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Stacking the Biotech Deck

Back in the 1970s the awesome news that scientists had learned how to redesign genes started a regulatory flurry. Distinguished panels met to ask imponderable questions. Could some human-created form of life carry self-multiplying havoc into the world? How can we prevent such a disaster? Image: Courtesy DOE Human Genome Project. Back then genetic escapes were considered so likely that gene-splicing research was carried out in sealed labs. The citizens of Cambridge, Mass., home of Harvard and MIT, forbade such labs within their city limits. Congress debated dozens of bills to regulate genetic engineering. Then, suddenly, the concern disappeared. Genetic …

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That Really Hits the Spot

We could preserve a sizable chunk of the world's plant and animal species by protecting a mere 1.4 percent of the earth's land surface, or 25 biologically rich "hot spots," says Oxford ecologist Norman Myers. The estimated price tag is $5 billion over 10 years, and efforts are underway to raise the necessary funds. Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson says a campaign to save the hot spots should become a major goal of the conservation community, a challenge on par with the human genome project or the moon landing. This week, World Bank President James Wolfensohn is scheduled to announce …

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Some Say the World Will End in Fire …

With fires whipping across the interior West at a record rate this year, the U.S. Forest Service this week is proposing to Congress a $12 billion plan to use controlled burns and extensive tree thinning to remove thick, fire-prone underbrush out of 40 million acres of forest from Montana to California. The fire prevention effort would affect 3 million acres a year, far exceeding current logging levels. Increasingly, scientists are saying that unless such steps are taken, wildfires could sweep through most of the fuel-filled forests of the West in the coming decades. But the USFS ran into trouble this …

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Gore in the Stocks

As President Clinton sang Al Gore's praises yesterday to kick off the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a few thousand protestors raised their voices outside the convention hall, many of them calling on Gore to divest his family of shares in Occidental Petroleum Corp. Environmental and human rights activists are criticizing L.A.-based Occidental for its plans to drill for oil on rainforest land claimed by the indigenous U'wa Indian tribe in Colombia. The activists have been dogging Gore to pressure the company to drop the drilling scheme or sell off his family's Occidental stock. Gore and his representatives have …

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I'll Take the Lowe Road

Lowe's Cos., the second-largest home-improvement retailer in the U.S., announced today that it plans to phase out wood products that come from "endangered forests," starting with an immediate ban on the purchase of wood from the Great Bear Rainforest region of British Columbia. The company's pledge follows a similar one made last year by Home Depot, the largest retailer in the home-improvement market. Lowe's new policy resulted from talks with a number of environmental groups, including the Rainforest Action Network and World Resources Institute, as well as wood suppliers and industry organizations. Enviros said the company's move would help boost …

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Pop Goes the Diesel

In the latest step in its crackdown on dirty diesel vehicles, the U.S. EPA yesterday issued a final rule that will require new diesel truck and bus engines to emit 40 percent less pollution by 2004. Later this year, the EPA intends to issue a rule that will mandate even cleaner engines by 2007 and require diesel fuel to be almost free of sulfur, a contaminant that hampers pollution-control equipment such as catalytic converters. When both rules take effect, diesel trucks and buses should run almost as cleanly as those powered by compressed natural gas. Diesel engines are currently a …

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Republican Riders in the Saddle Again

Congress's efforts to pass the massive bills that authorize government spending are being tied up because some Republicans insist on attaching to the bills unrelated amendments called "riders," many of which aim to undermine environmental protections. Defenders of Wildlife says that Republicans have placed at least 56 anti-environmental riders on 10 appropriations bills, including measures dealing with grazing, dam removal, wetlands, drinking water standards, and global warming. One rider would delay stronger environmental regulation of hard-rock mining. Another would block an administration plan to release more water from dams on the Missouri River to improve wildlife habitat. The White House …

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Flush With Success

Canadian plumbing supply stores near the U.S. border are doing a bustling business thanks to Americans who want old-fashioned 3.5-gallon-capacity toilets instead of the 1.6-gallon low-flush models required in the U.S. since 1994. Some political conservatives have been driving the trend, arguing that 1.6 gallons often aren't enough to do the job and that the government should keep out of people's bathrooms. G. Gordon Liddy boasted on his talk show that he traveled abroad to buy banned toilets for his new house, and Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) is sponsoring a bill to legalize the old-style toilets. But a recent study …