Rarely do environmentalists find much common ground with the libertarian Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. But rarely do squabbles get as nasty as they did last week following the posting of an item on Cato adjunct scholar Steven Milloy‘s junkscience.com website concerning David Platt Rall, a noted environmental scientist who died tragically in a car accident in Europe recently.

Milloy, who fancies himself the “Junk Man,” a maverick debunker of environmental “junk science,” celebrated Rall’s death, writing in his news roundup under the header “Obituary of the Day”:

“Scratch one junk scientist who promoted the bankrupt idea that poisoning rats with a chemical predicts cancer in humans exposed to much lower levels of the chemical — a notion that, at the very least, has wasted billions and billions of public and private dollars.”

Environmental Working Group spokesperson Mike Casey was not amused and quickly fired off a letter to Cato Pres. Edward Crane blasting Milloy:

“Referring to Dr. Rall in this manner steps far over the line of acceptable policy discourse — all the more so in reference to a man who bettered the lives of people around the world for decades. Despite our organizations’ differences, we believe you will agree with us in this matter of human decency that Mr. Milloy’s behavior is an embarrassment to Cato — particularly when Mr. Milloy lists his position with Cato as his top credential on the same web site on which he denigrated Dr. Rall. We hope you will find a way to disassociate Cato from Mr. Milloy’s depraved insult to the memory of this distinguished scientist and fine human being.”

Crane responded by criticizing Milloy’s posting, calling it an “inexcusable lapse in judgement and civility.” However, while disassociating Cato from Milloy’s posting, Crane did not say Cato would strip the Junk Man of his adjunct scholar status.

Milloy, for his part, categorically refused to apologize for the screed, saying of Rall: “He had a huge role to play in junk science and that’s undeniable.”

On Oct. 12, after an item on the dispute ran in the Washington Post, the Junk Man followed up by posting another slam at Rall on his site:

“As far as David Rall is concerned, he was a bad guy when he was alive — shamelessly promoting the bankrupt notion that human cancer risk can be predicted by poisoning rats with chemicals. … Death did not improve his track record — no matter how many letters the Environmental Working Group sends to the Cato Institute.”

Wow. Gotta give the guy credit for sticking to his guns.

But this saga is far from over. A group of 11 enviro leaders sent another letter to Crane on Thursday, urging him to send a “stronger message” to Milloy by severing Cato’s relationship with him: “Your rebuke, grateful as we are for it, has evidently had no effect — instead, his remarks become uglier and more vitriolic.”

Signatories on the letter include: Leon Billings of Clean Air Trust, Phil Clapp of National Environmental Trust, Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, Shelly Davis of Farm Workers Defense Fund, Lois Gibbs of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union, Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense Fund, Bob Musil of Physicians for Social Responsibility, John Passacantando of Ozone Action, and Arlie Schardt of Environmental Media Services.

As of this writing, both items on Rall appear to have been removed from the Junk Man’s website. Stay tuned for more next week …

Attention jack-booted government thugs: While Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) isn’t running again and won’t be around in 2000 to keep you in check, she may be succeeded by someone equally as determined to keep you out of our lives and off of our property.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Butch Otter (immediate inductee into Muckraker’s best names club), after acknowledging that he violated federal wetlands protection laws on his Idaho estate, told the Idaho Statesman the dustup would probably help his campaign to take over Chenoweth’s seat:

“I hope it means that I’m willing to stand up for what is right, that I’m willing to stand up for folks in Idaho against a government that is arrogant, intransigent.”

Forget about them pesky laws!

The GOP field for Chenoweth’s seat also includes a newcomer to the race, Gene Summa, whom the Associated Press described as an “unemployed forklift operator.”

In other Idaho political news, Chenoweth’s challenger in 1996 and 1998, Dan Williams, said he is not guilty of a charge of misdemeanor false imprisonment. Williams was accused by a Boise woman of refusing, despite repeated demands, to let her out of his car after the two met at a bar and Williams agreed to drive her home.

All this simply serves to confirm our belief that political gossip columns would cease to exist without Idaho politicians.

While not directly related to the environment, we could not let pass without note a comment Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) made as he closed Republican debate prior to the Senate vote this week on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Helms — who repeatedly apologized for not being able to bellow as loud as Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who closed debate for the Democrats — nonetheless managed to relay with some vitriol an imaginary conversation in which Helms envisioned Pres. Clinton begging British PM Tony Blair to lend his support to CTBT. Blair quickly ascents, in Helms’ imagined heart-to-heart, urging the president to “give Monica my regards.”

Watching the debate Wednesday night, we thought the remark might slip away unnoticed into the pages of the Congressional Record. Not exactly. Democrats went ballistic over Helms’s odd decision to inject the long-dead and always tasteless Lewinsky imbroglio into a momentous debate over an enormously significant arms control treaty.

It came up at Clinton’s news conference Thursday, where a livid president lashed out at the GOP:

“It’s been my experience that very often in politics, when a person is taking a position that he simply cannot defend, the only defense is to attack the opponent. And that’s what I took it as, a form of flattery.”

We are prepared to declare a winner in our Stump-the-Veep spelling bee , in which readers followed up on Gore’s recent comment to enviros (“the first word I learned to spell was green — G-R-E-E-N”) with creative quips in the form of spelling bee stumpers.

The nod goes to Elliot Leonard, who offers this stumper for Gore:

“Mr. Vice President, do you know how to spell trouble? C-O-E-L-H-O”

Congratulations, Elliot, we’ll see if there is anything in the Muckraker goody bag to send you for your efforts.