|Peoria Journal Star
July 12, 2002
EPA urged to delay clean-air rules to aid Caterpillar
LaHood, others hope to help company avoid hefty fines
By DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and more than a dozen other lawmakers met with the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, urging her to delay clean-air deadlines so Caterpillar Inc. can avoid hefty fines.
But the EPA showed no signs of backing off an Oct. 1 deadline for producing cleaner-burning diesel engines.
Caterpillar wants the EPA to push back the deadline by one year, even though the company agreed in a consent decree four years ago to build less-polluting engines by that date.
However, Caterpillar won't be able to produce an engine that complies with the new emissions standards until next year and is expected to face millions of dollars in penalties as a result.
"The EPA continues to believe the consent decree should be implemented as scheduled," said agency spokeswoman Steffanie Bell, who characterized Thursday's meeting as a "listening session."
LaHood, R-Peoria, said the next step is to seek help from the White House.
As an alternative, lawmakers are discussing whether to offer a tax rebate to trucking companies purchasing engines to help offset any increased costs due to the EPA-imposed fines, LaHood said.
As a major employer in Illinois, Caterpillar has attracted considerable political clout to its cause.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, is among those backing a delay in the clean-air regulations.
"He's letting LaHood and (U.S. Rep. John) Shimkus take the lead on this, but obviously he's going to support Caterpillar," Hastert spokesman John Feehery said.
Shimkus, R-Collinsville, acknowledged there is some parochial interest, although Caterpillar has no facilities in his district.
"But when you're looking at a struggling economy and you want companies to succeed and you want them to have employees and pay them well, this might not be best timing to shut down the engine plant because of regulations."
Thursday's meeting was the second high-level meeting on the issue in a month.
On June 11, 10 lawmakers and their aides met with officials from the EPA, the Justice Department and the White House to discuss it. Representing the White House was Peoria native Nelson Litterst, who has close ties to LaHood and Feehery.
In a June 28 letter, 33 House members, including LaHood, asked to meet with EPA Administrator Christine Whitman this week to make their case.
Only Cummins Inc. has had an engine certified by the EPA to meet the new standards, but there hasn't been adequate time to field-test it, the lawmakers said.
"Unless our trucking industry is given lead time to field and test new equipment, they will not purchase these new engines, resulting in thousands of layoffs across the country," the letter stated.