Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Joe Barton loses effort to weaken Clean Air Act through energy bill

Last night the Senate energy negotiators rejected Joe Barton’s attempt to postpone deadlines for meeting the ozone standards (the so-called “bumpup” amendment that he rammed through the House). See preview story, below, from today’s BNA Daily Environment Report.

It will likely spur Barton to seek other ways to weaken the Clean Air Act, so I wouldn’t celebrate too long.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Page A-10
ISSN 1521-9402
News
EnergyBarton's Air Pollution Provision UnlikelyTo Be Included in Final Version of Energy Bill

A House-passed provision to extend compliance deadlines for ozone standards is unlikely to be part of the comprehensive energy legislation currently being debated in conference, congressional staff said July 25.

Two titles in the energy legislation (H.R. 6) dealing with environmental issues still were up for debate as conferees continued work late July 25 to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the energy conference, sponsored the provision that would extend ozone compliance deadlines under the Clean Air Act.

There was no comparable provision in the Senate-passed bill, and the Barton provision was expected to attract strong opposition in the conference.

Late July 25, Senate Democrats were still seeking to add names to a letter sent July 22 to Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (R-N.M.), the Senate conference leaders, expressing opposition to the House provision.
Opposition Previously Expressed

The provision is also referred to as the Barton "bump up" provision because it extends the attainment date for certain areas that are downwind of pollution.

Specifically, Barton's provision (Section 1443 of the energy bill) would amend Clean Air Act Section 181, which extends the deadlines for cleaning up smog across much of the country.

Barton's plan has been opposed by state and local air regulators, Northeastern states, and health and environmental groups.

In addition, in the July 22 letter, Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) wrote, "We would find it very difficult to support efforts to move to or otherwise vote for an Energy bill conference report that contained Section 1443 or any similar provision that seeks to rewrite the Clean Air Act in such a fashion. Changes of this magnitude in public health protection should not occur without at least first engaging in a substantive and thoughtful public process in the Senate to review its costs and benefits."

A Senate Republican committee aide acknowledged that "it is very unlikely this provision will survive."

The bump-up provision did not make it into the agreed-upon base text going into conference late July 25, but a Republican aide said Barton will probably offer the provision as an amendment during the night. If it is agreed to by his House colleagues, it must be presented to the Senate.

But a Senate Democratic committee aide said July 25 that if such an amendment were offered, Senate conferees will not except it, in which case the provision will not be in the final conference report.
Effects of Ozone Provision

According to Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, if the provision as passed by the House were to be included in the energy bill, it could subject much of the nation to continuing smog problems and "amount to the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in at least 15 years."

As structured, the effect of the provision, O'Donnell said, "would be a dirty-air domino plan, since it stipulates that no area would have to meet smog standards until areas upwind of it did."

House Democratic conferees have expressed dissenting views on the Barton plan, noting that the need for legislative provisions to address potential bump-ups is greatly reduced, or possibly even eliminated, because many areas have received a lower classification and, therefore, face little threat of increased mandatory controls anytime in the near future. But possibly more significant, according to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), is the effect of such a provision.

The Environmental Protection Agency has recently issued new regulations to address ozone pollution that require most localities to achieve cleaner air by 2007 or 2010, depending on how polluted the area is now.

But under Section 1443, the deadlines for polluted areas extending from Georgia to Connecticut, as well as in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, would be extended to 2015 or beyond, according to Waxman.

By Pamela Najor

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