A Federal judge in Rhode Island didn't like that the Supreme Court struck down an $18 million penalty for a Texas natural gas firm so he is trying to get creative in his new penalty. The company, Southern Union Co., stored liquid mercury from old gas regulators they had removed from customers' homes inside a building in Pawtucket in unsafe conditions and without a permit.  

Teenage vandals broke into the building and dumped mercury there and at a nearby apartment complex, which had to be evacuated. Residents later were found to have unacceptably high levels of mercury in their blood and showed other symptoms of mercury exposure, such as hair loss and rashes. 90 of them later settled a lawsuit over the spill for undisclosed terms. All recovered.

U.S. District Judge William Smith says the new maximum penalty, $500,000, should be done as community service, and he wants environmentalists to help choose the cause. He would even like to find out if he can make senior officials at the company exclusively pay the penalty.

This judge cares about the environment, right? Indeed he does. Smith was nominated for the seat by President George W. Bush. Bush also later nominated him for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit but the two Democratic Senators in Rhode Island blocked him and he was not confirmed.  Pesky Democrats, always blocking judges who care about the environment.