Clean Air Group Calls Environmental Group Villain for Supporting Bush Proposal

In unprecedented criticism of an ally, a national clean air advocacy group Tuesday branded an Adirondack environmental group "villain" and "skunk" for supporting a Bush administration proposal.

"Never have we pointed the finger at a fellow public interest group. Until now," stated the Clean Air Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Its previous "villains of the month" included General Motors Corp.

At issue is a news conference Friday in Albany. Federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said President Bush's "Clear Skies" plan is an effective way to save the Adirondacks from destructive acid rain and improve residents' health.

Whitman said Bush's proposal would reduce smog, acid rain and mercury faster than the current Clean Air Act alone. But political and environmental critics say it would reduce scrutiny of power plant emissions and roll back Clinton administration enforcement programs.

While some environmental groups protested on Friday, the Adirondack Council shared Whitman's podium. For that, the Clean Air Trust called the council "the proverbial skunk at the garden party."

"We didn't endorse the president's legislation, he endorsed ours, essentially," said John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council. "We have been pushing for specific cuts in nitrogen and mercury (emissions) long before the Clean Air Trust existed. ... We're not going to apologize for being effective."

Sheehan said the group and much of the New York congressional delegation has pushed for a proposal similar to Bush's for 25 years.

"Our point is to get something done," Sheehan said. "We have never had a president propose a bill that would fix acid rain before, so this is an extremely important opportunity."

The Clean Air Trust, created by former Democrat Sen. Edmund Muskie and Republican Sen. Robert Stafford five years ago, said the Adirondack Council was providing Bush with "cover" while it allegedly weakens the federal Clean Air Act.

"The Adirondack Council is not alone in their support of the goals of Bush's Clear Skies initiative," said Robert Foster of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

He said the position has been held by many environmental groups since 1996 and was supported by former Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"There's no need to apologize for working to get acid rain fixed," Foster said. "I don't think it hurts to have a diversity of opinions out there."