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BP sign: Getty Images • Dudley, Hayward: Associated Press

Oil change

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

Nearly 100 days after oil began gushing into Gulf Coast waters, BP announced plans aimed at plugging its own corporate problems: The company said embattled CEO Tony Hayward would resign his post on Oct. 1. His replacement-Robert Dudley-would become the first American to head the British company. Dudley grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss., and took over cleanup operations on the Gulf Coast after a series of blunders by Hayward.

Workers temporarily capped the well on July 15, and BP said it hoped to finish a permanent relief well by mid-August. Plenty of work still remains: Government scientists estimate the gusher has poured some 94 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offered some good news: The federal agency is re-opening some 26,000 square miles of federal waters to recreational and commercial fishing. That leaves about 25 percent of federal waters in the Gulf (and thousands of square miles of state waters) off limits.

Believe or leave

Jennifer Keeton, 24, doesn't believe that homosexuality is biological; she thinks it is a lifestyle choice. Augusta State University, where she is pursuing a master's degree in counseling, has ordered her to enter a remedial program or face expulsion. The Georgia school sent her a notice questioning her ability to be a "multiculturally competent counselor."

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In the program, she would be required to attend several gay sensitivity training courses and participate in activities like Augusta's gay pride parade for "exposure and interactions with gay populations." While the school opposes the view that homosexuality is a choice, it has encouraged her to read material that defines gender as a choice. She would be required to submit a monthly two-page reflection on how the program has influenced her beliefs, so the school can "decide the appropriateness of her continuation in the counseling program."

Keeton, backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, has filed suit against the school for violating her First Amendment rights.

Case not quite closed

In a setback for gay marriage advocates, the New Jersey Supreme Court has refused to hear a case in which same-sex couples allege that the state violates their civil rights by not allowing gay marriage. The litigants said that even though New Jersey allows civil unions, they still experience discrimination and do not have the "full rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples."

The Supreme Court did not comment on the constitutionality of their claim but voted 3-3 to tell the litigants that they should first file an action with a lower court. (A case needs four votes to be heard directly by the high court.) In a dissenting opinion, Justice Virginia Long said she was "disappointed" that the other three judges chose not to hear the case and said the court should address the possible "constitutional inequities" without "any unnecessary delay."

With the case going to a lower court, Len Deo, head of New Jersey's Family Policy Council and a supporter of traditional marriage, told NBC News that the battle wasn't over: "I'm not gonna say I'm worried, but obviously we're in this for the long haul."

'We don't have the votes'

Short on votes, Senate Democrats on July 22 shelved ambitious climate legislation. The move put an early end to at least one controversial congressional overhaul bill before November's elections. Already bracing for mid-term losses in Congress, Democrats determined that federal encroachment on the energy industry is one big regulatory bill too many.

The collapse of the complex measure means Democrats failed in their agenda to implement the nation's first-ever cap on carbon emissions. "It's easy to count to 60. I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, referencing the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. "My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don't have the votes." Instead Democrats will now push a watered-down energy bill, tied mainly to responding to the Gulf oil spill, that is likely to garner a few Republican votes.

Still, the Senate's surrender of the original overhaul puts dozens of House Democrats in precarious positions heading into November. Last summer the House passed, by a seven-vote margin, its 1,200-page regulation of the nation's energy use. With no backing from the Senate, vulnerable House members with their jobs on the line in swing districts will have a more difficult time justifying their votes to Washington-weary voters.

Environmentalists hoping to limit the carbon use of Americans will now push for the EPA to unilaterally impose a cap. Some senators are also reportedly hoping to revisit the matter in a lame duck session of Congress after the November elections.

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