HAUL ASH: The EPA on Monday took over the cleanup of December's 1 billion-gallon coal-ash spill in East Tennessee, using the Superfund law to wrest oversight from the TVA. The EPA will now manage the cleanup, the agency announced in a press release yesterday, and will be reimbursed by the TVA, the public utility that owns the coal plant where the spill took place. Taxpayers will not pay to clean up the disaster, which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson calls "one of the largest and most serious environmental releases in our history." The TVA has frequently downplayed the seriousness of the spill, but the EPA statement listed several toxic substances contained in the sludge, including arsenic, lead and mercury. The cleanup is expected to take two to three years. (Sources: EPA, Nashville Tennessean, Chattanooga Times Free Press)

CARLESS LOVE: The town of Vauban, Germany, has just one road and two places to park, and 70 percent of its inhabitants don't own cars. The NY Times features this anti-Levittown on its front page this morning, examining how Vauban highlights not only a growing interest in driving less, but a trend in car-free communities — the U.S. EPA promotes "car-reduced cities," for example, and one is being built in California, having earned an exemption from zoning laws that typically require two parking spaces per residential unit. (Source: New York Times)

ELECTRIC CARS FOR LEASE: Despite the idyllic appeal of going carless, you don't have to give up driving to be Earth-friendly — it just seems that way because the United States has been without highway-legal electric cars for more than a decade (unless you're willing to pay more than $100,000 for one). But that era is almost over. Fully electric Mini coupes will be leased to 450 people in California, New York and New Jersey over the next few weeks, foreshadowing a coming flood of EVs headed for U.S. streets. Following the release of Chevy's plug-in hybrid Volt in 2010, the electric Focus is due in 2011 from Ford, which announced plans last week to spend $550 million revamping a Michigan truck factory to build the vehicle. Nissan, Mitsubishi, Tesla and others are also scrambling to gets their EVs ready. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

PESTICIDE-ICIDE: The agricultural pesticide carbofuran may no longer be used on food crops in the United States, following a ruling from the EPA on Monday. Sold under the brand name Furadan by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp. — which has fought the ban — the insecticide's granular form was axed in the 1990s after it was blamed for killing millions of wild birds, and the EPA began working in 2006 to completely remove it from the market. The agency says in coming months it plans to ban carbofuran across the board, including on nonfood crops, because of dangers it poses to farmers and the environment. (Sources: Associated Press, United Press International)

BLUE WHALES: The largest animals in the history of Earth were nearly hunted to extinction by humans in the mid-20th century, but after decades of protection they seem to finally be returning to their old habits. A new study reports 15 instances since 1997 that blue whales from Southern California waters were also spotted as far north as the Gulf of Alaska. Such long-range migration was once common for blue whales, but they've rarely been seen up there in the last half century. While this is good news, Dot Earth's Andy Revkin wonders whether resurgent populations and migratory habits will set the stage for a return to hunting the enormous creatures. (Source: Dot Earth)

EARLIEST ANIMALS: Scientists have discovered traces of the earliest animals that ever lived — small blobs of "gelatinous goo" that hugged rocks 850 million years ago in what is now Canada's Northwest territory. While such blobs haven't left fossils, they left patterns on rocks similar to the textures left by sponges in coral reefs. In addition to pushing back the age of animals, the findings also shed light on how sea life colonized the land. (Source: New Scientist)

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS: Australia's rabbits have proven at least as incorrigible as Bugs Bunny over the years, repeatedly defying attempts to stop their invasion and domination of the island continent. Viruses such as myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) have made dents, but the hares just keep growing back. Now a new study suggests that a nonlethal form of the RHD calcivirus that lives in cool, humid areas may be naturally vaccinating some rabbits against the human-introduced strain, at least partly helping to explain their resilience. Researchers suspect the vaccinating virus may have traveled to Australia with the first rabbits 150 years ago. (Source: TerraDaily)

Russell McLendon

(Photo: Wade Payne/AP)

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