PUT UP YOUR NUKES: With Senate Democrats no longer holding a "supermajority" and the U.S. climate bill increasingly in doubt, President Obama is turning to the nuclear option — the literal one — to push climate legislation through Congress. Not only did Obama highlight nuclear power in his State of the Union address last week, but the 2011 federal budget he's unveiling today is expected to include about $54 billion in new loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, up from the $18.5 billion currently authorized. It's a way to placate Republicans and moderate Democrats who worry that regulating CO2 emissions and relying on renewable energy would drive energy prices too high, and since nuclear plants have no CO2 emissions, it could do wonders for the country's carbon footprint. There's still the issue of nuclear waste — Obama has abandoned plans to stash it at Yucca Mountains in Nevada, but on Friday, the Energy Department announced that a new bipartisan panel will spend the next two years developing a plan for how to manage the country's radioactive leftovers. Meanwhile, one of the few Republicans so far to support regulating greenhouse gas emissions says Obama's nuclear push should be enough to woo skeptical lawmakers. "The president did a great job putting nuclear on the table in a robust way, as well as offshore drilling for oil and natural gas," says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "I hope Republicans understand we have a once in lifetime chance, but in return we have to come up with emissions standards." (Sources: CNNAssociated Press, Wall Street Journal)

THE EAST WIND: In addition to pushing nuclear power, Obama also pointed out during last week's State of the Union speech that the United States is losing ground to other countries, especially China, in developing clean-energy technology. "I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don't either," Obama told Congress last Wednesday night, alluding to a boom in the Chinese renewable-power sector that the New York Times now explores more deeply. While U.S. wind production jumped by a record 39 percent in 2009, it grew even faster in China, which now leads the world in production of wind turbines as well as solar panels. It's charging ahead with ambitious nuclear and clean-coal projects, too, and the Times suggests the West may in the process of switching from a dependence on Mideast oil to a dependence on Chinese clean-energy equipment. (Source: NY Times)

FISH OUT OF WATER: The United States is under attack, the Washington Post reports, from a diverse army of invasive plants and animals that are threatening to transform the country's natural ecosystems and obliterate regional economies. The invasion of Asian Carp up the Mississippi River and into the Great Lakes is one recent example — putting the region's $7 billion-a-year fishing industry at risk, and leading to a Supreme Court showdown between Michigan and Illinois — but almost no part of the country is safe from alien species infiltrating our borders. Plants like cogongrass and tamarisk are conquering large swaths of open wilderness from Alabama to Arizona, while anacondas and pythons commandeer the Everglades from native predators such as alligators and crocodiles. Exotic species cause an estimated $120 billion in environmental losses and damages each year, according to the Post, but the high-profile case of Asian carp may be helping shine more light on the problem, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently instructed his department to review how it can more effectively combat invasive species. "It sometimes takes dramatic evidence to bring public attention to something that's been a problem for some time," another Interior official tells the Post. (Source: Washington Post)

NATURAL DISASTERS: Earthquakes were the deadliest natural disaster of the past decade, according to a new report from the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, which found that nearly 60 percent of all people killed by natural disasters between 2000 to 2009 died from quakes. Storms accounted for 22 percent of the lives lost and extreme temperatures another 11 percent, while a total of 3,582 disasters killed more than 780,000 people overall during the 10-year span. Asia was by far the hardest-hit continent, with 85 percent of all fatalities, due largely to ferocious 2004 tsunamis that killed more than 220,000 people. The death toll from the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12 is feared to be as high as 200,000. The study's authors warn that increasing urbanization, deforestation and other demographic trends can make natural disasters even more disastrous, but add that while disasters and death tolls are increasing, improved preparation seems to already be saving at least some lives. "The number of catastrophic events has more than doubled since the 1980-'89 decade," says the center's director. "In contrast, the number of affected people has increased at a slower rate. This may be due to better community preparedness and prevention." (Source: BBC News)

Russell McLendon

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Photo (nuclear power plant): U.S. Energy Department

Photo (wind turbines in Xinjiang, China): ZUMA Press

Photo (Asian carp): ZUMA Press

Photo (Haiti earthquake damage): Rodrigo Abd/AP

Daily Briefing: Mon. 2/1/2010
Obama goes nuclear, winds of change lift China, alien species invade U.S., and more.