The Environment

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  Wildlife Monitors Help Protect Endangered SpeciesApril 29, 2006 23:52 As night turns into dawn, a man's shadow rises on a rugged desert butte. His gaze slices through the morning light looking for his target. It is hard to hunt down the fastest land animal in North America, but he is good at stalking this elusive ghost of the Arizona desert.

But, Erik Stenehjem is not looking for a hunter's trophy from his perch among the cactus. In fact, he is not a hunter at all. He is a guardian, only one of a few select protectors of the Sonoran pronghorn antelope, an endangered animal that lives on the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

"I really like my job," said Mr. Stenehjem, the lead wildlife biologist here for pronghorn monitors. "It is fun. It's one of those jobs that people can say 'I can't believe they are paying me to do this.'

  37 Facilities Go Beyond Legal Requirements To Improve The EnvironmentApril 28, 2006 15:16 Whether they are large or small, public or private, the newest members of EPA's National Environmental Performance Track program all have one thing in common: protecting the environment. The program welcomed 37 facilities that have agreed to demonstrate strong environmental performance beyond their existing legal requirements.

"America's leading companies are not just making beverages or tractors - today they are also producing real environmental results," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "President Bush and EPA are working with businesses to change the way they look at their role in protecting our shared environment and our Performance Track partners are proving that doing what's good for the environment is also good for business."

The 37 new Performance Track facilities have made strong commitments to the environment in a wide range of categories. For example, 23 new members have committed to reducing their energy use over the next three years. Other members have plans to reduce water use and hazardous waste generation.

  10 States Sue Epa Over Global WarmingApril 27, 2006 22:07 Ten states fired a new legal salvo at the federal government Thursday in a long-running court battle over global warming and pollution from power plants.

The states, joined by environmental groups, sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its decision not to regulate carbon dioxide pollution as a contributor to global warming.

New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The states, led by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, want the government to require tighter pollution controls on the newest generation of power plants.

  Genetics May Affect Regulatory Reach Of Species ActApril 27, 2006 18:38 The outcome of a struggle between the lumpers and the splitters could determine the future regulatory reach of the Endangered Species Act. Are these angry gangs of unemployed loggers, fighting over the carcass of a spotted owl? No. These are biologists — experts in the esoteric field of DNA identification.

And whether the lumpers or splitters gain the upper hand in deciding which species gain protected status will mean the difference between an ESA that tries to do the impossible, by protecting every detectable subspecies of plant or animal, and one that sets its sights on the doable, by setting priorities and focusing on saving a select number of keystone species.

It all boils down to how finely the federal government chooses to parse the genetic code that differentiates one species from another, on a continuum that begins at the top, with broad taxonomic categories, and moves down to genetic variations between individuals. Given the precision with which we can now map DNA — just a fantasy when the law was passed in the 1970s — science has caught up with and overtaken the ESA, creating a disconnect that must be addressed.

Charles Darwin might have been the first to note the difference between lumpers and splitters. The former gloss over what they see as trivial differences, in search of nature’s unity. The latter focus on tiny differences, to stress nature’s diversity. And the factions have come to blows over the identity of an enigmatic creature called the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.

  Bob Cesca: Bush Punishes Gas Companies By Punishing The EnvironmentApril 26, 2006 19:29 Way to stick it to the man, Mr. President. Making life easier for Big Oil by easing regulations will really hit them where it hurts. We all know how much oil executives hate it when you take away their regulations. Especially the environmental ones. They must be really mad now!

It's no surprise that President Bush expects us to believe that by suspending environmental regulations on Big Oil -- this is funny -- gas prices will go down... sometime. Not this Summer, but sometime. Meanwhile, Big Oil gets a windfall on top of their windfall on the heals of their Katrina windfall without any real proof that demand is up or that supplies are in jeopardy.

And then there's this funny thing from the AP:

In a speech yesterday, Bush urged Congress to revoke about $2 billion in tax breaks over 10 years that Congress approved and he signed into law to encourage exploration.

Look out! He's going to suspend the tax breaks he and Congress gave them, which in conservative dogma means a tax increase.

  Interior Nominee Kempthorne Worries Environmentalists, FloridaApril 26, 2006 19:03 Two weeks before the start of his confirmation hearing in the Senate, Dirk Kempthorne, the nominee to take over the Department of the Interior, has environmentalists worried.

