Bush Proposes Strong Air-Cleaning Measures

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Bush proposes strong air-cleaning measures

Nearly half the U.S. population lives in areas with unhealthy air, according to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly. This week, President Bush unveiled new legislation to eliminate much of the air pollution responsible. Under a complex proposal he outlined at a press briefing, acid rain precursors would be cut in half over the next 10 years, pollutants responsible for smog-ozone would drop 40 percent within 20 years, and 75 to 90 percent of the toxicity -- especially carcinogenicity -- in urban air could be eliminated by the year 2000.

"We're expecting that the acid rain provisions alone ... will cost just under $4 billion a year," Reilly says. The ozone limits will probably cost $8 billion to $12 billion per year, the carcinogenic-pollution controls another $2 billion. Though expensive, the investments are urgently needed to protect the nation's health and ecology, Reilly says.

In general, the new bill "contains the right elements," says S. William Becker, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators. Moreover, he says, "one cannot overestimate how important it is for a U.S. President to back clean-air legislation." Because President Reagan would not acknowledge that the Clean Air Act needed fixing, Becker says, "we saw eight years of stalemate."

A cornerstone of the new bill is its acid rain proposals. One targets 207 fossil-fueled power plants in 17 states for tough sulfur dioxide controls. The limits, phased in over 10 years, should help reduce U.S. sulfur dioxide pollution to almost half the 1980 level.

Nitrogen oxides (NO.sub.x.) -- the more recalcitrant precursors of acid rain and smog-ozone -- would not be attacked nearly as vigorously. Bush calls for reducing nitrogen oxides just 10 percent from 20.4 million tons in 1980. Moreover, the new bill would allow large-scale polluters to substitute greater controls on sulfur for lesser controls on nitrogen -- suggesting that actual nitrogen oxide reductions could fall far short of even 10 percent. …