GREEN TEAM GREEN LIGHT: Lisa Jackson, Nancy Sutley and Ray LaHood were confirmed to head the EPA, White House Council on Environmental Quality and Department of Transportation, respectively, late Thursday by Senate voice votes. Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming had blocked the unanimous-consent confirmations of Jackson and Sutley, citing concerns about how new climate czar Carol Browner would be involved in EPA policy decisions. But Barrasso spoke to Browner Thursday, apparently alleviating his worries, and he withdrew his objection. Jackson sent a memo to EPA employees today highlighting her top five priorities as well as three values she says "will shape everything." For more on President Obama's environmental cabinet picks, see MNN's green team guide. (Sources: The Star-Ledger, United Press International, MSNBC, The Associated Press, EPA.gov, ScienceNews)
MORE, PLEASE: R.K. Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says Obama's promises to fight global warming are "inspiring," but don't go far enough. Obama says he'll push for the United States to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, but Pachauri says he should match Europe's goal of emitting just 80 percent of 1990 levels within 12 years. (Sources: WhiteHouse.gov, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
SUGARCOALING: Was December's billion-gallon spill of coal-ash in East Tennessee "catastrophic," a "very serious event," or simply a "sudden, accidental release"? The TVA seems to prefer the latter two, according to the utility's public relations staff. An internal memo written the day after the spill has been accidentally leaked to the AP, showing how PR staffers edited language to make it softer and less frightening. Various environmental groups have accused the TVA of downplaying risks to public and ecological health, arguing that its reassuring public statements don't match its safety precautions at the actual sites of contamination. (Source: AP)
SMART GROWTH: It's amazing what science can do for a beleaguered nation's morale. That's been clear in the United States this week as Obama's pledge to restore the reputation of American science has reinvigorated intellectuals. But a similar phenomenon could be taking place in an even more troubled country: Iraq. A two-year campaign saw 340 Iraqi academics assassinated by 2007, and university bombings pushed student attendance down to 30 percent. But with violence now down 80 percent since early '07, a thicket of thinkers is hoping to spur the war-torn nation's recovery by encouraging Iraqi scientists to come back. (Sources: Reuters, The New York Times, SciDev.net)
POLAR BEARINGS: Although Antarctica recently joined the hot continents club, the Arctic is still on the front lines of global warming, and three British explorers are headed there to diagnose the situation. The Guardian offers this photo gallery previewing their 100-day expedition, which will begin in late February or early March, depending on weather conditions. (Sources: Bloomberg, The Guardian)
KEEP ON TRUCKIN': Despite ongoing warnings from scientists about global warming, and despite a political upswell of willingness to combat it, the economy has largely pushed such environmental concerns to the public's back burner of worries. And with gas prices temptingly low, the eco-efforts automakers recently unveiled at the Detroit auto show may meet deaf ears, too. The stagnant credit market has hamstrung most auto sales, but The Christian Science Monitor reports that pickup trucks have suddenly become popular — sales jumped 30 percent in December. (Sources: NY Times, CS Monitor)
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