Seven Republican presidential hopefuls took turns criticizing President Obama at Monday night's debate in New Hampshire, several of them struggling to rise above the clamor and make a lasting impression. One seems to have stood out, though — possibly because she waited until she was at the debate to formally announce her candidacy. But theatrics aside, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., impressed many political pundits, inspiring several to declare she "won" the debate. And while all seven debaters decried the size and spending of federal agencies, Bachmann seemed especially incensed about one in particular: the Environmental Protection Agency.
After calling for shrinking the scope of government by passing the "mother of all repeal bills" to eliminate "job-killing regulations," Bachmann focused her fury on the EPA. "And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA," she said. "It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America." The EPA was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, a Republican, and was elevated to Cabinet status under President George H.W. Bush, also a Republican. But it has quickly fallen out of favor with today's GOPers, who frequently accuse it of limiting industrial growth via environmental regulations and thus "killing" jobs. House Republicans tried to slash the EPA's budget earlier this year, and Bachmann — who founded the congressional Tea Party Caucus — has long played a leading role in battling not only the EPA, but environmental science in general. During her first reelection bid in 2008, she told voters "the big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax." In a more recent speech on the House floor, she told lawmakers that "carbon dioxide is natural, it is not harmful," arguing that an "arbitrary reduction" of CO2 emissions would "reduce the American standard of living."
While Bachmann singled out the EPA most emphatically Monday night, she is not alone among 2012 GOP candidates in targeting the agency for cuts. Fellow candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, has said he wants to abolish the EPA altogether and replace it with an "environmental solutions agency." Still, as the Washington Post reports, Bachmann's enthusiasm Monday — about gutting the EPA, cutting spending and just running for president in general — helped her stand out from the crowd. "She's got passion for running for president," one undecided voter from Brentwood, N.H., tells the Post. "If you don't want to taste it, if you can't ooze it out of your pores, you shouldn't be in it. Michele showed that passion tonight."
The swollen Missouri River broke through two levees near the Iowa-Missouri border Monday, the AP reports, letting floodwaters gush across farmland toward the Iowa town of Hamburg and the Missouri town of Big Lake. One levee suffered a "full breach," leaving a 300-foot-wide hole that's still growing, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while the second one created a gap about 50 feet wide. Both ruptures occurred Monday morning, and the National Weather Service has warned the floodwaters could overtake Interstate 29 as well as the homes of nearby residents.
"The concern is that anybody ... near the river would see some floodwaters that could impact either their road or homes," David Pearson of the NWS tells CNN. The Missouri River has been flooding to historic heights throughout the Northern Plains this spring, mirroring earlier floods that have inundated communities along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Heavy winter and spring snowfall helped set the stage for all this flooding, and with snow still on the ground in some northern and high-altitude areas, the danger isn't expected to abate anytime soon. Many communities below white-capped mountains across the West will be continually swamped for weeks, the AP reports, as a hot June sun burns through a wild winter's worth of snow.
The wide breach near Hamburg was deemed too substantial to repair, CNN reports, forcing the Corps of Engineers to focus on damage control and on bolstering its remaining levees. "The next step is to attempt to mitigate the flooding with another levee between the one that failed and Hamburg," Pearson says. Another breach earlier this month forced hundreds of people in the Hamburg area to evacuate, and while no evacuations were ordered after Monday's breaches, Corps officials remain cautious — and say people living near the Missouri River should be, too. "[P]eople's safety is our No. 1 concern," says Omaha Corps District Commander Col. Bob Ruch, "so we want to stress how important it is for the public to stay off these levees as we continue to assess the risk."
The Missouri River flooding is good news for residents of the drought-stricken Southwest, the AP points out, since it will likely spare them emergency water-saving measures and may even help with ferocious wildfires plaguing the region. But the floods still might not be able to save some Fourth of July fireworks displays. As USA Today reports, the combination of drought, wildfires and budget problems has increased the number of pyrotechnic celebrations being called off or put in limbo across much of the U.S.
With major wildfires burning in Arizona and New Mexico, both states have banned all outdoor burning in certain areas as well as the sale and use of fireworks, joined by other states including Alabama, California, Colorado, Louisiana and Texas. Gov. Ricky Perry of Texas has granted 14 countywide bans at the request of local leaders, spokeswoman Lucy Nashed tells USA Today, which has led to traditional fireworks displays being canceled in several cities, including Austin and the Lake Travis area. In Florida, which has also suffered multiple large wildfires dating back to winter, officials in cities such as Jacksonville and St. Augustine say they're watching weather conditions as Independence Day approaches, waiting to decide whether to call off professional shows as the holiday draws nearer.
Economics is also playing a role — the fireworks display in Gainesville, Fla., was recently nixed, for example, after more than $500,000 was cut from organizers' budget. "We didn't feel like it was the right thing to do ... when we are potentially having to lay people off," says Randy Wright, executive director of the Division of Multimedia Properties at the University of Florida. (To read more about fireworks displays and environmental issues, check out this interactive explainer
A major lawn and garden company plans to expand into the marijuana market, the Wall Street Journal reports, raising eyebrows as well as the profile of one of America's most controversial cash crops. Scotts Miracle-Gro CEO Jim Hagedorn tells the WSJ he's looking at targeting medical marijuana and other niche markets to expand sales. "I want to target the pot market," Hagedorn says. "There's no good reason we haven't."
Scotts Miracle-Gro isn't necessarily suffering; its sales rose 5 percent last year to $2.9 billion, the WSJ notes. But nearly two-thirds of its revenue depends on sales at three big retailers — Home Depot, Lowe's and Wal-Mart — that aren't building new stores as quickly as they once did, limiting Scotts' ability to grow. Looking for an economic fertilizer, Hagedorn is now gambling on ganja, which has been legalized for medicinal use in 16 states. California and Colorado are the two largest to have green-lighted medical marijuana, helping the nascent industry grow to what some forecasters project to be $1.7 billion in sales this year. The mind-altering plant remains illegal under federal law, but federal raids on medical dispensaries have declined under the Obama administration, emboldening some entrepreneurs to stake their claim. Some small medical marijuana firms have begun talking to venture capitalists and even hinting at future IPOs, but Scotts Miracle-Gro is among the first major public companies to target the market, the WSJ reports, possibly signaling a cultural shift.
Hagedorn took over Miracle-Gro from his father, a co-founder of the company, and merged it with Scotts in the mid-'90s. He's an ambitious and atypical CEO, as the WSJ describes him, and he's not shy about venturing into new markets. To target marijuana growers, Scotts likely wouldn't create its own line of branded products, but would aim to buy niche dirt companies that already exist. Some federal raids on pot farms have revealed the growers were already using Scotts products, the WSJ reports, and Hagedorn says that's a good sign there's already brand awareness in the industry. While he may not have previously considered investing in businesses that generate less than $10 million a year in revenue, he says times have changed. "We can't operate our business like that anymore," he says.
DDT is banned, acid rain is recognized, and more
Photo (candidates at GOP debate on June 13): ZUMA Press
Photo (Missouri River in Montana): U.S. Geological Survey
Photo (fireworks display): ZUMA Press