Attempts to clear the air

IAN AUSTEN March 30 1987

Attempts to clear the air

IAN AUSTEN March 30 1987

Attempts to clear the air

The statement had a vaguely familiar echo. Only days before his April summit meeting with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, President Ronald Reagan last week offered “major steps” toward eliminating the American contribution to acid rain. But the one-page announcement was little more than an affirmation of

promises Reagan made to Mulroney during their last summit session in Washington in March, 1986. And although Mulroney promptly hailed the statement as “welcome news for Canada,” it sparked immediate criticism on both sides of the border. Said Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a leading congressional advocate of acid rain controls: “I am surprised that the second time around the Prime Minister would not see through Reagan’s hocus-pocus.”

The biggest surprise about last week’s announcement— which committed the United States to subsidizing further clean-up studies— was its timing. In recent months Mulroney and Environment Minister Thomas McMillan have been openly critical of the Reagan administration’s acid rain efforts.

The issue seemed likely once again to dominate the next meeting be-

tween the two leaders, set for April 5-6 in Ottawa. The new White House plan was apparently aimed at pre-empting further criticism by Mulroney. In fact, the Prime Minister was scheduled to speak this week to a convention of environmental and wildlife groups in Quebec City, attacking U.S. inaction. Instead, the speech was quickly rewritten after

Vice-President George Bush telephoned Mulroney with details of Reagan’s announcement.

In contrast to Canada’s plan to cut industrial and automotive emissions— the principal cause of acid rain—in half by 1994, Reagan’s program proposes no significant attempt at control. Instead, his administration has earmarked $3.3 billion over the next five years for matching grants to companies that develop emissioncontrol methods. Said Deborah Sheiman, analyst at the Washingtonbased Natural Resource Defence Council: “Re-

gardless of the dollar figure, this program isn’t going to reduce acid rain emissions by one iota. It’s the latest excuse in a series of excuses.”

Reagan had pledged to 2 spend a similar amount z on acid rain research last 2 year, following a Canadian lobbying campaign

that enlisted the efforts of Michael Deaver, a former White House aide (page 22). But Reagan’s latest budget proposal fell far short of the earlier promise, allocating only $350 million over five years to industry to develop emission controls. Those controls, Canadian experts say, are already available.

Nor does the President’s latest plan guarantee that the $3.3 billion will be spent. The funds will be released only if U.S. industry puts up a matching amount. Over the past year the U.S. department of energy received applications from 50 businesses to launch programs. Only nine qualified for government funds. Washington’s share of the total cost: $31 million.

Reagan’s statement also proposed creation of an advisory council—made up of representatives from Canada and individual American states—to advise the energy department on which emission-control programs it should select for funding. But the department— whose secretary, John Herrington, opposes acid rain controls—will not be bound' by the recommendations. As well, the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief is to report by September on how regulations might be changed to promote cuts in emissions.

In Ottawa the opposition quickly took exception to Mulroney’s praise for the announcement. Said Liberal Environment critic Charles Caccia: “How can the Prime Minister claim this is a very significant move, when all that has happened is more of the same, namely research?” Even McMillan was less sanguine, acknowledging, “We have not found the Holy Grail.”

Mulroney has said that he will continue to press the United States to reduce its emissions by 50 per cent. But control legislation that has been proposed faces considerable opposition. One key opponent: Robert Byrd, the Democrat who assumed the powerful post of Senate majority leader in January. Byrd’s home state of West Virginia is a major supplier of high-sulphur coal—a leading source of acid rain pollution. And during a White House news conference Reagan himself repeated his long-standing claim that the problem is too complex to introduce controls without further study. Said the President: “What we’ve tried to do is avoid going down some avenue that would disappoint us further on.”

Still, as McMillan noted last week, the U.S. statement was at least an improvement over Reagan’s previous assertions that acid rain stemmed from “volcanoes and trees and even ducks.” And the renewed pledge may eventually result in action.

~IAN AUSTEN in Washington with HILARY MACKENZIE in Ottawa