EPA Under Pressure to Relax Rules on Exhaust

Times Staff Writer

Environmental Protection Agency proposals to reduce truck and bus exhaust emissions--attacked by environmentalists as too weak--are considered too stringent by another federal office and may be relaxed before they are issued, Reagan Administration officials said Thursday.

EPA officials said that their recommendations for reducing emissions from new trucks, vans and buses will have to be negotiated with the Office of Management and Budget, which President Reagan has empowered to review all proposed regulations.

Under a recent court order, the EPA must issue anti-pollution regulations for trucks and buses by next Friday. The rules are required by the 1970 Clean Air Act. Budget Director David A. Stockman was scheduled to meet with EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas today to discuss the EPA's plan.

California Fight

California has been in the thick of the fight for higher EPA standards for trucks and buses. Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the state Air Resources Board, said that California has already complained to the EPA that its proposed regulations are "far too lenient."

"This is one incidence where we need strong EPA standards to clean up California's problem, because we don't have control over all heavy-duty vehicles driven in California," Sessa said.

Dana Greg, an EPA policy analyst, refused to disclose details of the agency's proposals but acknowledged that the OMB thinks they are too tough. He confirmed that the concerns include the ability of industry to develop the technology necessary to meet new standards under the EPA's proposed timetable.

Negotiating With OMB

"Basically, we've got a package we think we're comfortable with in the agency, and now it's a matter of negotiating with the OMB," Greg said. "They're concerned with the stringency. They would like to see it less stringent."

Ed Dale, a spokesman for the OMB, conceded that there is a "difference of opinion" over the proposed regulations.

"We represent the President, and we announce things when we're finished," Dale said. "I certainly won't dispute that there is a meeting . . . but we never discuss the details of those disputes."

David Doniger, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the EPA is proposing to require trucks and buses to install pollution-reducing devices in three stages, with minor improvements mandated in 1988 and progressively stronger adjustments in 1991 and 1994. Doniger charged that the OMB wants the EPA to issue only the minor regulations for 1988.

Improvement Minimal

"Even if the EPA goes with what they've got now, it means that people will not see or feel or breathe any improvement in the air quality," said Doniger, whose nonprofit lobbying group is a member of the National Clean Air Coalition.

"All their proposal is going to do is keep things from getting worse because the modest improvement they're asking for from each truck is going to be more than eaten by the growing number of trucks and buses," Doniger said. "And, if they do what Stockman is saying, things will be decidedly worse. The level of death and illness is going to be higher."

The regulations are intended to reduce emission of particulates and nitrogen oxide. Particulates, emitted in the black plume of exhaust from diesel trucks and buses, are suspected of causing cancer. Nitrogen oxide, a component of smog, causes respiratory problems.

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