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Guest Columnists

Regulatory News Update

The House has approved legislation that would make it easier for the four regional Bell telephone companies to offer high-speed Internet services nationwide. The vote was 273 to 157.

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), a co-author, said the bill ensures "that the Internet is free from the bureaucrats who might regulate it to death." He also said eliminating regulations in the 1996 telecommunications law could create 1.2 million new jobs.

Supporters say the bill could lead the Bells to invest up to $500 billion in new equipment.

The measure now goes to the Senate-where its fate is uncertain.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) strongly opposes the legislation.

A federal appeals court has struck down an FCC regulation that prohibits a cable operator from owning a TV station in the same market. The court also asked the agency to reconsider another regulation that limits the size of TV networks.

If upheld, the court's actions could lead to a new round of consolidations in the media and entertainment industries.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia handed down the rulings.

The Labor Department says it is reviewing a request by Senate Labor Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) for the names of those who helped develop the department's coming ergonomics plan.

Kennedy is seeking all relevant memos and letters, including e-mail messages, prepared or received by department personnel. And he wants the names of all officials-including those from the White House-who have been involved in drafting the new policy.

President Bush and the Congress repealed Clinton-era ergonomics regulations last year. They said the rules were too costly to industry.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to unveil the new ergonomics plan in the near future.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has denied a charge by Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) that the Bush administration has a "regressive" environmental agenda.

"We're not doing anything to weaken the Clean Air Act," Whitman declared. "What we would like to see is less money spent in court and more money spent on cleaning up sites."

Whitman made the comments on CNN after Jeffords criticized the EPA for considering modifications in air quality standards at aging power plants.

Jeffords also said he is troubled that "current modifications have been developed through a very closed process."

EPA spokesman Joe Martyak countered that the agency has offered "an unprecedented opportunity for public input" that included more than 130,000 comments and four public hearings.

Contending that the level set by the Clinton administration is too unrealistic, NHTSA has backed away from its goal of getting 90 percent of Americans to wear seat belts by 2005. The decision was announced by NHTSA head Jeffey Runge.

He said the agency's new goal is 78 percent by 2003-compared to the 87 percent envisioned by that date under the Clinton plan. Regulators will decide after 2003 whether to set new goals.

Seat belt laws are set by states. But the federal government can encourage states to pass tougher laws and persuade motorists to wear seat belts through public education campaigns.

By Don Fulsom, former UPI White House reporter.