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Grist staff's Posts

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We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

Governments around the world are failing to protect forests, and drastic action must be taken to curb commercial logging, according to a new report produced by a coalition of major international environmental groups. Logging threatens wildlife, exacerbates climate change, and causes flooding, soil erosion, and fire, the report says. Even selective logging, it says, causes damage in rainforests. Meanwhile, Philippine House Speaker Manuel Villar is warning that the current rate of illegal logging in the country -- some 123,000 hectares of forest each year -- would completely denude the Philippines' forests by 2036. Villar is pressing for a bill that …

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Wind-ing Up for the Pitch

The world's most efficient wind turbine went to work today in Norfolk, Britain. The 220-foot turbine is thought to be the tallest in Europe and is 50 percent more powerful than the next largest turbine in the U.K. It will supply energy to the national grid, generating enough power for about half the local population around the town of Swaffham. The project's developers hope the single, large turbine will convince the public to support wind energy, which has run into opposition when large numbers of small turbines are built on hills. But some locals are already objecting to the towering …

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Can't See the Forest for the Smoke

Indonesian Pres. B.J. Habibie yesterday ordered immediate action to stop forest fires burning in the areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, which are causing a thick, choking haze throughout much of Southeast Asia. But Walhi, Indonesia's leading environmental group, said the government is much too late in moving to tackle the fires, which are being set by plantations and small farmers to clear land. Over the weekend, an oil tanker and a tugboat collided in the haze, killing 10 crew members and causing an oil spill that caught fire and engulfed a nearby cargo ship.

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Rotten to the Corps

Despite Pres. Clinton's pledge to protect wetlands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backing off from enforcing the nation's primary wetlands protection law, according to a review of the Corps's records. The Corps has cut inspections for possible violations by 40 percent since 1992, and in 1998 rejected only 3.2 percent of applications for major wetlands projects. Congressional budget freezes have forced cutbacks in wetlands staff, and Corps employees say they feel pressured to process applications faster and avoid costly enforcement efforts. The U.S. loses more than 100,000 acres of wetlands each year.

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Brazilian Army in the Line of Fire

Brazil this week launched a campaign to tackle illegal logging and fires in the Amazon rainforest. The Environment Agency (Ibama) and the army will cooperate to survey by helicopter the region where most deforestation takes place, an area more than twice the size of France. Ibama hopes the Brazilian Senate will approve the release of an additional $3.5 million in funds from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, which could be used to implement its campaign on the ground.

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How Do They Harm Thee? We Can't Count the Ways

A prominent U.S. panel of scientists has concluded that not enough is known about hormone-altering chemicals to calculate their risks to humans. In a report requested by Congress, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday acknowledged that pesticides and other chemicals that mimic estrogen and block male hormones seem to be feminizing some wildlife, as well as suppressing animals' immune systems and causing neurological damage. But the 16 scientists, including two who work for chemical companies and several viewed favorably by environmentalists, said there was too little data to conclude whether the ubiquitous, hormone-mimicking chemicals are harming people …

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Protecting the Apples of Our Eye

Citing health risks to children, the EPA yesterday restricted the use of two pesticides widely used on apples and other crops. But enviros say the agency has bowed to industry pressure and failed to crack down on the most dangerous pesticides. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups plan to sue the EPA for violating a 1996 food safety law. EPA Administrator Carol Browner defended her agency by saying the task of evaluating safe pesticide levels proved more difficult than expected, and said there will be a push over the next 18 months to evaluate 39 pesticides known …

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Midwesterners have a drinking problem

Drinking water across the Midwest is polluted with high levels of the herbicide atrazine and poses a particular risk to infants in the first four months of life, according to a report released yesterday by the Environmental Working Group. The D.C.-based group found that between 1993 and 1998 atrazine contaminated the tap water of some 10.4 million people in seven Corn Belt states, sometimes in concentrations up to 14 times the legal limit. Earlier this week, EWG placed a full-page ad in the New York Times chastising the Environmental Protection Agency for not moving quickly enough on a promise to …

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Reinventing the Wheels

EU ambassadors voted yesterday in favor of a bill that would force automakers to take back old cars and pay for the cost of recycling or reusing them, overriding opposition from Germany. The bill, which still needs approval from the EU parliament, would cover all cars produced in 2001 or later. By 2006, automakers would be required to take back all old cars, no matter when they were built, and recycle or reuse 80 percent of car weight. This compromise measure is a watered-down version of an earlier draft bill that was blocked last month, but the auto industry still …

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Incensed at the Vatican

Upset at attempts by the Vatican to disrupt progress on limiting world population growth, 126 women's organizations from around the globe yesterday sent an open letter to the Roman Catholic Church protesting its efforts. The letter asked how a church that holds life as "a fundamental value" could watch thousands of women die because they lack access to family planning and abortion, and why an institution that "by its nature does not have women or children or sexual and reproductive problems" is "blocking advances in contraception, sexual education and H.I.V. prevention." A small group of conservative Catholic and Muslim nations, …

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