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Hopefuls snub clean air offer


By Bob Richter; Environment/Water
San Antonio Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN U.S. Senate candidates John Cornyn and Ron Kirk on Wednesday ignored an invitation by environmentalists to urge President Bush to "back off" on proposals that critics say will undermine federal Clean Air Act standards.

A group, which included self-described environmentalists, sportsmen and representatives of religious organizations, entered the foyer of Cornyn's campaign office, unsuccessfully trying to deliver a Clean Air Pledge to the candidate, who was in El Paso.

Cornyn wouldn't have signed it even if he had been in town. The Republican's stance is "in line with the president's position," a Cornyn spokesman said.

"President Bush's plan promises the fastest approach to improve the environment without damaging the economy unnecessarily," Cornyn spokesman David Beckwith said.

While most Democrats and environmentalists prefer stricter enforcement, including lawsuits for serious offenders, Kirk refrained from Wednesday's Bush-bashing.

He acknowledged concern about air quality, but the Democrat and former Dallas mayor issued a statement stating that if elected, he will >work with the Bush administration, Congress, local officials, environmental groups and the business community to find real solutions."

"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."

The new rules, offered June 13 by the Environmental Protection Agency, would ease federal Clean Air Act "new source review" provisions, critics claim.

Those provisions limit how long older, dirtier power plants, factories and refineries grandfathered under the Clean Air Act may operate without adopting air pollution controls.

The easing of the new source review is "the most sweeping assault on the Clean Air Act in 20 years," said Luke Metzger of the non-profit U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which says it works "to protect the environment, consumers and democracy."

"The Bush administration has answered the prayers of its big energy contributors by granting their wish to weaken the pollution control requirements of the Clean Air Act," said Robin Schneider of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Bush's broader "clear skies" initiative, which Congress thus far has ignored, proposes to cleanse the nation's air through voluntary reductions in pollutants and by tax incentives to accelerate technology and develop renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

The changes to the new source review standards fit into that plan.

Coincidentally, on Monday and Tuesday, the San Antonio metropolitan area recorded its worst air quality readings in almost four years.

Last week's EPA action "sends a terrible message" to San Antonio and ordinary Americans everywhere, said Neil Carman, clean air coordinator for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, "because it puts a much greater burden on the individual to do more about controlling air pollution."

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