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Daily News

March 14, 2001

EPA has extended through the summer California's increased use of emergency generators as a way to ease the state's power crisis. Greater use of the generators, which are generally considered to have higher emissions than routine sources of power, requires EPA approval because of the air quality implications of the effort.

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Sources say Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has pledged to the governor of Nevada that the Bush administration will oppose any attempt to build a temporary nuclear waste disposal facility in the state. At the same time, Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) is mounting a renewed effort to kill plans for a permanent storage facility at Yucca Mountain, also located in Nevada, with sources indicating that Guinn's efforts could be aided by his close ties to President Bush.

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President Bush's surprise decision to reject regulating carbon dioxide emissions as a Clean Air Act pollutant came after weeks of wrangling within the administration over how to address the greenhouse gas. Sources say administration officials were working on several possible options for controlling CO2 right up until the president's announcement.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced a series of new steps intended to "squeeze every megawatt [of power] out of California that is possible," according to the group's chairman, including speeding review of new pipeline applications and seeking increases in hydropower generation.

The commission promised that none of its efforts would reduce or override existing environmental protections, but FERC requested input from industry and other interested parties on other steps it could take to boost energy supplies in the West.

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The House is expected on March 15 to bring to the floor, and easily pass, a bill that would require government agencies, including EPA, to take steps to help small businesses comply with reporting and record-keeping requirements. The Republican-sponsored legislation has been scaled back from a version introduced in the last Congress that would have waived penalties on small businesses for first-time violations, which sparked protests from Democrats and environmentalists.

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A major coalition of environmental groups has pledged to oppose any multi-pollutant legislation that does not include mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge was issued in response to President Bush's announcement that he opposes treating carbon dioxide as a Clean Air Act pollutant. Opposition from the groups may pose a significant hurdle to efforts by key members of the Senate who are planning to offer a multi-pollutant bill within days.

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A high-ranking EPA official rejects allegations that EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman was undercut by President Bush's decision on Tuesday to oppose regulating carbon dioxide emissions, saying that Whitman was actively involved in the administration's decision-making process. For the past several weeks, Whitman has been advocating controls on the greenhouse gas, and as recently as last week told Inside EPA that the president supported her statements.

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March 13, 2001

The senior Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), plans to offer legislation on March 15 as an alternative to a GOP-backed plan for boosting the nation's energy supplies.

The bill is expected to offer a comprehensive energy strategy that will emphasize tax credits for energy efficiency and renewable sources, in contrast to a Republican bill that critics say relies too heavily on drilling for oil and gas and the expanded use of coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

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An influential group of senators is asking the Bush administration put a high-level White House official in charge of overseeing and coordinating biotechnology policy, which is currently set by a number of agencies, including EPA. The senators say that the White House needs to develop consistent policy positions that emphasize the use of sound science, in order to prepare for upcoming international negotiations on biotechnology.

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U.S. energy experts warn that an international workgroup launched last week by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to improve energy security and cooperation in North America will be unlikely to make an impact in the short term to relieve America's energy woes.

Energy Department officials also acknowledge that as of yet, the three nations have no clear agenda for the energy task force, nor decisions on staffing the group and no timeline for making recommendations to Canadian, Mexican and U.S. lawmakers or leaders.

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate and House are planning to unveil multi-pollutant legislation on March 15 that would be the first major proposal in a series of anticipated plans that will include first-time controls on carbon dioxide. The bill, which includes controls on nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury from electric power plants, will be introduced by Sens. Jim Jeffords (R-VT), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY).

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In response to an outcry from conservatives over possible first-time controls on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, President Bush has announced that he opposes any attempt to regulate the greenhouse gas as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. In a letter to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a vocal critic of climate change controls, Bush argues that caps on CO2 emissions would lead to a "dramatic shift from coal to natural gas for electric power generation and significantly higher electricity prices...."

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March 12, 2001

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Environmentalists in Wyoming are urging EPA to take the unprecedented step of withdrawing the state's delegated authority for administering the federal Clean Water Act. The dispute was prompted by the state's approval of natural gas extraction projects and will likely attract national attention as federal policymakers work to boost energy supplies in response to power shortages.

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EPA's Inspector General (IG) is taking initial steps that could lead to a full investigation of a number of states' emission trading proposals. The inquiry may pose a major policy challenge for EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who as governor of New Jersey was involved in the development of one of the programs under review. Whitman is expected to make emissions trading, as well as other non-regulatory controls, a top priority for her administration.

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Bush administration officials are reportedly considering long-time Environmental Defense (ED) staffer Annie Petsonk for a key climate change-related position at the White House, sources close to the issue say.

Petsonk is ED's international counsel for the group's Global & Regional Air Program. While no final decision has been made, sources say White House officials may select her to be Associate Director for International Policy at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.

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Following a landmark vote by Congress to overturn a major labor safety standards, state water officials are developing a list of EPA regulations for possible overhaul. While state sources say development of the list is in the early stages, it is likely that such controversial standards as EPA's total maximum daily load (TMDL) on rule and the proposed revisions to the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) permitting program will be included.

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Environmentalists claim that EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has a potential conflict of interest at a controversial Superfund site in Colorado because her husband reportedly has a large financial stake in the company that the agency says is responsible for the cleanup. But instead of urging Whitman to recuse herself from the dispute, as some might expect, environmentalists are urging the administrator to "set a strong tone" on ethical issues by demanding that the company pay for the site's $26 million cleanup.

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March 09, 2001

California Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) is proposing that people living closest to new power plants receive discounted electricity as compensation for dealing with increased pollution and the other negative aspects of living near plants. The legislative plan is intended to boost the state's power supplies while easing local opposition to building new plants, referred to as the "not in my backyard" syndrome.

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Environmentalists are launching a major assault on state-developed programs submitted for EPA approval to trade emissions that contribute to smog. The environmentalists claim that a lack of uniform federal standards to quantify emission reductions renders the highly-touted programs ineffective and unenforceable, and some say even illegal. The dispute may pose a major policy headache for EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who is expected to make emissions trading and other non-regulatory environmental initiatives a top priority of her administration.

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