The Public Interest

Pollution deadlines and the coalition for failure

R. Shep Melnick

Spring 1984

AT first the activity on the floor of the House of Representatives seemed ordinary enough. Representative Henry Waxman (D-California), chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Clean Air Act, and one of Congress’s staunchest supporters of rigorous environmental regulation, was engaged in yet another battle with his formidable committee chairman, Representative John Dingell (D-Michigan), known to some as “Tailpipe Johnny” for his annual efforts to relax auto emission standards. But this time something had gone awry. Waxman was endorsing an appropriation bill rider that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing a construction ban on states failing to meet the Clean Air Act’s 1982 deadline for attaining health-based air quality standards. He and his allies railed against former EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford’s threat to impose such a ban in the 213 counties throughout the nation that exceeded those standards, calling her action “heavy-handed” and advising her successor to be more “’flexible” in accommodating states that make “good faith” efforts to comply with the act. Dingell—who in 1982 led an effort to weaken the entire Clean Air Act---opposed Waxman’s rider, warning, “’If you vote for this amendment, you are voting for dirty air.’” No wonder one House member announced that she was “astounded at this debate” of June 2, 1983, and another admitted to being “totally confused.”

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