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'Clear Skies' plan: the battle heats up

Ten state attorneys general are accusing the Bush administration of diluting air-pollution standards.

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The congressional fight over the Bush administration's clean air plan has turned into a political knock-down, drag out at several levels.

Ten state attorneys general are publicly opposing it. Environmental activists and labor unions are at odds over the measure, illustrating the classic split over jobs versus the environment. State and local air-pollution control officials and agencies have weighed in, prompting the chairman of the Senate environment committee to question their motives and investigate their possible connection to activists.

Two prominent Republican governors - George Pataki of New York and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California - have urged Washington to make sure that states be allowed "to have stronger pollution controls than those set for the nation as a whole," as is the case under current law. Their recent letter to congressional leaders was polite, but it made an important point: That heavily populated areas like New York City and Los Angeles may need stronger laws than those favored by the Bush administration and polluting industries.

Meanwhile, speakers at the annual meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science this week complained that the administration "has distanced itself from scientific information" on such issues as environmental protection.

President Bush and his supporters in Congress say the "Clear Skies" legislation will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury 70 percent below current levels by 2018, with "major reductions" in the next five years. What's more, they say, a new approach is needed, since attempts to regulate such emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act typically have been tied up in legal battles.

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