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Task force takes aim at NEPA, freaks out environmentalists

Rep. Richard Pombo meets the press in April. Photo: U.S. House of Representatives. You have to want to get to Nacogdoches, a Texas town that's not on the way to anywhere. This eastern outpost, nearly 150 miles from Houston, is the oldest town in the state, with enough lore to fill volumes. It's the site where, in the 1700s, the legendary Father Margil struck a rock twice during a drought and water flowed. In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated overhead. And in late July, the town served as the perfect out-of-the-way location to host a congressional hearing on the …

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Two Chevrons Don’t Make a Right

Chevron may have paid agents of Nigerian military to attack villagers On Jan. 3, 1999, a number of residents of Opia, Nigeria, visited a Chevron oil rig to demand compensation for fishing gear destroyed by the oil company's operations. On Jan. 4, Nigerian military personnel attacked and burned the villages of Opia and Ikenyan, leaving four villagers dead and at least 70 more missing and presumed dead. Now, in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims in U.S. federal court, lawyers have produced a Chevron receipt for the equivalent of $165, paid to a Nigerian navy captain within days …

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Umbra on oil subsidies

Dear Umbra, Grist keeps mentioning that the U.S. government gives large subsidies to oil companies, but doesn't go further into what these subsidies are. I can't make a good argument against the government's subsidizing Big Oil if I don't know more about it: Are the subsidies tax breaks, and if so, for what? Are the tax breaks larger than for most other large companies? How biased is our treatment of Big Oil? ChristineHillsboro, Ore. Dearest Christine, Just as an aside, I'm not sure such a being as Wee Oil exists. Can we get you anything? The word subsidy finds its …

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EPA says race, income shouldn’t be environmental-justice factors

It may surprise some people to hear that the Bush administration's EPA just drafted a strategic plan on environmental justice. Insidiously, and perhaps less surprisingly, advocates say, the move threatens to redefine that term into irrelevance. The agency's new plan defines environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." That sounds uncontroversial enough on the surface, but the trouble lies in the word regardless. The field of environmental justice is based on the idea that …

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New nominees for top spots at EPA worry enviros

While the green community and the press fixate on the energy bill that's finally wending its way to President Bush's desk, a changing of the guard under way at the U.S. EPA is sliding by virtually unnoticed. Who are these three jokers? When Stephen Johnson assumed his post at the head of the agency in May, he vacated the No. 2 spot of deputy administrator, which the White House has finally gotten around to filling. Bush has also nominated a new candidate for chief of law enforcement at EPA, a post that he's had trouble keeping filled since taking office. …

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Beach Blanket Politico

Green activist Donna Frye leading in race for mayor of San Diego San Diego may soon get a jolt of green in City Hall. Veteran surfer chick and longtime environmental activist Donna Frye (D) took 43 percent of the vote in the city's mayoral election on Tuesday, far ahead of the 27 percent earned by her closest contender, but short of the majority needed to win without a runoff. Frye, who's served on the San Diego City Council since 2001, will now face former Police Chief Jerry Sanders (R) in a November runoff election. Last November, Frye ran as a …

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Dirty Financing

Dirty-energy tax breaks total over $8.5 billion in energy bill Highly profitable dirty-power industries may be treated to even fatter bottom lines thanks to the energy bill that emerged this week from congressional conference committee. It would dedicate more than $8.5 billion in tax breaks over the next 10 years to oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear power, and electric utilities. Nukes alone would get $1.5 billion in direct subsidies, $2 billion in "risk insurance," and loan guarantees for future new reactor construction. Says a nuke industry spokesflack, "This is a great bill." After the bill was out of committee, Rep. …

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Brown vs. Sword of Education

Law students help eco-groups for free and get educated in the process When a nonprofit environmental group with a shoestring budget seeks to confront big government or corporate foes in court, where can it turn? Increasingly, the answer is: law students. Some 30 law schools around the country now host environmental law clinics (nearly half founded in the past decade), where students get real-world experience working on behalf of clients that frequently can't afford to hire professional lawyers and expert witnesses. Such experience can sometimes include riling up powerful adversaries: When lawyers-to-be at the University of Pittsburgh represented a citizens' …

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On the Gutting-Room Floor

Clean-energy measures dropped as Congress reaches energy-bill compromise Working into the wee hours Tuesday morning, House and Senate negotiators finished crafting a compromise federal energy bill, in the process killing two provisions intended to curb America's fossil-fuel addiction. A Senate measure that would have required the president to find ways to reduce oil use by 1 million barrels a day by 2015 was dropped, along with another that would have required utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Negotiators also rebuffed efforts by lawmakers from some coastal states to remove a proposed offshore oil …

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Lawsuits

Lawsuit shield for MTBE makers dropped from energy bill One of the last remaining roadblocks to the passage of the energy bill has reportedly been removed: According to Senate Energy Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a provision to shield manufacturers of groundwater-polluting fuel additive MTBE from lawsuits has been dropped from the bill. A similar measure torpedoed a federal energy bill in 2003, when House advocates of the liability shield -- led by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) -- proved intransigent. (The fact that the shield is being jettisoned this year is seen by some as a sign that DeLay's legendary …