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for people who care about the West


  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not all wet, after all: After outraged public comment from environmentalists and sportsmen alike, the Bush administration has backed off plans to remove "isolated" wetlands — those that are dry for more than six months out of the year — from protection under the Clean Water Act. Proposed changes to the law would have tainted those streambeds with everything from coalbed methane wastewater to sewage (HCN, 12/22/03: Clean water changes could sully Western streambeds).

The EPA is still blowing a lot of hot air, however, and another high-level employee is leaving (HCN, 3/18/02: The Latest Bounce). Bruce Buckheit, director of the agency’s air enforcement division announced he’s retiring early. Buckheit denies he’s leaving to protest the current administration’s cozy relationship with polluters, but he was quoted in national newspapers as saying, "If there was interesting and useful work in the power plant sector, I’d still be here." Another top EPA official just resigned: Buckheit’s boss, J.P. Suarez, is going to work for Wal-Mart.

Speaking of Wal-Mart, the king of big-box stores is cracking down on dissent: When Joe Chumley, a Roswell, N.M., grocer, protested the chain’s practice of running smaller stores out of business, he was charged with criminal trespassing and banned from entering any of the nation’s more than 2,500 Wal-Mart stores (HCN, 3/17/03: Taosenos take on Wal-Mart). The next day, 35 of Chumley’s defenders — employees and loyal customers alike — returned to the store to protest.

Tired of sparring with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, New Mexico is abandoning negotiations and going to court to force the lab to clean up its Cold War-era waste (HCN, 11/24/03: New Mexico goes head-to-head with a nuclear juggernaut). When the Energy Department responded by withholding $43 million for cleanup at the lab, Governor Bill Richardson blasted back at the agency, saying such tactics amount to "extortion" and reveal the department’s "marked lack of environmental leadership."