A HANDFUL OF ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS has succeeded - temporarily, at least - in blocking the path to a North American free-trade agreement. This week's federal court ruling requiring an environmental impact statement on the deal is an example of environmentalism run amok.

How, after all, can bureaucrats define the environmental effect of something as broad and far-reaching as freer trade - especially when those changes are phased in over 10 years? If every major policy change requires an environmental analysis, then what about the president's economic plan, which also is aimed at increasing economic activity?To his credit, President Clinton lost no time announcing he would appeal the ruling. That's the most hopeful news to emerge from this discouraging turn of events.

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