Senator Gordon Smith has an opportunity to make historyNo one should be surprised at the Bush administration's revision of clean air rules. With the election over and with President Bush abroad last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would relax rules that govern clean air standards. The prime beneficiaries of these rule changes donated millions to Republican campaigns during the past election cycle.

The rules in question limit emissions from utilities, refineries, and manufacturers, and they mandate when they must upgrade pollution control equipment. Additionally, the administration proposed rule changes that, if adopted, would further ease federal restrictions on the largest polluters.

While the Bush EPA relaxed rules, they offered no substitute to meet citizens' basic concern of having clean air.

This shift in clean air strategy does not have much impact in our region, with its reliance upon hydropower and with few major refineries. The rules change mainly affects the Northeast, which is downwind from major polluters.

Like the decision to allow oil exploration within national parks and monuments, these prospective rule changes are part of a pattern that can be described as "everything's for sale."

The Boston Globe on Saturday quoted the Massachusetts attorney general, Thomas F. Reilly saying: 'This administration has been pretty consistent here when it comes to environmental matters, in terms of whose interests they put first. They clearly put [first] the interests of the power plants, those plants in particular in the Midwest that are causing pollution problems here in the Northeast of the country. We're breathing that air, and that's jeopardizing people's health, and that's just plain wrong....'

Massachusetts will likely join New York and other states in a lawsuit to overturn the new rules.

An assault on clean air is perhaps not what many voters thought they were getting in George Bush. In fact, during the 2000 campaign debates, Bush said that he wouldn't relax clean air or water standards.

It is most correct to see this dirty air strategy as the opening volley of a full-fledged attack on the environment that will commence in the next Congress. Writing about that on Sunday, The New York Times said that the nation's only hope in resisting the worst of that agenda would be moderate Republicans. Among the seven "responsible Republican senators" listed by the Times was Oregon's Gordon Smith.

As Smith well knows, there comes a time when history knocks on every public person's door. Smith will soon have his appointment with history. We hope he answers the call with courage and independence.


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