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Feeling Gassy

Negotiators for the U.S. House and Senate have reached an agreement on new fuel-economy rules that would expand rather than decrease the country's oil consumption. Under the agreement, automakers would continue to receive credits through the model year 2008 for manufacturing vehicles that can run on both ethanol and gasoline. These credits are used to offset the production of SUVs and other low-gas-mileage vehicles. Environmentalists criticize the credits as a giveaway, because those who drive the flexible-fuel vehicles seldom make use of the ethanol option. A recent government report found that extending the credit program through 2008 would increase petroleum …

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Acting Up

The Bush administration announced yesterday that it plans to consider new rules for enforcing the Clean Water Act. Some conservative lawmakers have been pressuring the administration to revise the enforcement rules since January 2001, when the Supreme Court imposed new limits on the scope of the act. Some interpreted that court ruling to suggest that the federal government should leave more water pollution control up to the states, but environmentalists fear that doing so would leave hundreds of thousands of miles of isolated streams, tributaries, and wetlands without critical protection, and they see the move as another effort by the …

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Deaf Charges

In better news for environmentalists, a federal judge has rejected an effort by the White House and the U.S. Navy to exempt underwater military testing and other deep-sea activities from environmental review. Judge Christina Snyder ruled yesterday that the National Environmental Policy Act applies to such activities even if they are conducted beyond U.S. territorial water (but within 200 miles of U.S. shores). At issue was a Navy sonar system using bursts of sound so loud they could cause temporary or permanent loss of hearing in marine mammals, abandonment of habitat, and disruption of mating, feeding, nursing, and migration, according …

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Speed Limit

President Bush issued an executive order yesterday directing federal agencies to speed environmental reviews of important transportation projects, arguing that highways, airports, and other such projects are critical to the nation's economy and need to be freed of red tape. Environmentalists immediately denounced the move, calling it part of a systemic effort to restrict public debate and undermine environmental protections, including the 32-year-old National Environmental Policy Act. That act requires federal agencies to study and disclose the environmental impact of their actions and to involve the public in their decision-making processes. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta claims the permit system …

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Locke and Key

Meanwhile, in the other Washington, Gov. Gary Locke (D) signed an executive order yesterday calling for sustainable environmental practices in all state agencies. The order includes a directive that the state's $1.1 billion annual purchasing power be spent on environmentally friendly products and conservation. Washington already has some exemplary sustainability policies in place, including programs to reduce energy use in capitol buildings and another to encourage green construction projects that use eco-friendly materials, improve workplace air quality, increase efficiency, and reduce utility costs. But, Locke said, "There is more that we can do to close the gap between production and …

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Fee: “Fie,” Foes Fume

Is it a tax or is it not a tax? That's the question in London, where diplomats are up in arms over a proposed daily fee on cars driving into the city center, in order to discourage congestion and clean up the city's air. They say the fee most certainly is a tax, and that therefore embassies should be exempt from it under the 1961 Vienna Convention, which bars governments from levying taxes against such institutions. But Ken Livingstone, the famously contentious mayor of London, says it's not a tax -- a claim the U.S. is threatening to respond to …

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Borderline Insane

Two new power plants being built just south of the U.S. border will generate billions of watts of electricity for Californians, a handful of jobs for Mexicans, and plenty of pollution for everyone. The plants, which are the first to be built in Mexico specifically to provide power to the U.S., mark a new era in the relationship between the two nations. Some hail the development as a perfect example of the merits of free trade, while others excoriate it as a prime case of neo-colonialism, calling the plants "energy maquiladoras," in a reference to the assembly-line factories where Mexicans …

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Stuffed Sacs

Unhappy with some of the findings of the scientific advisory committees that guide federal policy, the Bush administration has begun to stack the deck in its favor, eliminating some committees entirely and reshuffling membership in others. Fifteen of the 18 members of a committee assessing the effects of environmental chemicals on human health have been told they will be replaced, in several instances by people tied to the industries that manufacture the chemicals. (One new member, a California scientist, helped defend Pacific Gas and Electric Company against Erin Brockovich.) Two other committees -- one recommending increased oversight of the lucrative …

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Warm Globally, Don’t Warn Locally

For the first time since 1995, the U.S. EPA's annual report on air pollution trends, released earlier this month, has no section on global warming. The EPA, which deleted the chapter with White House approval, said the decision was made because the agency had released two other reports on global warming earlier in the year and because this particular report was meant to discuss only pollutants, like lead or sulfur dioxide, that directly threaten people or ecosystems. Global warming is still mentioned twice in the report, once in a passing reference, and another time in a paragraph that points readers …

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Snow News Is Mixed News

Beating a court-ordered deadline by only a few hours, the Bush administration imposed new air-pollution regulations last Friday that will limit emissions from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) for the first time. When the rules are in full force after 2012, they will eliminate more than 2 million tons of pollution per year, the equivalent to taking 32 million cars (that's 15 percent of today's automobile fleet) off the road, according to the U.S. EPA. The regulations require makers of snowmobiles, ATVs, and dirt bikes to reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide pollution by about 30 percent by 2006 and 50 …

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