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Candidates asked to sign pledge supporting clean-air enforcement
Environmental groups focus on Cornyn, Kirk

06/20/2002

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS
The Dallas Morning News

Environmental groups called Wednesday for Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Ron Kirk to say they would press for tougher air-pollution enforcement if elected to the U.S. Senate.

A Cornyn spokesman said the Texas attorney general favors President Bush's clean-air strategy, which relies more on cooperation with industry than on strict enforcement.

Mr. Kirk, in a statement released by the former Dallas mayor's campaign, promised broadly to support clean air without making any specific commitments.

A coalition of 18 national, state and local environmental groups asked each candidate to sign a pledge supporting a federal crackdown on older power plants and opposing Mr. Bush's relaxation of pollution rules when utilities upgrade those old plants.

They also sought a commitment to fight power-plant emissions that obscure vistas in Texas' Big Bend and other national parks.

"Talk is cheap," said Rita Beving of the Dallas Sierra Club, one the groups that signed a letter to the candidates. "We want some absolute commitments to clean air."

The groups' Dallas news conference was part of a national effort by environmentalists to outflank Mr. Bush, who last week proposed letting older, dirtier power plants avoid deep pollution cuts and associated costs when they upgrade equipment.

Mr. Bush said the existing rules, called new-source review, are too costly and bureaucratic. Environmentalists called them the backbone of the Clean Air Act.

An umbrella organization of environmental groups said it planned to launch a TV issue-ad in Houston on Wednesday linking Mr. Cornyn to the president's "weakening" of clean-air rules. But David Beckwith, Mr. Cornyn's campaign spokesman, said the Bush plan would hasten environmental improvements by avoiding years-long court fights.

"We're backing the Bush approach," Mr. Beckwith said. "We think we can get more done by cooperating."

Mr. Kirk said in his statement that he was concerned about clean air and water. But he didn't say how he would vote on new-source review or other specific policies.

"We need a balanced approach, and I believe that we can support the needs of our growing economy and our need to improve our air and water quality," he said.

Environmentalists are targeting Senate races because the chamber, now controlled by Democrats, has become a check on the administration's environmental agenda, said Renee Kullberg, North Texas field director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

In April, the Senate blocked a White House plan to drill for oil and gas in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Mr. Cornyn favored the refuge drilling plan, as did retiring incumbent Sen. Phil Gramm, also a Republican. Mr. Kirk opposed it.

Mr. Bush's plan to relax pollution rules for older power plants might lead to the next big showdown, said Katy Hubener, executive director of the Blue Skies Alliance, a North Texas environmental group. "The Senate is where Bush will likely have to win or lose this fight," she said.

E-mail rloftis@dallasnews.com

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