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Tuesday, Sep 16th

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Massive coal-ash spill causes river of sludge and controversy

What may be the nation's largest spill of coal ash lay thick and largely untouched over hundreds of acres of land and waterways Wednesday after a dam broke this week, as officials and environmentalists argued over its potential toxicity.

Federal studies long have shown coal ash to contain significant quantities of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and selenium, which can cause cancer and neurological problems. But with no official word on the dangers of the sludge in Tennessee, displaced residents spent Christmas Eve worried about their health and their property and wondering what to do.

The spill reignited a debate over whether the federal government should regulate coal ash as a hazardous material. Similar ponds and mounds of ash exist at hundreds of coal plants nationwide.

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Faster Climate Change in US Feared

The United States faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested, according to a new report led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Coalition sues over mining ruling

A coalition of environmental groups including Kentucky Waterways Alliance has sued the Interior Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to overturn a new rule that will make it easier for mining companies to dump waste rock into streams.

The revisions, made final Dec. 12, will let mining companies disregard a 100-foot stream buffer zone if they are able to convince regulators that no other option was available and that they had taken steps to minimize harm to the environment.

"The notion that coal mining companies can dump their wastes in streams without degrading them is a fantasy that the Bush administration is now trying to write into law," said Judith Petersen, executive director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

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More than 100 million Americans breathe sooty air

More than 100 million people living in 46 metro areas are breathing air that has gotten too full of soot on some days, and now those cities have to clean up their air, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.

The EPA added 15 cities to the sooty air list, mostly in states not usually thought of as pollution-prone, such as Alaska, Utah, Idaho and Wisconsin. That's probably because of the prevalence of wood stoves in western and northern regions, a top EPA official said. But environmentalists said the EPA was only doing half its job on soot-laden areas, letting some southern cities with long-term soot problems _ such as Houston _ off the hook.

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EPA veils hazardous substances

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency routinely allows companies to keep new information about their chemicals secret, including compounds that have been shown to cause cancer and respiratory problems, the Journal Sentinel has found.

The newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA's registry of dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half the cases, the EPA agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundreds of other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep its name and address confidential.

This is despite a federal law calling for public notice of any new information through the EPA's program monitoring chemicals that pose substantial risk. The whole idea of the program is to warn the public of newfound dangers.

The EPA's rules are supposed to allow confidentiality only "under very limited circumstances."

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Groups sue to stop Utah oil and gas drilling

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block the Bush administration's last-minute sale of oil-and-gas drilling leases in Utah near national parks and ancient rock art panels.

The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled an auction Friday to sell drilling leases covering more than 100,000 acres of wild land in eastern Utah.

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Report Finds Meddling in Interior Dept. Actions

The inspector general of the Interior Department has found that agency officials often interfered with scientific work in order to limit protections for species at risk of becoming extinct, reviving attention to years of disputes over the Bush administration’s science policies.

In a report delivered to Congress on Monday, the inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found serious flaws in the process that led to 15 decisions related to policies on endangered species. 

“The results of this investigation paint a picture of something akin to a secret society residing within the Interior Department that was colluding to undermine the protection of endangered wildlife and covering for one another’s misdeeds,” said the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia.

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