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News Briefs

Tax Package Meant to Boost GOP

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The White House plans to push forward with a package of tax cuts for investors, but administration officials have made it clear to concerned conservative economists that the measures are designed more to help Republicans in the fall elections than to pass Congress this year.

Worsening federal deficit forecasts released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office have made lawmakers in both parties skeptical about more tax cuts. Treasury and White House tax experts met Wednesday to hash out the package, but progress stalled over the costs.

The package almost certainly will include a provision to raise the amount of stock losses that can be deducted from income taxes each year, said congressional aides familiar with the negotiations. Also under consideration are reducing the tax rates on capital gains and stock dividends; raising the limit for contributions to retirement accounts; and boosting the age at which retirees must begin withdrawing funds from Individual Retirement Accounts from 70 and a half to 75.

Both liberal and conservative economists have raised concerns about the proposals’ short-term economic impacts and the precedent they might set for government intervention in the stock market. But according to participants, Lindsey indicated he had no illusions that the tax cuts would pass in the limited time Congress has left before the mid-term elections.

Instead, participants said, the White House would be giving GOP candidates an answer to Democrats who blame the president’s party for this summer’s dramatic stock slide.

Nonprofit Groups Seek Exemption From Campaign Finance Law

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Two nonprofit organizations urged federal regulators Wednesday to exempt charities and foundations from provisions of the new campaign-finance law that restrict television advertisements prior to an election.

The plea from the Sierra Club Foundation and the Alliance for Justice came as the Federal Election Commission began debating the law’s efforts to rein in broadcast ads, funded by unregulated donations to special-interest groups, that attack or promote political candidates.

Under the law, the unregulated donations -- known as soft money -- may not be used to pay for ads that mention a candidate for federal office 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election.

The authors of the law designed these provisions to crack down on so-called “sham issue ads” that are often used to influence elections. They feared that the proliferation of such ads would defeat the main point of the law, which was to prohibit national parties and federal candidates from collecting soft money.

But the law allows the FEC to create exceptions to the pre-election advertising rule. And so the two nonprofit groups argued, in written testimony, that the commission should cut a break for public charities and private foundations in the interest of free speech.

Fuel Source Discovered in Sugar

NEWSDAY

Clean-burning hydrogen can probably be squeezed from a common sugar, glucose, perhaps at reasonable cost, scientists in Wisconsin announced Wednesday.

If so, it would be possible to get large amounts of a clean, energy-rich fuel from waste plant products, such as tons of leftover sugar cane, weeds and wood, and even from such animal byproducts as cheese whey, they said.

Based on experiments using metal catalysts and sugars, chemical engineers James Dumesic, Randy Cortwright and Rupali Davda reported on their findings in Thursday’s issue of the science journal Nature.

“If we’re using a cheap enough waste stream” to make the glucose, Dumesic said, “then I think we could be competitive” with other energy sources. But if the glucose had to be bought from the food industry, “that would be too expensive.”

According to Esteban Chornet and Stefan Czernik, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., “biofuels” such as glucose derived from plant waste “are becoming a viable component of tomorrow’s energy mix.” They wrote in Nature that “crops such as sugar cane, as well as switchgrass and hybrid poplar, might well be suitable.”

Urban Sprawl Worsens Drought

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The rapid expansion of paved-over and developed land in metropolitan areas has made already intense drought conditions even worse, a report released Wednesday said.

Water that used to seep into fields or grasslands now rushes off new roads, roofs, driveways and parking lots, turning into polluted runoff.

“Sprawl development is literally sending billions of gallons of badly needed water down the drain each year -- the storm drain,” said Betsy Otto, senior director for watershed programs at American Rivers, a national environmental organization. “Sprawl hasn’t caused this year’s drought, but sprawl is making water supply problems worse in many cities.”

In Atlanta and its surrounding counties -- where more than 609,000 acres were developed between 1982 and 1997 -- development is sending 57 billion to 133 billion gallons of polluted runoff into streams and rivers each year, according to the report, which was prepared by American Rivers; the Natural Resources Defense Council, another national environmental organization; and Smart Growth America, a group dedicated to sustainable development.

This water -- which the report said could support the average annual household needs of between 1.5 million and 3.6 million people -- would otherwise be filtered through the soil to recharge aquifers and provide underground flows to rivers, streams and lakes.