All of the notes and examples so far have been strictly CGI.
It should not be understated the usefulness of getenv()/putenv() in CLI as well.
You can pass a number of variables to a CLI script via environment variables, either in Unix/Linux bash/sh with the "VAR='foo'; export $VAR" paradigm, or in Windows with the "set VAR='foo'" paradigm. (Csh users, you're on your own!) getenv("VAR") will retrieve that value from the environment.
We have a system by which we include a file full of putenv() statements storing configuration values that can apply to many different CLI PHP programs. But if we want to override these values, we can use the shell's (or calling application, such as ant) environment variable setting method to do so.
This saves us from having to manage an unmanageable amount of one-off configuration changes per execution via command line arguments; instead we just set the appropriate env var first.