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Can’t See the Forest for the Roads

Bush administration replaces Clinton roadless rule with more roadful one The Bush administration yesterday gave the heave-ho to the sweeping Clinton administration roadless rule, which put some 58.5 million acres of national forests off-limits to development. In its place, a new rule will put 34.3 million acres of that land back into play, at the discretion of governors, who will have 18 months to petition the feds either to open national-forest land in their states to development or keep it protected. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey claimed that "the way [the Clinton rule] was done developed a substantial amount of ill …

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Cornerstone environmental law, NEPA, under fire in energy bill

When the energy bill sailed through the House of Representatives late last month, the media reported that it was the same old grotesquely corpulent package that the GOP leadership had previously tried -- and failed -- to pass through Congress four times in the last four years. This is true. But what flew under the radar were a few new provisions snuck in at the 11th hour by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chair of the House Resources Committee, which have made the bill even more environmentally threatening than previous versions, many Democrats and environmentalists say. There's more energy exploration on …

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Reservoir Hogs

Norton won't reduce water releases from Lake Powell Following a year's worth of unsuccessful negotiations between governors of seven parched Western states, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stepped in yesterday to make a decision on how to divvy up the much-coveted water of the Colorado River. A winter of heavy precipitation and subsequent spring thaws have made the debate over how much water to divert to the river's two largest reservoirs -- Lake Powell to the north and Lake Mead to the south -- even more heated. Upper-basin states Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico argued that water levels were finally …

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Tit for Habitat

Habitat conservation plans poorly monitored, sporadically effective Today, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer kicks off a big three-day series on the increasingly ubiquitous but nonetheless poorly understood and poorly monitored phenomenon of habitat conservation plans (HCPs). Congress authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to administer such plans in 1982, but it wasn't until the late '90s that they started catching on, as disgruntled landowners in Southern California threatened to sue the feds when the Endangered Species Act kept them from developing their property. HCPs, in exchange for some protection of species and habitat, offer landowners and developers permanent immunity from ESA …

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Mike Millikin, publisher of green-car blog, answers questions

Mike Millikin. What work do you do? I am the publisher/writer of Green Car Congress, a site covering technologies, issues, and policies for sustainable mobility. What does your organization do? What, in a perfect world, would constitute "mission accomplished"? My mission is to build a company that offers a portfolio of media products providing detailed technical, practical business and product information focused on sustainable energy and transportation markets to professionals and consumers. I want to provide people the information and context they need to make the right -- or at least informed -- decisions: personal, business, and political. What do …

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Johnson Scores

Senate confirms Johnson to head EPA Scientist and career agency veteran Stephen Johnson is the new head of the U.S. EPA. After a confirmation process that was oddly turbulent given the mild-mannered bureaucrat's generally warm reception on both sides of the aisle, the Senate voted 61-37 just after midnight last night to approve a cloture motion, which put an end to the procedural roadblock in Johnson's way, and thereafter quickly confirmed him. The roadblock in question was a hold put on the confirmation by appropriately named Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Carper's beef was not with Johnson but with the Bush …

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Strongarm of the Law

Supreme Court rules that pesticide makers are liable for damages The U.S. Supreme Court has acted to restore a measure of sanity to the world of pesticides and weed-killers. In the 1990s, lawyers for big chemical companies pushed a novel interpretation of the 1972 federal law governing pesticides: By submitting pesticides for approval by the U.S. EPA, they said, companies thereby gained immunity from any future lawsuits over damage caused by the chemicals. Several lower courts fell for it, and in 2001, the Bush administration formally adopted the pro-industry position. But in a ruling yesterday on a case involving peanut …

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Louisiana environmental advocate forced out of job by state attorney general

Stephen C. KowalWillie Fontenot (center) surrounded by ExxonMobil security guards. After scoping out an ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge last month, Willie Fontenot, a community liaison officer for the Louisiana attorney general's office for 27 years, found himself faced with the option of forced retirement or getting the boot. A longtime environmental-justice advocate, Fontenot had been accompanying a group of master's students from Antioch New England Graduate School's environmental-studies program on a tour of the neighborhood surrounding the facility, which in 1989 was the site of a massive explosion when a 500,000-gallon fuel-storage tank ruptured. He was showing the students …

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Moot Causes

Bush pushes refineries and nuke plants as solution to high energy prices Many analysts say high energy prices are the result of inefficient use of non-renewable resources. President Bush does not employ any of those analysts. In a speech today, he will propose to address the "root causes" of high energy prices by, um, increasing the inefficient use of non-renewable resources. His five proposals will likely end up in the energy bill by the time the Senate votes on it. They are: encourage the construction of oil refineries on closed military bases; encourage the construction of nuclear power plants by …

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Everything coal is new again

Congress seeks tax money to make defunct "clean coal" plant dirty again For aficionados of government pork, the energy bill that recently passed the House is the gift that keeps on giving. The latest gem uncovered is a provision that would offer $125 million in loan guarantees to a "clean coal" power plant in Alaska. Now, this pork isn't going to build the plant -- that $117 million ship sailed years ago. No, this new pork is going to convert the "clean coal" plant back into an old-fashioned "dirty coal" plant that, um, works. You see, the experimental facility, originally …