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Daily News

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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The Department of Energy's inspector general has decided to investigate whether a department contractor hired to examine the safety of a national nuclear waste disposal site was biased in favor of the proposed location. The investigation will delay a report on the suitability of a waste disposal facility that has been anxiously-awaited by the nuclear energy industry, which has already spent millions of dollars through government fees to pay for the design and construction of the facility.

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An EPA decision to remove a controversial staff member from an ombudsman office has sparked renewed congressional efforts for legislation to make the investigative office more independent. The decision comes days before the agency is expected to release guidelines clarifying the role of the ombudsman office, that critics have said is an attempt to limit the role of the office which reviews EPA waste cleanup decisions.

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December 18, 2000

EPA has proposed discharge standards for livestock operations that are expected to spark fierce debate between agricultural industry representatives and environmentalists. Industry claims the standards impose a heavy regulatory burden on relatively small facilities, while environmentalists argue that the requirements do not go far enough in reducing polluted runoff from agricultural operations that until recently have been ignored as a major source of environmental contamination.

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U.S. officials have rejected an effort by the European Union to revive failed climate change negotiations, following weeks of diplomatic maneuvering after talks in The Hague collapsed without an agreement. The U.S. rejected an offer to meet later this week in Oslo, Norway, to resume negotiations on the rules for implementing the Kyoto climate change treaty.

Sources say the U.S. was seeking a limited agenda, while the EU was pushing for a broad discussion.

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