- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

EDUCATION

Duncan defends aide over ‘88 incident

The Obama administration on Wednesday defended an Education Department official over advice he gave as a teacher to a gay student about sex 21 years ago.

The official, Kevin Jennings, says he should have handled the situation differently when he told the underage student in 1988 that he hoped he had used a condom during a sexual encounter with an older man.

Mr. Jennings, who now heads the department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, has been under fire from conservatives for not reporting the incident to authorities or to the boy’s parents. He detailed the incident in his book “One Teacher in 10.”

“I can see how I should have handled this situation differently,” Mr. Jennings said. “I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness.”

In a statement Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Mr. Jennings has devoted his career to promoting school safety.

“He is uniquely qualified for his job, and I am honored to have him on our team,” Mr. Duncan said.

DELAWARE

Biden’s son returns from Iraq

DOVER, Del. | Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has given his eldest son a warm welcome home to Delaware after a yearlong deployment to Iraq with an Army National Guard unit.

A crowd of about 1,000 people gathered Wednesday in front of the state Capitol building in Dover to greet the 261st Signal Brigade.

Mr. Biden’s son, Beau, is a captain in the unit and also Delaware’s attorney general.

The younger Mr. Biden most now turn his attention to his civilian job, as well as a possible bid for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by his father last year. The seat is now held by longtime Biden confidant Ted Kaufman, who has said he will not run for the seat in 2010.

CHICAGO

Killing video shocks White House

The White House says cell-phone video showing the fatal beating of a 16-year-old honor student in Chicago is “chilling.” It came up at President Obama’s morning meeting in the Oval Office.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday said the video of teens viciously kicking and striking another teen with splintered railroad ties is among the most shocking anyone can see. He told reporters they should expect an announcement on an administration response soon to the “heinous crime.”

Mr. Gibbs said, though, that government cannot regulate what’s in people’s hearts. He said the White House thinks such crimes call for community involvement.

Prosecutors in Chicago have charged four teenagers with fatally beating Derrion Albert, a sophomore honor roll student. Officials say Albert was walking to a bus stop when he got caught up in the mob’s street-fighting.

EMISSIONS

EPA exempts small businesses

LOS ANGELES | The Obama administration moved Wednesday to exempt small businesses from new industrial smokestack controls on emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The Environmental Protection Agency said its proposed greenhouse-gas rule would require only large industrial facilities to install the most up-to-date emissions-control equipment and energy-efficiency measures when they are built or modified.

The regulations would apply to power plants, refineries and factories that emit at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse-gas emissions a year. Businesses such as farms, restaurants and other smaller facilities would be excluded, the EPA said.

DEVELOPMENT

U.S. restricts Yosemite building

FRESNO, Calif. | Ending a lengthy legal battle with environmentalists, the federal government agreed Wednesday to halt all commercial development in Yosemite National Park’s most popular stretch and to consider limiting access to its wilderness.

The settlement caps years of legal wrangling between the National Park Service and two small environmental groups, which sued the federal government in 2000.

They claimed the park’s $442 million plan to move campgrounds and upgrade hotel rooms in Yosemite Valley would jeopardize the Merced River, a federally protected waterway that flows beside famous granite monoliths and dramatic waterfalls.

Under the new agreement, the park service will hold off on all planned construction there until at least December 2012, when officials are expected to finish a far-reaching plan to manage and protect the river. That plan will include estimates for how many visitors should be allowed into the park without threatening the Merced’s fragile ecosystem.

ENVIRONMENT

Senators hold climate-bill rally

Two Democratic senators on Wednesday unveiled a bill that would restrict carbon-dioxide emissions.

The legislation is unlikely to be completed before a key international conference in December.

“We need to act now and get the job done,” Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a crowd of more than 300 environmental activists who gathered on the Capitol lawn.

“Our security and our economy will both be strengthened. We can’t afford not to act,” he added, standing alongside California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Democratic senators’ proposals, slightly more ambitious than the bill approved by the House of Representatives in June, sets a target of reducing greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 20 percent by 2020.

CALIFORNIA

Water shortage captures attention

The Obama administration, attempting to show it’s helping California with its water crisis, has summoned state officials and interest groups to a conference on how to deal with a shortage that’s causing high unemployment and economic distress in the state’s farm belt.

Precipitation rates over the past three years in California have ranged from 63 percent to 78 percent of the state’s average. Compounding the problem, restrictions on water delivery were put in place to protect a native fish. The two factors have led farmers to idle more than a quarter-million acres and put thousands out of work.

The Interior Department says the drought is responsible for roughly three-quarters of the water shortage. Still, some lawmakers from the Central Valley are placing much of the blame on the federal government. That message has gained traction, particularly among conservatives who have equated the water restrictions to prioritizing animals above people.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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