Merced Sun-Star
Riverside Motorsports Park leaders say they're not abandoning plans
Web posting says efforts 'continue on a daily basis.'...CORINNE REILLY
Riverside Motorsports Park claims that it's still trying to move forward with its long-delayed plan to build a massive auto racing complex near Atwater, according to a new post on the company's Web site.
"It is important for you to know that efforts to bring Riverside Motorsports Park to the next phase of development continue on a daily basis," the company said in a one-page progress report it posted this month. "We also continue to work -- to evaluate, plan, meet, and push -- toward realization of the benefits that RMP can deliver."
Those claims come in spite of several recent developments that suggest the company's project is dead, including evidence that RMP is broke and legal moves by the company's creditors to seize its assets.
In addition, the 1,200-acre property where RMP said it planned to build the motorsports complex is up for sale. So far no one has bought it.
The posting is the first progress update RMP has issued since July of last year. It makes no mention of the fact that its property is for sale. It also says nothing about a recent judgment against RMP that entitles Merced County to seize any assets it can find in the company's name, up to $300,000; that's how much RMP now owes Merced County for unpaid bills.
The progress update, signed by RMP CEO John Condren, admits the company has been hit hard by the global economic crisis.
"The unexpected and swift shift in the economy, first emerging in the latter half of 2007, collapsed the available equity and credit markets, which sidelined those investment partners who were interested in RMP," it says.
The posting says the company continues to work on the project on the following fronts: re-evaluating financial markets to determine their short-term ability to fund big projects like RMP, scaling back its design and operating plans, drawing up more planning documents to submit to Merced County and initiating meetings with potential investors.
"We hold onto hope for economic recovery," the update says.
Condren first proposed plans in 2003 for what he billed as the world's largest motorsports facility. He argued at the time that RMP would remake the county's struggling economy.
The project's initial blueprints called for a quarter-billion-dollar, eight-racetrack motorsports park that would include shopping areas, a lake, restaurants and picnic space.
The Board of Supervisors approved RMP's proposal in 2006, but the project never broke ground. It was stripped of its approvals early last year after RMP lost a lawsuit filed against the project by environmental groups.
Read a letter from Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren
Efforts Continue...RMP, The Fast Track
Many supporters have contacted us requesting an update about the development of Riverside Motorsports Park. Your ongoing interest, statements about the need for this development, your encouragement to stay the course and your generally supportive comments are both appreciated and well received.
It is important for you to know that efforts to bring Riverside Motorsports Park to the next phase of development continue on a daily basis. However, updates are not as frequent because progress has been slowed significantly by the current economic climate—now well chronicled as the worst economic condition that our nation and world have faced in some 80 years. The unexpected and swift shift in the economy, first emerging in the latter half of 2007, collapsed the available equity and credit markets, which sidelined those investment partners who were interested in RMP.
In the face of this, here’s what we have been and are continuing to do to further the project:
1. We re-evaluated the financial market’s short-term ability to fund large development projects.
2. We re-analyzed projected growth in the sports-recreation market.
3. From these evaluations, we made adjustments to the project’s design and operating plan.
4. Working with the project architect Paxton Waters and track designer Derek Daly, we developed a scaled-down, phased construction design. First reported in our 2008 Fast Track, this revised design is posted on our Web site in "What is RMP."
5. We consulted with our investment team members and with industry experts in New York, San Francisco, Charlotte and Los Angeles to confirm the feasibility of our redeveloped plan. So far, everyone likes what they have seen.
6. We clarified plans for submitting the Project Master Plan, which is the next step in ongoing work with Merced County.
7. We have initiated meetings with potential new investment partners in the project’s development.
And so, we continue, and we keep working at it . . . day by day .
In the meantime, each one of us on the RMP team knows that times are difficult for many right now. Many are impacted by the challenges of this economy. We hold onto hope for economic recovery. We also continue to work—to evaluate, plan, meet, and push—toward realization of the benefits that Riverside Motorsports Park can deliver.
