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    Refinery Report Delayed

    Source says Bush administration seeking to avoid pre-election controversy.

    WASHINGTON -- A government advisory panel has delayed releasing a report on ways to boost U.S. oil refining capacity, and one source familiar with the report attributed that to the Bush administration wanting to avoid a fight over environmental regulations before the national elections, reported Reuters.

    The report by the National Petroleum Council to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham had been scheduled for release on Thursday and was eagerly awaited by the oil industry, which saw U.S. crude oil prices hit a record $50.47 per barrel this week.

    A spokeswoman for the panel, Carla Byrd, said the report would be delayed because Abraham had a scheduling conflict, as did some other members of the group, that forced this week's meeting to be canceled. The panel's meeting will be rescheduled probably for the end of November and the report released at that time, Byrd said.

    However, a source familiar with the panel's work said the report was delayed because the administration was worried about a possible public dispute over the group's recommendations.

    The administration did not want a report from a government advisory panel released before the election calling for an easing of environmental regulations for the oil industry, and then have a strong rebuke of that idea from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The report, which has been virtually completed, calls for easing some EPA rules to help refineries, according to the source. The EPA sent a Sept. 24 letter to the panel outlining its concerns, and the advisory group's meeting was canceled the same day, the source said. EPA officials were not immediately available for comment.

    Phil Singer, a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, criticized the cancellation of the meeting at a time of high oil costs. "We've had record energy prices throughout this (Bush) administration," the spokesman said. "Instead of taking proactive action to address the situation, they cancel meetings. That is not the way to deal with this crisis."

    Democrats have criticized the Bush administration for weakening various environmental regulations during the past three years.

    The U.S. oil industry has complained that strict federal rules to protect clean air and water make it impossible to build any new refineries or expand existing ones. No new U.S. refineries have been built since 1976. The nation's inventories of crude oil are near a three-decade low and refiners are unable to keep up with demand for petroleum products like gasoline.

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