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Know the West

The Latest Bounce

  Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., is ready to reopen the U.S. coast for offshore drilling (HCN, 7/25/05: Will the real Mr. Pombo please stand up?). New drilling has been prohibited off the coast, except in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, since the early 1980s, thanks to a congressional moratorium. But in October, Pombo introduced a measure that would let individual states — including California, which happens to have a $6 billion budget deficit — opt out of the moratorium in return for a cut of drilling royalties.

Nevada’s neighbors are finding increasing evidence to back their claims that the Silver State’s gold mines are spewing mercury across the West (HCN, 8/8/05: The Great Salt Lake's dirty little secret). This fall, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality sampled water quality in Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir, south of Twin Falls. Mercury levels in the reservoir, a popular fishing destination downwind from a cluster of large Nevada gold mines, were 150 times higher than heavily polluted lakes in the northeastern U.S.

The grazing fees that the federal government charges ranchers for using public lands don’t even cover one-sixth of the cost of running the grazing program. According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the federal grazing program lost $123 million last year (HCN, 4/4/05: The Big Buyout). The GAO, which noted that grazing fees have not changed significantly in 25 years, said the report’s findings highlighted the need to "reexamine programs to assess their relevance and relative priority for a changing society."

A federal district judge has flamed the Forest Service for refusing to analyze the environmental impact of the fire retardant used by its air tankers (HCN, 7/7/03: War on fire takes a toll on fish). In 2003, after several retardant drops killed tens of thousands of fish, the nonprofit Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics sued to force the agency to evaluate the effect of fire retardant on fish. But the government argued that fire-retardant use was a site-specific action by fire managers — who had better things to do than carry out environmental analyses. That, Judge Donald Molloy wrote, was "not a reasonable conclusion."