards, he said. But, if business can come up with a cost-effective approach "that may have been frustrated by our laws . . . we are prepared to reconsider," he added.
Reilly urged delegates in Anaheim to support the package, saying the cost is only a small percentage of the $350 billion Americans spend annually to buy and maintain cars.
"With this bill we're buying a lot of environmental protection for the money. I think, on balance, this bill is going to turn out to be a bargain," he said.
Reilly defended the President's proposal requiring automobile manufacturers to build 500,000 methanol-powered cars beginning in 1995.
"If we're ever to reconcile our love for the car with our demand for clean air, then there is no alternative to alternative fuels," Reilly said.