- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Salazar pledges wind-power push

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday that the waters off the Atlantic coast hold some of the country’s greatest wind-energy potential, and he promised to move aggressively to develop plans to exploit the resource.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Salazar called for the creation of “renewable energy zones” to smooth development of offshore wind projects and to spur solar energy in the Southwest and onshore wind energy in the Great Plains.

“The scientists tell me that when you look at the wind-energy potential off the Atlantic, it may be greater than we have onshore,” he said. “But what we don’t have in place at this point is the rules to move forward with energy offshore.”

Mr. Salazar said that states such as New Jersey and Delaware are “raring to go” with wind-energy projects. But he acknowledged that officials in other coastal states, such as Massachusetts, are divided.

A $1 billion project to erect 130 giant wind turbines off Cape Cod has long been opposed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who has argued it would kill birds, endanger sea life and imperil the area’s tourism and fishing industries.

Mr. Salazar on Monday said the project “makes sense.” “From what I know of the Cape Cod wind project, it is a good project,” he said.


Vilsack: Put more ethanol in gas

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the government should move quickly to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline.

Ethanol producers asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week to increase the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend with gasoline from a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent, which could boost the demand for the renewable fuel additive by as much as 6 billion gallons a year.

However, automobile and small-engine manufacturers have said there’s no certainty yet that such an increase will not harm engines and fuel lines.

“We can, we believe, move fairly quickly to move the blend rate to 12 or 13 percent in the interim,” Mr. Vilsack told a friendly audience of farmers Monday, adding that it could eventually be boosted to 15 percent or 20 percent.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she also supports raising the cap after a separate speech to the group.

“It seems to me we should be able to do that,” she said.

It is up to the EPA to lift the cap. Adora Andy, the EPA’s press secretary, said Friday that the agency will review the request and “act based on the best available science.”


Officials discuss closure of Gitmo

Top officials of the Obama administration have met privately to discuss closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hosted the first Cabinet-level meeting of President Obama’s Guantanamo task force.

Participating in the meeting Monday, among others, were Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

Mr. Obama has pledged to close the facility for terrorism suspects within a year, and officials must decide which suspects to ship away to foreign countries and which to bring to trial in U.S. courts.

The group discussed standards for reviewing detainee cases, which detainee decisions will get priority, and what has been done to date.


U.S. to limit Iraq withdrawals

The United States probably will not pull more forces from Iraq this year beyond those announced over the weekend, the No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq said Monday.

About 12,000 U.S. soldiers will leave Iraq by September, officials said Sunday.

“What we have right now is what we plan on having for the foreseeable future,” Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin said in a video news conference from Baghdad.

“It will depend on whether security trends continue to improve or whether things begin to take a turn in the other direction, but I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to maintain what we have,” he said.


Study questions transition costs

Billions of stimulus dollars meant to spur doctors to switch to electronic record-keeping may not be enough to do the job, a private consulting firm said Monday.

The stimulus bill that President Obama signed last month contained $19 billion for health-information technology, including $17 billion for incentives and penalties to encourage doctors and hospitals to abandon paper record-keeping and go high-tech beginning in 2011.

But particularly for doctors in small practices, the high cost of installing electronic records systems could outweigh the incentives and penalties for failing to comply, the new analysis said.

The study by Avalere Health, an information company serving government and the health care industry, said as many as half these doctors might decide they are better off financially with the status quo.


Attacks triple on Afghan forces

Attacks on Afghan security forces increased nearly threefold last year as U.S. officials struggled to find enough military staff to train them, according to a report that details the challenge President Obama faces to stabilize the troubled nation.

Mr. Obama recently announced a plan to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan and is weighing a request by ground commanders to send even more. Meanwhile, the president is conducting a sweeping strategy review intended to define the U.S. mission.

In a report released Monday, the Government Accountability Office says attacks on local forces in Afghanistan increased from 97 to 289 between October 2007 and October 2008. The national police force were most often targeted, losing an average of 56 officers each month in 2007 and 2008, GAO states.

The GAO noted, however, that U.S. and Afghan officials have made gains in the country, including overhauling the structure of the police. More U.S. personnel would bolster existing programs that have already proved successful, the report stated.


Senator shrugs off Kirk’s tax troubles

The head of the Senate Finance Committee said that former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk is the best man to head the Obama administration’s trade office, despite Mr. Kirk’s tax problems.

Sen. Max Baucus shrugged off Mr. Kirk’s underpayment of about $10,000 in taxes as an “honest mistake” that should not interfere with his becoming the U.S. trade representative. Mr. Baucus spoke Monday at the opening of Senate confirmation hearings for Mr. Kirk.

The Montana Democrat told Mr. Kirk that his main job will be combating new barriers to trade in an international trading system that is badly shaken by the world recession.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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