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Who needs Superfund when we’ve got reality TV?

By the end of the year, only $28 million will be left in the U.S. EPA's Superfund account. Superfund pays for the reclamation of abandoned toxic-waste sites, and $28 million barely affords a study just to figure out how to clean up one of the 1,200 deserted dumps wasting away in American communities. Money's tight to fund cleanups of Superfund sites like this one in Pennsylvania. Photo: U.S. EPA. How did Superfund, which used to have an annual account ledger of $1.5 billion, end up functionally bankrupt? Going back to 1995, the Republican-controlled Congress killed off the corporate "polluter tax" …

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Censor Censure

Bowdlerizing what was meant to be the first-ever comprehensive report on environmental problems facing the U.S., the White House has deleted most of the information the report contained on global climate change and reduced the remainder to a few vague paragraphs. The omitted sections referred to findings that climate change is at least partly caused by emissions from vehicles and power plants and could have dire consequences for human and environmental health. Environmental organizations and some EPA staff members strongly criticized the revisions; Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation compared them to "the White House directing the secretary of …

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Dire Strait

Russian poachers are killing 200 to 400 polar bears each year in the Bering Strait region, a trend that threatens to halve the strait's bear population by 2020, according to new research by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Russia and the U.S. are currently considering ratification of a treaty the two nations signed in 2000 that is intended to protect the region's population of about 4,000 polar bears. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing today on the treaty, which has the backing of the Bush administration. The Soviet Union banned polar bear hunting in 1956, but …

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Hydrogen Hijacking?

The European Union and the U.S. agreed yesterday to team up on research into hydrogen fuel cells, widely touted as a potentially clean power source that will revolutionize future energy use. But while the E.U. wants to develop hydrogen using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, the U.S. has plans to use fossil fuels and nuclear energy to power a hydrogen revolution. Some critics charge that the E.U. is letting the U.S. hijack its hydrogen agenda. U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, speaking yesterday in Brussels, Belgium, sought to reassure European officials that the U.S. is committed to developing …

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A Man With a Plan

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, made a bid for green votes on Friday when he unveiled an energy plan that would, among other things, tighten fuel-economy standards for automobiles and push the U.S. toward getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Kerry wants to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil imports within a decade. "The threats that America faces today don't just come from gun barrels, they come from gas pumps -- and we need to disarm that danger," Kerry told an audience in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "No …

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Blair Switch Project

As part of a broad cabinet reshuffle that has British politicians and citizens alike shaking their heads, U.K. Environment Minister Michael Meacher was asked yesterday by Prime Minister Tony Blair to step down. Meacher, who has held his post since 1997, was increasingly at odds with Blair over the issue of genetically modified crops; Meacher opposes them while Blair is pushing for their acceptance. First elected to office in 1970, Meacher is one of the Labor Party's longest-serving members of parliament. He has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the more radical members of government, although he has gradually …

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Adding Fuel Cells to the Fire

The Bush administration has been busily touting fuel-cell cars as a critical component of its energy plan and the solution to many an environmental woe. But what if the solution turns out to cause its own problems? According to new research published in this week's issue of Science, the technology used in hydrogen fuel cells could contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from excessive doses of ultraviolet light. If fuel cells were used to power everything from cars to utilities, the researchers found, large amounts of hydrogen would drift into the stratosphere and increase …

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Environmental What Agency?

Rumors are heating up about who will fill the shoes of U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, who announced her resignation last month and will step down June 27. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) and Tom Skinner, the EPA's Midwest regional administrator, seem to have risen above two earlier possibilities -- Deputy EPA Administrator Linda Fisher and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs -- as the most likely candidates. Kempthorne is seen as an active anti-environmentalist and, like the Bush administration, he strongly opposes strict government regulation of industry; Skinner is regarded as a team player who does not …

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Greens Pan Greenspan

The Bush administration and Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan are expressing increasing concerns about dwindling natural gas supplies, a move that environmentalists see as a ploy to drum up support for nuclear energy and drilling on public lands. The concern over natural gas comes as Congress debates a comprehensive energy bill that could include provisions for drilling on federal lands in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, as well as offshore in both oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. Patricio Silva, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the warnings about limited natural gas resources opportunistic: "We suspect this …

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Chop Sticks

Old-growth trees in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska could soon be on the chopping block. The Bush administration announced yesterday that it plans to exempt the nation's largest national forest from the Clinton-era "roadless rule," which blocks logging and road-building on more than 58 million acres of wild land in national forests. The proposal, part of an effort to settle a lawsuit filed by the state of Alaska, would double the number of acres open to logging in the Tongass; the plan will be subject to public comment and will likely be finalized in December. The …

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