TREEFALLING: This is nearly everyone's top environmental story this morning, so even though I mentioned it in yesterday's Last Call I think it bears repeating: Trees in the American West are dying at double the rate they were a couple decades ago, and scientists blame global warming. And in other bad news for trees, the Queens Botanical Garden in New York is canceling its annual Arbor Day celebration in April, billed as the city's largest. (Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, NY Times)

COAL COMFORT: We're not even one full month into 2009, but it's already a bad year for the Tennessee Valley Authority. It started in late December with the Roane County, Tenn., billion-gallon coal-ash spill. It got worse a couple weeks later with another coal-ash spill in Alabama. Now a federal judge in North Carolina has ordered the TVA to curb emissions from four coal-fired power plants that were sending polluted air to the Tar Heel state. As the NYT editorial board opines this morning, not only is all this bad for the TVA, it doesn't reflect well on the coal industry's "clean coal" campaign. (Source: NY Times)

POWER LINE IN THE SAND: An environmental group has asked the California Supreme Court to intervene in a long-running dispute over a 123-mile, $1.9 billion project to build power transmission lines connecting San Diego and Imperial County. The lines would cross through remote desert, backcountry and the Cleveland National Forest, all of which the Center for Biological Diversity worries would be threatened. The group also alleges that the lines wouldn't necessarily be used to transport renewable energy, which was part of the project's original justification. (Source: LA Times)

SMOGPILE: Two very different smog-plagued cities are in the news today. Hong Kong's notorious air pollution is now 10 times above World Health Organization standards, and Thursday's air was the city's worst in a year. Worst of all, the smog is made of fine particulates, which lodge in airways and, a recent study found, can shorten a person's life expectancy by five months or more. And around the world, Boise is developing a smog problem of its own. Booming population growth and a sprawling layout have the Idaho capital flirting with federal regulations, not to mention losing its appeal as a clean, quiet mountain oasis. "Idaho's always considered itself very rural," one state official tells the NY Times, "and we found out we're not." (Sources: Agence France-Presse, TIME, NY Times)

SPACE TRACE: Japan launched the first satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide into orbit today. Called "Ibuki," Japanese for "breath," the satellite will speed around the Earth once every 100 minutes, collecting data on CO2 concentrations for the next five years. It will share information with NASA and other space and science organizations around the world. (Source: The Associated Press)

ECO-RELOCATION: The two-degree rise in Southwestern temperatures doesn't bode well for the already-arid region, a problem at the forefront of a recent climate change conference in Tucson, Ariz. Facing potential "megadroughts," scientists discussed the possibility of moving threatened environments to other regions whose climates shift to resemble the old Southwest's. Such a large-scale relocation would entail seeding the new areas with Southwestern trees, which would die at first but eventually become established as the climate warms. Other species could then be trucked in to fill out the transplanted ecosystem. (Source: The Tucson Citizen)

SCALING FISH: Scientists have discovered a new species of catfish in tropical South America that can climb vertical surfaces using a grasping pelvic fin. The Lithogenes wahari has bony armor protecting its head and tail, and also uses its specialized fin — which detaches from its body and can move back and forth independently — in combination with its mouth to scale walls, making it only the second type of climbing catfish known to science. (Source: ScienceDaily)  

Russell McLendon