Nowhere is that concern more acute or the stakes over who runs the Interior Department greater than in Florida, the front line in the fight to expand offshore oil drilling.

With $75-a-barrel oil and prices at the pump exceeding $3 a gallon, whether and where America boosts its oil production is arguably the most complex and divisive issue the Interior Department's new secretary will face.

Observers expect Kempthorne to stay the course charted by predecessor Gale Norton, whose administration made a series of moves to position the once-off-limits eastern Gulf of Mexico within the oil industry's reach. While a bill sponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., that would allow drilling in areas not covered by a presidential moratorium has many anti-drilling forces concerned, some experts say a bigger and more immediate threat to Florida's coastline could come from Interior Department maneuvering.

  Corals Falling to Global WarmingApril 24, 2006 20:30 Warmer sea temperatures could worsen the widespread destruction of coral reefs that hit the Caribbean in 2005, scientists fear. In the waters around the US Virgin Islands, as much as 40 percent of coral died in some reefs last year, and the coral that survived probably isn’t healthy enough to survive another hot summer, said Caroline Rogers, a US Geological Survey biologist. “It worries me. It’s looking so similar” to last year, said Rogers, who has studied coral in the Virgin Islands for 22 years. “It’s impossible to overstate how important this is.”

Reefs are vital habitat for fish, lobsters and other sea life that feed and breed in the sheltered waters. The reefs also deflect storm waves that might otherwise wash away the beaches that are at the heart of the region’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry. Bleached and infested with disease, coral off Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is in poor shape, scientists said in interviews last week. They said further bleaching wouldn’t be apparent before summer and it would take some after that before they would know if more coral died. “You don’t know how scary it looks down there,” said Zandy Starr, who monitors coral and sea turtles in St. Croix’s national parks. “All of us thought that by now, with all the cooler temperatures in January and February, we would have seen recovery, but they’re still sick.”

Glassy, calm seas have permitted coral-killing ultraviolet rays to penetrate to the ocean floor, warming water temperatures and making the fragile undersea life more susceptible to disease, Starr said. A record 9 percent of elkhorn coral — vital for reef building — died last year and much more was damaged, Rogers said. Growing some eight inches a year, elkhorn is one of the faster generating coral, while other coral grows just a half-inch or so each year.

  A Stark Message In Deathly White CoralApril 24, 2006 20:29 SOMETHING TERRIBLE happened last summer beneath the startlingly blue Caribbean seas off the island of Tobago, where we have just been staying. The Buccoo coral reef, home to one of the richest marine ecologies in the world, turned a brilliant white. “It looked as if it had been bleached,” said my brother-in-law, a marine biologist. “It was a strangely beautiful sight, but in fact it was sick, so sick that we wondered whether it could recover.”

We inspected it from our glass-bottomed boat, and watched its dazzling display of exotic fish, dipping down through waving green tendrils, shivering over the strange, sponge-like surface of the coral. To our untutored eyes the reef looked pure and unspoilt. It has recovered, but the bleaching has weakened it. Like a human body infected by disease, it is in a fragile state, vulnerable to the stress of pollution and the shock of the next big hurricane.

Tobago, like many Caribbean islands, is in the front line of climate change. The bleaching of its reefs came about because the sea around its coast had warmed by three degrees centigrade above the normal, rising as high as 31 (88F), which is well above the coral’s tolerance levels. At that temperature the algal cells that provide its life-support system are expelled and may never re-grow. Like a skeleton in the desert, the whitened coral remains only as a stark warning of its own mortality. The death of the reef would signal the end of the marine life it supports, as well as the fish and the birds that feed on them.

  Wildlife Service Keeps Tiny Shorebird On Endangered Species ListApril 24, 2006 03:18 Federal wildlife officials have rejected two petitions to remove the Western snowy plover from Endangered Species Act protections, but they proposed easing penalties for harming the tiny shorebirds in areas where the population seems to be recovering.

The birds live on Pacific coast beaches, laying their eggs in depressions in open sand where they are vulnerable to predators and people. That has led since 1999 to the closure of the dry sand portions of many miles of beaches during the March-through-September nesting season, just when humans like to go to the beach.

The Surf Ocean Beach Commission of Lompoc and the city of Morro Bay had filed to remove the species from federal protection in California, Oregon and Washington, arguing that the snowy plover actually isn't in danger of extinction and isn't genetically distinct from inland populations.

