Ohio Senator George Voinovich says when it comes to enforcing the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is too cavalier with taxpayer dollars. Voinovich has introduced a bill in Washington that would force the EPA to do a cost-benefit analysis before it imposes new air regulations. Conservation groups say his bill is an attempt to take the teeth out of a landmark environmental law. 90.3's Ley Garnett reports.
Ley Garnett- Ohio's junior Republican Senator George Voinovich is sponsoring a major revision to the Clean Air Act. He calls it the "Air Quality Standard Improvement Act of 2000." His co-author is Louisiana Democrat John Breaux. The fact that these two Senators are behind the bill is no surprise. Breaux represents a state which has the highest concentration of chemical plants in the country. Ohio is a heavily industrial state, a fact that Voinovich says should carry more weight with the Environmental Protection Agency
George Voinovich- And they should recognize one other thing: Ohio is a manufacturing state. We're not Wyoming. We're not some of these other states where you don't have manufacturing. And if you take in consideration the number of industries that we have and look at what we've been able to accomplish, we have made significant strides.
LG- But the U.S. EPA thinks more strides are needed from Ohio. It blames Midwestern and Southern states for much of the smog problem on the East coast and wants Ohio industries to cut smokestack emissions of nitrogen oxide by 85%. Ohio has proposed a 65% reduction and has sued the federal government over the higher standard. Voinovich admits that Ohio's long running legal fight with the U.S. EPA over air standards is one reason he drafted this legislation.
GV- Specifically in terms of these new standards for ozone and particulate matter, Ohio, along with many other states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and said that they hadn't done the job, they were supposed to do and the Court of Appeals ruled that they hadn't done the research work necessary prior to the issuance of these rules, and now the Supreme Court of the United States is going to be considering that case.
LG- Actually the Senator's interpretation of the Appeals Court ruling is incorrect. The Appeals Court overturned a lower court that had temporarily blocked the new regulations. As it stands today the EPA does have authority to impose the tougher air standards, but Ohio is expected to join several other states in pressing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Do you think that there's an East Coast bias with the national EPA?
GV- I think that, uh, that, that that they're allies. (laughs)
LG- The U.S. EPA has no official comment on Voinovich's legislation. However a high ranking EPA official told 90.3 WCPN® that his agency already takes cost into consideration. The official said the agency, in fact, is under an executive order from President Clinton to do cost-benefit analyses for any regulation that would cost 100 million dollars or more to implement. He said that on three different occasions, Congress has specifically directed the EPA to NOT take cost into consideration when setting clean air standards. Though the EPA is silent on the Voinovich bill, environmental groups are raging.
Shari Weir- What he's trying to do is put more obstacles in the road on the path to clean air.
LG- Shari Weir is with Ohio Citizen Action.
SW- The reality is that the EPA already has very stringent guidelines it has to follow before it puts into effect any new clear air regulations. Senator Voinovich has a long history of opposing every initiative that has come along to try to clean up our air.
LG- National environmental groups are even stronger in their denunciation. Frank O'Donnell is executive director of Clean Air Trust in Washington.
Frank O'Donnell- It would paralyze the EPA when it comes to setting health standards. It would give the polluters the right to go to court to challenge anything the EPA did, any of the EPA's cost estimates, which would again tie them up in knots.
LG- O' Donnell's organization has given Senator Voinovich a dubious award for introducing the bill. It has made him its "Clean Air Villain" of the month. This being a Presidential election year, the bill is expected to become even more of a national political issue as the voting draws near and Congress considers reauthorizing the Clean Air Act next year. In Cleveland, I'm Ley Garnett, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.