The House, acting with surprising speed, moved toward final passage of a sweeping revision of the Clean Air Act Wednesday after approving a number of strengthening provisions to make it tougher on polluters than a similar bill already approved by the Senate.
A vote on final passage was expected late Wednesday night, but the outcome was not in doubt after a last-minute agreement on clean-fueled vehicles resolved the final issue that could have resulted in a protracted floor fight.
The first revision of the nation's clean air laws in 13 years, the far-reaching legislation tightens limits on automobile emissions in an effort to free all American cities of smog within 20 years and imposes technological controls on factories to reduce the risk of cancer from the chemicals they release. For the first time, it strictly regulates the acid rain causing emissions of coal-burning power plants.
The bill must still be reconciled with the version passed April 3 by the Senate, but the impending House action on Wednesday all but assured that, after more than a decade of legislative stalemate, new clean air legislation will become law this year.
Like the Senate bill, the measure is largely the product of a series of hard-won, complex compromises that, in the House, were negotiated by two long-time adversaries over clean air: Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).
Unlike the Senate bill, however, the House version contains stronger sections on alternatively fueled cars, stationary sources of smog and offshore oil pollution. Environmentalists from California and other states had lobbied hard on these issues in an effort to strengthen what they had regarded as the main weaknesses of the Senate compromise.
Brushing aside a White House veto threat, the House also included in the bill a five-year, $250-million unemployment assistance package to help some of the thousands of workers who could lose their jobs as a result of the impact that tougher clean air regulations are expected to have on the coal mining, steel and chemical industries.
The White House, which has threatened to veto the bill over any provision that raises its cost above a $21-billion-per-year threshold, complained that the workers' assistance amendment could add billions of dollars per year to the price of the legislation by creating an open-ended liability for the federal government.
But proponents of the amendment offered by Rep. Robert E. Wise Jr. (D-W.Va.), and overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of 274 to 146, dismissed those estimates as exaggerated.
The final breakthrough in the negotiations leading up to Wednesday night's anticipated vote came in the evening when Dingell, Waxman and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) reached a compromise agreement on a Waxman-Lewis amendment to establish a national clean-fueled car program. The agreement came after more than 24 hours of nearly continuous negotiations.
The amendment, later adopted by the House, mandates the development and use of ultra-clean fuel buses and fleet vehicles in all severely polluted cities beginning in 1994.
It also sets up a pilot program for California, where 1 million clean-fueled cars would be offered for sale to consumers over a five-year period beginning in 1994. If the program works well, other states could opt into it in 1999.
"This is a historic day for the people of Southern California and the country," Lewis said as the amendment was passed. "Once again California is leading the national clean air debate by implementing a program that will lead to the widespread use of clean-fueled vehicles."