At NIH, Another Delay

On Controversial Rule

Department of Health and Human Services officials said yesterday that they will delay, for the second time, implementation of a controversial rule aimed at reducing conflicts of interest among employees of the National Institutes of Health.

The rule, which would have forced thousands of employees to divest or strictly limit their holdings in pharmaceutical or biotech company stocks, was initially to take effect in the spring but was put on hold for three months in April. Yesterday's announcement sets Oct. 3 as the start date.

The department had previously acknowledged that it was reconsidering the terms of the initial proposal, which drew howls of protest from many employees who argued it was overly broad.

Pact on Contaminated

Groundwater Near

Lawmakers are close to an agreement on creating a company-financed fund to compensate communities whose groundwater has been polluted by the gasoline additive MTBE, said Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), who is involved in the negotiations.

The fund would be financed by contributions from MTBE manufacturers such as ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp., Bass said. In exchange, the communities would agree to waive the companies' liability. "It would be compensation for remediation and damage," he said. "The contributions would be from all the stakeholders."

Bass declined to describe the size of the proposed fund. The American Water Works Association estimates it would cost $25 billion to clean up MTBE contamination nationwide.

David Harpole, a spokesman for Lyondell Chemical Co., an MTBE maker, said, "We're very confident that an arrangement can be made."

The House approved an energy bill April 21 that included a waiver for liability for makers of the gas additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether. The waiver is opposed by lawmakers in the northeast, where MTBE has seeped into the groundwater. Previous attempts by the House and Senate to broker a deal on an energy bill have foundered because of the MTBE provision.

Rice to Campaign

For N.Y. Olympic Bid

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is offering herself as a personal ambassador for New York City's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. She is to appear Tuesday with New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) at a rally on the steps of City Hall in a sendoff rally for New York's emissaries to the International Olympic Committee, which is to choose a host city July 6 at a meeting in Singapore.

"New York is an internationally recognized symbol of unity, hope and opportunity, and Secretary Rice believes it is the perfect place for the Olympics," Jim Wilkinson, senior adviser to Rice, said yesterday.

The committee working on New York's bid had asked Rice to make a personal pitch for New York at the Singapore meeting, and she agreed before a scheduling conflict arose.

For the Record

* The Senate moved to ensure that Congress clearly explains future efforts to restrict the public's access to government documents. Approved by a voice vote, the Senate bill requires that future legislation containing new exemptions to what records are open for public scrutiny under Freedom of Information Act be "stated explicitly within the text of the bill." The legislation must still be taken up by the House.

* An Indian company's generic version of a Bristol-Myers Squibb drug used to treat HIV was tentatively approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use overseas. The action allows Aurobindo Pharma's version of Sustiva, known chemically as efavirenz, to be used as part of President Bush's plan to fight AIDS in 15 countries, mostly in Africa. The tentative approval means the generic drug meets the FDA's safety and efficacy standards but cannot be sold in the United States because of patent or exclusivity constraints.

-- Compiled from reports

by staff writer Rick Weiss

and news services