This update contains forward-looking statements that reflect Riverside Motorsports Park management’s best judgments regarding risks and assumptions. Actual progress could differ from that stated. Riverside Motorsports Park and the Riverside Motorsports Park logo are registered trademarks in the U.S. of Riverside Motorsports Park, LLC.
© 2009 Riverside Motorsports Park, LLC. All rights reserved.
Sacramento Bee
Agencies seek to preserve water behind Calif. dams...SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO -- With California's major reservoirs at woefully low levels, state and federal water agencies on Tuesday made a pitch to keep more water behind their dams this month.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Water Resources said they need to store as much water as they can to ensure enough for salmon, cities and farmers later this year.
Keeping that water, though, means the agencies must be granted an emergency petition that allows weakened water-quality standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The state is supposed to release water from reservoirs each February to improve delta water quality, although it has fallen short of its mandate so far this month.
"California is in the third straight year of below-average rainfall and snowmelt runoff," Cathy Crothers, DWR's assistant chief counsel testified during an emergency hearing before the State Water Resources Control Board. "Dry conditions and low storage have resulted in significant reductions in water supplies throughout the state."
At issue is the amount state and federal water agencies are legally required to release each February from dams that feed into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The reservoirs are critical to the water supply of two-thirds of the state's residents and millions of acres of farmland.
Their dams also block migrating salmon from colder northern waters. Despite that, they do have one benefit to the salmon: storing the cold water the fish need later in the year when river temperatures rise and threaten to kill them when they spawn.
It's that cool water the agencies are looking to preserve in the reservoirs for later in the year. It wasn't clear when the Water Resources Control Board would issue a decision about the request to hold water back, but the hearing was scheduled to continue Wednesday.
Critics of the agencies' plan say water managers are sacrificing delta fish such as the longfin smelt that are dependent on the mid-winter freshwater releases.
"Pitting one species of fish against the other epitomizes the absolute failed water policies of the state," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a grassroots group based in Stockton.
Delta water users also questioned whether the agencies need relaxed standards to carry them through the rest of the month after storms over the holiday weekend and into this week boosted river flows.
Federal and state wildlife agencies agreed with water managers that storing additional water in California's reservoirs would outweigh the risks to delta fish.
"We feel if we hold some water now, it will help us," said Perry Herrgesell, the Bay Delta Water Policy Coordinator at the state Department of Fish and Game.
California's reservoirs are running low after two dry winters. Shasta and Oroville are less than half as full as they should be for this time of year, and the snowpack was well below average during the last official measurement.
The state has said it will deliver just 15 percent of its water contracts this year because of the low reservoir levels and court-ordered pumping restrictions, which are designed to protect a threatened fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation intends to release its annual water-delivery estimates on Friday.
Stockton Record
Stockton used eminent domain to build ballpark
Court: City didn’t have right to land...David Siders
STOCKTON - The city had no right to force the dilapidated Marina Tower property from its owners and to build a ballpark and parking lot in its place, the 3rd District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Finding the city's eminent domain action to be a "gross abuse of discretion," the court in Sacramento has ordered the city to pay the property owners' legal expenses while allowing Stockton to try the case again.
Norman Matteoni, an attorney for Marina Towers LLC, said the legal costs approach $1 million; City Attorney Ren Nosky said Tuesday the sum is uncertain.
The court ruled Friday that Stockton's acquisition of Marina Tower, on the north bank of the Stockton Deep Water Channel, was based on vague resolutions of necessity that failed to specify for what use the city sought the land.
"This is a case of 'condemn first, decide what to do with the property later,' " the court ruled.
Marina Towers claimed in a 2005 hearing that the city initially sought to have developer A.G. Spanos build luxury apartments on the property, altering its plan only when Marina Towers argued the land was illegally being taken for a private use, not a public one. The city denied that, saying its conversations with Spanos were only speculative.
The ruling Friday reversed a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge's 2005 dismissal of Marina Towers' claim.
"The City Council just was not properly informed as to the law," Matteoni said Tuesday. "They simply did not use good judgment."
City Hall's response to the ruling largely was to criticize the previous administration's handling of the matter, the city manager, city attorney and council majority all taking office after the property was seized.
