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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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Sweet Home, Alabama

A federal appeals court has ruled that Alabama is failing to adequately enforce water-pollution laws, thereby paving the way for citizens of the state to sue under the national Clean Water Act. Under the terms of that act, citizens may go to court to enforce the law only if the state has failed to prosecute polluters and only after filing 60-day notice of intent to sue. But because Alabama is doing a poor job of enforcing the law, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that residents of the state may sue to enforce the law even if the …

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Montreal Expose

The Montreal Protocol, the international treaty to protect the ozone layer, has been hailed as the most effective environmental agreement ever signed. Now, though, it's efficacy could be jeopardized, because the Bush administration is calling for some exemptions to a part of the treaty that calls for a global ban on the pesticide methyl bromide by 2005. Administration officials say prohibiting use of the pesticide would cause economic harm for some users, such as farmers and golf-course owners, because there are no effective substitutes. The Bush administration has received 56 requests for exemptions, totaling 26 million pounds of methyl bromide; …

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Brown Mountain State?

The Green Mountain State is looking less and less green every day: Vermont environmentalists are increasingly concerned about the fate of the state under new Republican Gov. Jim Douglas. So far, Douglas has proposed an 8 percent cut in the Natural Resources Agency budget, pledged to reexamine a plan to protect lands in the Northeast Kingdom, and appointed business executives to key environmental positions. Ten green leaders will meet with Douglas today to urge the creation of a Council of Environmental Advisors and ask the governor to maintain his pledge to balance economic development with environmental protection.

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Penn Is Mightier Than the Sword

Following in the footsteps of nine other northeastern states, Pennsylvania went to court yesterday to block new, less stringent federal air-pollution regulations from taking effect. The Pennsylvania case is separate from one filed by the other states, but the issue is the same: the New Source Review rules of the Clean Air Act, which once required industries to install state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment when upgrading their facilities but were replaced by more lenient Bush administration regulations on Dec. 31. Katie McGinty, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of environmental protection, said the regulatory changes could harm the state's environment by increasing unhealthful emissions. McGinty …

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Private Eyed

The Bush administration is considering privatizing about 70 percent of National Park Service jobs, according to the Interior Department. The jobs in question range from maintenance workers to secretaries to scientists. Law enforcement officers, managers, and most park rangers would not be affected. About 4 percent of current employees could lose their jobs. Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Cameron touted the proposal, saying, "This is a way to capture the benefits of competition to produce better performance and better value." But critics fear the mass privatization would undermine park protections because private firms would not have the same history and …

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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 …