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Daily News

September 26, 2000


Lawmakers are pressing EPA to announce that federal standards need to be established for controlling mercury emissions from power plants. EPA is required under a court order to decide whether to regulate by December 15.

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EPA next month is expected to propose sweeping changes to its ocean discharge criteria rules, creating new water quality standards for the nation's oceans and designating areas as "special ocean sites" (SOS) that will be subject to extremely strict discharge limits, agency sources say. Environmentalists say they are thrilled with the modifications, while some industry groups and coastal states are becoming increasingly nervous about potential costs and burdens associated with the changes to the rule.

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A major utility company, Cinergy Corp., has announced a $700-million plan to install pollution controls in response to anticipated EPA regulations to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from power plants. The company's announcement comes several months after a federal court lifted a legal hold on an EPA plan to reduce NOx emissions throughout the eastern half of the U.S. The regulatory strategy was strongly opposed by utilities in the Midwest.

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EPA has agreed to a legal settlement that allows the city of Phoenix to avoid a larger fine by setting up two studies that are unrelated to alleged violations of drinking water treatment standards. One of the studies will be on ways to improve taste and odor in drinking water, which is not governed by EPA standards, and the other study will examine potential contamination from a common fuel additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The findings may help EPA in drafting regulations to address widespread concern about groundwater pollution from MTBE.

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The Senate has overwhelmingly approved an Everglades restoration project that could be the only major environmental legislation passed by this Congress. The $7.8-billion project was approved after a recent agreement between senators and Florida officials resolved a long-standing dispute on the state's sovereignty over water management.

The bill has the backing of the Clinton administration and must still be voted on by the House, which is expected to take it up within the next few weeks.

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September 25, 2000

Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed legislation to create a cruise ship environmental task force to evaluate the environmental practices and discharges of large passenger vessels along the state's coastline. The bill is considered a first step toward possible state regulations to control air and water pollution from cruise ships.

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An analysis conducted by the National Wildlife Federation on data gathered by state and federal regulatory agencies demonstrates that precipitation in New England contains levels of mercury that exceed safe levels established by EPA. The report, according to its authors, is intended to put pressure on EPA to issue an "affirmative determination" that mercury standards are needed.

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Congressional investigators have laid out a strategy for the Army and the Department of Interior to resolve a long-standing dispute over the control and protection of a watershed that includes a military installation. The Army argues that opening up the land to mining and other activities governed by Interior would expose pristine water supplies to contamination. But the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of Interior, questions the military's claim that more than 100,000 acres should be withdrawn from public use.

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Environmentalists have released a report claiming that factory farms are dumping dangerous pathogens and other sewage into local waterways, resulting in millions of fish kills. The findings were released in order to pressure EPA to regulate feedlots more stringently than the agency is planning to do.

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The Senate is considering the merits of a bill that would seek to increase the nation's energy independence by making greater use of renewable energy. But the measure also contains a controversial section on Alaska oil drilling that may lead to a heated Senate battle, sources say.

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EPA the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical have signed an agreement designed to help the company recycle low-level radioactive laboratory waste rather than dispose of it in the environment.

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Gov. Parris Glendening (D) has appointed a task force to develop recommendation for minimizing the potential health and environmental risks associated with the common fuel additive, methyl-tertiary-butyl-ether (MTBE). The additive, which is used to make gasoline cleaner burning, was recently detected in water supplies nationwide, even in areas in which MTBE was not used. The task force was formed under state legislation to explore alternatives to MTBE in reducing air pollution. The task force comprises of state representatives, scientists, industry members and environmentalists.

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The Army Corps of Engineers is defending its authority to regulate isolated wetlands. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the Corps migratory birds that rely on the availability of wetlands affect interstate commerce. The case has attracted widespread attention because of the potential impact on a number of other federal environmental regulations that have been defended under the Constitutions' commerce clause.

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The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report that endorses the creation of a high-level scientific advisory position at EPA. The report, which contains a list of the "50 most urgent science and technology presidential appointments" in the executive branch, recommends that EPA create the position of Assistant Administrator for Research and Development. EPA officials are currently debating whether or not such a position is necessary.

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EPA staff and observers say the agency is unlikely to complete work on any of its major Clean Water Act (CWA) or Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulations this year and that EPA will instead focus on moving proposals as far along in the pipeline as possible before President Clinton's term ends in January. This situation leaves the prospects uncertain for a host of major rules -- ranging from changes to CWA rules regulating dredging to new drinking water standards for arsenic.

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EPA has signed an agreement with the US Filter Recovery Systems, a commercial hazardous waste treatment and recovery facility in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The plan is being touted as an innovative way to promote recycling as an alternative to waste discharges that could end up in the Mississippi River or a landfill. The agreement was reached under EPA's Project XL program, which offers regulatory flexibility to industry and other facilities in exchange for measures that go beyond current environmental requirements.

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September 22, 2000

A long-awaited beach water testing bill passed the Senate unanimously Thursday and is expected to quickly clear the House, sources say.

Senate sponsor Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) drafted a manager's amendment to the bill, S522, reflecting an agreement with members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The House passed a version of the bill in April 1999, but the House is now expected approve the consensus plan, allowing lawmakers to vote on identical measures and avoid a potentially lengthy conference committee, Senate and House sources say.

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Senate appropriators adopted a controversial restriction on the Department of Interior's ability to regulate mining on public lands. The provision was attached to an Interior appropriations bill that has already drawn fire from the Clinton administration and could result in a presidential veto.

Environmentalists also have raised concerns saying that the amendment could cause a greater number of contaminated sites on public lands. These environmentalists point out that mining wastes are a major factor in Superfund sites throughout the country.

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While EPA sources have indicated that the agency is likely to grant California at least a partial or conditioned waiver of the federal reformulated gasoline (RFG) oxygen requirement, the agency does not plan to reach a final decision until well after the November presidential election, according to a key agency source. Such a delay may be intended by the Clinton-Gore administration to avoid risking the potential loss of Midwest votes for presidential candidate Al Gore, sources say.

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A leading gas industry group predicts that emissions could rise by nearly 14 percent and energy rates could jump $1.2 billion higher in eight years if the industry does not meet a goal to reach a 30 trillion cubic foot (TFC) market. The agency further pushes federal regulators to streamline permitting requirements for new facilities to allow new plants to come online faster.

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