"This is one of those scary skeletons that emerged from that closet," Mayor Ann Johnston said. "It is indicative of the way things were run."
The council will consider the case in a closed session in March, Nosky said.
"We're going to be looking at a number of options to clean up this mess that was not of our making," he said.
The five-story Marina Tower building was demolished in May 2004. The building was considered central to the waterfront's redevelopment in 1974, when it was built, but eventually fell vacant and into disrepair.
In the compensation phase of the eminent domain trial, a jury fixed the value of the Marina Tower property at just less than $2 million. Marina Towers LLC has said the appropriate value is nearer to $6 million. The issue is to be retried, Matteoni said. Nosky said that is uncertain.
Though a defeat for City Hall, the ruling could have been worse: Marina Towers had requested that the court dismiss the city's eminent domain action unconditionally, effectively reverting ownership of the property - and of the parking lot and part of Stockton Ballpark - to Marina Tower. That result would be unfair to the city, the court ruled. Instead, it ruled, the "city will be responsible for Marina's litigation expenses, but it will have another opportunity to get it right."
San Francisco Chronicle
Storms not enough to end water worries...Matthew B. Stannard. Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee contributed to this report.
Her light-green umbrella wind-twisted into uselessness, Alexis Alexander ducked into a Powell Street storefront to buy a dour black replacement as cold water spattered the sidewalk outside.
"I really don't do the rain. It is not a good look," said Alexander, 21, in San Francisco from Antioch to pick up supplies for her upcoming birthday celebration. "I'm having a party on Saturday. It's ruining my barbecue."
But her friend, Che Coleman, 21, defended the precipitation.
"It's good, we need the rain. It's filling up the reservoirs," she said. "We're in a drought. We need the water."
Alexander and Coleman probably summed up the mixed feelings of many Bay Area residents Tuesday: The past week of cold, wet weather hasn't been fun, but at least it's helped ease the state's drought problem. Right?
"Not even close," said Elissa Lynn, a senior meteorologist with the state Department of Water Resources. "In spite of the fact we had all this precipitation, we're still very, very dry."
It's not that there hasn't been a lot of rain the past few days, said Brian Tentinger, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"Downtown San Francisco has had a total of 4.41 inches" since last Wednesday, Tentinger said. "That's almost 20 percent of what we get for a whole season."
And most of the Bay Area has gotten about 4 inches of rain over the same span, Tentinger said. In addition, Mount Hamilton received 9 inches of snow Monday night alone. More importantly, the Sierra, the source of water for Bay Area reservoirs, also saw some pretty solid snowfall, Lynn said.
A water shortage still
State water officials measure that snowfall in snow water inches, the amount of water that the accumulated snow would represent if it melted. Between Thursday and Tuesday, as storms swept the Bay Area, the snow water equivalent in the northern Sierra increased about 25 percent to 16 inches, Lynn said.
"It's an improvement. It's in the right direction," she said.
But even with that, the northern Sierra snow water equivalent level is just 69 percent of normal to date. Total precipitation in the northern Sierra - including both snow and rain - is only 74 percent of average to date, Lynn said. Last year at this time, the total was 86 percent of average, and the year before, precipitation by this time had reached 91 percent of average.
"Looking ahead, even though there's a little bit more in the forecast, by March 1 we may be about 77 percent of normal," Lynn said.
More importantly, she said, the numbers for runoff - water that actually makes it from the mountains into the reservoirs - have been "excruciating" for three years and are not looking much better today.
Two seasons ago, runoff was only 53 percent of normal, Lynn said. Last season was 57 percent of normal, and the projection for this season - the water year extends from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 - is also 57 percent.
As a result, the reservoirs at Shasta, Oroville and Folsom are all at about one-third or less of their capacity - about half or less their average at this time, Lynn said.
Still no time to waste water
Blame January, which was extra dry and left behind thirsty soil and empty underground aquifers that drank up water that would otherwise have filled Northern California reservoirs.
