Bush's Poll Rating

Falls to a New Low

Rising gas prices and ongoing bloodshed in Iraq continue to take their toll on President Bush, whose standing with the public has sunk to an all-time low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found Bush's job approval rating at 45 percent, down seven points since January and the lowest ever recorded for the president in Post-ABC surveys. Fifty-three percent disapproved of the job Bush is doing.

What may have pushed Bush's overall ratings down in the latest poll is pervasive dissatisfaction over soaring gasoline prices. Two-thirds of those surveyed said gas prices are causing financial hardship to them or their families. Gas prices stand to go even higher after Hurricane Katrina's rampage through the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.

Bush also received negative marks for his handling of immigration, the economy and Social Security, although his ratings on the latter two were not as low as they were two months ago. A majority of Americans supported his handling of the campaign against terrorism.

-- Dan Balz and Rich Morin

9 Charged With Conspiracy

In KPMG Tax Fraud Case

Federal prosecutors unsealed conspiracy charges against eight former KPMG LLP officials and a lawyer accused of helping wealthy clients evade billions of dollars in taxes in what authorities called the largest criminal tax fraud case in history.

The charges are expected to be the first in a wave of actions against professionals who profited from aiding high-net-worth customers shield income from the Internal Revenue Service during the economic boom, prosecutors said. The tax evasion deals, which required the participation of accountants, lawyers, investment bankers and their wealthy clients, cost the government at least $2.5 billion.

The indictment of the individuals occurred as a federal judge Monday approved a deal to defer prosecution of KPMG itself. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales acknowledged that the government had considered "collateral consequences," including the fate of 18,000 employees, in striking the $456 million pact with the accounting firm over its role in marketing the tax shelters.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year reversed the criminal conviction that helped push accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP out of business three years ago.

The deals, which generated large paper losses for hundreds of customers between 1996 and 2002, won approval from the highest levels of the firm's tax unit.

Defense lawyers for the former KPMG officials and others who were indicted asserted that their clients did not break the law.

-- Carrie Johnson

Rules May Allow More

Power Plant Pollution

The Bush administration has drafted regulations that would ease pollution controls on older, dirtier power plants and could allow those that modernize to emit more pollution.

The language could undercut dozens of pending state and federal lawsuits aimed at forcing coal-fired plants to cut emissions of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, said lawyers who have worked on the cases.

The draft rules, obtained by The Washington Post from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, contradict the position taken by federal lawyers who have prosecuted polluting facilities, and parallel industry's line of defense against those suits. The utilities, and the proposed rules, take the position that decisions on whether a plant complies with the regulations after modernization should be based on how much pollution it could potentially emit per hour, rather than the current standard of how much it pollutes annually.

Under the new standard, a modernized plant's total emissions could rise if the upgrade allowed it to operate more hours. In court filings, the EPA estimated in 2002 that an hourly standard would allow eight plants in five states -- including Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia -- to generate legally as much as 100,000 tons a year of pollutants that would be illegal under the existing New Source Review rule. That equals about a third of their total emissions.

EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said the administration believes the existing power plant rule is no longer necessary because of other regulatory initiatives. -- Juliet Eilperin

Americans in Poverty

Up by 1.1 Million in '04

Despite robust economic growth last year, 1.1 million more Americans slipped into poverty in 2004, while household incomes stagnated and earnings fell, the Census Bureau reported. The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 800,000, to 45.8 million.

The broad data draw a picture of a labor market still struggling to find its footing, three years after the 2001 recession.

The median household income stood at $44,389 last year, down slightly from the 2003 level of $44,482. But that level was propped up by more people going to work for lower wages. The median income of full-time male workers was $40,798 last year, down $963 in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2003. Women's median earnings fell $327, to $31,223.

The poverty rate climbed in 2004 to 12.7 percent, from 12.5 percent in 2003 -- the fourth year in a row that poverty has risen. The increase was borne completely by non-Hispanic whites, the only ethnic group that saw its poverty rate rise. The proportion of whites in poverty rose from 8.2 percent in 2003 to 8.6 percent. African Americans saw no change in their poverty rate, which remained at 24.7 percent. The poverty rate for Hispanics remained at 21.9 percent, while Asian Americans' poverty rate dropped by two percentage points, to 9.8 percent.

The percentage without health insurance -- 15.7 percent -- did not change.

-- Jonathan Weisman

and Ceci Connolly

Scientists Determine

Chimp's Genetic Map

Scientists said they have determined the precise order of the 3 billion bits of genetic code that carry the instructions for making a chimpanzee, humankind's closest cousin.

The fresh unraveling of chimpanzee DNA allows an unprecedented gene-to-gene comparison with the human genome, mapped in 2001, and makes plain the evolutionary processes through which chimps and humans arose from a common ancestor about 6 million years ago.

By placing the two codes alongside each other, scientists identified all 40 million molecular changes that today separate the two species and pinpointed the mere 250,000 that seem most responsible for the difference between chimpness and humanness.

On a practical level, researchers said, the work is likely to explain why chimps are resistant to several human diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis, malaria and Alzheimer's disease -- information that could lead to new ways to prevent or treat many human ills.

As predicted by preliminary studies, the human and chimpanzee genetic codes are essentially 99 percent identical, a testament to how fundamentally similar the two species remain. At the same time, it is powerful evidence that seemingly modest changes in molecular code can lead to very different stations in the web of life.

-- Rick Weiss