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rcnatgeoLargest U.S. Coal Ash Pond to Close, But Future Rules Still Undecided

Neighbors recall promises that the eerie azure lake known as “Little Blue” would be made into a recreational jewel, complete with swimming, bike trails, and sailboats.

But the sprawling pond, its blue somewhat faded in recent years, delivered more blight than benefits to its rural surroundings near the West Virginia border in southwestern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania officials now have initiated shutdown of the facility south of the Ohio River, one of the largest U.S. impoundments for waste ash from coal power plants.

rcspotusThe Poisoning of Colstrip

When the McRae family settled outside of Colstrip, Montana five generations ago, it was for the water. Clint McRae’s great-great-grandfather came when the area was opened for homesteading in the 1880s, in search of a good place to raise cows. When he found water in Rosebud County that was clean, plentiful and close to the surface, he stayed.

“One of the things in agriculture you always look for is water–quality and quantity–and the reason they settled here is there was a lot of water, and it was shallow. The aquifers were very shallow,” said Clint McRae, 49, a six-foot rancher with a thick dark brown mustache who almost always wears a bandana around his neck, bow tied in front.

But he and others in Colstrip are worried because the water under the town is being compromised by poisons known to cause cancer in people and other problems in cattle.

rccsmJohn-Paul Maxfield aims to put nutrients from food waste back into the soil

The United States has a topsoil problem.

About 75 percent of it is gone, primarily because the large, single-crop farms that dominate American agriculture rely on chemicals and synthetic fertilizers to produce their harvests, depleting natural soil systems in the process.

John-Paul Maxfield thinks compost can help solve this problem. Environmentalists love compost for several reasons, including that it helps divert waste from landfills – the world’s largest source of human-produced methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

rcgristChilling effect: How warmer winters could ruin fruit

Think of your favorite fruits and you might think of the warm climates they tend to thrive in. Florida oranges, Texas grapefruit, California strawberries — and grapes, figs, pears, and apricots. But here’s the funny thing: Most fruit trees have to chill. Literally. Unless they’re tropical, trees have what are called “chilling requirements”: They need winter temperatures to drop to within a certain range — usually just above freezing — and remain there for a set period of time.

This allows the buds to go into dormancy and tolerate harsh winter weather, and to reset themselves for the fruit production cycle to start again when spring comes around.


rc5280Herd mentality

Working remotely with no access to transportation and speaking little English, he felt trapped. “I knew it was going to be rough, but they never told me that they weren’t going to give me enough food, that they weren’t going to pay me, that they weren’t going to give me access to a phone, to a doctor,” Conovilca-Matamoros said last summer through an interpreter. “They never told me they were going to treat me like an animal.”

Drive around Routt National Forest and the Western Slope, and you may see more men like Conovilca-Matamoros. They tend to the sheep that will eventually be sent to a feedlot in northern Colorado, on to a slaughterhouse, and ultimately to restaurants around the country. According to the American Lamb Board, Colorado ranks third nationwide in the production of sheep and is the largest sheep-feeding state. Restaurants throughout the country have added Colorado lamb to their menus because of its reputation for quality, and Colorado restaurants specifically like it because the meat is seen as supportive of local industry. “The Denver food scene is growing up, and lamb is part of that,” says Tim Kuklinski of Larimer Square’s Rioja restaurant. “Colorado lamb is some of the best in the world.”

rccoloindyPueblo power debate: ‘All of the impacts, few of the benefits’

Xcel produces 1,410 megawatts of electricity in Pueblo — enough to power at least a million homes — but sells none of it to local residents. It does, indirectly, sell a percentage of that power to Pueblo households through Black Hills, which has a franchise agreement with the city, but will do so only until the end of next year, when the current contract is set to expire.