"This January was the eighth driest on record for the state," Lynn said, and it followed a similarly dry fall. "What we're seeing now, that's nice, but it's late, and we should have seen this for the whole past six weeks."
Now, water officials worry that the week of wet will lead people to start hosing off sidewalks once again when ideally they should be preparing for desert conditions to come. The current drought is as bad as any in recent memory, Lynn said, if not quite as dry as the drought of 1976-77.
"Keep saving," Lynn said. "And do your rain dance."
Meanwhile, Tuesday's heavy rain flooded roads and freeways throughout the Bay Area, according to the California Highway Patrol. Caltrans crews scrambled to alert motorists and to do their best to clear the roads of water and mud.
Road closures weren't the only weather-related problem. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. reported about 2,600 Bay Area customers were without power after the storm passed through Tuesday morning, but that number had been reduced to about 740 by mid-afternoon and officials predicted all weather-related outages would be restored by Tuesday evening.
The National Weather Service expects drier conditions through Friday, then a chance of more rain beginning Saturday.
Contra Costa Times
Rainstorms delay need for emergency decisions on water...Mike Taugher
SACRAMENTO — Recent storms have lifted the need for an emergency decision on how to balance the water needs of two imperiled fish species for the rest of the month, a state water official testified Tuesday.
State water managers last week asked regulators for an emergency relaxation of February water quality standards that are beneficial to Delta smelt so they could better maintain cold water flows for spawning salmon this summer and fall.
But hours into a hearing on the emergency request, Department of Water Resources engineer John Leahigh said the rains are providing enough flow into the Delta that the standards will be met for the rest of the month.
That resolves a tough balancing act between water for smelt now and saving cold water for salmon later.
But the reprieve is only temporary. Water officials said that if the rains stop, they still could be back with another request as soon as March.
And the storms have not ended the drought.
Numerous water agencies across the state, including the Contra Costa Water District, continue to prepare for possible rationing. Water officials are planning to announce Delta water supplies later this week, and they warn water availability will still be very low.
Although regulators no longer have to decide whether to sacrifice water quality for salmon, at least for now, there still is a potential regulatory problem for state water managers. In response to the storms, they increased water deliveries out of the Delta from very low levels and away from the flows that help Delta water quality and Delta smelt.
That action, which came before the State Water Resources Control Board could make a decision on the petition, infuriated environmentalists and other Delta activists.
"You don't get after-the-fact permission. If you violate your standard, you violate your standard," said Dante John Nomellini Sr., a lawyer for the Central Delta Water Agency.
Leahigh said the Department of Water Resources still was seeking regulatory approval for the decisions to increase pumping.
"We would like to get a ruling from the board based on the actual operations that occurred in early February," he said.
The water quality requirement calls for a certain level of flow out of the Delta for 24 days in February. But, partly due to the increase in Delta pumping, that standard can only be met for roughly two weeks this month.
The hearing before a panel of the State Water Resources Control Board was continuing Tuesday night and could also begin a second day today.
Pacifica waste-treatment plant dinged by EPA...Julia Scott, San Mateo County Times
PACIFICA — The Calera Creek Water Recycling Plant will have to clean up its act after sending more than 230 tons of treated human effluent with dangerously high bacteria levels to fertilize farms in California, the Environmental Protection Agency has ruled.
In an administrative order issued Feb. 10, the EPA described the results of an investigation undertaken in April 2008, when the wastewater plant reported distributing biosolid waste with fecal coliform levels exceeding the public health standard as outlined in the Clean Water Act.
The period of violation lasted almost six months, from February to June 2007, according to EPA documents. By the time the EPA discovered the problem, however, wastewater treatment plant officials had already become aware of the violations and resolved them by upgrading key equipment.
The notice of violation, for which the plant will not be fined, comes one year after a related technical breakdown caused the treatment facility to dump more than 7.5 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the ocean last January. Investigations into that incident have been referred to the Special Investigations Unit of the State Water Quality Control Board's Office of Enforcement.
