The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted Hilmar Cheese permission to drill a "test well" to inject wastewater from its cheese factory three-quarters of a mile underground (HCN, 6/27/05: Factory wants to squeeze cheese underground). After treating the wastewater to remove fat, the Modesto, Calif., company will pump the salty remnants below the local aquifer. Attorneys for Hilmar and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board are still negotiating a multimillion dollar settlement after Hilmar was cited for flushing the wastewater onto surrounding fields — and contaminating groundwater — since the early 1980s.
In early December, Congress put the kibosh on Rep. Richard Pombo’s attempt to fast-track oil-shale development in the West (HCN, 12/12/05: Congress bets on oil shale). Pombo, R-Calif., had proposed that a third of potential oil shale lands be offered for lease within one year and that energy companies receive lavish royalty rebates. Leasing will proceed at a slower pace, but the Bureau of Land Management is holding a series of public meetings in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming to gather comment on oil shale development.
Another conflict between wilderness and helicopter skiing has arisen, this time in Wyoming (HCN, 1/24/05: The Utah backcountry gets crowded). In June, the U.S. Forest Service allowed a Jackson-based company called High Mountain Heli-Skiing to take one group of skiers per day into the Palisades Wilderness Study Area in the Snake River Range. Four environmental groups, represented by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice, have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the decision.