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Daily News

February 26, 2001

Environmentalists are hailing a recent federal court decision as a warning to energy regulators that efforts to avoid power shortages do not justify circumventing environmental requirements. A federal court in Oregon earlier this month decided that the Corps of Engineers is responsible for ensuring that the federal hydropower system in the Snake River complies with Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements.

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Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) has introduced comprehensive legislation intended to resolve the nation's energy crisis. The chairman offered the bill as a starting point for debate in Congress, while the White House is drafting its own plan that is expected to be folded into the Senate bill, according to Murkowski.

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Wisconsin regulators say they have reached a deal with electric utility officials on drafting the nation's first mercury emission controls, by granting power plants greater flexibility and additional time to meet the requirements. The rules are being drafted by the state under a petition filed by environmentalists and others who sought more aggressive controls.

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A coalition of conservative organizations has mounted a last-minute effort to convince President Bush to avoid voicing support for regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) in his first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 27. The president has already publicly stated that he backs first-time CO2 controls as part of legislation to control multiple air pollutants from power plants.

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President Bush told the nation's governors that he has established an interagency task force to look at streamlining federal regulations, which will likely include environmental controls. Bush announced the initiatives at the annual winter meeting of the National Governors'Association in Washington, DC.

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February 23, 2001

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A key California assemblyman said this week he intends to amend a bill that relaxes air pollution permit limits for backup generators to address concerns raised by members of a special energy committee that approved the bill earlier this week. The bill proposes to allow companies participating in utility "interruptible service" programs to avoid emission limits for backup generators that are used during shutdowns and start-ups and other circumstances deemed as "emergencies" by the bill.

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Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) will introduce comprehensive energy legislation on Feb. 26. The bill is expected to pull together a wide range of proposals to address the nation's energy crisis, including subsides for fossil fuel industries and tax credits to encourage energy efficiency.

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House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) is planning to meet with EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to discuss the possibility of revising Houston's smog-reduction requirements, which could lead the plan to allow greater flexibility for businesses in meeting federal air quality standards. Sources say the congressman believes that the change in administration may lead EPA to take a second look at the plan.

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EPA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) has concluded that the across-the-board suspension of regulations by the Bush administration could be a violation of federal administrative law, according to an internal agency memo obtained by Inside EPA. The findings are likely to fuel attacks by environmentalists that some say could lead to litigation charging that the administration is engaged in an improper review of key environmental rules.

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A legal challenge in Maryland may set a national precedent regarding a state's ability to issue permits for discharges into polluted water bodies without having completed controversial water quality standards, known as total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). Environmentalists are attempting to block the state's ability to issue permits until TMDLs are established. If successful, the challenge could have a rippling effect by slowing the permit review process throughout the country as a number of states struggle to develop TMDLs.

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A California city has issued what could turn out to be the first legal challenge to Gov. Gray Davis's (D) efforts to fast-track electricity generation in response to the state's power crisis. Huntington Beach has filed a formal complaint with the energy commission and has threatened to sue the state over a proposed 60-day approval process for a 450-megawatt expansion of a power plant.

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The White House is expected to tap Linda Fisher as deputy administrator at EPA under Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. Fisher is a former pesticide chief at the agency and a former employee for Monsanto Company.

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The Senate is expected to revive congressional debate over funding for coastal pollution control programs by taking up a bill next week that was approved unanimously by the chamber during the last Congress, but which died in the House. The legislative fate of the latest proposal remains uncertain with a key House opponent, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), having retained an important leadership position with jurisdiction over the bill.

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February 22, 2001

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman will lead the U.S. delegation on environmental policies at an upcoming economic meeting in Italy. The decision has raised the hopes of some environmentalists and agency staff that the new administration will put a higher priority on international environmental issues than the Clinton White House.

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Environmentalists have handed President Bush a plan to pay for a significant portion of his proposed tax cut by eliminating a number of federal programs, some of which support the use of fossil-fuels, that are seen as corporate subsidies that pollute or endanger the environment.

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The Supreme Court has rejected a challenge by petroleum refiners to a patent held by Unocal that the industry claims drives up the price of cleaner-burning gasoline. The Feb. 20 decision is a blow to EPA officials who sources say supported the refiners' claims that the patent hampers supplies of reformulated gasoline (RFG).

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Environmentalists are urging EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to resist pressure from industry to abandon an agreement negotiated by the Clinton administration to quicken the pace of pesticide reviews under new tougher requirements. Pressure on the incoming EPA administrator is intensifying because the clock is running out on the agency's ability to back out of the plan, with industry officials criticizing the agreement as a midnight deal between environmentalists and the Clinton administration.

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February 21, 2001

EPA officials are poised to circulate for internal agency review a major risk assessment strategy for addressing sensitive subpopulations, such as asthmatics and children. The initiative was a high priority of the Clinton administration and could have broad policy implications in setting a host of environmental standards, including air and water quality requirements.

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Efforts to study the effect of environmental pollutants on women's health is gaining ground in Congress, sources say. Legislation introduced in the House has been described as receiving a warm reception by other lawmakers, and a proposal is being drafted in the Senate that is expected to gain the support of the chamber's twelve female members.

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