Black Hills has plans in the works for a natural gas plant in Pueblo that it hopes to have up and running before its contract with Xcel expires. And until last month, plans were underway for an “energy park” that was being marketed as a renewable energy project but which would have relied heavily, at least initially, on nuclear power.

rc5280Temporary pardon

Ana C. says she finally feels like she belongs to a country. Soft-spoken yet opinionated, with wavy black hair that falls just below her shoulders, the 20-year-old has lived in the United States—in Texas for three months and in Colorado, currently in Aurora—since she was three years old, but that doesn’t mean she has always felt welcome. Undocumented immigrants like Ana often spend their youths growing up in the shadows.

Ana’s parents entered the country legally—with Ana and her sisters in tow—but didn’t return to Mexico when their tourist visas expired. Her parents found more opportunities here and wanted to create the best possible future for their children. Ana has no memory of the Mexican state of Chihuahua where she was born.


rcrealsimpleWhat to Do If Your Child Is a Victim of Identity Theft

Your third grader’s only sources of income are Grandma and the Tooth Fairy. She doesn’t have a clue how to use a credit card. And yet she may be a prime target for identity thieves. One in 10 children had a Social Security number that was used by someone else before she became an adult, according to a recent report by CyLab, a research center at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. Astonishingly, the rate of identity theft among children was 51 times higher than that among adults in the study.


smithsonian_comThe very model of a modern major STEM school

School districts around the country are grasping for ways to make science and math education work and inspire a new generation of biologists, astrophysicists, mathematicians and engineers. In Colorado, the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) appears to have mastered the formula. This network of STEM schools—with emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math—consists of five campuses that operate as charter schools under the Denver Public Schools (DPS) system. The schools outperform their neighbors in testing, but it’s not just the STEM curriculum that makes DSST stand out.


rcthCycle Chalao! Bike Sharing Comes to India

Raj Janagam was growing frustrated with the lack of transportation methods in India for commuting short distances. He said 10 million people in Mumbai alone use local trains and public buses for long-distance transport, but there was no practical way for him to get from the railway station to his college. It seemed the perfect place to set up a bike share program. But since none existed, he was going to have to do it.

rcnytFor a People in Pain, a Reason to Dance

The first guests arrived at 10 p.m., knowing they would dance until nearly dawn. The sari-like Sudanese dress of the women — called a tob in Arabic — stood out among the dark suits of the men, and guests shouted to hear one another over the noise of the band.

The event, held several weeks ago at the Widdi Catering Hall in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, offered a stark and treasured contrast to the occasions that typically bring this group together. Sumia el-Shirtay and Mohamed Hashim, both natives of Darfur, were getting married, and the Darfurians of Brooklyn had come to observe and participate in a condensed version of the elaborate wedding ceremony, which in Sudanese culture can last up to five days.


rccsmNew guidelines show chimps are rarely needed for medical research

The reaction to the new guidelines has been largely celebratory: The New York Times wrote that animal welfare groups cite it as a victory in their fight against chimp research, and Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), which has fought for years against the practice, said, “This pivotal report is the first step toward ending all chimpanzee research in U.S. laboratories. The science guided the IOM [Institute of Medicine] to its conclusion that they are ‘not necessary’ – a promising outcome for chimpanzees and better science for humans.”

Some in the industry, however, see it another way. John VandeBerg, scientific director of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, told the AP that he believes the new guidelines will have little or no impact on his facility, which runs one of the four large active chimp research programs in the country. Answers about which chimps will be released and when are vague, and the report leaves some potential loopholes.


rcdowserAddressing Mental Health in Conflict Zones

Compared with other forms of illness, mental health disorders tend to be an overlooked health issue. This is especially true in a place like Somalia. In a conflict-prone area vulnerable to the kind of drought and famine that is occurring right now, mental illness drops far down the list of public policy priorities.

rcthChristmas Trees Recycled Into Fish Habitats Across the Country

Around the country, Christmas trees are recycled for an unlikely purpose: they make for good fish habitat.

From southern California to South Carolina, fish and wildlife agencies have been collecting Christmas trees with plans to use them in lakes and waterways to create protective habitats for small fish.