Despite the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s argument that it is exempt from certain provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a federal court in Oregon says the agency must, in fact, comply with that law. At the end of January, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones ruled that the agency acted unlawfully when it downgraded the status of the gray wolf from "endangered" to "threatened" in 2003 (HCN, 4/14/03: Debate rages over ‘de-listing’ wolves). Calling the agency’s move "arbitrary and capricious," Judge Jones wrote that "exempting FWS from the duty to utilize its conservation authority is inconsistent with the Act."

According to the Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2004 standard for mercury emissions from coal-fired electric utilities was "compromised" by industry-friendly agency higher-ups. The investigation found that EPA senior management instructed staff to develop a mercury standard that would allow utilities to each release up to 34 tons of mercury annually — rather than allowing staff to base the standard on actual emissions and real models (HCN, 12/20/04: Conscientious Objectors). Had "unbiased" data analyses been allowed, the standard could have been set as low as 8 to 10 tons per year. But, says the February 2005 report, "an agency source indicated that these results were not acceptable to senior management because they were not close enough to the 34 tons target."

In January, J. Steven Griles resigned as the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, where he was under investigation for conflicts of interest related to energy issues (HCN, 6/23/03: The Bush administration - Sinister motives, or just ‘veracity-challenged’?)). But he isn’t going far: In January, he signed on to the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles, LLC. Griles joins Andrew Lundquist, director of Dick Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group, and former Rep. George Nethercutt Jr., R-Wash. The firm will provide "strategic business development and government relations advice" to U.S. and international clients within the electric power, oil and gas, defense, minerals and mining industries. Lynn Scarlett has been named as Griles’ replacement at Interior.