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Fighting Drought from Space, Goodbye Plastic Bags, Would You Like a Receipt? Hell No!
Our top picks: today's environmental news and best #greenreads.

Nothing to see here…: The State Department's Inspector General issued a report late Wednesday saying that the agency did not violate conflict-of-interest rules when it hired an environmental contractor to review the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline—even though employees of that firm had done previous work for pipeline builder TransCanada and the company is a member of the American Petroleum Institute. The report does note "deviations" from the agency's prescribed guidance on conflict of interest during the KXL review process and says the State Department needs better procedures … but hey, why focus on the negative, right? New York Times

Working on the railroad: After a string of recent oil train derailments, transportation officials think a particular kind of train car may be the culprit. The outdated car model, known as the DOT-111, poses an “unacceptable public risk," according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which has been trying to get rid of DOT-111s since 1991, but has only recently been able to get any traction. Unfortunately, the agency hasn't set a deadline as to when new rules on train cars would be required, but that hasn’t stopped some railway companies from choo-choo-choosing to invest in new technology. Just last week, the nation’s largest shipper of crude oil, BNSF Railway, dropped $750 million on a batch of new railcars. And not a moment too soon—it was a BNSF train that dumped 475,000 gallons of crude in a North Dakota derailment last December. Associated Press, McClatchy DC

Paper or… ? : If Senator Alex Padilla gets his way, California will become the first state to apply a blanket ban to plastic grocery bags. Many Californians have already embraced measures to eliminate the commodity, which has become synonymous with widespread pollution, wastefulness, and that one scene in American Beauty. Plastic bags typically get used once and are thrown away, then either languish in a landfill (for millennia) or float their way into ecosystems where they harm wildlife such as sea turtles, which often mistake them for jellyfish. New York Times

A marine plague: A mysterious disease is wreaking havoc on some of the ocean’s most feared predators and turning them into mush. But the sickened species aren’t sharks, giant squid, orcas, or any of the other meateater that typically comes to mind when one thinks of marine predators. They are starfish—slow, vicious, ecologically-irreplaceable starfish. OnEarth

Keep your receipts! (Not.): A new study suggests that humans can absorb chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disrupter, through the seemingly harmless coating on many receipts. It was previously thought that we got most of our BPA exposure by eating foods stored in BPA-lined cans and plastic. But those who handle receipts on a regular basis, like store clerks, are probably most at risk. Even scarier, the researchers found that levels of BPA continue to rise up to eight hours after a person has last handled receipts. (Yet another excuse for me to pay someone else to do my taxes.)

Eye in the sky: You know your environmental disaster is getting serious when NASA is called in to help. But that’s exactly what the Department of Water Resources in drought-ridden California just did. So, what can space dudes bring to a drought party? NASA can use its powerful satellites to better monitor snowpack, keep tabs on groundwater levels, better inform irrigation schedules, and predict storms. As one DWR representative says, “It sounds like a cliché, but if they could put a man on the moon, why can’t we get better seasonal forecasting?” Salon

Paving paradise to put up a fracking lot: A new study suggests that the infrastructure needed to develop energy resources across the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches between Ohio, New York, and Virginia, would require covering an area larger than Delaware in concrete. And this is just talking about the more than 100,000 new fracking wells expected to be built. (Windmills were also part of the study, but found to require far less asphalt than the access roads and lots required for fracking.) The study also warned that Marcellus energy development would affect water quality for approximately 22 million people. Now, about that “tree museum”... Huffington Post


Whale of a tale!: Whale watching is an excellent way to discover the beauty and grace of animals that most of us don’t usually get to encounter. But the woman on the back of this whale watching tour got a little more than she bargained for. Protip: Pay close attention when the guide says, “Watch for the fluke!” Huffington Post


Senators: Keystone Pipeline Needs Review for Health Impacts McClatchy DC

Smell of Forest Pine Can Limit Climate Change—Researchers BBC

Acidic Water Blamed for West Coast Scallop Die-Off Vancouver Sun

New York State Expects All Utilities to Prep for Climate Change Climate Central

Tips: @OnEarthMag (tag it #greenreads)

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