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06/25/1997 15:32 EST
Clinton Endorses Clean Air Plan
By SANDRA SOBIERAJ
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- After weeks of intense internal debate, President Clinton today endorsed stricter regulations on air pollution including tighter health standards for smog-causing ozone and soot.
``I approved some very strong new regulations today that will be somewhat controversial, but I think kids ought to be healthy,'' Clinton said at a family conference hosted by Vice President Al Gore, the administration's leading environmental advocate.
The rules will be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency next month.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the compromise after weeks of negotiations within the White House included modest changes from what she had proposed. Industry has campaigned hard to try to get the president to soften the proposal.
Browner said the administration plans flexible implementation plans, giving states and industry 10 years to meet new standards for microscopic soot.
Browner, speaking at a briefing at the White House, said the new regulations mark the first time that the standard for ozone has been updated in nearly two decades. She said they are necessary because particulate matter is increasingly causing respiratory problems in urban areas, especially among children.
``The current standards for smog, for soot, are not protective enough. They leave far too many Americans at risk, too many children at risk,'' she said. ``That is why we must act.''
In brief remarks, Clinton said only that his approach to the environment in this case mimicked his education agenda, where he is pushing high, but voluntary, standards for learning.
``We think that if we have high standards protecting the environment, but we're flexible on how those standards are implemented and we give adequate time and adequate support for technology and creativity to develop, then we can protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time,'' Clinton said.
To critics of tighter rules, Clinton said: ``Read the implementation schedule. Work with us. We will find a way to do this in a way that grows the American economy.''
Major industry groups oppose Browner's plan to tighten standards on the amounts of allowable ozone and sooty particles in the air. White House economic advisers also had argued for a weakening of the EPA proposal. But one source said the plan represents no significant rollback.
Arguing that current standards do not adequately protect asthmatic children, the elderly and outdoor workers, Browner put Clinton in the politically uncomfortable position of backing the plan over his economic advisers' objections -- or appearing weak on the environment.
As Clinton debated whether to endorse Browner's plan, White House economic advisers have sought to blunt the impact of any new rules on businesses.
Toughening air-quality standards, as the EPA proposed in November, would put hundreds of counties out of compliance with the Clean Air Act and force states to impose costly controls on emissions of ozone and fine chemical particles, mostly caused by burning fuels.
With the July deadline for a final rule approaching, the politically divisive debate heated up this week, inside and outside Washington.
Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., pledged Tuesday to fight any attempt to delay or weaken the standards. At the same time, the U.S. Conference of Mayors voted at their national convention to oppose the EPA plan.
Clinton's remarks came as he addressed the annual ``family reunion'' hosted at Vanderbilt University by Gore, a former Tennessee senator, and his wife, Tipper. In the education-themed forum, Clinton heard from teachers and parents.
Gore, urging increased parental involvement in schools, announced several private sector initiatives, including voice messaging systems for teachers and an ``education dashboard'' that could allow a parent to use a TV remote control to track a child's math scores.
The invitation-only conference was attended by about 1,100 parents, educators, government officials and corporate leaders.
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