contaminated water flows through spillway
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Investigation: EPA, state missed potential for mine blowout

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Republicans say they're not satisfied with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claim that a 3-million-gallon toxic spill from an inactive gold mine was likely "inevitable," even though there had been prior warnings that such a spill could occur.

An EPA internal investigation determined federal and state regulators mistakenly concluded water pressure inside the mine near Silverton was not high enough to cause an accident.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Judge blocks EPA's Clean Water Rule

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge in North Dakota on Thursday blocked a new Obama administration rule that would give the federal government jurisdiction over some state waterways.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson of North Dakota issued a temporary injunction against a the rule, which gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers authority to protect some streams, tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The rule was scheduled to take effect Friday.

"The risk of irreparable harm to the states is both imminent and likely," Erickson said in blocking the rule from taking effect.

Thirteen states led by North Dakota asked Erickson to suspend guidelines that they say are unnecessary and infringe on state sovereignty. The federal government says the new rule clarifies ambiguity in the law and actually makes it easier for the states to manage some waterways. It wasn't immediately clear if the injunction applied to states other than the 13 led by North Dakota.

The other states involved in the lawsuit are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Ag secretary promises more sage grouse spending across West

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The federal government plans to spend more than $200 million over the next three years on programs to protect greater sage grouse in Western states — regardless of whether the bird receives federal protections, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack told The Associated Press that he wants to almost double protected habitat for the chicken-sized bird, to 8 million acres by 2018. He also promised more spending on conservation easements for private landowners, to limit residential development in sage grouse habitat and to restore wetlands used by the birds.

Obama says New Orleans is 'moving forward' after hurricane

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says New Orleans is "moving forward" a decade after Hurricane Katrina dealt it a devastating blow, and has become an example of what can happen when people rally around each other to build a better future out of the despair of tragedy.

Obama was marking the storm's 10th anniversary by meeting Thursday with residents who continue to rebuild their lives and communities. He was also delivering remarks -- excerpts of which were released by the White House -- at a newly opened community center in the Lower 9th Ward, a largely African-American neighborhood that was one of the hardest hit by the storm. It is still struggling to recover.

Official: Californians understanding need to conserve water

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — State officials say that water conservation figures for July show California residents are beginning to understand the dire need to cut back in a fourth year of drought.

Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said that regulators are now turning their focus to the communities failing to conserve. They are making personal visits with local officials in cities that have haven't responded to a mandate by Gov. Jerry Brown's to use 25 percent less water.

Fire crews battle smoky conditions, flames in Washington

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Smoke from big wildfires burning east of the Cascade Range hurt air quality Wednesday and hampered efforts by crews battling the flames in Washington state.

Smoky conditions grounded helicopters and airplanes that had been fighting the fires, and air quality was rated as unhealthy for some people in Spokane County, which has nearly 500,000 residents.

IAEA reports Iran broadly complying with nuclear accords

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran is broadly complying with agreements on curtailing its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Thursday in its first update since last month's deal between Tehran and world powers. It noted concern, however, with an Iranian military site where nuclear weapons work may have occurred more than a decade ago.

The U.N. agency said Iran's current level of uranium enrichment, nuclear research and development and other activity is in line with its declarations. The 21-page report covers Iran's nuclear program in the run-up to the landmark accord on July 14 and its first steps toward implementing that agreement. A copy of the document was obtained by The Associated Press.

Kazakhstan to host international uranium bank

MOSCOW (AP) — The International Atomic Energy Agency and Kazakhstan have signed an agreement to establish a low-enriched uranium bank in the Central Asian country, a move that supporters say could reduce concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation.

An IAEA statement on Thursday said the bank will be able to hold up to 90 tons of low-enriched uranium, which would be available to IAEA member states if they're unable to obtain nuclear fuel on the commercial market.

Oil

Ecuador's president says country now producing oil at a loss

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuadoreans are already contending with a rumbling, ash-spewing volcano and rising living costs because they use the appreciating U.S. dollar as their currency.

Now they've been told that Ecuador's oil — its principal export and a vital source of government funding — costs more to produce than it earns.

Report: Solyndra misrepresented facts to get loan guarantee

WASHINGTON (AP) — A four-year investigation has concluded that officials of the solar company Solyndra misrepresented facts and omitted key information in their efforts to get a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government.

The company's collapse soon after getting federal backing provided ammunition to lawmakers and other critics who portrayed President Barack Obama's economic stimulus program as wasteful government spending. The company's failure likely will cost taxpayers more than $500 million.

Chinese, U.S. officials sign coal deal
AP Photo/Matthew Brown

China, US move toward 'clean coal' agreement

BILLINGS, Montana (AP) — U.S. and China officials took a major step Tuesday toward an agreement to advance "clean coal" technologies that purport to reduce the fuel's contribution to climate change — and could offer a potential lifeline for an industry that's seen its fortunes fade.

The agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and China's National Energy Administration would allow the two nations to share their results as they refine technologies to capture the greenhouse gases produced from burning coal, said Christopher Smith, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for fossil energy.

In reversal, Colorado mine town to seek federal cleanup help

SILVERTON, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado town where a toxic mine leak earlier this month unleashed a torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers has decided to change course and request federal disaster funds to clean up the mine.

The Silverton Board of Trustees and the San Juan County Commission approved a joint resolution Monday to seek the money. It's a reversal for local officials who long feared that designation as a federal Superfund site would harm economic development.

Oil

BP restarts part of Indiana oil refinery after repairs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A large Indiana oil refinery whose unplanned shutdown for repairs earlier this month caused gasoline prices in the Great Lakes region to spike restarted Tuesday, leading experts to predict a quick drop in prices.

BP issued a news release Tuesday saying it has safely restarted a large crude distillation unit at its refinery in Whiting, 15 miles southeast of Chicago. The unit had been shut down since Aug. 8 for unscheduled repair work. Gas prices were about $2.384 on Aug. 9.

Lawmaker sees opening for appeal of $225m Exxon ruling

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — While a New Jersey judge approved the state's $225 million settlement with ExxonMobil, he expressed concern over delayed cleanup at a polluted creek, which a state lawmaker says could open up a route to appeal the decision.

Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak said he believes Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan's concerns could give him an opportunity to appeal the judgment, ultimately with the goal of getting more money for the state but also starting the cleanup of Morses Creek in northern New Jersey. The creek is used in refinery operations to provide cooling water at the Linden, New Jersey, site.

Schlumberger buying Cameron International in $12.71B deal

HOUSTON (AP) — Schlumberger is buying Cameron in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $12.71 billion that would create an oilfield equipment and service powerhouse.

Cameron was the maker of the blowout preventer on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig, which was rocked by an explosion and fire in 2010 that killed 11 workers and touched off an enormous oil spill.

DC regulators reject proposed merger of Exelon, Pepco

WASHINGTON (AP) — Regulators in the District of Columbia rejected the proposed merger of power companies Exelon and Pepco on Tuesday, saying the deal would not benefit ratepayers.

The three-member D.C. Public Service Commission voted unanimously to reject the merger. It had already been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and by Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, leaving the District as the final regulatory hurdle.

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