  When Will James Dobson See The Light?April 24, 2006 03:13 In her smart Los Angeles Times op-ed, "E-Gitator" Laurie David (as she was dubbed in a lavish spread in Vanity Fair's current "Green Issue,") observes that "the issue of global warming is finally catapulting toward a tipping point. With the debate firmly behind us, the focus is turning to solutions....the dots are finally being connected and global warming is fast becoming recognized as the most critical issue of our time."

David goes on to note that "the only place not feeling the heat is the White House..the Bush Administration is unmoved." But I'd argue that the Bush administration has already conceded that climate change is real. Why? Because they treat information about climate change the way they treat the truth about the Iraq war. They scrub data from websites. They rewrite science with political spin. And they give scientists like James Hansen at NASA what I would call the "Shinseki treatment"--they silence them; cut them off from reporters.

The global, fact-based evidence is too overwhelming, and the public is ready to deal with this problem, even if the administration can't or won't.

  Bush's Pollution Of Science Threatens Our FutureApril 21, 2006 15:59 When we talk about pollution on the celebration of Earth Day tomorrow, we usually mean smokestacks fouling our air or waste tainting our water. This year it's worth considering a different kind of pollution: the scientific pollution spilling out of the White House.

The federal government spends billions of dollars each year on science. At our national labs, federal agencies, universities and elsewhere, we call on some of the world's best scientists to help us protect our health, economy and security. We expect that their work will be conducted honestly and will undergo vigorous review, so that we make decisions based on the best information available. That's mostly how it works.

But when it comes to some issues, the Bush administration takes a different and very dangerous approach. Again and again, evidence has emerged of political tampering with what was meant to be independent, trustworthy scientific research. This has been especially true when it comes to environmental science.

  Man Sentenced For Selling Skins Of Endangered SpeciesApril 21, 2006 15:57 A Port St. Lucie man has been sentenced to 25 months in prison for selling the skins of endangered animals.

Federal authorities said Kevin McMaster pleaded guilty to selling a gorilla skull and tiger, snow leopard and jaguar skins through his Internet business. He was also sentenced to three years of supervised probation for selling or offering to sell more than $200,000 worth of endangered species in violation of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act.

McMaster operated a Web site called and also ran the business Exotic and Unique Gifts in Port St. Lucie.

  Senate Must Dump Air Quality NomineeApril 19, 2006 14:56 This is one presidential nomination that needs to be rejected. If not, citizens of Connecticut and its neighbors in the Northeast could be breathing much dirtier air in future years.
President Bush recently nominated former industry lawyer William Wehrum to be the nation's top air-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's distressing news. As chief counsel and then interim assistant administrator at EPA since 2001, Wehrum has played key roles in trying to dismantle and weaken the federal Clean Air Act, one of the most effective environmental protections from harmful pollutants that Americans enjoy.

  Endangered Species Act keeps America's promise to the futureApril 19, 2006 14:51 Interesting commentary discussing the commitment of the American people and the government to preserving our natural resources far into the future.
  Mystery Mouse Takes Centerstage In Endangered Species DramaApril 18, 2006 16:53 The outcome of a struggle between the lumpers and the splitters may determine the future regulatory reach of the Endangered Species Act. Are these angry gangs of unemployed loggers, fighting over the carcass of a spotted owl? No. These are biologists - experts in the esoteric field of DNA identification.

And whether the lumpers or splitters gain the upper hand in deciding which species gain protected status will mean the difference between an ESA that tries to do the impossible, by protecting every detectable subspecies of plant or animal, and one that sets its sights on the doable, by setting priorities and focusing on saving a select number of keystone species.

It all boils down to how finely the federal government chooses to parse the genetic code that differentiates one species from another, on a continuum that begins at the top, with broad taxonomic categories, and moves down to genetic variations between individuals. Given the precision with which we can now map DNA - just a fantasy when the law was passed in the 1970s - science has caught up with and overtaken the ESA, creating a disconnect that must be addressed.

