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Daily News

March 22, 2001

Activists are intensifying their protests of the environmental consequences of California's efforts to boost power generation, and are examining a possible legal challenge. The groups are calling on Cal/EPA Secretary Winston Hickox to explain in detail plans to implement several controversial executive orders issued by Gov. Gray Davis to ease air pollution rules and other environmental laws to fast-track power generation.

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EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is reviving the agency's Department of Agriculture liaison position, a move the administrator hopes will result in increased cooperation between the federal agencies and a heightened sharing of data affecting water issues. She announced the decision during a March 20 meeting with state and local drinking water officials.

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Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) last week effectively delayed Senate consideration of a bipartisan brownfields legislation until after lawmakers complete action on a campaign finance reform measure by blocking a unanimous consent agreement that would have allowed the bill to be voted on before the campaign issue was taken up. Inhofe reportedly blocked quick floor action on the bill after the committee rejected a number of amendments offered by the senator.

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Republicans and Democrats searching for ways to address the nation's looming energy crisis have suggested an array of tax credits to boost energy supplies and encourage conservation. But congressional staff warn that for political, financial and procedural reasons, it may be very difficult to adopt any tax incentives this year, particularly in the wake of the expected battle over President Bush's centerpiece $1.6 trillion tax cut.

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The Bush administration will revoke stricter mining standards adopted in the final months of the Clinton presidency. In a Federal Register notice slated to be published March 23, the Department of Interior announces that it will revoke for 45 days standards that set stricter environmental performance requirements for mining activities on public lands and increase bonding requirements for cleanups in the event of a mine's bankruptcy.

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Senate Democrats plan to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to seek to overturn a Bush administration decision to suspend an arsenic in drinking water standard. The move represents a reversal in political roles recently played out over worker safety standards, where Republican lawmakers led a first-time charge to use the CRA to overturn the so-called ergonomics rule.

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March 21, 2001

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Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-MI) has introduced bills to ban the import of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and to impose restrictions on their disposal. The issue of PCB exports has become a priority for environmentalists and other activists out of concern that a recent trade dispute decision may erode long-standing international controls on hazardous materials.

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Pesticide industry officials say they plan to continue legal action against EPA over a landmark agreement with environmentalists on assessing the nation's pesticide risks, despite the recent success of the Bush administration to renegotiate the deal. On the other hand, environmentalists say they felt compelled to accept the recent changes to the agreement after Bush administration officials threatened to walk away from the plan altogether.

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Senate Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee are drafting a list of regulations that had been suspended by the Bush administration that they want EPA to implement. The move stems from a weeks-long dispute between the lawmakers and the administration over a White House hold on regulations approved during the final months of the Clinton presidency.

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The House subcommittee chairman responsible for drafting national energy legislation says he plans to offer an "emergency" bill next week to address California's power crisis. Among the hotly debated topics that may appear in the bill are: wholesale price caps, the possibility of granting federal regulators authority to site new power generation and transmission facilities, mandatory demand side mitigation, and the removal of retail price caps for ratepayers.

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March 20, 2001

An electric utility industry official responsible for making sure the lights stay on throughout North America has warned that both the East and West coasts are in danger of experiencing blackouts this summer. The warning is likely to fuel state and federal efforts to boost energy supplies to curtail the spread of California's recent power woes. But the official argued that attempts to speed construction of new transmission facilities, which has sparked concerns by environmentalists about rolling back siting requirements, would not be enough to stave off power shortages on either coast.

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Nuclear energy industry officials have targeted as a top priority in the congressional energy debate renewal of a federal law that provides $9.5 billion in liability coverage for power plant accidents. Industry officials argue that extending the law is critical to ensuring that nuclear power is an option in the nation's energy supply mix.

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A senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is rejecting efforts to site new nuclear power plants to alleviate the nation's power crisis, and argues that the environmental community is not threatened by renewed interest in nuclear energy by Republican policymakers in Congress and the White House. NRDC led the charge to stymie construction of nuclear power plants in the late 1970s, and is credited by many as the organization most centrally responsible for the stagnation of the nuclear industry over the past several decades.

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EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is proposing that the agency pull back the Clinton administration's controversial rule tightening drinking water standards for arsenic and launch a public review of the measure.

"I have found there are significant unresolved questions about the arsenic rule," Whitman said March 20 before the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group that represents water suppliers.

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EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is questioning congressional efforts to create a deputy administrator for science at the agency. Whitman says that although she supports the goals of proposed legislation, she wants time to first make EPA's existing scientific resources more effective and responsive.

Agency officials have been divided over the proposed position, but a number of outside risk policy experts and former EPA assistant administrators have come out in support of the legislation, arguing that the new post would improve EPA decision-making.

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EPA officials say the agency is developing guidelines in response to congressional attacks saying that Superfund cleanup contractors are provided too much leeway, which is driving up costs. The guidance is expected to look at data on cleanups nationwide to aid in determining site-specific costs.

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Several key Republican House members say that in drafting a comprehensive energy strategy, they are now willing to consider mandatory increases in the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks that they have opposed for years.

"We will have to be willing to at least consider it," Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering ( R-MS) told reporters on March 20. Pickering has been assigned by House energy and air quality subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) to convene workshops for lawmakers on critical energy issues in preparation for drafting an energy bill.

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March 19, 2001

EPA science advisors have drafted a report outlining significant changes to the agency's reassessment of dioxin risks that EPA officials say will likely delay its release. The document is intended to put in writing revisions suggested by the experts late last year, but EPA officials say the tone of the report is much more critical of the agency's dioxin review than was indicated during the public hearing last year.

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The White House energy policy task force is scheduled to brief President Bush March 19 on the scope of the nation's energy shortage, but the group has not yet begun to develop policy alternatives for the president to choose from, according to administration officials. In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham emphasized the importance of increasing domestic production of oil and natural gas.

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