The biosolids were sold to solid waste distributor Synagro West and used to grow pasture plants and ryegrass in Sacramento, Merced and Solano counties — 238 tons of product, enough to fill 12 concrete mixers. Because the sludge was used to grow plants consumed by animals and not humans, and because it composts quickly, the fecal bacteria likely did not pose a serious public health threat, say EPA officials.
What they are most concerned about, and what the administrative order reflects, is that the wastewater plant staff knew there was a problem with fecal coliform levels but allowed the biosolids to travel to farms rather than divert it to a landfill, as wastewater facilities sometimes choose to do.
"They were monitoring their biosolids and they exceeded standards, but they nevertheless sent it to the fields, and that shouldn't happen," said Ken Greenberg, manager of Clean Water Act compliance for the EPA's San Francisco office.
This concern is reflected in the administrative order, which requires the wastewater plant to report to the EPA on a monthly basis for the next year and to establish a process by which plant officials will be automatically alerted if fecal coliform levels rise above a certain level.
Plant manager Dave Gromm has been all too aware that the plant has had problems in processing sludge. Both the biosolids violations and the massive wastewater spill last January can be tracked back to a faulty aerobic digester, which was upgraded late last year at a cost of $1 million.
When working properly, the aerobic digestion process produces bacteria that heat up and "eat" the proteins, carbohydrates and diseases in human waste before it leaves the plant as fertilizer.
In February 2007, however, "we started noticing the digester losing heat," Gramm recounted. "We found every nozzle was plugged because the insulation was falling off and breaking up in little pieces."
The plant began a months-long process of cleaning out the digester and ordering new equipment, the last piece of which was installed on Dec. 31.
Gromm's memory is a little cloudier regarding the question of when he realized the plant was producing sludge with bacterial levels above the legal limit.
"That did fall through the cracks because we only did the reports quarterly. We only discovered it after the fact," said Gromm, adding that he recalled contacting Synagro West "sometime in March 2007" to warn them about the biosolids. "I wasn't aware at the time that anything could be done. I talked to Synagro and they said, 'It's too late, we can't go back and get it.'"‰"
"I can't tell you exactly when I did those quarterly reports, but my sense is that I was aware of it, and I contacted Synagro, so I must have done it," Gromm said.
The farm deliveries continued for months after that conversation, however. Greenberg, of the EPA, said it has always been the plant's responsibility to recognize a problem and handle the sludge properly, not a middleman like Synagro.
Thousands of wastewater treatment plants across California are paying to have their treated sludge trucked to farms as a solution to the daily problem of biosolid buildup. These plants generate approximately 804,000 tons of biosolids each year, 65 percent of which is applied to farms and fields in California, Nevada and Arizona, according to the EPA.
The sludge is rarely used to grow crops for human consumption, although EPA regulations do not forbid it.
Orange County Register
Police: Don't flush drugs unless you want to drink them
Huntington Beach police launch prescription medication disposal service to encourage residents not to flush or throw away pharmaceuticals...JAIMEE LYNN FLETCHER
HUNTINGTON BEACH– Police are urging residents to properly dispose of their medications to combat the effects of throwing prescription drugs in the trash or flushing them down the toilet.
A pharmaceutical disposal box has been placed in the Police Department lobby for residents who want to get rid of their medications.
Huntington Beach is the first Orange County beach city to launch the ongoing program, said Sgt. Guy Dove. Some cities, such as Cypress, hold annual or bi-annual collections of prescriptions.
The idea of a disposal bin was prompted by a study that showed a variety of pharmaceuticals were making their way into drinking water, Dove said.
An Associated Press investigation released last March showed that 41 million Americans are exposed to traces of prescription drugs in their drinking water, including mood stabilizers, sex hormones and antibiotics.
The five-day investigation showed that 24 major metropolitan areas were affected, including 18 million Southern California residents.
Although the drugs show up in tiny amounts, measured in parts per billion or trillion, some scientists said there could be long-term effects to exposure, the AP reported.
Flushing medicines down the toilet can cause chemicals to make their way into ground water, surface water and soil. Water treatment facilities don't always remove all the chemicals, Dove said.
"They just can't test for all of them," he said.
