EPA to give up Calif.-ban papers

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency signaled yesterday that it was prepared to comply with a congressional request for all documents - including communications with the White House - concerning its decision to block California from imposing limits on greenhouse gases.

A memo from EPA general counsel Roger Martella Jr. directed agency employees to preserve and produce all documents related to the decision, including any opposing views and communications between senior EPA officials and the White House, including Vice President Cheney's office. The memo was in response to the congressional inquiries, EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said.

Last week, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson rejected California's request to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. As many as 16 states would have been free to do likewise had California won EPA approval.

- AP

Further delays seen for Atlantis

HOUSTON - Atlantis' mission to the International Space Station is likely to be pushed back a few more days or weeks as engineers study problems with electrical connectors in the shuttle's external fuel tank, a top NASA manager said yesterday.

Failures of shuttle fuel gauges, part of a critical safety system, forced launch delays earlier this month.

NASA had been aiming for a Jan. 10 liftoff of Atlantis, which will carry a European lab to the space station. But shuttle program manager Wayne Hale indicated last week that the launch was likely to be delayed after a test pointed to a bad connector. Yesterday, he said it was too soon to announce a new target launch date because so much work had to be done.

- AP

Agency decisions tainted, suit says

WASHINGTON - A conservation group sued the Interior Department yesterday, seeking documents about decisions on endangered species that the group alleges were tainted by political pressure from a former high-ranking Interior official.

Julie MacDonald resigned in May as deputy assistant Interior secretary amid questions about alleged interference in dozens of endangered-species decisions, including at least one in which she stood to benefit financially.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in court papers that the department and the Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to produce records on MacDonald and failed to respond to its requests in a timely fashion.

Interior spokesman Hugh Vickery declined to comment on the suit, but said the department had responded to various requests for information on MacDonald, including from Interior's inspector general and the House Natural Resources Committee.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Workers in New York

installed 672 double-cut Waterford crystal triangles on the Times Square New Year's Eve ball yesterday for the 100th anniversary of its descent.

A small clump of sealant probably caused the steam-pipe explosion July 18 that blew a crater near Grand Central Terminal, the utility that runs New York City's underground steam system said.