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  • Emboldened by the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency asserts its authority as the nation's eco watchdog.

    In addition to the economic woes of the “noughts”—the years from 2000-2009—it was also a lawless era for environmental protection in the United States. Bush administration efforts at “dismantling safeguards, ignoring climate concerns, marginalizing sound science and catering to industries that endangered Americans’ health and natural heritage” meant our watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency, was little more than an idle spectator to the carnage.

    Now, after its decade on the sidelines, it appears the sheriff is back in town.

    The EPA’s futility under Bush was no accident. Bush-appointee Stephen Johnson routinely rolled over to White House demands, allowing business concerns to trump sound science. He was a company man through and through, more noted for his loyalty and subserviance than for competence on the job.

    Those days are gone. The revitalized EPA, headed up by Obama-appointee Lisa Jackson, has begun cleaning up Bush-era dirty work.

    Just this week the EPA reversed its controversial 2008 decision on bisphenol-A (or BPA), which deemed the plastic common to food containers and plastic bottles safe for use. BPA has now been placed on a master list of “chemicals of concern.”

    Meanwhile, over in West Virginia, the EPA is halting, or at least severely restricting, a mountaintop mining operation in Logan County, West Virginia. To do so, it has to nullify a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers—the body responsible for issuing mining permits. It’s a rare assertive step for the agency, which has used its veto power over potential sites only twelve times in the past, and never for a site already in operation.

    Justification for the intervention closely mirrors concerns raised in a scientific study earlier this year—namely, that the operation will adversely affect a local ecosystem with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in North America.

    “We see this as confirmation that they’re taking their responsibility...very, very seriously," said ecologist and Appalachian Voices Program Director Matthew Wasson.

    It’s not exactly a radical step—that the Environmental Protection Agency should take concrete steps to protect the environment—but it’s a damn good start. And with legislators reluctant to tackle climate change, the EPA may be our our best, and only, hope.

    Fortunately, it’s well-equipped for the task; the EPA has a new mandate to regulate carbon emissions, it has legal authority to require coal plants to reduce pollution, and the Obama administration has given it its badge back, so to speak.

    At last, the laws of the land are being given a shootin’ chance.

    - Lance Steagall

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    Senators Discuss Potential Energy Bill

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    Democrats announce willingness to scale back bill for Republican support.

    A group of bi-partisan group of senators met with President Obama on Tuesday to discuss the proposed climate bill. After the meeting, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman said that they were prepared to scale back the bill to in exchange for Republican support. While the exact details of the bill were not divulged, the shift in position includes a middle of the road compromise on how carbon will......read more

    Obama Announces Solar Power Support

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    The President declares federal loan guarantees for solar energy projects.

    Good news for clean energy advocates, as Obama used his Saturday address to announce almost $2 billion in conditional loan guarantees to two solar energy companies. The beneficiaries are Abengoa Solar, whose planned Arizona solar plant will be one of the largest in the world, and solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar, which will build advanced panels at two new plants in Colorado and Indiana. Not......read more

    Obama Issues New Offshore Drilling Ban

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    But will the latest moratorium survive?

    In Washington Monday, the Obama administration took another stab at halting offshore drilling in U.S. waters, announcing a six-month moratorium that's no longer based on water depth. The goverment's previous two moratorium orders were rejected by the courts. Echoing the sentiments of environmentalists, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar argued that the order is necessary because of......read more

    Climate Legislation: Seizing the Chance

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    Why diluting the climate bill is a bad idea.

    It is undeniable that we need a climate bill to address the emissions that are causing global climate change. What is not so clear, however, is how to go about writing a law that is middle-ground enough to have a possibility of being passed -- without compromising its purpose. Thanks in large part to the Gulf oil spill, Obama currently has a wonderful opportunity to push for a hard-line......read more

    Illegal Logging on the Decline

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    Report finds dramatic reductions in prohibited logging activities around the globe.

    According to UK think tank Chatham House, there has been a 25% decrease in illegal logging around the world since 2002, thanks in large part o stricter laws and better enforcement. This is great news, and shows that government policies can work to help solve environmental problems. However, the war is far from being won as 3.5 billion cubic feet of timber was illegally harvested from Brazil,......read more

    The Spill and the American Psyche

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    The leak is plugged. But is it too late to restore public confidence?

    In the Gulf of Mexico, where tens of millions of barrels of oil have spewed into the sea, a ray of hope has come in the shape of a cap fitted onto the blown wellhead. The successful attempt to stop the gusher marks the end of nearly three months of futility. Around America, you can almost hear a collective sigh of relief. Almost. In the Week in Review in Sunday's New York Times, Peter......read more

    Climate Bill Fail

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    Thomas Friedman laments a missed opportunity.

    Well, it's all but official. According to every major news outlet, the attempt to pass federal climate and energy legislation has failed. Democrats announced Friday they were abandoning the bill, effectively snuffing out any possibility of it passing. But why? After so much hope early in Obama's term, how did the effort to address global warming and reduce our oil addiction die before......read more

    California Bummer

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    Statewide plastic bag ban voted down by California lawmakers.

    Well, that sucks. The Democratic bill seeking to ban plastic shopping bags across California — a measure we at SHFT adamantly supported — failed in the state Senate late Tuesday night. It would have been the country's first statewide ban, although a few California cities already prohibit their use. With the bill's downfall, the state misses an opportunity to be at the vanguard of a......read more

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