updated 1/26/2005 11:14:20 AM ET 2005-01-26T16:14:20

New York Gov. George Pataki and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are pressing Congress to protect key parts of the Clean Air Act as lawmakers and the Bush administration seek to change the law.

The two moderate Republicans on Tuesday urged senators considering updating the act not to reduce the powers states have now to enforce environmental regulations or create tougher state regulations.

The governors, who both place great emphasis on their environmental initiatives, wrote to members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which will hold a hearing Wednesday to consider changes to the Clean Air Act.

Out-of-state power plants cited
Schwarzenegger and Pataki urged lawmakers to preserve the parts of the law allowing states like New York to file lawsuits against out-of-state power plants, or impose pollution controls tougher than federal standards.

The letter reflects ongoing tensions between Washington officials looking to update environmental laws and state capitals worried they will lose some of their enforcement powers.

“One of the cornerstones of the Act is that states do the majority of the work to carry out its mandates,” the governors wrote. “The right of individual states to set policy with respect to the health and welfare of their citizens is a fundamental tenet in which we both strongly believe.”

Battle over 'Clear Skies'
The Bush administration is planning an aggressive effort to build support for his air quality plan. On Monday, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who chairs the environment committee, offered a version of Bush’s “Clear Skies” initiative.

The administration touts Clear Skies and another proposal, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, as important tools which would reduce nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by 70 percent, taking tons of pollution out of the air.

Environmentalists critical of the administration charge the initiative will significantly weaken parts of the Clean Air Act, including sections that allow states to sue power plants and craft tougher limits on emissions.

Clear Skies “leaves states high and dry and leaves the public breathing unhealthy air, with power plants continuing to pollute for two more decades,” said John Walke, director of clean air programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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