ASH QUESTIONS LATER: The TVA ignored warning signs that foreshadowed December's billion-gallon flood of coal ash in East Tennessee, according to a former federal regulator. Two small leaks, noticed in 2003 and 2006, elicited spot repairs but no broader investigation of the earthen dam; the TVA says the recent breach was unrelated to those leaks. Looking forward, The New York Times reports today that there are 1,300 similar coal-ash dumps around the country, most of which are unregulated and unmonitored. And rather than looming over a sparsely populated rural valley, many are near large cities and waterways such as Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. (Sources: The Associated Press, NYT

THE HOME STRETCH: The Christian Science Monitor examines the sinking state of McMansions, those oversized homes that embodied the housing bubble. Long assailed by civic leaders, historic preservationists and neighbors for their effects on community aesthetics and energy consumption, these monoliths have now become more than just troubled assets. "The McMansion has almost become embarrassing to some people," a developer told The Monitor. (Source: The CS Monitor

WHALIN' ON WHALERS: Japan, bedeviled by especially gregarious anti-whaling activists this year, has formally appealed to Australia to not allow the demonstrators to refuel at Aussie ports. No comment yet from Australia, and the anti-whalers, many of whom are Australian, say they expect no problems. (Source: NYT)

GREENWALLING: Rio de Janeiro is planning to separate one of its more crime-plagued favelas, or slums, from the adjacent Atlantic rainforest by building a wall "eco-barrier." The pitch is that this will prevent illegal encroachment into the forest while also hindering drug trafficking and other movement by armed gangs. Few locals are pleased with the idea, though; even environmentalists say building a wall rather than adjusting infrastructure to lessen pressures on natural resources is akin to sweeping the problem under a rug. (Source: The Guardian)

COCONUT SCRIMP: The world's estimated 11 million tropical coconut farmers, who currently scrape by on an average annual income of $500, may soon get a boost from researchers at Baylor University. The team is developing various low-cost products that can be made from coconuts in an effort to increase demand and triple coconuts' market price to 30 cents each. Their research has already yielded a coconut fiber that can replace synthetic polyester fibers in trunk liners, floorboards and interior door covers of cars. (Source: ScienceDaily)

Russell McLendon

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