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Daily News

December 14, 2000

EPA has announced that it will begin developing unprecedented standards on oil- and coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions. The agency plans to propose the landmark standards by 2003, and issue final requirements by 2004.

EPA's decision to develop regulations was issued in time to meet a Dec. 15 court-ordered deadline as part of a legal settlement with environmentalists, who urged the agency to study the matter and determine whether standards were necessary.

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Following a failed bid by environmentalists to have the federal government test dioxin blood levels in the San Francisco area, California regulators are considering conducting a screening program on the bioaccumulating pollutant. The findings of the landmark study may play into international efforts to limit use of the pollutant.

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The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee is expected to work on Clean Air Act amendments next Congress targeting power plant emissions, in part to address greenhouse gases, according to a key committee staffer. The effort stems from a growing interest among members of the Senate, including the committee's chairman, to address climate change, but would likely also limit other non-greenhouse gas pollutants, such as mercury.

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Civil rights advisors to EPA have warned agency officials that concerned activists may pressure the agency into replacing the head of its environmental justice office, in an effort to bolster agency enforcement efforts into the next administration. At the same time, these advisors, who are part of an EPA environmental justice panel, are accusing the agency of ignoring them on numerous issues, and claim the agency is attempting to do away with the panel or reduce it to "window dressing."

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December 13, 2000

Betting on public pressure to ease current power shortages, Calpine Corporation may pursue a ballot measure to obtain approval for a 600-megawatt combined-cycle gas-powered plant after local lawmakers rejected the project based in part on environmental concerns, sources say.

At issue is a proposal by Calpine's Metcalf Energy Center for a 20-acre site in Coyote Valley south of San Jose. The city council denied Calpine a land-use permit for Metcalf because the site is zoned for light industrial use, with the city's mayor, Ron Gonzales, leading opposition to the plant.

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Pentagon and EPA officials are negotiating a possible exemption for the military to the agency's anticipated standards for lowering the level of sulfur in diesel fuel, sources say.

If the exemption is granted, the armed forces would be allowed to continue using in tactical vehicles a diesel fuel called JP-8 that contains 500-parts-per-million (ppm) sulfur, which is nearly 35 times higher than the 15 ppm sulfur content called for by EPA for heavy-duty trucks beginning in 2006.

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Facing an even split in the Senate, Republican leaders are offering Democrats a major boost in staffing resources as part of a power-sharing arrangement that would allow GOP lawmakers to retain chairmanships but would provide Democrats with the ability to more effectively push their agenda, which would likely include environmental issues, according to congressional sources.

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EPA has released the details of its landmark cleanup plan for New York's Hudson River, claiming that even after massive dredging eating fish from the river may not be safe for more than 30 years.

The controversial cleanup proposal could be one of the agency's largest dredging project under Superfund, and is expected to be challenged by General Electric, which is responsible for paying the $460 million cleanup tab.

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Environmentalists are threatening legal action against Houston's efforts to address its smog, which have recently attracted national attention as the city looks for innovative ways to reduce the country's highest levels of ozone. Local officials concede that the city's plans fall short of federal emission reduction requirements, but local regulators are asking EPA to approve a plan based on a pledge by the city for future additional emission controls.

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The White House's Council of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Trade Representative have jointly released guidelines intended to promote environmental reviews as part of future international trade agreements, building on an executive order signed by President Clinton on the eve of the World Trade Organization's ministerial meeting in Seattle last year. The guidelines call for an interagency determination on whether environmental repercussions outside the U.S.

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Responding to accusations that EPA has failed to enforce environmental laws in low-income and minority communities, a high-level agency enforcement official said EPA's efforts are hampered by states that are unwilling to act, and a lack of agency resources to follow up. But civil rights activists on an advisory panel to EPA said the agency's inaction leaves poor communities with no recourse against industries that have been accused of violating environmental standards for years.

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December 12, 2000

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is attempting to distance his department from a memo that critics say shows that the Department of Energy has illegally aligned itself with industries supporting the construction of a nuclear waste disposal site, with state officials threatening to file suit over the matter.

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White House Chief of Staff John Podesta appears to have brokered an agreement between EPA and the Department of Energy for phasing in over four years controversial requirements for sulfur in diesel. According to sources, the plan calls for about three fourths of diesel fuel produced in the U.S. to meet stringent new sulfur content limits in fuels produced during the 2006-2007 timeframe, with the remaining requirements being phased in over the next four years.

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In an apparent attempt to head off potential power shortages, the New York Electric Generation Siting and Environment Board has approved eleven new power plants proposed by the state-owned New York Power Authority (NYPA) without requiring full-blown environmental reviews. The NYPA pledges that the plant's output will be below a threshold requiring comprehensive environmental assessments, but environmentalists are raising doubts.

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The Department of Energy has announced a pilot project to test new technologies that reduce mercury emissions from power plants at a relatively low cost. The goal of the project is to develop methods that will reduce emissions by up to 70 percent, according to a statement from Alabama Power, one of the four companies participating in the pilot. The project is expected to cost $6.7 million, the statement says.

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Civil rights activists are blasting EPA's development of a national environmental justice strategy that has been a hallmark effort of the Clinton administration. The activists are accusing the agency of reneging on past pledges for total inclusion by drafting the plan without input from affected community groups and EPA's own advisory panel.

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December 11, 2000

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The fate of EPA's massive cleanup plan for the Hudson River in New York may rest on the outcome of the presidential election, according to a lawmaker from the state. The $460 million project represents the agency's largest dredging proposal to address contaminated sediment, and has sparked heated controversy over the effectiveness of the cleanup technique.

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Staff for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is proposing to substantially scale back the state's 2003 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which may have a rippling effect on nationwide efforts to promote the use of electric cars. The staff is suggesting an array of partial ZEV credits for early introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) and increased development of very low-emitting vehicles, as well as hybrid EVs and those operated by fuel cells, natural gas and other alternative fuels.

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Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton is interested in a position on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, congressional sources say. These sources say that Clinton's name is being mentioned frequently as a possible new member of the committee as the Senate steering committee begins work on its recommendations for committee assignments.

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