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Daily News

May 18, 2001

In an effort to pursue a settlement, EPA lawyers have quietly filed a motion to delay proceedings in a lawsuit brought by industry and environmentalists challenging the agency's controversial rule to protect impaired water bodies, sources close to the issue say.

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A federal appeals court May 15 upheld the legal heart of EPA's ability to impose emissions limits on power plants and other industrial sources in the Midwest and southern United States by 2003 in an effort to control smog problems in the eastern United States. The ruling, in Appalachian Power et al. v.

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President Bush has directed federal agencies to expedite regulatory permit reviews, which includes environmental requirements, of any projects that will increase the production, transmission, or conservation of energy. Bush also ordered all agencies to study the impacts that any regulatory decisions may have on the supply, distribution or use of energy.

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In a move that surprised EPA officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has filed a court brief denying that federally operated dams are the cause of water quality violations on the Snake River. The claim contradicts EPA models showing that the hydroelectric projects cause river temperatures to exceed Clean Water Act (CWA) standards.

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The House Energy & Commerce Committee announced that the House on May 21 plans to approve without opposition a bill to provide small businesses and small contributors of waste relief from Superfund liability.

The House is taking up the bill under "suspension of the rules," which means no amendments to the bill are allowed. In general, bills taken up on the "suspension calendar" are non-controversial items that pass by voice vote, with two-thirds House approval required for passage.

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May 17, 2001

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EPA science advisors have reached a compromise on softening criticism of the agency's assessment of dioxin risks, clearing the way for release of the decade-long review that will serve as the basis of a host of regulatory decisions.

The agreement was struck by a subcommittee of the Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the board's executive committee. The subcommittee had taken a harder line on the adequacy of EPA's review, but agreed to soften its criticism after members of the executive committee raised concerns.

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President Bush's energy strategy puts the White House's Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) in charge of an administration-wide effort to streamline the review and approval process of energy-related projects -- an initiative that could have major consequences for EPA's clean air permitting requirements and other environmental review responsibilities.

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Senior Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have set the stage for a showdown with the Bush administration over the legality of closed-door meetings at the White House in developing an energy strategy.

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The Bush administration has endorsed a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that calls for legislation overhauling Clean Water Act (CWA) protections on the operation of hydropower dams. The endorsement has bolstered the optimism of hydropower lobbyists that legislation will pass this year to substantially reduce the authority of EPA and other federal agencies to impose environmental conditions on dam operations.

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Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, has cleared the way for a vote on the confirmation of Linda Fisher as EPA's deputy administrator after winning assurances from EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to "do everything in her power" to clear a Clinton standard on radiation in groundwater.

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The House Energy & Commerce Committee has unanimously approved a compromise plan for providing small businesses relief from Superfund liability. The move was made possible by a surprise deal last week that ended years of partisan bickering on the issue and kept a number of controversial amendments off the bill.

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Despite objections by EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, a subcommittee of the House Science Committee has approved legislation to establish a deputy administrator for science at the agency.

Proponents say the bill is necessary to elevate the priority of scientific considerations in environmental policy decisions to avoid legal and other challenges to the basis of EPA regulations. But Whitman has argued that she would prefer having time to organize her staff before deciding whether to establish a science deputy post.

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee will begin considering elements of President Bush's energy policy recommendations as early next week, starting with proposals on conservation and energy efficiency, which are elements of the plan that attracted strong criticism by environmentalists and Democrats.

In a separate effort to blunt criticism that the proposals do nothing for the short-term, an emergency western energy bill that had run into resistance from House leadership and the administration will go to full committee mark up next week.

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May 16, 2001

A House subcommittee has unanimously approved a comprise plan for providing small businesses relief from Superfund liability. The move was made possible by a surprise deal struck last week that ended years of partisan bickering over the issue.

The Environment and Hazardous Materials subcommittee approved without amendments the compromise bill during a May 16 markup. The measure is expected to be taken up by the full Energy and Commerce Committee on May 17.

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As the White House is poised to unveil its much-anticipated energy policy, Democrats appear to be struggling to develop a unified response to the administration. A number of Democratic groups of different ideological stripes are pushing various energy proposals that differ on several key issues, including the need to increase drilling for oil and gas in wilderness areas.

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Democrats have targeted ten high-ranking Bush administration nominees as having strong ties to the fossil-fuel and electric utility industries, vowing to raise concerns during upcoming confirmation hearings about the high-level access of energy companies that supported President Bush's campaign. The Democrats argue that the close ties of the Bush administration to the energy industry undercuts the White House's credibility in dealing with the nation's energy problems, and will cost consumers billions of dollars in rising gasoline, natural gas and electricity prices.

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The California Trucking Association (CTA) is accusing state air officials of backing out of a deal to promote a national low-sulfur diesel rule based on state requirements. Truckers claim that a recent proposal to revise state requirements undercuts efforts for uniform controls developed by EPA and slated to take effect in 2006.

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Congressional proposals to classify nuclear energy as a zero-emission source of electricity, which is expected to be endorsed by the Bush administration's energy task force report, would make nuclear power plants eligible for state emissions trading programs and other financial incentives. Nuclear industry sources say the legislation would spur the construction of new power plants.

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Key Republican energy leaders from the House and Senate have promised quick legislative action to implement the White House's energy plan after it is released May 17.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) said May 16 he hopes to have legislation out of committee by the July 4 recess.

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Conservative Democrats are drafting legislation that may scrap EPA's controversial clean air permitting requirements with a cap-and-trade emissions control scheme that will include carbon dioxide (CO2) limits. The legislation is being developed by the New Democrat Coalition as part of a broader energy plan that the group hopes will attract the support of moderate Republicans.

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