Grist staff

Clothes Call

In yet another trend-setting environmental move by California, Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed into law this week a bill requiring old, inefficient washing machines to be replaced with water-efficient ones by 2007. New washers must now meet a standard of using 9.5 gallons of water to wash one cubic foot of laundry — well below the 13.3 gallons averaged by washers sold in 1994. The measure comes as the Golden State heads into its fourth straight year of drought, and as neighboring states, also hit by a lack of rainfall, clamor for a bigger share of the Colorado River water …

In the Drink

In other news from the Golden State, regulators in California are reviving a campaign to clean up perchlorate, a Cold War-era pollutant that has been showing up in drinking water supplies across the country. Since the 1950s, the substance has been used as an oxidizer in rockets, munitions, and fireworks. It was not considered particularly dangerous to humans until a decade ago, when the U.S. EPA determined that it disrupted thyroid function when consumed. Earlier this year, the agency proposed a maximum perchlorate level of one part per billion, a standard the defense industry and the Pentagon oppose as overly …

Sign of the Thames

New water-quality targets being established by the European Union could radically change the face of farming in Europe, forcing farmers to scale back or even abandon their practices in some traditionally agricultural areas. The Water Framework Directive will require all rivers, lakes, and canals to be restored to “good ecological quality” within 15 years — and the measure of “good” will be far stricter than current standards. Complying with the directive will require wide-ranging changes in land use, from substantial reductions in the number of sheep and cattle that can be kept to restrictions on the size and location of …

Can’t See the Trees for the Forest Service

Two House Democrats have accused the U.S. Forest Service of cooking its books in order to blame environmentalists for the fires that raged across much of the West this summer. Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) spoke out yesterday against a recent USFS report in which the agency claimed that environmental appeals delayed 48 percent of projects designed to remove trees from forests to reduce fire danger. The report was used by House Republicans to blame enviros for the severity of this fire season, the worst in half a century. Udall and Inslee cited a different analysis by …

Salmon in the Can

Over the past two decades, U.S. federal agencies have pumped $3.3 billion into recovery efforts for endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest — but there is no evidence that the money has paid off, according to a report issued yesterday by the U.S. General Accounting Office. The report is the government’s first comprehensive assessment of salmon recovery costs and outcomes, and it reaches a conclusion that has been suspected by critics for years: Federal agencies cannot prove that massive funding correlates to increased numbers of fish returning to the region to spawn. Part of the difficulty lies in accounting for …

And other words from readers

  Re: Coolant Dear Editor: I am a big fan of Ask Umbra. I used to do a column like this for USA Today, and yours is much more interesting than mine was. (Of course, I was handicapped by being limited to one-syllable words.) But Umbra goofed a couple times in her first answer in the most recent column. She wrote, “With a few exceptions, auto air conditioners use chlorofluorocarbons, which can be released into the atmosphere during maintenance.” This would be true (or at least legal) only for cars manufactured before the mid-1990s. CFCs are banned for this purpose …

Knowing the Cost of Every Thin and the Value of Nothing

The plan unveiled by President Bush earlier this week to make it easier to thin forests in the name of fire prevention has touched off a firestorm of its own, enraging environmentalists who see it as a giveaway for the timber industry and a backdoor out of environmental protection measures. Moreover, environmentalists see the Bush plan as a Trojan horse for sneaking a highly controversial timber practice into American forests — salvage logging, or the selling of trees in fire-damaged forests. Advocates of salvage logging say it is a way for the U.S. Forest Service to make money off of …

Sh*tting By the Dock of the Bay

Ten years ago, delegates attending the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro wrinkled their noses upon encountering the putrid smells emanating from the heavily polluted Guanabara Bay. The summit cast a spotlight on the plight of Rio’s bay and led to the creation of an internationally funded cleanup project. Now, with the follow-up Earth Summit beginning next week in Johannesburg, South Africa, the bay is as filthy as ever. Despite $800 million from the Inter-American Development Bank and Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, some 470 tons of raw sewage are still dumped into the bay every day, along with …

And other words from readers

Responding to “Power Shift,” our special edition on local initiatives to combat global warming in the absence of federal leadership, Grist readers waxed pretty warm, themselves. Ross Gelbspan’s piece on the failure of big-name national environmental groups to take the lead on climate change drew praise from local activists — and criticism from some of the big-name groups in question. Those letters and Gelbspan’s response are below — plus thoughts on corporate climate (ir)responsibility, college activism, and the general attitude of Americans toward environmental issues. Re: The Big-Name Game Dear Editor: Ross Gelbspan is absolutely right that environmental advocates at …

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