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Daily News

January 17, 2002

A major policy advisory group to EPA will soon deliver a report to the agency showing that a population boom in the next decade, a more commercially driven approach to environmental management and emerging scientific technology may force EPA to be more flexible and streamlined in its domestic regulatory approach, while the report calls on the agency to assume a larger leadership role in the international community.

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is auditing New Jersey's controversial open market emissions trading program, signaling that an EPA inspector general (IG) investigation of the landmark program may have found that the state violated federal law, agency and environmental sources say.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has backed off an earlier plan to withhold key environmental information regarding the proposed construction of a spent nuclear fuel dump in Utah, averting a possible lawsuit by state officials who were outraged over the omission. The information was originally withheld by the NRC over concerns about terrorist threats, but after an additional review, sources say the commission decided that much of the information was available elsewhere.

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The chemical industry could face expanded liability claims based on a toxic tort case brought by Latin American farmers against an aerial spraying contractor employed by the State Department to help eradicate coca plants in Colombia. The farmers' class-action lawsuit could broaden into the public health arena a long-standing statute that allows foreign nationals to bring tort claims in U.S. federal courts for alleged violations of international law regarding human rights and torture.

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January 16, 2002

The Bush administration's plans to extend the leases of 36 oil drilling operations off the California coast will have serious negative impacts on air quality in regions such as Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Cal/EPA Secretary Winston Hickox said at a Jan. 14 press conference in Sacramento.

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The Defense Department has slipped from its self-imposed deadline for reviewing the environmental implications of consolidating its massive mercury stockpiles at a single site because of a lack of interest among federal agencies to house the proposed facility, according to a spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency.

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Federal, state and industry officials are urging EPA to circumvent an upcoming statutory deadline for issuing a host of federal air toxics regulations by extending the time allowed for industry to provide data that will allow states to begin drafting their own toxics standards. But environmentalists have vowed to challenge any attempt by EPA to grant an extension to Clean Air Act deadlines for individual industrial facilities.

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An international group of chemical makers has identified a number of deficiencies with the industry's highly touted Responsible Care program, including insufficient toxicity data being provided to workers and users of chemical products worldwide. The findings are part of a report that is being developed to help set the agenda for an upcoming global meeting on economic and environmental policies. The report was approved Jan.

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The Army is seeking $78 million in supplemental funding for the current fiscal year in order to pay for increased security measures at sites where the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons is stored.

John Ferriter, director of operations, remediation and restoration for the Army's Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM), told a National Research Council panel last week that the additional funding is for security measures put in place after Sept. 11. The supplemental funding will more than double Ferriter's usual budget of $68 million for security matters.

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A panel of scientists at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has backed away slightly from an earlier recommendation on how tough federal fuel economy standards can be without adversely affecting the price of cars. The new recommendations, which call for standards that are slightly lower than previously suggested, are a minor victory for industry officials, who have derided federal fuel economy standards as being too costly to industry and consumers.

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Bush administration sources say the president will tout the development of a domestic hydrogen energy economy, spearheaded by fuel-cell vehicles and the recently announced "Freedom Car" program, as his response to the Kyoto climate-change treaty. The administration has been under pressure for months to offer an alternative approach to Kyoto after the president's surprise decision last year to abandon the international treaty.

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January 15, 2002

State and industry officials are drafting comments to proposed EPA guidelines on Clean Water Act permit requirements for publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) during wet weather conditions, which sources say the agency is working to quickly release to the public. The three wet-weather measures addressed by the draft guidance are emergency bypass, peak excess flow treatment facilities (PEFTFs) and blending.

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A recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) for revising airborne exposure limits for sites where chemical weapons are stockpiled backs away from an initial plan because of concerns about the technological limits in monitoring potential releases of nerve gases. The revised safety exposure limits address residents living near the Army's eight chemical weapons stockpile sites.

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The campaign to replace the outgoing chairman of the House Resources Committee may pit two Republicans with opposing environmental views against each other, as Reps. Jim Saxton (NJ) and Richard Pombo (CA) are two early contenders to replace Rep. James Hansen (UT), who recently announced that he will not seek another term. Saxton, with a history of supporting stricter environmental controls, would likely garner the support of moderate lawmakers and environmentalists, sources say, while Pombo would receive support from conservatives and land-rights advocates.

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The Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety is poised to issue a standard that would subject pipelines of any length to the same inspection and repair requirements. The standard is being developed as the fourth in a series of rules being pushed by the pipeline industry which it says will standardize its accident-prevention and reporting requirements and boost public confidence in the safety of pipelines that transport hazardous liquids.

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Department of Justice (DOJ) officials say potential settlements of EPA's controversial enforcement litigation against 51 Midwestern utilities will likely reflect Bush administration reforms to the program, even though department lawyers say they stand by the legitimacy of the initial suits. Department lawyers add that their support for the EPA litigation, initiated by the Clinton administration, does not necessarily mean that DOJ will pursue additional enforcement actions against utilities for the same alleged new source review violations.

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The Justice Department has delayed the release of a report on the methods for assessing the security vulnerabilities of chemical plants, amid intense pressure from industry officials that a preliminary version of the study be revised to ease compliance burdens. The Bush administration has put off release of the report for at least a month to allow for a full interagency review, sources say.

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January 14, 2002

EPA officials are embarking on the first-ever wholesale review of drinking water regulations that could lead to tighter standards for many contaminants, including dioxin, lead and vinyl chloride.

The agency is undertaking the effort for the first time under a mandate in the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments to review drinking water rules every six years.

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A federal district court has blocked EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman's plans to move the waste office's independent investigator, referred to as the ombudsman, to the Office of the Inspector General. The decision reflects a major victory for the current ombudsman, Robert Martin, who claims the reorganization effort reflects a conflict-of-interest for Whitman.

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Recent oral arguments by the tobacco industry before a federal appeals court have attracted the attention of chemical makers because the case involves whether companies must disclose their product ingredients to the public. Chemical industry officials worry that a ruling against the industry would set a dangerous precedent by forcing companies to reveal possible trade secrets, while environmentalists argue that the public has a right to know about products that could be hazardous to their health.

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