Administrator of EPA

Outlines Anti-Mercury Goals

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt said yesterday that he will apply "five principles" in deciding how stringently to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and would focus heavily on mercury's impact on children and pregnant women as a top principle.

The other principles involve pushing for early adoption of new technology, maintaining American competitiveness and capitalizing on another proposed rule to curb nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, he told a small group of reporters.

The agency has set a March 15 deadline to decide whether to revise an administration proposal that would reduce mercury emissions by 69 percent by 2018. Environmentalists have sharply criticized the plan as inadequate and pushed for an alternative that would cut emissions by 90 percent by 2008.

Emily Figdor, a policy analyst for the environmental coalition Clear the Air, called Leavitt's principles "way too little too late." Scott Segal, who represents several utilities, said the EPA's approach reflects President Bush's efforts to maintain the coal industry's strength, which in turn will lower energy costs for consumers.

Some Nations Get More Time

For High-Tech Passports

Countries whose citizens can enter the United States without visas will get an extra year to provide tamper-proof passports under legislation signed Monday by President Bush.

The legislation also gives U.S. ports of entry a year longer to install equipment and software capable of processing machine-readable entry and exit documents that contain biometric identifiers.

The State Department deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli, said yesterday that to ease security concerns, travelers who are not required to obtain visas still must submit to fingerprinting and digital photographing, as all other visitors have been required since 2003.

Congress voted in 2002, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to require the biometric passports that will enable officials to match a person's unique physical characteristics with a digital photograph in his or her passport or travel documents. The measure applies to visitors from 27 countries, mostly in Europe, who are not required to have visas to enter the United States.

But last April, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recommended a two-year extension beyond the Oct. 26, 2004, deadline for issuing the new biometric passports.

They said countries needed time to solve technical problems such as chip durability and to resolve privacy questions. They said without the extension millions of visas would have to be issued in countries whose citizens now can visit the United States without visas, overwhelming U.S. consular offices.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), sponsor of the legislation, said many countries are making progress toward developing the new passports, and he agreed to a one-year extension.

-- From News Services and Staff Reports