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Regulatory News Update

The FTC is reportedly on the verge of approving Phillips Petroleum's $7 billion purchase of oil refiner Tosco -- without requiring any spinoffs. The merger would create the nation's second-largest refiner and make Phillips the fifth-largest gasoline retailer. USA TODAY, which reported the likely approval, cited sources close to the deal as saying that -- to ease FTC concerns -- Phillips has agreed to continue to supply a non-gasoline-related product to Shell Oil.

A Federal appeals court has declined to delay a court order that the FCC's resale of valuable airwaves licenses originally purchased by NextWave Telecom was illegal. The FCC had sought the delay until the Supreme Court decides whether to settle the agency's battle with NextWave. The decision means the FCC must soon begin the process of returning to NextWave the licenses it stripped from the company after it went bankrupt. The FCC resold the licenses in January, but in July a federal appeals court held that the licenses were protected by bankruptcy laws and should not have been resold. The agency wants the Supreme Court to clarify whether winning bidders that declare bankruptcy can still keep licenses.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has reaffirmed President Bush's plans to allow Mexican trucks to begin operating on all U.S. roads Jan 1, 2002. But he told an Aug. 22 U.S. - Mexico trade summit in Edinburg, Texas that the date could be pushed back to ensure that adequate safety programs are in effect. Mineta declared, "We won't sacrifice safety for the implementation of" NAFTA. Mexico won the right to greater access to U.S. highways under NAFTA. Mexican trucks are now restricted to a zone within 20 miles of the border.

The FAA says the nation's major airlines have met a deadline to upgrade aircraft flight data recorders. But the agency granted extra time so carriers could further refine recorder systems on hundreds of planes. A 1997 FAA rule required airlines to boost the amount of information collected by such recorders by Aug. 20. The regulation is aimed at providing more information for investigations, and at identifying trends in order to prevent accidents.

Outgoing FERC Chairman Curt Hebert is slated to become a top official at Entergy -- the New Orleans-based electricity supplier. He will become the company's executive vice president for external affairs after Labor Day. Hebert will be prohibited from lobbying FERC for one year -- but an Entergy spokesman told THE WASHINGTON POST Hebert may lobby Congress and other agencies. Hebert will be responsible for Entergy's governmental and regulatory affairs.

By Don Fulsom, former UPI White House reporter.