WASHINGTON — With passage of a clean air act this year hanging in the balance, Senate and White House negotiators strove to work out a compromise Thursday over a plan to help coal miners who lose their jobs as a result of proposed controls to curb acid rain.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) convened the closed-door talks with the Bush Administration after it became apparent that a complex clean air compromise reached with the White House last month would fall apart if, as now seems likely, the benefits plan is approved by the Senate.
Sponsored by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the plan would provide up to three years of unemployment and job retraining benefits to the estimated 3,000 to 5,000 miners in Midwestern states who could lose their jobs as a result of the acid rain provisions of the clean air bill. Workers in other industries who lose their jobs as a "direct" result of the legislation would receive up to one year of benefits. Byrd estimated the cost at $500 million.
Saying costs could be even higher, the White House has lobbied strongly against the plan and warned that its inclusion into the clean air legislation could provoke a presidential veto.
In the House, meanwhile, negotiators reached agreement Thursday on an amendment to strengthen the anti-smog provisions of the clean air bill now under review by the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Aides to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who helped to craft the agreement, said the amendment creates a special "extreme" category for Los Angeles by allowing the city with the worst smog in the nation to implement tougher anti-pollution controls than those envisioned for other polluted cities.
Mitchell, his Republican counterpart, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, and senior Administration officials met in an effort to reach a compromise acceptable to Byrd in the hopes they could avoid a vote on the amendment.