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News Briefs, part 1

Supreme Court Will Make Tapes Of Arguments Available to Public

The Washington Post


The Supreme Court, in a surprising change of heart, announced Monday that audio tapes of courtroom arguments will be available to the public on a generally unrestricted basis.

The individual tapes still will not be available until several months after an oral argument. But a court request to the National Archives Monday lifted longstanding limits on the use of the tapes, which capture the give-and-take of the two sides of a case and the justices' questions.

Oral arguments typically offer the only way to see the nine justices, and because public seating in the courtroom is limited, few people actually get such an opportunity.

For almost 25 years, the oral-argument tapes, made by court personnel, were available only to federal employees in connection with their official duties or to people doing "scholarly and legal research." Copying of the tapes was limited, and the tapes could not be used for commercial purposes.

The letter from Alfred Wong, the court's marshal, to Trudy Peterson, acting archivist, said, "The Court has ... determined that they (the restrictions) no longer serve the purposes of the Court. I am authorized to inform you that the Court has decided to make the audiotapes available to the public on a generally unrestricted basis."

EPA Proposes New Regulations For Reducing Water, Air Pollutants

The Washington Post


The Environmental Protection Agency Monday proposed tougher new regulations for reducing the level of air and water pollutants -- including dioxin -- emitted by the nation's paper and pulp mills.

The proposed regulations, which would take effect in 1995, represent the agency's first attempt at a "cluster" rule that regulates various air and water pollutants affecting a single industry simultaneously. Past rules targeted individual pollutants for reduction.

The proposal "is a model of common sense," EPA administrator Carol M. Browner said Monday in a statement. "It protects the public by fighting both air and water pollution at once."

Under the draft rules, paper and pulp mills are required to cut emissions of dioxin into rivers from the current level of 300 grams to seven grams a year by 1998. Emissions of air pollutants, including chloroform and methanol, would be cut by an average of 70 percent after three years.

EPA officials estimated that enforcing the plan would force the closure of as many as 13 of the nation's approximately 350 mills and a loss of a maximum of 10,700 jobs.

But the American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA), which represents mills nationwide, said that enforcing the rules would cost industry $10 billion and result in the closure of 30 mills and the loss of 19,000 jobs.

Administration Will Not Phase out Federal Health Benefits

The Washington Post


The Clinton administration has dropped plans to phase out the federal health benefits program and will continue it in its current form until Dec. 31, 1997, according to the White House's health care reform legislation.

The termination date for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) coincides with the administration's target date for implementing "universal coverage" -- when all Americans will be covered by health insurance regardless of their employment or medical status.

Originally, White House sources said FEHBP would be dismantled because the administration did not want the public to think that civil servants, members of Congress and congressional staff were receiving special treatment or that the Clinton health plan was not good enough for them. Critics contended that the administration wanted to use FEHBP as a quick way to "seed" the plan's new "health alliances."

If the government did not offer the extra coverage -- allowing federal employees to obtain enhanced dental or mental health benefits, for example -- the employees would likely select such coverage from the health alliances created by the Clinton plan. The alliances would operate as regional cooperatives for the purchase and marketing of health services offered by insurers, including HMOs.

James B. King, director of the Office of Personnel Management, which administers FEHBP, will testify next Tuesday before the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee on the Clinton health care plan and what it means for federal workers. King will likely face questions about whether federal workers might pay more for less coverage and whether the government intends to offer supplemental plans.