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Sierra magazine
Up to Speed: Two Months, One Page

As cycling enthusiast George Bush pedaled into retirement, the Interior Department moved to open more backcountry trails in national parks to mountain bikes.

While in those national parks, it's now legal to carry a loaded and concealed weapon.

The parks themselves may soon be concealed by smog, thanks to an attempt by Bush's EPA to weaken air-pollution regulations near parks and wilderness areas.

Hold your nose: The EPA also says that the poultry and beef industries no longer have to report toxic fumes from decomposing manure piles.

Outgoing interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne spent $235,000 in taxpayer money renovating his office bathroom.

Underwater sonar harms whales, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. But the U.S. Navy can use it anyway.

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, 27, masqueraded as a buyer at an auction of oil and gas leases and won 13 parcels around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, driving up the price of other lots by about $500,000. He owes the BLM $1.7 million.

According to the USDA, cows must spend 120 days a year in the pasture for their milk to be considered organic.

Farmed fish, however, can be called organic even if 25 percent of their food intake isn't.

More than a billion gallons of coal ash contaminated with lead and arsenic spread over 300 acres in eastern Tennessee when a retaining wall failed at a coal-fired power plant. There are 1,300 more such dumps--largely unregulated--across the country.

Equipment malfunction is no excuse for a refinery or chemical plant to violate the Clean Air Act, a federal appeals court ruled.

Processing of oil sands in Alberta, Canada, results in the leakage of 2.9 million gallons of contaminated water every day.

No worries here, though: Late last year, the EPA ruled that waste produced by U.S. oil shale development isn't hazardous.

The oil shale party may be short-lived: Ken Salazar, President Barack Obama's pick to head the Interior Department, is a staunch critic of the industry.

Salazar will have to contend with six Bush-era political appointees who burrowed into his department as "moles." Granted civil-service protection, they cannot be easily replaced by the incoming administration.

Obama can reverse many of Bush's last-minute "midnight regulations," however, and immediately after the election his aides compiled a list of more than 200 of them.

Suddenly science is back in style: Obama picked Nobel laureate Steven Chu to run the Energy Department, MacArthur fellow Jane Lubchenco to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and physicist John Holdren to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Tom Vilsack, Obama's choice to head the Agriculture Department, is a big supporter of genetically modified crops.

A Chinese company partially owned by Warren Buffett has released the F3DM, the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car. Sorry, it won't be for sale in the United States until 2011.

U.S. hybrid sales are hurting: Prius purchases fell 48 percent in November, while sales of hybrid Civics plunged 68 percent.

Folks may be taking the bus instead: U.S. transit ridership has experienced its biggest gain in 25 years.

Also: Traffic deaths are down 10 percent from 2007.

So is residential electricity use--it decreased by 3 to 9 percent nationwide. Americans are conserving.

On his way out, George Bush established three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean, protecting 195,000 square miles. Greenpeace's take: "In the game of environmental sin and sainthood, nobody is beyond redemption." —Dashka Slater and Paul Rauber


Photos and illustrations by, left column, from top: iStock/ARTPUPPY, iStock/GlobalP, iStock/tainted, iStock/mashe; right column, from top: iStock/QUAYSIDE, iStock/RedBarnStudio, iStock/Maliketh



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