  Mojave Fringe-Toed Lizard Moves Toward ESLApril 17, 2006 14:52 On April 10th, The Mojave fringe-toed lizard (Uma scoparia) moved closer to protection as the Center for Biological Diversity and Ms. Sylvia Papadakos-Morafka petitioned the Bush Interior Department to list the Amargosa River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

"The Mojave fringe-toed lizard is a fascinating creature, but it is being wiped out by off-road vehicle impacts and poor BLM management," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who formerly worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Mojave Desert. "Without Endangered Species Act protection now we could lose the lizard, and along with it part of our natural desert heritage and quality of life."

The Amargosa River Population qualifies as a Distinct Population Segment because it is discrete, significant, and threatened or endangered. As are all fringe-toed lizards, the Amargosa River population of northeastern San Bernardino County, California (Dumont Dunes, Ibex Dunes, and Coyote Holes) is highly restricted to fine sand environments. Unfortunately, a significant portion the population's range has suffered severe habitat destruction and modification by extensive off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic. Petitioners also request that critical habitat be designated for the Amargosa River DPS of Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard concurrent with listing.

  GAO Study: Pombo Endangered Species Act Claims MisleadingApril 15, 2006 04:35 Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has repeatedly asserted that the Endangered Species Act has failed because only 1 percent of the 1,300 species under its care have fully recovered and been removed from the endangered list. Scientists have roundly denounced this claim as gibberish because endangered species have been protected for an average of only 16.5 years, while the average federal recovery plan predicts that 35 to 50 years will be needed restore them. In a report released April 6, 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined this issue and squarely sided with the scientists. Titled "Endangered Species: Time and Costs Required to Recover Species Are Largely Unknown", the report states:

"Critics, on the other hand, counter that it is an indication of the act's failure that only 17 of these species have "recovered," or improved to the point that they no longer need the act's protection. However, we believe that these numbers, by themselves, are not a good gauge of the act's success or failure; additional information on when, if at all, a species can be expected to fully recover and be removed from the list would provide needed context for a fair evaluation of the act's performance." (p. 1).

"The success of the Endangered Species Act is difficult to measure because some of the recovery plans we reviewed indicated that species were not likely to be recovered for up to 50 years. Therefore, simply counting the number of extinct and recovered species periodically or over time, without considering the recovery prospects of listed species, provides limited insight into the overall success of the services' recovery programs." (p. 5).

  No Spot On Endangered Species List For Gunnison Sage GrouseApril 13, 2006 21:56 The Gunnison sage grouse is running out of room in its native habitat due to energy exploration, drought and disease. The southwestern Colorado bird won’t find any room on the endangered species list, either.

Wildlife officials say the bird’s future is good enough for government work.

The Denver Post reports that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has decided not to put the Gunnison sage grouse on the endangered species list. That has environmentalists (get ready for it) grousing that the bird is merely hanging on by its talons.

  U.S. To Delist Of Pygmy Owl From Endangered Species List With No RationaleApril 13, 2006 21:55 The federal government will announce this afternoon that it is taking the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl off the endangered species list, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said Thursday morning.

Delisting the owl would end nearly a decade of federal regulation that has slowed, although hardly stopped, the pace of development on Tucson's Northwest Side - once this region's fastest-growing area. The owl's listing in March 1997 also kicked off a period of intense scrutiny of regional growth that culminated in Pima County's proposal for a regional habitat conservation plan.

Local officials and homebuilders have already predicted that a delisting won't roll back the tide of tougher development standards that local governments have pushed through in recent years. But a delisting almost certainly would speed construction of projects in owl habitat that have won local approval, but would otherwise need federal clearance. Such projects may be built more quickly and with less regulation now.

The service would offer no details Thursday morning about the rationale for its decision. Benjamin J. Tuggle, acting director for the service's Southwest region, will formally announce the decision Thursday afternoon.

  Global Warming Can Cause Extinction Of Thousands Of Species, Says New StudyApril 12, 2006 11:38 Thousands of animal and plant species may disappear from earth's surface as a direct result of global warming, warns a joint study by Australian, Canadian and U.S. scientists. Global warming today is one of the most serious threats to earth's biodiversity and may even rival or exceed risks due to deforestation, say the scientists who have summed up their findings in an article in the latest issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

The study carried out by scientists from the University of Toronto, the University of New England, the U.S. Forest Service, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Conservation International is an extension of a paper in 2004 that prophesied that a quarter of the various live species of the planet would face the prospects of extinction by 2050 because of the impact of global warming. The scientists confirm that conclusion.

