Policy

Wildfire plan seen as biggest land policy change in decades

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A year after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell shifted the national approach to fighting wildfires across a wide swath of sagebrush country in the West, her strategy is turning out to be one of the most significant federal land policy changes in some 80 years, public land experts, outdoor enthusiasts and scientists say.

The five-page order she issued last January directed federal resources for the first time to fight massive blazes in open sagebrush steppe habitat that supports cattle ranching, recreation and some 350 species of wildlife, including the imperiled sage grouse.

"It is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the United States," said Janice Schneider, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

A look at mass donations to Flint amid drinking water crisis

DETROIT (AP) — On top of millions of dollars in pledged governmental aid, faith-based and nonprofit organizations, companies large and small, the rich and famous, and many other individuals all have targeted Flint for significant charitable giving — in the form of money and millions of bottles of water.

But how much of that has found its way to the struggling city of 100,000, where the water supply became contaminated with lead as early as 2014 and sparked a public health emergency? And can there be too much? Here's a look at the donation situation:

HOW MUCH HAS BEEN DISTRIBUTED?

State emergency response officials say about 176,000 cases of water, 93,000 water filters and 29,000 water testing kits have been distributed to residents since Jan. 6. Those represent donated and state-purchased supplies.

Oil

Court gives oil disaster captain 2-year suspended sentence

MADRID (AP) — Spain's Supreme Court has given a two-year suspended prison sentence to the captain of the Prestige oil tanker that sank off Spain's northwestern coast 14 years ago, triggering a major environmental catastrophe.

The court said Tuesday it upheld an appeal against the acquittal of Apostolos Mangouras by a lower court in 2013 and found him guilty of environmental crimes. The court ordered the ship's insurance agency, its owner and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds to pay as yet unspecified compensation.

The 26-year-old Prestige sank after running into problems and spewed most of its 77,000 metric tons (20.5 million gallons) of fuel oil into one of the world's richest fishing grounds.

AP Photo

New Flint water probe draws critics; UN monitoring crisis

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan attorney general's investigation into the process that left Flint's drinking water tainted with lead is drawing bipartisan criticism, with a Republican leader saying Tuesday that it duplicates the work of a state task force and Democrats questioning whether the special counsel will be impartial.

Meanwhile, the crisis has attracted the attention of the United Nations, which is "looking at the human implications closely," according to Baskut Tuncak, a UN expert on hazardous substance and waste. And national and local NAACP leaders are planning to reveal Tuesday what they call a "15-point priority plan" created with Flint residents' input to address the health emergency.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Tuesday that the probe into Flint — which Attorney General Bill Schuette said Monday will be led by a former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County and a retired head of Detroit's FBI office — should wait until a panel appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder finishes its work.

Michigan AG appointed prosecutor to lead Flint water probe

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's Republican attorney general named a former prosecutor to spearhead an investigation into the process that left Flint's drinking water tainted with lead, though Democrats questioned whether the special counsel would be impartial.

Attorney General Bill Schuette said Monday that Todd Flood, a former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County, which includes Detroit, will lead the probe and be joined by Andy Arena, a retired head of Detroit's FBI office.

Schuette said the two would play key roles in the investigation and prevent conflicts of interest since the attorney general's office also defends the state. Both will report to Schuette, who promised they would provide an "experienced and independent review of all the facts and circumstances."

Court rejects coal industry's complaint on new dust rules

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal appeals court has rejected a request from the coal industry to delay new rules on dust monitoring in underground mines.

The National Mining Association and several coal companies asked the court to halt the implementation of a rule taking effect Feb. 1 that would increase the number of air samples taken in underground mines. It would also require some miners to wear personal devices that give readings on air quality.

The industry group argued that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration overstepped its authority in issuing the dust rules. The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled Monday that MSHA acted properly.

A look at investigations into Flint's lead-tainted water

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Monday the appointment of a special counsel to aid his office's investigation into whether laws were broken regarding Flint's lead-tainted water. It is unclear at this point if the probe could result in criminal or civil charges. Flint's public works director, Michigan's top environmental regulator, a state spokesman and a high-ranking federal regulator have resigned in connection with the crisis. Two other state environmental officials have been suspended pending an investigation.

A look at various investigations taking place:

Slow return to normal routines for cities hit by snowstorm

WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than three days with life at a virtual standstill in the nation's capital and elsewhere up and down the East Coast, the cities hit hard by a massive snowstorm were getting closer to their normal routines.

In the Washington area, the Metro subway system was scheduled to be close to fully operational Tuesday morning after it gradually lurched back into service throughout the day Monday. Trains were expected to still run less often, though.

Schools in the District of Columbia, northern Virginia and Maryland were still closed, and federal offices were closed for another day. District government employees will be back at work.

Ex-prosecutor to spearhead investigation into Flint water

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A former prosecutor and a retired head of the Detroit FBI will play key roles in an investigation into Flint's lead-tainted water as part of the effort to seek answers while also preventing conflicts of interest, Michigan's attorney general announced Monday.

Republican Bill Schuette said Todd Flood, a former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County, which includes Detroit, will spearhead the investigation and serve as special counsel. He will be joined by Andy Arena, who led Detroit's FBI office from 2007 until 2012.

Schuette, who had declined to investigate in December but later reversed course, gave no timetable for the investigation. It could focus on whether environmental laws were broken or if there was official misconduct in the process that left Flint's drinking water contaminated.

Ohio agency seeks criminal probe into water plant problems

CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio is sending pallets of bottled water and testing kits to several communities after environmental officials said the operator of a small water system failed to notify the public for months that unsafe levels of lead had been found in some homes.

The state Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order Monday forbidding James Bates from working at the Sebring village water treatment plant and informing him that the agency intends to revoke his operating license for endangering the public and for submitting "misleading, inaccurate or false reports." Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said he asked the U.S. EPA to open a criminal investigation of what occurred in Sebring, a village about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.

The Youngstown Vindicator reported Monday that Bates has been placed on administrative leave. Bates declined to comment when reached at home.

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