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EPA nominee promises to assess coal ash disposal sites swiftly

Associated Press / January 15, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency promised yesterday to assess hundreds of coal ash disposal sites immediately at power plants across the country after spills in Alabama and Tennessee.

Testifying at her Senate confirmation hearing, Lisa Jackson said the agency also will reconsider ways to regulate the ash and how it is stored, something the EPA recommended in 2000 but did not act upon during the Bush administration.

Coal ash ponds storing waste created by burning coal are not subject to federal regulations. Oversight of the roughly 300 ponds located in 32 states varies by state.

Jackson, who heads the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and worked at the EPA for 16 years, said the agency's decisions will be based on science and the law and not politics. Her statement was the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration plans to take EPA in a different direction from his Republican predecessor.

Senate committees also warmly received other Cabinet nominees yesterday, continuing an aggressive push to confirm them by Inauguration Day, as they pledged to improve on the performance of the Bush administration.

Retired General Eric K. Shinseki, Obama's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that six-month waits to have a disability claim processed would not be acceptable under his watch and promised to modernize the nation's second largest agency.

Shinseki said another priority would be to ensure that new GI benefits are rolled out in August, as planned.

He was the Army's first four-star general of Japanese-American descent. As Army chief of staff, he helped lead the transformation to a lighter, more mobile force. He retired in 2003, shortly after clashing with the Bush administration on war policy.

Obama's nominee for secretary of agriculture, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, said the department needs "a compelling new vision" to cope with "historic challenges," mostly brought on by economic woes that are hitting rural areas hard.

He said that if he is confirmed, he will work to boost the economies of farm communities, promote nutritious foods, and help poor families put meals on the table.

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