CLEAN SLATE: Obama promised today to double production of alternative energy in three years, part of a speech he gave pressing Congress to pass an economic stimulus package post haste. The pledge offers hope to struggling renewable energy companies, and further solidifies Obama's commitment to weaning the country off fossil fuels. At least one person wasn't convinced it was a reasonable goal, though — Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson. (Sources: The New York Times, Reuters

YANKEE SCANDAL: Vermont's only nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee, has had two leaks of radioactive water in as many days, causing officials to bring the reactor down to 40 percent power while they make repairs. The first leak, discovered Wednesday, was a broken valve leaking radioactive water inside the plant. The second one, found today, was leaking feedwater at 60 drops a minute. (Sources: The Associated PressThe Burlington Free Press, The Barre Montpelier Times Argus)

TOXIN SENSE: The EPA must make changes to prevent another spill of coal ash like the one in East Tennessee two weeks ago, California Sen. Barbara Boxer said today at a hearing about the flood. As the NY Times reported earlier this week, there are 1,300 similar containment ponds around the country, none of which are regulated by the EPA. (Sources: MSNBC, NY Times)

AUTISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT: Environmental toxins could play a major role in the epidemic of autism spectrum disorder that's been sweeping the United States in recent decades, according to a new study from UC Davis researchers. The study debunks a common rebuttal to the toxin theory — that diagnosis and counting has improved, but rates haven't gone up — and also suggests genetics is a less likely cause than environmental pollution, since a genetic epidemic would take forever to spread. The team is now studying what effects heavy metals and pesticides might have on autism rates. (Sources: The Los Angeles Times, UC Davis, The Huffington Post)  

RILED WEST: Global warming may already be affecting the American Southwest — by healing damage people have done to it. The Southwest we know is largely an artifact of human interference, created by grazing animals and suppression of natural wildfires that had been managing plant life for millennia. Now that the Southwest is drying up, the ecosystem is "resetting" itself back to its natural state, according to a USGS scientist. As the juniper and pinyon trees that have thrived without wildfires are now pushed back out by extreme conditions, the Southwest will become hardier and better able to recover from future droughts. (Source: The Christian Science Monitor)

A SIGHT FOR MORE EYES: Scientists have discovered that the spookfish uses mirror eyes — previously unheard of an any animal with a backbone — to scan the ocean depths below while its regular eyes look up for food. (Source: ScienceDaily)

AW SHUCKS: MNN was featured today in TIME magazine.

Russell McLendon

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