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New Issue, Same Old Jersey

South Camden, N.J., has the distinction of being one of the nation's poorest cities -- and an important East Coast laboratory for the environmental justice movement. Environmental justice advocates believe South Camden's poverty goes a long way toward explaining why the city is home to so many plants and factory facilities, many of which spew toxic waste into the water and air. The city has the highest rate of fine airborne particulates and of infant mortality in New Jersey, and three out of five people living near one (or more) of its many plants has respiratory problems, about twice the …

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Rumors of the EPA chief stepping down may not be greatly exaggerated

It takes one to know one, they say, so when Eric Schaeffer indicates that U.S. EPA Administrator Christine Whitman might jump ship, we sit up and take notice. Schaeffer, the former director of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, resigned last February to protest the agency's failure to fulfill its mission to advocate on behalf of the environment. It's unlikely, to say the least, that Whitman will stage a similar walkout as a principled statement against the Bush administration, but rumors of her resignation have been circulating for some time -- and suddenly, the buzz in the Beltway has intensified. …

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On the Roadless Again

In a victory for environmentalists, a federal appeals court has reinstated a Clinton administration rule protecting nearly 60 million acres of national forests from logging, mining, and construction. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco lifted an injunction against the roadless rule yesterday, simultaneously affirming its legal basis and criticizing a lower court for blocking the regulation at the request of paper and timber giant Boise Cascade and a coalition of western logging and snowmobile interests. Effective immediately, the roadless rule will begin to protect vast swaths of public lands, including much of Alaska's Tongass National Forest, …

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Gas-p

Fuel economy standards could change for the first time in six years if a Bush administration proposal to modestly increase gas mileage in sport utility vehicles, vans, minivans, and pickup trucks is approved. The proposal would increase the fuel economy of those vehicles by 1.5 miles per gallon over three years, beginning in 2005, from the current standard of 20.7 mpg to 22.2 mpg. (The standard of 27.5 mpg for passenger cars would remain unchanged.) In total, the change would save about 2.5 billion gallons of gasoline per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Some Democrats and environmentalists …

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Texan’s Chainsaw Massacre

Disregarding opposition in both houses of Congress, President Bush announced a plan yesterday to expedite the cutting of trees and brush in national forests by streamlining environmental reviews and judicial oversight. Bush says the plan will help reduce fire danger, but critics say last summer's wildfires merely provided the pretext for permitting more logging on public lands, including commercially valuable old-growth trees. The proposed plan would reduce the ability of opponents to delay logging projects and would decrease the amount of environmental impact information needed to approve clear-cutting projects -- in some cases, from 200 pages to as little as …

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Oh, Yeah, Canada

Canada's House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favor of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol yesterday, concluding months of rancorous debate and paving the way for a concerted international effort to curb emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. A triumphant Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who staked a fair bit of political capital on Kyoto, will sign Canada's official ratification by the end of the year. Though it had no legal impact, the House of Commons vote was an important symbolic gesture of support for the treaty in a country where Alberta provincial leaders and segments of the business community have vociferously opposed limits …

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G.A.Oh, No!

In a victory for the Bush administration and a significant setback for congressional oversight of White House goings-on, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the investigative arm of Congress does not have legal standing to sue Vice President Dick Cheney for refusing to turn over documents related to the development of the national energy policy. The ruling goes beyond the Cheney matter to state that the General Accounting Office, which investigates hundreds of government-affairs issues every year, has no right to bring almost any lawsuit -- an interpretation that could make it very difficult for the GAO to enforce requests …

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Imperious

Ignoring threats of dire consequences by state and federal officials, California's Imperial Irrigation District refused yesterday to approve a huge water sale to San Diego County. Members of the Imperial Valley irrigation district's governing board said they resented the threats, which ranged from intimations that the board would be disbanded to suggestions that the valley's own water supply would be reduced if the sale was not approved. "If you push me around, I'll push back. ... Without water, the Imperial Valley is nothing," said board President Stella Mendoza. Under federal regulations, a proposed transfer of water from the Colorado River …

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Rebel Without a Forest

The state of Chiapas, in southeastern Mexico, is home to the last remaining stands of rainforest in the nation -- and also to almost half a million impoverished people, many of them living on the brink of starvation. In the past, the forest has been ravaged by monied interests, such as foreign companies looking to cut down the region's mahogany and cedar trees; now, the region's people and its trees are both dying, and sadly, the struggle often pits one against the other as peasants try to scratch a living from the land. The 1,278 square miles now known as …

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The Dow of Poo

Outgoing Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) is trying to relax the state standard for dioxin pollution, a move that unhappy environmentalists say is designed to minimize Dow Chemical's financial liability for future cleanup efforts. The proposed change, which has also angered Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm (D) and regional U.S. EPA officials, would increase by more than nine-fold the amount of dioxin permissible in the soil in Midland, Mich., where Dow is headquartered. Dioxin can disrupt human immune and reproductive systems and cause cancer; its presence in Midland and areas downstream stems from Dow's half-century history of manufacturing Agent Orange, mustard gas, …

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