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Inside Politics

- - Thursday, July 7, 2011

EPA

Agency clamps down on power-plant pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency is clamping down on power-plant pollution in 27 states that contributes to unhealthy air downwind.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced on Thursday a plan to reduce smokestack pollution causing smog and soot in downwind states, where it combines with local air contaminants, making it impossible for those states to meet air quality standards on their own.

The rule differs from one proposed by the Obama administration in July. Power plants in the District of Columbia and five states - Delaware, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana and Massachusetts - will no longer have to control year-round emissions of two pollutants - sulfur dioxide, responsible for acid rain and soot, and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to both smog and soot.

Texas, by contrast, will have to reduce more pollution than in the initial proposal, which required the state's power plants only to address summertime smog-forming pollution.

IRS

Probe of donors to nonprofits dropped

The Internal Revenue Service is dropping its investigation of five donors for making contributions to the kind of nonprofit groups that have become popular for spending millions of dollars on political ads in the past few years.

The IRS was trying to determine whether the donors owed federal gift taxes for the donations. However, IRS spokesman Frank Keith said Thursday the law on gift taxes is unclear, so the agency is closing the cases and won't open any new ones until it reviews whether additional guidance or legislation is necessary.

The IRS did not name the donors or the nonprofit groups to which they contributed. But the agency's confirmation of an investigation in May could have had a chilling effect on politically active groups that have become integral to campaigns.

SENATE

Immediate end to ethanol credit proposed

Two senators from ethanol-producing states proposed Thursday to immediately end a tax credit for the corn-based fuel and agreeing to support shifting some of that money to debt reduction.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, and John Thune, South Dakota Republican, along with ethanol opponent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, have proposed diverting $1.3 billion of the money remaining for the tax break this year to pay for debt reduction. And $668 million will be used for incentives for the ethanol and biofuels industries.

If accepted by the House and the Obama administration, the compromise could provide a quick path to end the ethanol credit as part of budget negotiations between Congress and the White House. The Senate last month adopted an amendment to end the $5 billion subsidy, but the fate of the legislation to which it's attached - a bill renewing a federal economic development program - is uncertain.

The White House signaled support for the deal.

MEDIA

Court restores ban on newspaper, TV ownership

A federal appeals court has restored a long-standing ban that prevents media companies from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission didn't give the public adequate opportunity to comment on new rules that lifted the ban in the 20 largest media markets. The appeals court sent the rules back to the FCC to be rewritten.

The so-called cross-ownership ban dates back to 1975, a time when newspapers dominated the media industry. In 2007, then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush administration appointee, moved to ease those restrictions in the biggest media markets. He argued that the ban no longer made sense in a media landscape where the Internet had left many daily newspapers struggling for survival.

Public-interest groups challenged the changes and warned that too many media outlets falling under the ownership of a handful of large corporations could be detrimental to democracy, which relies on a vibrant press with many voices.

The decision is a setback for media conglomerates, which argue that consumers have more sources of information than ever in an age of 24-hour cable television and an endless supply of online news outlets.

FLORIDA

Ex-Rep. Foley to have cancer surgery

TALLAHASSEE | Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley will have his prostate removed after being diagnosed with cancer.

Mr. Foley will have the surgery Tuesday in Orlando eight weeks after learning he had cancer. He said the disease has not spread beyond his prostate.

He said he had skipped two years of annual checkups and is now telling others not to make the same mistake.

Mr. Foley, 56, of West Palm Beach, resigned from Congress in 2006 after it was discovered he had sent teenage former pages explicit online messages.

TOBACCO

Grisly labels don't deter cigarette sales

RICHMOND | The nation's top tobacco companies' sales aren't expected to go up in smoke despite new grisly warning labels that are set to appear on U.S. cigarettes packs next year.

The graphic labels, which were released in June by the Food and Drug Administration and include an image of rotting teeth and gums, will cause a decline of less than one percent in overall U.S. tobacco revenues in 2013, according to a recent analysis by research firm IBISWorld.

An average person smokes 15 cigarettes a day at a cost of about $1,500 per year, which translates to about $300 million in lost revenue. That's only a fraction of the estimated $43.8 billion in revenue for the tobacco industry in 2013, the firm's calculations show.

The analysis, however, does not take into account the cost of redesigning and printing new cigarette packages, the number of people who won't start smoking because of the warnings, or the smokers who cut down on their habit.