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Order in the Court

With a staunchly anti-environmental White House and a Republican-dominated Congress, environmentalists are turning to the third branch of government to fight their cause. Happily, the courts have presented a relatively safe haven for greens, upholding strict clean air standards the Bush administration sought to water down, blocking oil and gas exploration in the West, limiting mountaintop mining and dumping in Appalachia, and -- in the biggest victory for environmentalists -- protecting millions of acres of national forest from logging and road building. "The courts are being viewed as the last line of defense," said Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice, …

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Muck Ado About Something

Russian journalist and environmental muckraker Grigory Pasko was paroled from prison yesterday after serving part of a highly contested term for treason. Pasko became the poster-child for concerns about Russian limitations on press freedoms when he was convicted for taking notes during a 1997 meeting of Russian naval commanders. The court claimed that Pasko had planned to pass the notes to Japanese reporters, but his supporters say the conviction was punishment for Pasko's coverage of national environmental abuses, including the Navy's practice of dumping radioactive waste into the ocean. Pasko has consistently maintained his innocence and hopes to clear his …

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Ready, Aim, Fire

The Bush administration, U.S. troops, and Iraqi citizens aren't the only people preparing for war: Employees of American companies that specialize in extinguishing fires from oil wells are also readying themselves for what's to come. Iraq's economy, Middle Eastern political stability, and U.S. interests all dictate that the oil industry cannot be a casualty of war -- so any fires would have to be controlled, fast. That's a tall order in a country whose oil wells are spread over swamps and mountains, and are often far from water sources that could be used to help control flames. During the Gulf …

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I Think That I Shall Never See, a Poem As Lovely As a Job?

Nearly half of the Canadian province of British Columbia could be opened to logging and other commercial interests if the provincial government has its way. In an effort to encourage business and stabilize B.C.'s economic base, the government is proposing to set aside 48 percent of the province, or some 45 million hectares, as a "working forest," a designation that permits logging, mining, ranching, tourism, recreation, and other commercial activities. Of that land, 23 million hectares are already open to the timber industry, while 22 million are not currently being harvested. Stan Hagen, minister of sustainable resources management, said environmental …

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Membership Has Its Privileges

Joining the European Union comes at a price: The 10 nations that are poised to become members next year will have to spend up to $117 billion to meet the bloc's 149 environmental regulations, according to E.U. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom. For the mostly poor, formerly communist nations in question, that amounts to between 2 and 3 percent of gross domestic product -- money that will probably have to come from private investors and international lending institutions. Meeting the E.U. wastewater directive presents the heaviest financial burden; other costly measures include landfill regulations and incineration standards. The 10 countries due …

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Grime Doesn’t Pay

Tiny Delaware is getting tough on crime -- environmental crime, that is. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) and several state legislators want corporate leaders to sign annual sworn statements declaring that their companies are complying with environmental laws; if a company is then found to be in serious violation of such laws, its top management could face criminal charges. The proposal, which will be included in bills to be introduced to the General Assembly later this month, is part of a larger statewide effort to crack down on companies that repeatedly or intentionally violate anti-pollution laws. If it passes, company …

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New Review Zoo

In a blow to environmentalists, a Democratic effort to delay President Bush's plan to relax the New Source Review regulations of the federal Clean Air Act was struck down by the Senate yesterday in a 50-46 vote. The postponement effort had been led by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who wanted to give scientists six months to study the Bush proposal's likely effects on human health. The Senate vote paves the way for industrial polluters to upgrade plants without installing state-of-the-art pollution controls, as the law currently requires. Despite the loss, some environmentalists saw a silver lining in the bipartisan breakdown …

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Black Labs

Private laboratories have been caught faking environmental test results, according to officials in the U.S. EPA and the Justice Department. Companies often use private laboratories to test air, water, soil, petroleum, underground tanks, and other products and indicators; a clean tests yields a certificate of compliance with environmental regulations. David Uhlmann, who heads the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, said that private labs "are oftentimes in bed with the people who hired them, and conspired to commit environmental crime." Other instances of improper testing stem from poor training or efforts to cut corners in the interest of saving money. The …

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The Coast Is Murky

The California Coastal Commission has been declared unconstitutional by an appellate court, a decision that could result in a significant power shake-up at the entity in charge of managing one of the world's most popular and politically charged coastlines. At issue is the balance of power on the commission: A majority (eight of 12) of its members are appointed by the state legislature, but the commission operates under the auspices of the executive branch, an arrangement the court said violated California's separation-of-powers doctrine. The state has 30 days to fix the problem or the commission, which is charged with handling …

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Volunteer Spirit

In an all-out effort to demonstrate the viability of voluntary solutions to global climate change, officials from the Bush administration are touring the country, coaxing promises from industry leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions. If self-regulation fails to attract enough takers, staving off mandatory emissions restrictions will become increasingly difficult -- a fact that many industry leaders see as sufficient incentive to participate in the president's plan. Others, however, criticize what they call the "mandatory voluntary climate program," saying it is coercive. Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the plan is far too narrow in scope to have any impact on climate change. …