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News Briefs, part 2

Asteroid Comes Within 65,000 Miles of Earth

The Washington Post

An asteroid about the size of a small school bus narrowly missed striking Earth Friday, a University of Arizona astronomer said.

How much damage the object would have caused had it collided with Earth is unclear and would have depended upon the composition of the asteroid, named 1994 XM1, and where it hit.

James V. Scotti, a University of Arizona astronomer, discovered the asteroid early Friday, about 14 hours before it passed within 65,000 miles of the planet - the astronomical equivalent of a near collision of two cars in an intersection.

Scotti used the Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peak, Ariz., to view what is the closest encounter between Earth and an asteroid that astronomers have observed as it happened - in real time. He and other astronomers there systematically scan the heavens for roaming asteroids and comets that appear to be headed close to Earth.

In May 1993, another University of Arizona astronomer, Tom Gehrels, discovered an asteroid that came within about 93,000 miles of Earth.

Scotti said the asteroid that came close Friday was about six to 13 meters in diameter, or about the size of a large minivan or small school bus.

Energy Department Told To Prepare For Cuts, Elimination

Los Angeles Times

The White House, seeking major budget cutbacks to help pay for a middle-income tax cut, has directed the Energy Department to prepare option plans for at least a 20 percent reduction in funding and possibly for complete elimination of the agency.

Although a civilian agency, the Energy Department is responsible for development of the nation's nuclear weapons and for cleaning up the massive radioactive waste problems that are part of the legacy of the Cold War. But government sources said the Department's $6 billion environmental management program and its $4.3 billion defense program would be hit hardest by the expected cutbacks.

The Energy department's budget is about $18 billion a year, and by no means all of that could be saved even if the department were abolished. Officials said many of its functions - including the environmental and weapons programs - would have to be transferred to other government agencies if the department were eliminated.

Still, with resurgent Republicans vowing to slash taxes for middle-income taxpayers, Clinton is under political pressure to come up with a tax cut plan of his own, especially because he made middle class tax cuts a theme of his 1992 election campaign but shied away from the issue as president when faced with the realities of the federal deficit.

Clinton said over the weekend he would cut taxes on the middle class if ways can be found to avoid increasing the deficit. That means identifying spending cuts for existing government programs to offset the revenues lost in a tax cut. Administration officials have talked in terms of a $40 billion to $50 billion reduction over five years; the GOP has vowed to enact far larger cuts but has not yet offered details of how it would pay for them.