- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003


Some environmental protections in major road-building projects would be relaxed under legislation approved by a Senate panel, while states would be prevented from regulating lawn-care-equipment emissions under a separate Senate provision debated yesterday.

California and other states want to curb emissions from lawn mowers, chain saws and other devices with small engines.

But Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, wants to protect 5,100 jobs in his state with Wisconsin-based engine maker Briggs & Stratton Corp. and suppliers.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a 17-2 vote, approved measures to ease smog standards, cut 10 years off the requirement to consider a project’s 20-year pollution impact and let states go ahead with projects despite lapses in meeting federal air-quality standards, all as part of a six-year, $255 billion transportation bill.

The Bush administration and a House Republican committee chairman proposed spending less than that.

Another provision in the bill — which goes next to the full Senate, probably early next year — would require the 50 states to set aside nearly $1 billion for projects to reduce storm-water pollution.

Committee members signaled that their first priority, ahead of the 2004 elections, was the flow of jobs and money to states from federally aided highway projects.

“It is the foremost link in the creation of jobs and opportunities for all Americans,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and the environment panel chairman. Democratic Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Ron Wyden of Oregon voted against the highway plan.

Some Senate Democrats signaled they would fight environmental measures in the bill when it reaches the full Senate, probably early next year.

Environmentalists, public health advocates and state and local air-pollution officials say the bill would let state transportation agencies ignore potential pollution impacts from major projects over the next several years while the Environmental Protection Agency develops new smog standards.

Bill Becker, who heads a group representing state and local air-pollution program administrators and control officials, said the bill will have “a profound and adverse air-quality effect” nationwide, making it harder for cities and towns to have clean air.

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