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Daily News

March 28, 2002

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has named two high-level career environmental enforcement officials to key positions in EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), in a move that observers say may be aimed at quelling a firestorm of accusations that the Bush administration is seeking to undermine environmental enforcement efforts.

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March 27, 2002

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is defending a decision she made as governor of New Jersey to privatize the state's enhanced vehicle emissions inspection program. Her comments come in response to a new state investigation, which concluded that only one company had bid for the multi-million dollar program because the New Jersey Whitman administration had designed the contract exclusively for the company, a major GOP contributor.

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EPA has told Missouri environment officials that their previously-approved clean air permitting program, which affects all major industrial facilities, is deficient, with agency officials suggesting that as many as three more states with functioning programs -- Ohio, Louisiana and Georgia -- may face similar deficiency notices. The notices are being issued in response to a court-ordered deadline that requires EPA to take action on the clean air operating permit programs for various states by April 1.

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The thousands of internal documents released this week by EPA and the White House's Office of Management and Budget offer a glimpse of the intense deadline pressures that agency officials were under in reviewing the potential environmental consequences of the administration's national energy strategy. The documents, released in connection with a lawsuit challenging the administration's energy task force, indicate that some EPA staff felt they were running through an "exercise" rather than participating substantively in the development of the energy strategy.

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California pesticide regulators are expected to announce later this week that they will ban the most popular uses of a highly effective herbicide that may contaminate compost, making it a plant-killer rather than a fertilizer. The action would make California the second state to enact such a ban.

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EPA has told Missouri environment officials that their previously-approved clean air permitting program, which affects all major chemical and industrial facilities, is deficient, with agency officials suggesting that as many as three more states with functioning programs -- Ohio, Louisiana and Georgia -- may face similar deficiency notices. The notices are being issued in response to a court-ordered deadline that requires EPA to take action on the clean air operating permit programs for various states by April 1.

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The ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee has vowed to fight a narrow pipeline-safety bill that is being co-sponsored by the panel's chairman. The powerful Democrat, Rep. John Dingell (MI), argues that the bill, which would affect pipelines that transport hazardous liquids and natural gas, fails to correct a current system that he says allows industry to regulate itself. The lawmaker's assertions foreshadow a major showdown in the House over pipeline safety standards.

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Legal experts are divided over whether disputes about the accuracy of EPA data can be taken to court under a new data quality law the agency is working to implement. The issue could subject EPA rulemaking to a whole new avenue of legal challenges, in addition to traditional administrative procedure requirements.

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EPA staff plans to urge Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to oppose a draft Defense Department (DOD) bill that would grant the military wide-ranging exemptions from key federal environmental laws in order to ease restrictions on military training, according to a confidential draft staff memo obtained by Inside Washington Publishers.

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A major chemical company is joining the wood treatment industry in opposing an EPA plan to phase out an arsenic-based wood preservative, raising concerns that the phase-out will put businesses in jeopardy and that alternative treatments could harm the environment. EPA recently decided to phase out the preservative after reaching an agreement with the product's manufacturers.

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Environmentalists are pointing to a handful of documents, out of the thousands released this week by the Bush administration on the operations of its energy task force, that they say provide clear evidence of industry influence in the development of Bush energy policies.

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March 26, 2002

Even though the Defense Department has not fully implemented financial management improvements, according to the Pentagon's inspector general, the military last month reported an increase in environmental liability during last fiscal year. The Pentagon's environmental liabilities in last year totaled about $63.3 billion, but auditors say they cannot issue a final judgment on DOD's overall environment costs because of a lack of "sufficient, competent evidential matter to support the material line items on the financial statements."

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The House is expected to take up bipartisan legislation to boost port security soon after lawmakers return from spring recess on April 9, according to congressional sources. The legislation sailed through a House transportation committee markup March 20.

The Senate approved similar legislation last December, setting the stage for a possible conference committee on hashing out a final version of the bill that could be sent to the president after a final vote by Congress.

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The highly publicized release of a regulatory review report by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) offers a defense of the administration's cost-benefit rigors for federal environmental rules and other standards. The OMB report argues that suggested changes are minor for regulations affecting the handling of toxics and hazardous wastes by chemical makers and other industries, despite claims by administration critics that the White House is targeting specific regulations for elimination.

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A key EPA official says the agency is input on determining the best available technology for treating waste runoff from large animal feedlots. Agency officials say that, while there a lot of treatment options out there, only a few options have enough supporting data to be considered by the agency.

The issue of polluted runoff from agricultural operations has become an increasing concern for EPA, with environmentalists arguing that animal feedlots pose a major threat to water quality. Runoff from agricultural operations is largely unregulated.

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A congressman from New Jersey is pushing legislation that would require EPA to study the feasibility of regulating all sources of pollution at or near airports. The legislation also calls for an examination of whether EPA should strengthen emission standards for airplane engines.

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A federal appeals court has handed EPA a major legal victory by rejecting industry claims that the agency lacked the scientific basis for imposing tougher controls on ozone and particulate pollution. The decision removes what had been the most significant remaining legal obstacle to the agency moving forward with a series of smog-reduction measures which had been under legal challenges since first being issued in 1997.

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A federal judge has agreed to consolidate two lawsuits against the Bush administration regarding its development of a national energy strategy that involve constitutional claims which litigants say will likely have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. At the request of the Bush administration, the court agreed to combine arguments by environmentalists and a public policy watchdog group that an energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney is governed by public disclosure requirements for federal advisory groups.

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March 25, 2002

Despite federal efforts to limit public access to critical information about the nation's infrastructure because of heightened security concerns, a key federal official is warning that vulnerability assessments submitted to the federal government by water utilities will still be available through numerous state disclosure laws.

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Weeks after they proposed cutting funding to state environmental programs, key Bush administration environment officials are developing a series of administrative reforms aimed at helping financially strapped states ensure they can continue to implement federal requirements.

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