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States take on feds over environment

Some 27 states are involved in a dozen initiatives or lawsuits.

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Just days before leaving office, President Clinton put almost one-third of old-growth national forests off bounds to road construction. The Bush administration reversed that "roadless rule" last summer, citing a need for forest fire protection and states' rights.

Then something unexpected happened: California, Oregon, and New Mexico rebelled. In August the trio - one quarter of the states most affected - sued the US Forest Service to prevent road building and logging in 90,000 square miles of virgin forest.

This mini-mutiny by itself might seem minor, but it's only one of the latest bubbles in a national groundswell of state-led lawsuits and environmental initiatives that some say represents what could be the start of a long-term shift in US environmental regulation and enforcement from the federal government to states.

Dozens of states, frustrated over federal actions or inaction on the environment, are trying to fill the gap with their own green initiatives - or are filing lawsuits to block federal changes they say would weaken existing environmental regulations. In the past two years some 27 states have participated in at least a dozen major environmental initiatives - often lawsuits - in opposition to federal environmental policies, a Monitor analysis shows.

Examples range from states ganging up to sue the nation's five largest power companies directly for their carbon emissions, to suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over regulatory changes concerning mercury emissions to developing a Kyoto-like global warming pact.

This raft of initiatives is aimed, in part, at dealing with what one law review journal described as a "treading water" approach to environmental enforcement at the EPA. It's also a reflection of discontent with Bush administration policies.

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