  No Fine For BP In Past SpillApril 12, 2006 06:02 Last week, Alaska's top pollution regulator, Kurt Fredriksson, said the state might hit BP with a "sizable" fine for a pipeline leak last month that caused the largest oil spill ever on the North Slope.

A top Alaska manager for BP, Maureen Johnson, said in the days immediately following the March 2 discovery of the spill that the London-based company anticipated punishment.

"If you mess up, you expect to be penalized for that," she said.

But if the spill investigation plays out the same way a similar case did three years ago, when another pipeline in the heart of the giant Prudhoe Bay oil field sprang a leak, BP might escape with nary a dollar in state fines.

  Running Out of Fish to CatchApril 12, 2006 06:00 It's common knowledge that we are running out of oil. What's not so well known is that we are also running out of big fish.

The harsh realization that catches of big fish-marlin, sharks, swordfish and tuna-are declining rapidly is beginning to sink in. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization considers about 75 percent of all fish fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

The crisis can be seen most extremely across the Pacific, the world's largest source of tuna, where catches are shrinking along with the average size of the fish. Today a 70 pound swordfish-which is too young to have even reproduced-is considered "a good sized fish" and can be legally landed in the US. Just a few short decades ago the same fish averaged 300-400 pounds and could be caught close to shore with a harpoon.

In the past two years, the Pacific has seen quotas, restrictions on catches, freezes on effort and even moratoriums. The US longline fleet had to shut down for the second half of 2005 in the Eastern Pacific. Japan and China were not far behind.

  Great News! Prospects Dimming For Senate Passage Of Endangered Species BillApril 08, 2006 15:39 A bipartisan group of senators trying to craft an Endangered Species Act rewrite bill has failed to reach consensus, signaling dwindling prospects of Senate action in the wake of House passage of an endangered species bill last year.

Although talks continue, the stalemate is welcome news for environmentalists. They viewed the House-passed bill as dangerously extreme and feared that no matter what the Senate produced, the final product could be unacceptable because of the need to combine the two efforts.

"If I cried it's probably crocodile tears," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "It's hard to see, with an extremist piece of legislation like that, how anything acceptable could result."

For property rights advocates, though, Senate inaction would be a missed opportunity. The House bill by Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., would require the government to compensate property owners if steps needed to protect species thwart development plans. It also would stop the government from designating "critical habitat" where development is limited.

  Green Sturgeon in Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay Listed as ThreatenedApril 07, 2006 21:51 The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today protected a population of an imperiled migratory fish that has survived since the Pleistocene, the North American green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris), as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS listed the southern population, comprised of green sturgeon in the San Francisco Bay and Delta that spawn in the Sacramento River basin. Because of the threatened rather than endangered listing, NMFS must now issue a special regulation specifically defining how southern green sturgeon will be protected. NMFS declined to list the northern population, ranging from the Eel River in Humboldt County, California to the Columbia River in Washington, where sturgeon spawn only in the Klamath and Rogue Rivers.

"Fish and Game’s estimate that 50 or fewer spawning green sturgeon will return to the Sacramento River this spring should sound alarm bells,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity (Center). “With the Delta food web that sturgeon depend upon unraveling, it is imperative we protect and restore suitable habitat for this ancient fish in the Sacramento River and Bay Delta. Endangered Species Act protection is the most effective tool available for recovering endangered species.”

NMFS designated the southern green sturgeon as a threatened rather than endangered species, even though the estimated abundance in the Sacramento River has plummeted by 95 percent since 2001, when the Center first petitioned for ESA listing for the species. The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) recently estimated that fewer than 25 female green sturgeon will migrate to Sacramento River spawning grounds during the spring of 2006. The California Fish and Game Commission last month adopted emergency sturgeon fishing regulations to protect sturgeon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system, prohibiting anglers statewide from catching and keeping any green sturgeon.

  Most Americans Say Government Doing Too Little For EnvironmentApril 06, 2006 21:19 Gallup's annual poll on the environment finds most Americans saying the government is doing too little to protect the environment. A majority also says that President George W. Bush is doing a poor rather than a good job protecting the environment, with a substantial minority accusing the Bush administration of weakening the country's environmental policies. Democrats and independents are mostly critical of Bush and the country's environmental policies, while Republicans are mostly positive.

