CLEARING THE AIR: In one of his first acts as president, Obama has blocked two last-minute environmental regulations pushed by the Bush administration. Plans to loosen air-quality standards and to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list are now frozen, but several other of Bush's "midnight regulations" had already cleared a statutory waiting period, meaning they're too far along for Obama to freeze them outright. Rule changes such as the the one allowing mountaintop removal debris to be dumped on valley streams, or the tracts of Utah land leased for oil and gas drilling, could still be overturned, but that could take months or years. In the mean time, Obama could still drop the federal government's opposition to several environmental lawsuits challenging Bush-era rules. (Source: The Los Angeles Times)

CHASING TAILPIPE: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent Obama a letter Wednesday asking him to let states regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles. In 2007 the Bush administration concluded that states don't have the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions for new vehicles, something both Obama and EPA administrator-designate Lisa Jackson have said they will revisit; the Obama transition team declined to comment on the matter Wednesday. California has long sought to impose tougher emissions standards than the federal government requires. (Source: The Associated Press)

LIVE LUNG AND PROSPER: Cleaner air can add more than five months to a person's life, according to new research from a Brigham Young University epidemiologist. Reduced air pollution in the 1980s and '90s led to an average five-month increase in 51 U.S. cities' life expectancy, and some of the more polluted cities, like Pittsburgh and Buffalo, N.Y., saw 10-month increases. Especially dangerous are "fine particulates," which are small enough to burrow deep into the lungs' small air passages. (Source: LA Times)

LAHOOD LIFE: Former Illinois congressman Ray LaHood was confirmed as secretary of transportation by the U.S. Senate Wednesday. LaHood is expected to play a major role in the Obama administration, as the upcoming stimulus package will likely entail many transportation projects. LaHood also pledged to push for full financing of the Amtrak passenger railroad operation, calling it "the lifeblood of many, many communities around the country." (Source: The New York Times)

AT FAULT: A newly discovered fault in eastern Arkansas could trigger a magnitude 7 earthquake with an epicenter near a major natural-gas pipeline, the Arkansas Earthquake Center's director announced Wednesday. The fault was likely formed in the last 5,000 years and has led to at least one magnitude 7 earthquake; a quake now would be disastrous if it ruptured the pipeline. (Source: AP)

HOBBIT-FORMING: The "hobbit" skull discovered in Indonesia in 2003 is not human, according to researchers from Stony Brook University, adding to existing evidence the bones belong to a previously unknown hominid species. The science community was abuzz after the initial discovery of Homo floresiensis, billed as a miniature human who lived on Indonesian islands up to 17,000 years ago, possibly co-existing with modern humans. Skeptics had claimed it was just the skull of a human suffering from microencephaly — a shrunken cranium — but this new analysis seems to put that theory to rest. (Source: ScienceDaily)

Russell McLendon

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