Nation briefs 06/02/03

Monday, June 2, 2003

Senate begins debate on increasing ethanol in gas

WASHINGTON -- Politicians hail ethanol, the corn-based gasoline additive, as a boon to the environment and a way to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

But ethanol also comes with its own environmental problems and scientists disagree over whether producing ethanol actually uses more fossil energy than it replaces.

The Senate this week will decide whether to double the amount of ethanol to be used in gasoline, to 5 billion gallons a year. Critics say the plan is just one more subsidy for corn growers. Supporters say the proposal is essential to an energy policy that is less reliant on oil.

"It will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It will protect the environment," says Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

There is skepticism about those claims.

Ethanol's benefits are "a mixed bag," says Blake Early, a lobbyist for the American Lung Association.

Ethanol's clearest air quality benefit is that it significantly cuts carbon monoxide, he says. But ethanol also releases more nitrogen oxide, a key element of smog, and evaporates more easily than gasoline, causing still other air pollution problems, Early says.

Illinois lawmakers pass $53 billion state budget

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois lawmakers signed off on a $53 billion state budget, bridging an estimated $5 billion deficit by targeting businesses with higher taxes and fees recommended by the new governor.

Trucking firms will pay more to travel Illinois highways. Natural gas bought outside the state will be more expensive. And state residents who inherit property, buy private airplanes or get special license plates will see an extra hit to the pocketbook under the plan.

The fee increases, along with the ending of some tax exemptions, selling of some state buildings and tapping of special government fund, are expected to bring Illinois more than $1.8 billion in new revenue.

Republican Sen. Dave Sullivan estimated that in the hours Saturday just before the budget's midnight deadline, the Democrat-led Senate was approving $80 million in new revenue each minute.

Blagojevich, a Democrat who took office in January, said the moves were necessary to pay for priorities such as education and health care without raising taxes or cutting other spending.

New virus may cause unexplained infections

CHICAGO -- It isn't SARS, but infectious disease specialists are trying to learn more about a newly discovered virus that some think may be the culprit in many unexplained respiratory illnesses worldwide.

The exact prevalence of human metapneumovirus isn't known, but Yale University researchers recently found it in 6.4 percent of retested lab samples from 296 children with respiratory symptoms in late 2001 and early 2002, according to a study published today in the June edition of Pediatrics.

It was also discovered after the fact in about 4 percent of retested specimens taken from Rochester, N.Y.-area adults in 1999 through 2001, University of Rochester researchers reported in a Journal of Infectious Diseases article earlier this year.

Like severe acute respiratory syndrome, human metapneumovirus has been associated with flu-like infections and pneumonia-like symptoms, but it does not appear to be as infectious as SARS, said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn of Yale University medical school, senior author of the Pediatrics study.

None of the patients in the Yale or Rochester reports died.

Symptoms may include nasal congestion, wheezing, and lung inflammation, and symptoms may range from mild to serious, Kahn said.

-- From wire reports

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