Employees at New Mexico’s nuclear weapons lab may soon have new bosses. After Los Alamos National Laboratory suffered repeated financial and security scandals, outgoing U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced that the lab’s contract, held by the University of California since 1943, was up for grabs (HCN, 11/24/03: New Mexico goes head-to-head with a nuclear juggernaut). Now, the universities and defense contractors vying for the $2 billion-per-year contract have some unusual competition: Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, the California-based Tri-Valley Community Against a Radioactive Environment and the Coalition to Demilitarize the University of California have become partners in a bid to win the lab’s contract.

Thanks to a recent court ruling, desert tortoises may get some more breathing room. In early January, Northern California U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston sided with environmental groups that had sued to keep off-road vehicles off about 500,000 acres of the tortoise’s habitat in Southern California (HCN, 9/27/04: For endangered species, survival no longer enough). As part of her decision, Illston ordered the land off-limits to ORV use until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans for the protection and recovery of the endangered tortoises.

Factory-farm polluters will be immune to lawsuits, thanks to new rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The new rules, posted at the end of January, allow owners of the nation’s largest livestock operations to avoid prosecution under air pollution laws by signing up for a voluntary monitoring program (HCN, 7/8/02: Big stink over factory farms).

Utah’s new governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., is making friends with the Mountain States Legal Foundation. In mid-January, the state filed a "friend-of-the-court brief" in the foundation’s legal challenge over the creation of the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument (HCN, 9/27/04: Utah’s favorite sons battle for governor). The property rights group has been fighting the monument since President Clinton designated it in 1996. According to the Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah Deputy Attorney General Mark Ward says the state is not challenging the legitimacy of the monument — just its boundaries."

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