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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Clean-air scofflaws

THE view that enforcement of current federal law would do more to cut air pollution than President Bush's so-called "Clear Skies" initiative now has some scientific backing.

A report by the National Academy of Sciences asserts that "Clear Skies" would be less effective in reducing pollution than simply carrying out provisions of the Clean Air Act, in force for some 30 years.

The report gave a similar assessment of the "Clean Air Interstate Rule," an alternate plan being considered in case Congress fails to adopt "Clear Skies," introduced in the Senate this week by Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio).

There is little likelihood that the White House will pay any attention to the academy's findings. The administration's usual tactic is to ignore technical information it does not agree with or to dismiss it as "junk science."

In truth, Mr. Bush's appointees have been carrying out a nonstop crusade over the last four years to reduce environmental protection rather than enforce the law. One manifestation of this nonfeasance has been the reluctance of electric power companies to take action on pollution projects that might become unnecessary if the administration is successful in rolling back the law.

In a recent speech before a conservative legal group in Washington, Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment division, admitted that the mere existence of the "Clear Skies" proposal "in some cases has made a [power] company want to delay their conversations with us. But so what?"

The comment was reminiscent of a remark in 2002 by Christine Todd Whitman, then director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, that was widely interpreted as a signal to the power industry that it could pretty much ignore the government because weaker regulation was on the way.

That turned out to be the case, as "Clear Skies" was introduced with a claim that it would be more effective than current law. With publication of the National Academy of Sciences report, we now know that is not the case.

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