Senate leaders have acknowledged that they lack the votes needed to get the House-passed energy bill through the Senate in anything like its present form. Instead, Senate Republicans will attempt to make the bill more acceptable by cutting its $31 billion price tag and removing provisions to protect producers of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) from liability for drinking-water contamination caused by their product. The MTBE provisions have blocked the bill in the Senate because of opposition from senators of states with MTBE contamination (C&EN, Jan. 19, page 58). And now, with President George W. Bush's projected $500 billion-plus budget deficit, a growing number of senators are worried about the bill's impact on the U.S. deficit and economy. Even President Bush, who supports the bill, finds its cost too high. Senate Republican leaders say they will attempt to draw up new energy provisions and attach them to other legislation that has a high likelihood of passage. However, the energy bill as written, particularly the MTBE provisions, has strong support from House leaders, and a Senate proposal to modify the bill will likely face a tough fight.
EPA issues controversial air proposal
EPA formally proposed regulations to control sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants on Jan. 30. The proposal presents several regulatory options. One option would require installation of equipment to reduce sulfur and nitrogen air emissions, cutting mercury releases as a by-product. It also would allow emissions trading for these pollutants, including mercury, which is neurologically toxic. The agency estimates that this proposal would reduce emissions about 70% by 2018, when the regulations finally are implemented. A second option would require installation of maximum achievable control technologies for mercury emissions from power plants by 2007 (C&EN, Dec. 22, 2003, page 12). This technology-based requirement for mercury had been agreed to by a committee of representatives of state, industry, and environmental groups, but it is opposed by the Bush Administration. The Administration's proposal is generally supported by industry groups and electric utilities, but not by state, environmental, and children's health advocates, who particularly object to the mercury provisions, which they say will not protect children. The formal publication starts a 60-day clock for comments, and public hearings will be held in Philadelphia; Chicago; and Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Bush, Blair to appoint commissions on intelligence
After months of refusing to do so, President Bush has announced his intention to form an independent bipartisan commission to examine U.S. intelligence operations. Pressure from Democrats and leading Republicans to set up such a commission intensified following former chief weapons inspector David Kay's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kay said prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction--the key reason for going to war--was faulty and recommended that an independent panel be established to look into what went wrong and how it can be corrected. Bush has elected to broaden the commission's charge beyond Iraqi intelligence failures to examine intelligence shortcomings about Iran, Libya, and North Korea and their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. Bush sees the commission's mandate as a "look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, kind of in a broader context." Bush has yet to announce the commission's makeup but did say that it would report its findings after the November elections. Following on Bush's actions and also responding to growing pressure, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced his intention to form an independent inquiry into the U.K.'s faulty prewar intelligence.
NRC reports on hydrogen economy
The National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council have issued a report on the challenges in making the transition to hydrogen as a major fuel over the next 50 years. The analysis finds many difficulties in the shift, including the need for methods to produce cheap hydrogen and the cost of setting up distribution stations. It also examined hydrogen R&D programs at the Department of Energy and found them to be thorough, but with a need for more cooperative research with academic and industry organizations and more exploratory research on hydrogen production and storage. And because generating hydrogen from coal would produce a lot of carbon dioxide, the panel recommends more research on capturing and storing CO2. The full report, "The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs," will be available in the spring.
USDA chided on mad cow response
An international panel of scientists convened by USDA reports there is a high probability that there are more cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. than the single one found in Washington state. It said the U.S. surveillance program for bovine spongiform encephalopathy is grossly inadequate and must be expanded to include all "downer" cattle over 30 months of age--as many as 195,000 annually--as well as sampling of apparently healthy animals. Currently, USDA plans to test 40,000 cattle out of 37 million slaughtered each year. The panel said FDA should ban the feeding of all meat and bone meal, including material from poultry, to cattle. As C&EN went to press, USDA had not yet responded to the report. Even if USDA rejects most of the findings, U.S. trading partners are planning to use the report in decisions on whether to resume imports of U.S. beef.