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News Wrap: Syrian Dep. Prime Minister Objects to U.S. Threat of Intervention

August 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In other news Tuesday, Syria's deputy prime minister rebuked President Obama's message that the U.S. was prepared to intervene if the regime resorted to the use of chemical weapons. Also, insurgents fired rockets at the plane of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a visit to Afghanistan.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Syria’s deputy prime minister today warned the U.S. against any intervention in its ongoing civil war. It was in response to President Obama’s statement yesterday that the U.S. would reconsider military involvement if Syria moved to use its chemical and biological weapons.

Meanwhile, the war raged on, with Syrian warplanes and helicopters attacking all around Aleppo today and troops capturing a rebel-controlled town near Damascus.

The fighting also claimed the life of a journalist. Japanese TV reporter Mika Yamamoto was killed in Aleppo yesterday.

Insurgents in Afghanistan fired rockets at the parked plane of the visiting chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Army general Martin Dempsey was safe in his quarters at the time, but the plane did sustain damage. The C-17 military transport plane was parked at Bagram Airfield, just outside Kabul, while Dempsey visited with troops. The Taliban claimed responsibility and Dempsey later flew out of the country on a different aircraft.

The deadline for striking miners in South Africa to return to work or be fired has been extended until at least next week. A government committee there convinced the managers of the platinum mine to postpone their ultimatum during a weeklong national mourning period.

Today, mourners and church leaders held a ceremony to bless the ground where 34 miners were killed by police during the strike. They sang hymns and walked barefoot in the area as part of their blessing.

The longtime ruler of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, died last night at a hospital in Brussels of an undisclosed illness. The East African leader had not been seen in public for two months. Meles had been a key ally to the West and to the U.S. in the war on terror. But he was also frequently criticized for human rights violations within his own country. He was 57 years old. Ray Suarez has more on his legacy for Ethiopia on our Web site.

A U.S. court of appeals overturned one of the key air pollution rules of the Obama administration today. The judges ruled the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority with regulations that would have established new limits for Midwest power plants.

For more, I’m joined by Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

Juliet, just to bring people up to speed, what was the rule and why did the court think that the EPA was overreaching?

JULIET EILPERIN, The Washington Post: The rule that EPA had proposed last year, which has just been overturned, would have controlled pollution from power plants in 28 states in the eastern half of the U.S.

And so, this is very significant. What it was recognizing is that pollution can travel. It can go from Texas to Pennsylvania or from Illinois to Virginia. And so, it was an effort to kind of curb the pollution in what you call upwind states, so that downwind states are not grappling with these pollutants.

And the court made two conclusions in its 2-1 ruling, first that, essentially, the EPA had overstepped its authority by saying that some of these upwind states had to cut their pollution significantly, even further than to the extent that they were contributing to others, and that also they should have given the states an opportunity to come up with their own plans for curbing pollution, rather than having the federal government step in and directly regulate these power plants on this issue.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So, what are the impacts or consequences now that this ruling has come out?

JULIET EILPERIN: Well, there are a couple of different things.

For now, what is interesting is that the court has left in place a rule that dates back to 2005 under the Bush administration called the Clean Air Interstate Rule. So to some extent, it doesn’t mean that nothing is in place. Essentially, you have an older rule is in place that is curbing some of these pollutants that are linked to things like the creation of smog.

But it is certainly not going to — it’s not going to achieve the same reductions as quickly, and so you have environmentalists who are calling upon an appeal of this ruling, which may happen, or there are others who are saying that Congress needs to step in and come up with some compromise that could achieve some of these reductions in something that would please both industry and the environmental community.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Juliet Eilperin from The Washington Post, thanks so much for joining us.

JULIET EILPERIN: Thanks so much, Hari.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Northern California today, firefighters started to gain the upper hand against the four-day-old Ponderosa fire. Nearly 1,900 firefighters were on the job and today had brought the blaze to more than 30 percent contained, aided in part by shifting winds.

Still, the fire has grown to more than 30 square miles since Saturday, and is threatening thousands of homes. All told, nearly 40 fires are burning across the Western U.S.

On Wall Street today, stocks finished lower, dragged down by tech companies. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 68 points to close at 13,203. The Nasdaq fell nearly nine points to close at 3,067.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.