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Test Ban Treat

Here's one unintended consequence of the impending U.S. war against Iraq: The Bush administration has delayed a formal challenge to the European Union's ban on genetically modified food. Recently, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick blamed the ban for widespread starvation in the developing world and said the administration was considering taking a case against Europe to the World Trade Organization. Now, though, the U.S. has backed off, apparently in an attempt not to alienate the E.U. at a moment of critical international importance. As a senior White House official who asked not to be identified put it, "There is no …

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Solar, Without Flair

President Bush's proposed budget for the government's 2004 fiscal year doesn't contain much good news for renewable energy advocates: Total research funding for the Energy Department's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs would increase just 0.1 percent. Last summer, though, the feds apparently had enough money to purchase a solar-energy system to heat the presidential pool and spa, among other uses. With little public notice, the government bought 167 solar panels and installed them on the roof of a maintenance building next to the White House. The administration declined to say how much power the panels are generating or how …

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First Down

The parent company of a power plant in eastern Ohio has become the first of 36 energy utilities to be tried for causing smog and health problems in the Northeast. In a lawsuit that began yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department accused FirstEnergy Corporation of significantly upgrading its W.H. Sammis plant without installing new pollution controls, as required by the New Source Review rules of the federal Clean Air Act. FirstEnergy and the other utilities that stand accused by the feds say they only conducted routine maintenance on their plants, not major improvements, and therefore were not required to update pollution-control …

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Refuge-nix

Six GOP senators are throwing a wrench in the Bush administration's plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling. The six -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, and Mike DeWine of Ohio -- announced last week that they will oppose plans to attach to a massive budget bill a provision that would open the refuge to oil and gas exploration. The senators seem to be on the same side of the issue as most Americans. A new poll by the …

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An INS project threatens Southern California lands

On a sunny afternoon in Southern California, a Border Patrol agent watched as a man climbed the metal fence that divides the beach between the U.S. and Mexico. When the man dropped onto U.S. sand, the agent yelled, and the man's friends hauled him back over to the other side of the fence. The fence at Border Field State Park. Photo: Deborah Knight. Such is the daily -- and nightly -- cat-and-mouse game that goes on here at Border Field State Park, the southwestern-most point in the continental United States. A grassy picnic area overlooks an empty stretch of U.S. …

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The Bye Sierras

The management of California's public forests will change radically if U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Jack Blackwell gets his way. This week, Blackwell proposed allowing timber companies to cut more medium-sized trees from 11 million acres of forestlands in the Sierra Nevadas. The Sierras were heavily logged throughout the 1980s, destroying crucial habitat for species. Echoing the Bush administration's party line, Blackwell claims the revenue from additional logging will enable foresters to clear brush and small saplings that fuel massive wildfires. But environmentalists say Blackwell and others are just using fear of fire as a smokescreen to permit more logging. …

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Mass-ive Attack

Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut will sue the U.S. EPA for violating clean air laws and imperiling the health of citizens by failing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, the states' attorneys general announced yesterday. In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, the attorneys general will argue that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels should be regulated under the Clean Air Act because such emissions are the leading cause of global climate change. The states have a pressing interest in such regulation because climate change "will likely cause or contribute to wide-ranging, adverse changes to just about every aspect of the environment, public health, and …

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Taking a Smaller Bite Out of Grime

Polluting industries are getting off easy under the Bush administration, according to U.S. EPA data released yesterday by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). In the two years since President Bush took office, civil penalties for breaking environmental laws dropped by almost 50 percent, to $55 million, while criminal penalties dropped by more than one-third, to $62 million. During that same time, the EPA has also gotten rid of 210 positions, or about 7 percent of the enforcement staff, and on-site inspections have declined as well. Dingell said the numbers represented "an extremely disturbing trend toward weaker enforcement," but the EPA countered …

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Haden Go Seek

In a blow to environmentalists, a federal appeals court has overturned a ruling preventing the U.S. government from issuing permits to mountaintop-mining operations. The operations access coal seams by shearing off huge slabs of mountains; the increasingly common process has resulted in tons of rock and dirt being dumped into valleys and streams. Last year, U.S. District Judge Charles Haden ruled that the process violated the Clean Water Act and he banned the feds from granting permits to mining operations that relied on mountaintop removal. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said yesterday that Haden overstepped his boundaries, …

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydrogen

In his State of the Union address, President Bush outlined a vision of nonpolluting, hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars and promised to pony up $1.5 billion over five years to make that vision a reality. Almost everyone, from environmentalists to automakers, agrees that the transition toward hydrogen is a good thing, at least in theory: It is clean, abundant, and could ultimately free the U.S. from ecologically devastating resource extraction and reliance on foreign oil. But it will take at least a decade to surmount all of the technological, economic, and political barriers to developing fuel-cell cars. To date, the technology is …

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