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Critics have long argued that the royalties coal companies pay for mining on US public lands are well below fair market values. Now, the Department of the Interior has moved to close a major loophole to address this criticism.

Leasing public land for coal extraction is a three-step process — and two of those steps are problematic for the public, says Michael Greenstone, a former chief economist for the Obama White House who now teaches at the University of Chicago.

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Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced criminal charges against six more people — including the state's former water quality chief — in connection with lead-contaminated water in the city of Flint.

All six people are current or former state employees in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

It's a balmy Sunday night in late June in San Francisco, post-Pride parade, and I'm about to eat dinner in a pristine blue dumpster in a dead-end SOMA (South of Market) street. The event, Salvage Supperclub, seeks to draw attention to food waste and encourage home cooks to not throw out less than ideal, yet still edible stuff.

A glance at the menu and the evening looks promising. The hosts are gracious, the guests friendly and the organizers earnest. The dumpster is simply but tastefully decked out: glass tea lights, long wooden benches, bar towel napkins.

Times are tough for Chesapeake oysters.

For one thing, they used to be bigger. "If you look at what people were saying back in the 1600s and 1700s about oysters, people had to cut them in half before they could even eat them," says Denise Breitburg, an ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

You Think It's Hot Where You Are?

Jul 28, 2016
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The Mendenhall Glacier is visible from the visitor center parking lot. But it's still pretty far and if you traveled all the way to Juneau, Alaska, you probably want to get up close to the blue tinted ice.

Touching the face of the glacier can be tricky. You're separated by cold, silty water, and a hike over the ridge could take hours.

Visitor center staff know that. And inside, they use it to prove a point.

Winter storms have been eroding coastal bluffs at California's Redwood National Park, and as the cliffs disappear, the buried remains of Native American archaeological sites are at risk for falling into the ocean.

One such site is called Summer Place, says Suntayea Steinruck, a member of the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation and a tribal heritage preservation officer. Her ancestors hunted and fished around what used to be a small village there.

The trip had mechanical setbacks, and the plane's average speed would be legal on many American streets. But when the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi in the early morning darkness Tuesday, it successfully completed a round-the-world voyage using only solar power.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg took turns flying the single-seat aircraft that began its trip on March 9 of 2015, flying more than 26,700 miles in a total of 17 stages (23 days) as they soared under the sun's power and then glided through the night.

Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado is known for its iconic cliff dwellings, but archaeological artifacts left by the Ancestral Pueblo are all over. Rocky remnants of homes and farming sites are scattered throughout the dense pinyon juniper forest.

The water supply for communities in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is threatened by an oil spill that dumped an estimated 66,000 gallons of heavy oil, along with natural gas used to dilute it, into a major river.

The pipeline that broke is owned by Husky Energy Inc. The site of last Thursday's leak is within 1,000 feet of the North Saskatchewan River.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from communities north of Los Angeles because a wildfire is burning out of control in dry, hot canyons. More than a dozen homes have already been destroyed and a man was found dead in a car inside the fire zone on Saturday.

The man's home was one of those burned when the fire swept through Iron Canyon in Santa Clarita, Danielle Karson reports for NPR.

Solar Impulse 2 is about to complete the first round-the-world flight by a plane powered only by the sun. It took off from Cairo on Sunday and is now en route to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where the journey began.

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power station in California, which was built in an earthquake zone 30 years ago, is now scheduled to close by 2025. But not far from New York city, the operators of Indian Point, an even older reactor with a history of problems, are resisting calls to shut down.

A burned body was found Saturday at the scene of a brushfire north of Los Angeles that has scorched 31 square miles and prompted the evacuation of 1,500 homes, authorities said.

The body was discovered outside a home on Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, and detectives are trying to determine whether the person was killed by the blaze or another cause, Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Rob Hahnlein said. The home also may have burned, he said.

The next time you’re tooling down the highway somewhere in America, take a look around: Those miles of medians and roadsides along our highways offer unexpected environmental benefits.

All those broad, green strips along the nation’s highways turn out be vital habitats for many small critters, as well as pollinators including bees, butterflies and birds.

What are the biggest social and economic problems the world faces today? And how close are we to ending them?

Those are the questions that the U.N. Economic and Social Council aims to answer in its first report on the Sustainable Development Goals, released this past week.

The SDGs, as they're known, are 17 global goals to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030. The U.N.'s member states approved them last September.

At Green House Data in Cheyenne, Wyo., energy efficiency is an obsession.

When someone enters one of the company's secured data vaults, they're asked to pause in the entryway and stomp their shoes on a clear rubber mat with a sticky, glue-like finish.

"Dust is a huge concern of ours," says Art Salazar, the director of operations.

That's because dust makes electronics run hotter, which then means using more electricity to cool them down. For data centers, the goal is to use as little electricity as possible, because it's typically companies' biggest expense.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations.

Walking among the California redwoods, drifting blank-brained on a break from college, I got to thinking about shoes. I can't say why, exactly. Perhaps it was because they were touching my feet.

It's really hot in most of the mainland United States right now. The National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the triple digits through the weekend in much of the South, Midwest and along the East Coast.

The culprit: a "heat dome."

It's a real meteorological event — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even took the time to define it in the agency's warning this week:

creative commons

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware students performed better on the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year, but still only about half are proficient in the two subjects tested - English and math.

The state Department of Education released figures Thursday showing 55 percent of students showed they are proficient in English and 44 percent showed they are proficient in math, compared to 52 percent and 41 percent, respectively, last year.

Department of Education spokesman Michael Watson says officials want to maintain an increase of three percent per year.

Etharin Cousin heads the United Nation's World Food Programme — but lately she sounds more like the captain of a ship facing some very ugly weather.

"We are seeing all the indicators of a perfect storm coming toward us in Southern Africa," Cousin said in a recent press call this week. "And we are saying that we have the opportunity to move this boat in a different direction and to avoid the storm."

The government of Peru has declared a state of emergency in the southern Andes after brutally low temperatures killed tens of thousands of alpacas, according to The Associated Press.

The government is promising $3 million in relief to farmers in the region, who live at or around 15,000 feet above sea level and raise the animals, relying on money from selling their lightweight wool.

In the Banda district of west-central Ghana, July is the hungry season. This year's sorghum, yams and millet are still young and green in the rain-fed fields, and for most farmers, last year's harvest is long gone.

Over the past few years, so-called ugly fruit and vegetables have been gaining a host of admirers.

Scientists have tried all sorts of strategies for stopping the blacklegged tick, the carrier of Lyme disease, from biting us.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that affects an estimated 300,000 people in the United States each year, primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Citing "a culture of deeply-rooted corporate arrogance," New York, Massachusetts and Maryland have filed civil lawsuits against Volkswagen, accusing the automaker of violating those states' environmental laws when it sold cars under the "clean diesel" label that were actually rigged to trick emissions tests.

The Smoggy Seas: Cargo Ships Bring Pollution, Health Risks

Jul 19, 2016

"Made in China" labels have multiplied over the past decades — and so have the trade ships docking in East Asian ports.

More shipping containers go through Shanghai than any other port in the world — and most of the world's 10 busiest ports are in China. Asian ports loaded or unloaded almost 50 percent of shipped goods in 2013, according to a U.N. report.

In the summertime, the air is thick with the low humming of bees delivering pollen from one flower to the next. If you listen closely, a louder buzz may catch your ear.