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Daily News

April 03, 2001

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In an apparent attempt to tip the scales in favor of mandatory carbon dioxide controls on power plants and bring about a resolution of federal clean air enforcement against utilities, a major coalition of environmental groups has launched a public relations campaign against one of the nation's largest electric utility companies.

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EPA is due by the end of the week to defend its decision to withdraw tougher controls on arsenic in drinking water. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Joseph Lieberman (CT), has set an April 6 deadline for EPA to lay out in detail its administrative process, including consultations with anyone outside the government, on its proposal to withdraw the Clinton-backed standards.

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April 02, 2001

The biotechnology industry is crafting a legislative response to the nation's energy crisis that sources say could offer a boon to the development of genetically-engineered crops and enzymes. The legislation would encourage greater use of burning agricultural and forestry wastes for electricity generation, which would use the enzymes to convert the wastes into high-energy biomass fuels.

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House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other members of the Illinois congressional delegation are renewing efforts to exempt small businesses from Superfund liability and are in the process of drafting legislation in an effort to gain bipartisan support for the controversial measure, sources say.

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EPA lawyers have blasted a General Electric lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law, arguing that the company's claims are an attempt to undercut the agency's selected cleanup for the Hudson River, which would be the nation's largest dredging operation of contaminated sediment. The agency argues that the company's claims that the law violates due process are baseless, have already been ruled upon and are brought too late in the cleanup dispute process because GE has been complying with the Superfund law for years.

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Electric utility officials say the industry is considering renewing a voluntary program for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but that the advent of a competitive power market may make tax incentives from Congress a necessity. Some industry sources are raising concerns that a unilateral decision by a company to cut emissions would put it a competitive disadvantage.

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The Bush administration has issued a regulation signed by former EPA Administrator Carol Browner to ease requirements for removing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) from electronic equipment, after industry officials argued that the standard should be freed from an across-the-board suspension of Clinton-approved rules.

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March 30, 2001

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Local officials in California fear that regional land-use authority will be undermined if the state decides to override a local decision by allowing a contested power plant to be built in south San Jose. Construction of the power plant is part of the state's efforts to boost energy supplies to alleviate worsening state-wide shortages. Local officials say other municipalities are watching the action closely for impacts that may be seen across the state if energy officials take the expected step of approving the 600-megawatt Metcalf Energy Center despite local opposition.

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Lawyers representing Latino farm workers and residents in California's eastern Riverside County have filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), arguing that the state's approval of a new power plant constitutes environmental racism. The lawyers allege that the plant will drain much-needed water for orchards in the region, putting workers out of business, and that the plant poses several health threats to residents.

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A federal district court this week has restricted the ability of plaintiffs to seek monetary damages in cases against states brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a move that attorneys close to the issue say could reduce the attractiveness of these types of suits for environmentalists. In Save Our Summers v. State of Idaho et al., environmentalists sued the state for the detrimental impact that emissions from a common agricultural practice known as wheat stubble burning was having on local residents.

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Federal officials investigating the causes of gasoline price spikes last summer in the Midwest have cleared EPA's reformulated gasoline as a prime reason. The investigation did find that while industry collusion was not at fault, individual actions by refiners to optimize profits were prime contributors to high gasoline prices.

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Congressional Democratic staff are combing through internal chemical industry documents that have prompted allegations from environmentalists that the industry has misled the public about the health risks of their products. The document review is the first step in a possible full-blown congressional investigation that some sources say promises to be as big as the recent assault on the tobacco industry.

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Republican plans in Congress to overturn a controversial water toxic standard issued by the Clinton administration suffered a major blow when the House parliamentarian determined that the rule was outside the reach of the Congressional Review Act. Sources say Republican lawmakers had been thinking about repealing a number of environmental rules issued during the final months of the Clinton presidency, including EPA's total maximum daily load (TMDL) standards, which would set limits on discharges into water bodies from a variety of industrial sources.

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The Army Corps of Engineers has been granted an extension until May 17 by a federal court to develop a plan for bringing the operation of four dams on the Snake River into compliance with the Clean Water Act. The Corps sought the extension to allow time to coordinate its final plan with the various federal agencies responsible for regulation of the Columbia River basin, according to a source at the Department of Justice.

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March 29, 2001

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-SD) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) have drafted a bill to phase out use of a common fuel additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), and establish a national renewable fuels standard.

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The Clinton administration's top energy efficiency official has been hired by Senate Democrats on the environment committee to help link environmental legislation with energy policy. Democrats are gearing up for what promises to be a major legislative battle on the nation's energy infrastructure and environmental regulation.

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German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suggests the rest of the world will have to proceed without the United States in an effort to implement an international agreement on climate change. The statement was issued in response to President Bush's announcement earlier this week that he would drop his pursuit of the yet-unratified Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases.

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A novel plan by Northwest energy officials to boost regional power supplies while protecting endangered salmon in the Columbia River has prompted environmentalists to consider a legal challenge. The officials have drafted a plan to dramatically reduce water spillage over hydropower dams that is normally used to help juvenile salmon migrate downstream, while proposing to ship captured salmon downstream in trucks and barrages.

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Senate approval of a hike in individual campaign contributions as part of campaign finance reform legislation has led one major environmental group to split ranks with other public advocacy organizations.

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