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MICHIGAN DEMO CHEWING ON EPA CHIEF'S LEG

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is one of the pit bulls of Congress, and he likes nothing better than chewing on the leg of William Reilly.

Reilly, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is tailor-made to whet Dingell's appetite - a career environmentalist, driven to clean up the air. Dingell is a career politician, driven to protect his constituents, the automakers and auto workers in Detroit.Ever since George Bush declared himself to be the "environmental president," Dingell has had his hands full. It isn't that Bush has turned out to be a defender of the environment. It's simply that Bush stumbled upon an EPA director who is.

For years, Dingell has harped on the EPA for its lax protection of nearly every element of the environment - except the air. When it comes to air pollution, the congressman sings a different tune.

In past years, Dingell has fought hard against efforts to put more pollution controls on cars because it would cost the carmakers big money. But this year is different. When changes to the Clean Air Act were introduced in Congress, Dingell saw that it was time to compromise.

Dingell met halfway with the leading pollution fighter in the House, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. They worked out a compromise and passed the tough revisions to the clean air laws last month.

Dingell's fellow Democrats were breathing hot on his neck. They remembered how Bush stole the "environmentalist" label from Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. The last thing the Democrats needed was one of their own standing in the way of cleaner air.

It was Dingell who caved in, but now Reilly is watching his ankles. The chilly relationship between the two men turned to ice in the clean air debate.

In a speech to the American Public Power Association in January, Dingell implied that Reilly was a "dilettante" who didn't care if workers in Detroit lost their jobs. During the clean air hearings, Dingell drilled Reilly like a prosecutor badgering the star witness for the defense.

After Dingell had already agreed to sponsor the bill, he demanded minute details about how the new emissions standards would affect carmakers, he complained about the cost of cleaner fuels, and he carped about the increased power Reilly would have under the new laws.

Rather than pick on Budget Director Richard Darman, a more formidable foe, Dingell has nagged Reilly about the rules.

An administration source summed up the nagging: "This is just clean air politics."