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EPA chief insists polluter must pay for air cleanup

Although the Bush administration is "sympathetic" to Midwest interests, which face costly acid rain cleanup demands under pending clean air legislation, it is devoted to the principle of "polluter pays," a top administration official says. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator William Reilly said Monday that any kind of cost-sharing plan to finance removal of acid rain precursors from power plants in Ohio and neighboring states would be unfair to other regions.

The comment seemed to make it clear that the White House is opposed to all forms of a plan being pushed by Democratic Sens. Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn of Ohio to use either a national tax or tax credits to help defray the cost of removing acid rain precursors from Ohio power plants and other industries.

How to pay for cleaning up coal-powered industries has been a key sticking point in closed-door Senate negotiations during the past several weeks over a new national clean air law.

"We are obviously sympathetic to the special burdens that Midwestern utilities and their rate payers will bear as a result of acid rain legislation," Reilly said.

"But we also are committed to polluter-pays as a principle here and find that whenever any measure is proposed that would reduce the burden on major generators of sulfur dioxide, we are reminded by those areas of the country that have already either accommodated new source performance standards or have built nuclear power plants that they would be asked to give twice under such a proposal."

Meeting with Reilly and other White House representatives, senators have attempted to work out compromises between a clean air bill proposed last year by President Bush and a more stringent measure approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.