DAMMED IF YOU DO, DAMMED IF YOU DON'T: Hydroelectric dams are becoming more and more attractive these days as nonpolluting, fossil-free power sources, but their small carbon footprints still come at a price — sliced salmon. The LA Times reports today about the predicament facing the hydropower industry as it both itches to expand and hears constant calls to scale back, since its spinning turbines often mutilate migrating swarms of salmon and other fish. Of the 82,600 dams dotting U.S. rivers, only about 3 percent generate electricity, but those couple thousand make up nearly three-quarters of the country's renewable electric power. Industry advocates say the way of the future is to add energy-generating turbines to the tens of thousands of dams currently producing no power, but many conservationists say that, if anything, existing dams should be removed. There may be a happy, albeit expensive, medium: The Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River has managed to keep alive 90 percent of the salmon passing through by spending $292 million on upgraded generators, more efficient turbines and a mile-long safe passage tunnel for the 3.5 million salmon and steelhead that swim through each year. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

TALKING A GREEN STREAK: The United States is hosting two leading Chinese officials in Washington this week as part of the Obama administration's "Strategic and Economic Dialogue," a series of meeting aimed at boosting top-level ties between the two countries. In a WSJ op-ed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner write that, following the economic crisis, their second priority is to address climate change, energy and the environment. "In the run-up to the international climate change conference in Copenhagen in December," say Clinton and Geithner, "it is clear that any agreement must include meaningful participation by large economies like China." (Sources: LA Times, Agence France-Presse, Wall Street Journal)

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE: Navajo miners spent decades digging up uranium across swaths of the Southwest, much of it used by the U.S. military to make weapons. Radiation indirectly killed many of the miners, some of whom even brought uranium rocks and tailings home to help build their homes, unaware of the health dangers. The NY Times reports today how the EPA has gone through the Navajo Nation to persuade those still living with the legacy of 20th century uranium mining to move out until their homes could be rebuilt. Many homes were found to have been abandoned, but eight still had people living in them, often surrounded by radium, a decay product of uranium that can cause lung cancer. The EPA is now investigating whether the mining companies that operated on the Navajo reservation are liable for any of the damages. (Source: New York Times)

AN ILL WIND: If you're going to build a research center to study highly contagious animal diseases like foot-and-mouth disease or African swine fever, maybe building it in Tornado Alley isn't the best idea. Regardless, that's where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is planning to build the new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a $700 million federal facility designed to replace one currently located safely on a remote island off the New York coast. According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, Homeland Security's decision to build NBAF in Manhattan, Kan., is not "scientifically defensible" and could possibly result in "regrettable consequences." While DHS defends its pick, some critics are wondering how it settled on the Kansas location, which was lobbied heavily by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the state's two U.S. senators, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts. (Source: Washington Post)

BUNNIES FOR HORSES: Two Playboy playmates have joined with Willie Nelson's daughter in support of a new bill in Congress that would provide additional land and protections for wild mustangs in 10 Western states. Shane and Sia Barbi, aka the Barbi Twins, and Amy Nelson are reacting against Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who's complaining that the bill is too expensive during a recession. (While Hastings says it would cost $700 million, the Congressional Budget Office estimate is $200 million over five years.) Shane Barbi tells Politico that "voters want to help animals no matter how bad times are," and Nelson says she thinks Obama will support the bill, since "he's a compassionate and intelligent person." (Source: Politico)

Russell McLendon

Photo: National Science Foundation

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Daily Briefing: Mon. 7/27/2009
Dams and sliced salmon, Playboy bunnies and wild horses, deadly diseases and tornadoes, and more.