GREASED LIGHTING: The Obama administration on Monday announced plans to upgrade the country's lighting systems, an energy-saving measure that also aims to help consumers hold onto an extra $1 billion to $4 billion a year. "When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn't just low hanging fruit; it's fruit on the ground," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. The new rules, which take effect in 2012, will have the greatest effect on "general service fluorescent lamps," the familiar office tube lights, but will also improve the efficiency of incandescent reflector lamps that are common in track lighting. The Energy Department has been overdue in updating the efficiency standards for these lights since 1997, and in 2006 a federal court settlement required the department catch up quickly. The new rules will cut electricity use up to 25 percent, according to the ruling (PDF), and avoid up to 594 million annual tons of carbon dioxide emissions. (Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, DOE)

DIVERSE DEMOCRATS: "When you win red states, strange things happen." That's according to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., reflecting on the ruling majority's new contingent of "activist centrists" — the breed of moderate Democrats who helped pass the House climate bill but who also helped water it down. They act almost like a third party, or a sub-party, that checks Obama's and more liberal Democrats' power from within. While diversity is normally good for environment, though, this type may not be good for the climate bill, as coal-state and farm-state Dems hold even more power in the Senate than in the House, which barely passed the bill 219-212 last week. (Source: Washington Post

E-WASTE WATCHERS: Rather than facing a tsunami of old televisions sweeping across the country, 18 states and New York City have passed laws since 2004 making manufacturers responsible for recycling electronics, and 13 other states introduced similar bills this year. The EPA estimates that more than 99 million TVs are sitting idle and forgotten across the country, possibly many more so now that the digital switch has happened. All those TVs — as well as computers, monitors, printers, scanners and fax machines — are packed with toxins like lead and mercury, which makes such free recycling programs all the more critical, and popular, in some of the states where they've been set up. (Source: NY Times)

VERY INTERESTING: Exxon Mobil will pay about $470 million in interest on the $507.5 million in damages it already owes to 33,000 Alaskan natives, fishermen and business owners for the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The decision is a sudden departure for the Texas-based oil giant, which had fought against paying the interest for years. The $507.5 million it owes is drastically less than the $5 billion an Anchorage jury first awarded victims of the oil spill in 1994, and payment has only recently begun trickling in. (Sources: Anchorage Daily News, AP)

ASH AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE: After denying requests to release the locations of 44 high-risk coal ash sites, citing terrorism concerns, the EPA changed its mind and released them anyway on Monday. The sites are concentrated in 10 states, with 12 in North Carolina, seven in Kentucky and others in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Ohio and Montana. The list is the result of an agency investigation following the spill of more than 1 billion gallons of coal slurry across East Tennessee last December. (Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, EPA)

THE BURROWING FROG DIET: Lots of animals hibernate, but few take it as seriously as the burrowing frogs — the reclusive amphibians can survive for years on end buried in the mud with no food or water. Scientists have finally figured out how they do it, and the answers may help treat energy-related disorders such as obesity. The frogs' cell metabolism changes dramatically when they enter their dormant state, with their cells' mitochondria going into overdrive, making the most of their extremely limited energy resources. Waking up from this state can be rough on the body, though, so unlike hibernating mammals that sometimes stir in their deep sleep, burrowing frogs stay down and out until it's time to resurface. (Source: ScienceDaily)

THE DARK SIDE OF HYBRIDS: Animal hybrids, that is. When invasive species infiltrate an environment, they don't always conquer or compete with their indigenous counterparts — sometimes they mate with them. The result can be a hybrid that's got the invader's fancy new weapons plus the native's knack for surviving in the ecosystem. A new study shows how California tiger salamanders have been shacking up with the invasive barred tiger salamanders from Texas, with the resulting "superpredator" growing larger than either of its parents. It also brings an insatiable appetite to the table, devouring the larvae of many other native species in big gulps. (Sources: NY Times, National Geographic)

Russell McLendon

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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