HAULING ASH: Round-the-clock cleanup efforts continue in eastern Tennessee, the site of last week's coal-ash flood caused by a breached retention pond. Government tests indicate high levels of dangerous chemicals like lead and thallium, and after the TVA initially reported that mercury and arsenic were "barely detectable" in the 5.4 million cubic yards of gray slurry, the EPA is now reporting "very high" arsenic levels in water samples. Click here to see photos of the disaster, which has forced many from their homes. (Sources: The Nashville Tennessean, The New York Times, The Knoxville News Sentinel)

CALIFORNIA: The Washington Post examines the Golden State's growing national influence as a trendsetter for environmental regulation. Beyond the elected trio of Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman and Barbara Boxer, Obama has appointed Californians to some high-profile posts in his cabinet. (Source: WaPo)

PASSIVE PROGRESSIVE: The New York Times spotlights the German "passive house" trend, which is gaining traction in the United States. A passive house consumes virtually no energy for heating, using ultrathick insulation and convoluted doors and windows to make the building airtight. Heat stays in and cold air stays out, meaning the home can be warmed by the sun, and even ambient heat from appliances and peoples' bodies. (Source: NYT)

MOOSE ON THE TABLE: The moose, one of the North Woods' most indelible mascots, isn't warming up to climate change. The ornery and solitary animal needs cool weather and shade to stay healthy, both of which are growing scarce in its increasingly balmy habitats. Minnesotans are taking notice of plummeting moose populations, and even though it's not yet listed as an endangered species, they're organizing to prevent its demise. (Source: The Los Angeles Times)

PLASTIC BURGEON: The Greenville (S.C.) News offers an in-depth look at corn-based plastics, which could reduce our demand for petroleum, but could also amplify the problems associated with subsidized, large-scale monocropping of corn. Using contemporary plants in place of concentrated ancient plants for energy and plastics production has lots of advantages, but also requires heavy water usage, commits food crops to something other than food, and even has ecological implications we're only beginning to understand. (Sources: The Greenville News, The Huffington Post, Worldchanging, NYT)

Russell McLendon

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

The Morning Briefing: 12/29
East Tennessee gets a flood of coal in its stocking. Also, moose sweating it out in the North Woods, houses that heat themselves, and the Catch-22 of corn-based