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Kohl's coalition nearly short-circuited

Yet another ''Perils-of-Pauline'' crisis in the Bonn coalition has been averted. Both conservatives and Liberals in the government have agreed on a compromise opening of the Buschhaus coal power plant right away, before desulfurization equipment is installed three years hence. Bundestag members who had to interrupt their vacations to rush back to Bonn gave their consent July 31 in the Parliament's first emergency session in six years.

This time around the West German press got less excited about the potential for a coalition breakup than it has in past disputes - possibly because many leading pundits were themselves on vacation.

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By contrast, some politicians at least took a grave view of the situation. Before the latest compromise, the new Liberal economics minister, Martin Bangemann - who had to fly back from his maiden working trip to the United States - muttered that other coalitions had split up over smaller differences than this.

And Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had to break off his holiday in Austria, was reported angry with his obstreperous junior Liberal partners.

The (Liberal) Free Democratic Party precipitated the argument by balking at the Interior Ministry's decision last week to start up the Busch-haus coal plant right away without waiting for scrubbers that would not be in place until the end of 1987.

In the alternative Liberal version of things, the precipitator of the minicrisis was not the Free Democrats. It was instead the Interior Ministry (run by the Liberals' arch rivals, the Bavarian Christian Social Union), which last week flouted an end-of-June recommendation by all the major Bundestag parties not to commission the Buschhaus plant until the cleanup equipment was installed.

Yet another version was that of Lower Saxony Premier Ernst Albrecht of Dr. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union.

Dr. Albrecht argued that the state government, which alone has competence in such affairs, was going to go ahead with the Buschhaus plant in any case, and that the Bundestag had no business meddling in the decision.

Whatever the correct interpretation, the opposition Social Democrats took advantage of the disarray within the coalition to call the special Bundestag session and demonstrate their own credentials in opposing acid rain by voting against the early opening of Buschhaus.

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The Social Democrats paid a price in embarrassment, however, in opposing a project they themselves had promoted as a government party in the oil-crisis 1970s. They paid an even greater political price in clearly going against the wishes of their constituent trade unions in the economically depressed Buschhaus region near the East German border.

In the end the government compromise left more than one member of Parliament wondering why he had sacrificed several of Europe's warmest and sunniest days so far this summer to swelter indoors.

The power plant will open just as the Interior Ministry and Dr. Albrecht said it would. The only major change is that installation of the scrubbers will be accelerated six months to a mid-1987 target.

Other environmental-protection measures, some of them already included in the region's power-plant plans, are to reduce the region's current annual 145,000 tons of sulfur pollutants to 113,500 tons.

The additional measure will include use of brown coal with a lower sulfur content at Buschhaus; the closing of an older power plant nearby; and the reduction of output from a third local power station, with the slack to be filled by Buschhaus, the most modern and least polluting plant (even without the scrubber).

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