And tossing medication in the trash is not a good alternative to flushing them, he added.
"We don't want people to throw them in the trash because we do have criminals that will go through the trash…and try to sell them," he said.
Dove said prescription drugs will be collected and destroyed as part of the department's bi-annual narcotics burn.
Residents can drop off their pharmaceuticals from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
Washington Post
EPA May Reverse Bush, Limit Carbon Emissions From Coal-Fired Plants...Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin
The Environmental Protection Agency will reopen the possibility of regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, tossing aside a December Bush administration memorandum that declared that the agency would not limit the emissions.
The decision could mark the first step toward placing limits on greenhouse gases emitted by coal plants, an issue that has been hotly contested by the coal industry and environmentalists since April 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide should be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
The industry has vigorously opposed efforts to regulate those emissions, asserting that the policy should be set by Congress. Moreover, technology for capturing carbon dioxide emissions is expensive and virtually untested.
Environmental groups, however, say that building new coal plants with conventional technology locks in additional greenhouse gas emissions for the entire 30-to-40-year lifetimes of the power plants, making it difficult to slow climate change. They have been urging the Obama administration and state governments to use the Supreme Court ruling to block air pollution permits for new coal-fired power plants and to rely on renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures to meet power needs.
In response to a Sierra Club petition involving a permit for a coal plant in Bonanza, Utah, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said yesterday that the agency would take a new look at the issue and solicit public comment. Jackson added that the memorandum issued by her predecessor, Stephen A. Johnson, two months ago should not restrict states weighing air pollution permits for new coal plants.
"It couldn't be a bigger turnaround from what the Bush administration tried to force on them at the last minute," said Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, noting that the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board had ruled in November that utilities needed to take carbon dioxide emissions into account when applying for permits. "It . . . throws all these projects up in the air. A coal plant was already a bad bet for ratepayers and investors, and now it's a huge gamble."
In a carefully worded letter, Jackson said any authority considering whether to grant an air pollution permit to a coal-fired utility "should not assume the [Johnson] memorandum is the final word on the appropriate interpretation of the Clean Air Act." But she did not issue a stay on the Bush administration memorandum.
Coal industry advocates found some hope in that distinction, saying Jackson's move may not signal a push for new regulation. Washington lawyer Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a former EPA official in the Bush administration, said, "It's kind of a clever procedural move that allows the Obama folks to say that they are distancing themselves from the Johnson memo without changing anything. It says they need to go through a rulemaking process to figure out how they are going to regulate carbon."
John Stowell, vice president for environmental policy for Duke Energy, one of the nation's largest utilities, said he "wasn't surprised" by the announcement. Industry officials expect the federal government to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, he said, and are hoping that Congress will adopt an economy-wide plan rather than relying on the executive branch to target specific sectors.
"It serves as a reminder that it's coming, but we still expect it to be done through the legislature and not the regulatory process," he said, noting that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and others have signaled that the committees they chair will pass climate legislation by the end of the year. "They're all saying it's urgent. The president's saying it's urgent -- 'We're going to get it done this Congress.' And I believe them."
Jackson's letter could prompt some state authorities to reassess how they grant air pollution permits to new plants. LS Power plans to build the 1,590-megawatt White Pine Energy Station in Nevada, and state officials recently issued a document warning that if Johnson's memo were withdrawn or revised before the permit had been issued, they would "suspend further action on the permit application until that application is made consistent with EPA's revised position."
Vicki Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, said the new administration had sent a broad message to utilities: "They're signaling clearly that the government is fundamentally rethinking the policy of an appropriate approach to regulating global warming from new coal plants."
AP Interview: EPA to rule on global-warming risk...DINA CAPPIELLO, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- For Lisa Jackson, the new EPA administrator, the next step for the agency when it comes to climate change will be decided by a single question: Do heat-trapping gases pose a risk?
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Jackson said she was closer to having an answer.
She said the Environmental Protection Agency will soon decide whether greenhouse gases are a danger to human health and welfare, the legal trigger for regulation under federal law.
