Environment helped by repairs to Clinton's lurches

Bob Tippee

Among polemical straw men slain at the Democratic National Convention July 26-29 was a beauty smitten by former President Bill Clinton.

In his July 26 speech to party faithful gathered to market Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts as presidential material, Clinton side-kicked the administration of President George W. Bush for "weakening or reversing very important environmental measures that Al Gore and I put into place, everything from clean air to protection of our forests."

That would be former Vice-President Gore, who once claimed credit for invention of the internet.

For the record, Clinton and Gore didn't put clean-air or forest-protection measures into place. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act and Wilderness Act preceded Clinton's presidency by many years.

The Clinton administration mainly tried to turn existing laws working nicely into bludgeons against industries environmentalists don't like.

The New Source Review (NSR) program established under the Clean Air Act, for example, didn't need stiffening. Emissions and air concentrations of statutory pollutants have plummeted.

But Clinton's environmental regulators reinterpreted NSR requirements for work at existing plants so as to proclaim a number of refiners and power generators retroactively and expensively out of compliance.

Now, therefore, it's more difficult and expensive than it used to be to retool a refinery to make fuels able to meet clean-air standards.

That's not environmental progress. In its proposals to revise the NSR program, the Bush administration has just tried to fix what Clinton and Gore broke.

The Clinton administration set a series of environmental booby-traps like that.

One still ahead is a cut in the sulfur content of diesel fuel larger than it needs to be to achieve the associated environmental aims. Starting late next year, diesel manufacture will become much more difficult and costly than it would have been under a more-sensible standard.

To some unpredictable degree, diesel costs will rise. Truckers will suffer first.

If the cost hike is large, pressure will grow to rationalize the sulfur standard. Environmentalists will call it a reversal of environmental progress.

Whoever is president will have to make a tough decision. It won't be Clinton or Gore.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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