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Opposition forces EPA to seek air rules delay Public debate may be extended until mid-April


WASHINGTON -- Facing opposition from some of the nation's governors to proposals for toughening air quality standards, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving to extend the period for public debate before the final rules are issued.

Many state and local officials and major industries that oppose the proposed rules have been seeking a delay. The request is included in a resolution criticizing the proposals that the National Governors' Association will debate at its annual meeting in Washington this weekend.

In a letter delivered yesterday to Gov. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, one of the governors who has requested a delay, EPA Administrator Carol Browner said that the agency would ask a federal district court in Arizona for a two-month extension of the deadlines that the court had imposed for reviewing the current air-quality standards.

"It is critical for the American people to have a thorough, fair and informed public debate on the EPA proposal," Browner said.

The proposed rules, which are the most hotly debated environmental regulations on the agency's agenda this year, are intended to better protect the health of children, people with asthma and other lung ailments, and the frail elderly. They would set new limits on smog and sooty haze.

The federal court had ordered the review of current standards after the American Lung Association sued the agency for failing to re-examine whether existing limits were adequately protecting the public's health. The Clean Air Act requires such a review every five years.

"We think that it is time to get on with protecting kids' health," said Paul Billings, assistant director of government relations at the lung association. "The purpose of this delay is not to invite more public participation; it is meant to increase the amount of time available for bad inside politics."

Despite the lung association's opposition, administration officials said the EPA would ask the court for permission to take public comments until mid-April instead of mid-February and to issue the final rules in late August instead of the original deadline of late June.

Congressional leaders have already signaled that they intend to review the agency's final decision, perhaps using new powers under a law passed last year that gives Congress the right to veto major federal regulations.

Hundreds of communities that have met existing air quality standards would fall short of the new ones, and the states would have to order costly new pollution control steps to bring their air into compliance over the next several years.

But not all the states oppose the new proposals. Governors from the Northeast, especially, have supported them, arguing that polluted air from the Midwest contributes to air pollution in their region.

Last month, Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts wrote to Browner, calling the proposals a "bold response to this serious environmental threat."

The administration's concession to the governors comes as they prepare to debate a resolution questioning the new rules.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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