"We are going to be making a fairly significant finding about what these gases mean for public health and the welfare of our country," Jackson said.
Jackson said the American people deserve an opinion, after years of the Bush administration not taking a position on the matter _ a track record that she referred to as a deafening silence.
"If EPA is going to talk and speak in this game, the first thing it should speak about is whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare," she said. "It is a very fundamental question."
Recent EPA decisions have hinted that the agency was leaning toward using the Clean Air Act to regulate the gases, a step the Bush administration refused to take despite prodding from the Supreme Court.
In his first week in office, President Barack Obama directed the agency to review a decision by the Bush administration denying California and other states the right to control greenhouse gases from automobiles.
On Tuesday, the EPA announced it was reviewing a Bush policy that prohibits using the federal permit process to require new coal-fired power plants to install equipment to reduce carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.
Jackson said Tuesday that the agency was now turning its attention to the broader question of regulation under the Clean Air Act as part of a series of steps it was taking to move toward what she called a carbon-constrained future. The federal law has been used since 1970 to curb emissions that cause acid rain, smog and soot.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that it could be used to curb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but the Bush administration refused to use the law, saying it was the wrong tool.
Jackson took a different position Tuesday during one of her first interviews since winning Senate confirmation Jan. 23.
"It is clear that the Clean Air Act has a mechanism in it for other pollutants to be addressed," she said.
But Jackson also said the EPA would not act alone and regulation at the federal level would not prevent states from taking their own steps or preclude Congress from passing legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, something Democratic leaders on the Hill are already working on.
The United States is under pressure to take some action on global warming in advance of negotiations, scheduled for later this year in Copenhagen, on a new international treaty.
The Bush administration pulled out of the last treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, citing a lack of participation by developing countries and harm to the U.S. economy. In the late 1990s, during the Clinton administration, the Senate balked at ratifying the agreement.
New York Times
New-Home Construction Hits a Low...JACK HEALY
New-home construction fell to its lowest level on record in January as builders virtually closed up shop amid falling demand, tightened credit markets and a flood of foreclosure properties.
The Commerce Department reported on Wednesday that privately owned housing starts in January fell 16.8 percent from December, to an annual rate of 466,000. That was the slowest pace since at least 1959.
The numbers show a housing market that is still declining after more than two years of slumping prices and lower demand. Home values, which rose steadily for more than a decade, have fallen by an average of about 25 percent from their peaks, and economists expect that prices will continue to slide as more people lose their jobs and the economy slips deeper into recession.
“Housing and the U.S. economy are still in a freefall,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight. “It’s clear that we haven’t done anything to stabilize housing. We haven’t stabilized the rise in foreclosures. And until we do that, I think we’re not going to see a bottom.”
President Obama is expected to address the foreclosure crisis and the floundering housing market, which lies at the center of the recession, in a speech later Wednesday in Phoenix. The administration has promised to use some $50 billion from the federal financial bailout to try to keep people in their homes.
The pace of housing starts in January was 56.2 percent below its levels in January 2008, a sign of how sharply builders have scaled back construction. Single-family housing starts fell 12 percent from December, to an annual pace of 347,000.
Building permits, which offer a glimpse of future construction, were also lower in January, falling 4.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted rate of 521,000.
In normal times, builders need to construct anywhere from 1.25 million to 2 million new housing units every year to keep pace with immigration, the natural growth of the country’s population and the demand for newer homes, said James Glassman, senior United States economist at JPMorgan Chase.
If there is one bright spot to dwindling new-home construction, it is that supplies will eventually fall in line with demand. At the end of December, the inventory of unsold homes fell to a 9.3-month supply from 11.2-month supply a month earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.
“Eventually that’s how you get your inventory in line,” Mr. Glassman said. “The problem with the builders is that they’re competing with property that’s coming to the market from foreclosures. There’s this tug of war going on between the resale market and the builders.”
In another report, the Federal Reserve said that industry production throttled back in January, mostly because of the auto industry. Production at the nation’s factories, mines and utilities fell 1.8 percent last month, the Fed reported. It was the third consecutive month of production cut backs.