The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has abandoned an internal investigation into its decision not to regulate hydraulic fracturing (HCN, 12/20/04: Conscientious Objectors). In 2004, the EPA said "frac’ing fluid," an often-toxic mix of chemicals used in natural gas drilling that can contaminate underground drinking-water supplies, should be exempt from the Clean Water Act. But an agency whistleblower said the decision wasn’t scientifically justifiable, and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., asked EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley to investigate whether political influence played a role in the decision. This January, however, Tinsley announced that she was abandoning the probe; on March 3, the 16-year EPA veteran resigned from her post.

And speaking of political influence … After Oregon State University forestry graduate student Dan Donato co-authored an article in Science that cast doubt on the ecological value of post-fire salvage logging, the Bureau of Land Management briefly cut off $100,000 in research funds for the forestry school before hastily reinstating them (HCN, 2/6/06: Study questions value of post-fire logging). Then, on Feb. 24, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., convened a field hearing in Medford and grilled Donato about his findings, saying that "science is not the final arbiter" in forest management.

A California regulator is taking a tough stand to halt the ongoing ecological crash in the San Francisco Bay-Delta (HCN, 2/6/06: Trouble in the Delta). The California Water Resources Control Board served a cease-and-desist order to the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources, which pump water out of the Delta for farmers in California’s Central Valley and the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. The order requires the two agencies to immediately comply with water-quality standards for the Delta — and could force them to stop pumping water if conditions deteriorate further.