Al Qaeda Leaders

Reportedly Cut Off

Pakistan's military has been so effective in pressuring al Qaeda leaders hiding in the tribal region of western Pakistan that Osama bin Laden and his top deputies are no longer able to direct terrorist operations, a senior American commander said yesterday.

"They are living in the remotest areas of the world without any communications -- other than courier -- with the outside world or their people and unable to orchestrate or provide command and control over a terrorist network," said Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of the Central Command.

EPA Eases Curbs

On Some Chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency made it easier for companies to produce several chemicals that it had previously restricted as either hazardous or smog-creating.

After seven years of review, the agency decided to take ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE) -- used as a solvent for varnishes, enamels, textiles and cosmetics -- off the list of hazardous air pollutants. The list, created in 1990, requires manufacturers to install stricter pollution controls in some cases. The EPA exempted several other chemicals -- including t-butyl acetate (TBAC), which is used to make pharmaceuticals and pesticides -- from the list of volatile organic compounds that contribute to smog-producing ozone.

Rob Brenner, deputy assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said agency scientists concluded that EGBE does not pose a significant health threat and that TBAC and several other compounds do not contribute as much to smog as do rival chemicals that are more widely used.

"This will create an incentive for industry to use less toxic and less environmentally harmful compounds and focus on the pollutants that are really the most dangerous," Brenner said.

Chemical manufacturers, who had petitioned for the change, hailed the EPA's move. But Timothy J. Kropp, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said the agency is ignoring animal studies that linked EGBE to cancer. "It's a rollback they're trying to sell as an incentive program," he said.

Study Says Spotted Owl

Is Still Threatened

The northern spotted owl should remain on the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded after a five-year review.

Officials said that although the owl is not losing as much habitat on public land in the Pacific Northwest as previously, its overall population in Washington, Oregon and California continues to decline, and that new threats such as forest fires and the West Nile virus have emerged. The spotted owl was at the center of the region's timber wars in the 1990s, with logging companies arguing that federal protections for the species were costing needed jobs.

"We can celebrate the success we've had in reducing habitat loss on federal lands, but at the same time we must recognize that there are new risks out there that could present an even greater threat to the species," said Dave Allen, director of Fish and Wildlife's Pacific region. "Our conclusion is that while the species is still threatened, it does not need to be elevated to endangered status."

Sean Cosgrove, the Sierra Club's national forest policy specialist, said that although it is good that the Bush administration has recognized the spotted owl's plight, "the federal government needs to do more to protect old-growth habitat." He said the administration has pushed for logging in the Pacific Northwest's remaining ancient forest, which provides key habitat for the owl.

-- Complied from reports

by staff writer Juliet Eilperin

and news services