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Daily News

December 22, 2000

A coalition of Northeast states is backing away from a proposed regional plan on the formulation of diesel fuel that is intended to reduce urban smog, and instead are planning to push new regulations to limit diesel engine emissions. The decision comes as the federal government is also grappling with ways to reduce diesel pollution, with EPA this week having issued major standards for fuel and heavy-duty engines.

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Amid efforts by utilities to respond to California's energy crisis, state air regulators are scrambling to track potential emission increases as power companies turn to relatively dirty diesel-powered generators to meet peak demands. State regulators suspect that many facilities are not reporting the use of higher-emitting generators, and a significant number may be violating their operating permits issued by local air districts.

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The Clinton administration is poised to release a long-awaited proposal on assessing natural resource damages from pollution, which may finally resolve a controversy that stems back to the former Bush administration.

According to an Interior Department source, the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) has signed off on the rules and the department plans to make editorial changes before submitting the proposal for publication in the Federal Register in early January.

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President-elect Bush's nomination of New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) to head EPA signals that the incoming administration may be seeking to significantly improve the agency's relationship with states.

At the same time, the Bush administration is considering elevating EPA to a full-Cabinet position, with sources pointing out that many of the president-elect's environmental advisors are the same people who worked with his father, President Bush, in his failed attempt to create an environment department.

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December 21, 2000

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), are calling on Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to conduct a thorough investigation of the department's handling of former nuclear sites, which could lead to a major expansion of DOE's cleanup responsibilities and environmental efforts at these sites.

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EPA has released major rules to reduce harmful pollutants from diesel exhaust, while at the same time acknowledging concerns about potential fuel supply disruptions by granting refiners and engine manufacturers some flexibility in the deadline for meeting the new requirements. Release of the rules ends months of wrangling within the administration over the impact of the new requirements.

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EPA Administrator Carol Browner has signed the second of two "cluster" air toxic regulations affecting the pulp and paper industry, completing work on the agency's first integrated air and water toxic standards for a specific industry sector.

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EPA has approved revised standards for mobile source air toxics intended to prevent a possible boost in emissions as federal and state officials look at ways to address alleged groundwater problems from a common fuel additive. The standard lowers allowable toxic levels to reflect progress that industry has made in reducing the pollutants because of the addition of oxygenates under the federal reformulated gasoline program.

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Skyrocketing energy prices have prompted nuclear power advocates to examine a possible rebirth in the U.S., industry sources say.

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December 20, 2000

Environmentalists are gearing up for a wave of legal challenges to a series of upcoming EPA air toxics rules next year, source say, and are coordinating a legal strategy among a number of environmental groups in anticipation of the standards.

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Senate Republicans are considering reorganizing the Environment & Public Works Committee, which may involve creating a new nuclear safety subcommittee and shuffling the GOP chairmen of the various existing subcommittees.

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A broad coalition of environmental groups is urging EPA to issue a proposed rule on setting air visibility standards on utilities and other industrial sources before the Clinton administration leaves office. The request comes in response to concerns that EPA may drop or weaken the plan in the face of competing priorities in the final weeks of the administration.

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Sources with the Bush transition team say an announcement is imminent on a pick for EPA administrator, but will not confirm reports that New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman (R) has been offered and accepted the position.

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The Justice Department has announced a $73 million settlement resolving 10 years of litigation regarding the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site and establishing important new requirements on claims for natural resource damages. The agreement represents roughly half of the $150 million the government was calling for Montrose Chemical Corp. and other companies to pay for natural resource damages and the public's lost use of natural resources.

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Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is urging President Clinton to block any EPA effort to grant California a controversial waiver from a Clean Air Act requirement that cleaner-burning, reformulated gasoline include two percent oxygenates, while EPA sources say the agency is considering a compromise that would offer a partial waiver. Daschle's request puts the White House in the potentially awkward position of rebuffing either the Senate's top Democrat or the Democratic governor of the nation's most populous state, California.

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December 19, 2000

Sewage officials have asked a federal appeals court to affirm EPA's authority to regulate sources of polluted runoff by establishing water discharge limits for troubled water bodies. The legal dispute could be critical in determining the scope of EPA's powers in establishing controversial total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), which may force a tightening of water discharge permits for facilities along certain waterways.

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The development of a national energy policy has quickly emerged as a top priority for President-elect Bush with him warning that a looming energy crisis might force the U.S. economy into a recession. In his first meetings with congressional leaders and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan since the election, Bush said he spent a great deal of time talking about energy and spokesperson for the Bush transition team has reportedly attributed U.S. reliance on foreign oil as a key cause of past economic problems.

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Sen. Harry Reid (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senate minority whip, has vowed to fight President-elect Bush's potential selection of former Louisiana Democratic Sen. Bennett Johnston to head the Department of Energy (DOE), voicing concerns over Johnston's backing of a national nuclear waste disposal site.

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Congress has failed to approve funding for a pilot program within the General Accounting Office (GAO) that would have created congressional mechanisms for reviewing the costs and benefits of federal regulations, including environmental standards. The pilot program stems from regulatory reform legislation backed by several key Republican lawmakers and signed by President Clinton.

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