According to the poll, conducted March 13-16, 2006, 62% of Americans say the government is doing too little to protect the environment.

  Calaveras, CA, Rancher Jumps To Support Endangered Species ActApril 06, 2006 21:18 It took a frog to make Calaveras County rancher Danny Pearson hop on an airplane.
Pearson runs cattle on his family's ranch near Burson, off a dirt road east of San Andreas. In his 42 years, he has never found occasion to fly. He's never registered with any political party, and he's certainly never lobbied Congress.

Until now.

This week, incited by his regard for the California red-legged frog and his concern over the future of the Endangered Species Act, Pearson has become the quintessential citizen lobbyist. He's learning legislative mechanics, navigating Capitol Hill and beginning to appreciate the art of the sound bite.
"I've got to get the message out there," Pearson said Monday. "Not all ranchers can be bought."

  One Drilling Hearing to be Held in FloridaApril 05, 2006 00:00 A federal agency developing a plan for oil and natural-gas drilling off Florida's coast will hold a public meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center.

The meeting is the only one scheduled for Florida.

The Minerals Management Service, part of the Interior Department, has been holding a series of meetings around the country on its next five-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing program, which would include a huge area in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida Panhandle.

The state's two U.S. senators and 22 of Florida's 25 U.S. House members have gone on the record against an the agency's plan to open for drilling about 2 million acres called Area 181, about 100 miles south of the Panhandle and 200 miles west of Tampa Bay.

  Americans Pessimistic About Future Health Of EnvironmentApril 04, 2006 21:06 Most Americans are pessimistic about the state of the environment and want action taken to improve its health, according to a new national survey conducted by Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment.

Fifty-five percent of Americans surveyed said they expect the world's natural environment to be in worse shape in 10 years than it is now, and an additional 5 percent said the environment is currently in "poor" or "very poor" shape and will not improve, according to the survey.

"We refer to this group of 60 percent of Americans as 'pessimists,'" said Jon A. Krosnick, the Frederic O. Glover Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Stanford. This group closely resembles the overall American public in terms of gender, race, education and whether they live in an urban, suburban or rural setting, Krosnick added. When it comes to party affiliation, 67 percent of Democrats are pessimistic compared to 48 percent of Republicans. However, even a majority of Republicans share discontent about the health of the environment and human stewardship of it, researchers found.

  EPA Faces Internal Outcry On Airborne Emissions PlanApril 04, 2006 15:01 More gifts to industry buddies by the Bush administration...

A proposal to revise how the Environmental Protection Agency regulates airborne toxic emissions from industrial plants has sparked an outcry from the agency's regional offices, with a majority suggesting that the change would be "detrimental to the environment."

The proposed rule, whose wording was disclosed yesterday by the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), would change the emissions standards for oil refineries, hazardous waste incinerators, chemical plants, steel mills and other plants that discharge thousands of pounds of airborne toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

Under current law, plants that emit 10 tons or more of a single toxin in a year, or 25 tons or more of a combination of toxins, must install "maximum achievable control technology" to cut those emissions by 95 percent or more. The draft proposal would lift that requirement from polluters that have reduced their emissions to below 25 tons a year, potentially allowing emissions to increase so long as they stay under the 25-ton limit.

  Breakthrough Plan To Cut CA Greenhouse Gases / Goal Is To Reduce Carbon Dioxide 25% By 2020April 04, 2006 14:51 A landmark plan for reducing greenhouse gases in California beginning in five years moved forward Monday with the backing of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders.

The plan, drawn by administration advisers, would put in place a series of groundbreaking programs including a requirement that companies keep track of their greenhouse emissions and report them to the state.

Even before the ink was dry, key legislative leaders announced their embrace of the plan's ambitious goals and their intent to introduce legislation that would impose hard limits on future emissions.

  Forest Plan FollyApril 03, 2006 15:34 We commend U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler for calling foul on the Bush administration's playing fast and loose with rules designed to protect forest watersheds.

Theiler recommended last week that U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez include in his ruling that the administration was in error in dropping wording from the Northwest Forest Plan that required certain projects to be evaluated for their impact on the watershed before approval.

The magistrate's reasoning is simple. Federal officials are required to provide a rational basis for changing the wording in the plan, supported by biological opinion that the change would not harm protected salmon -- and in this case they did not.