- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

SUPREME COURT

Navajo Nation loses federal coal case

The Supreme Court has ruled against the Navajo Nation for a second time in its battle with the federal government over whether the tribe should have received more money for coal on its land.

The high court, in an unanimous opinion Monday, reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, ending the tribe's fight with the government.

“Today we hold, once again, that the tribe's claim for compensation fails,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court. “This matter should now be regarded as closed.”

The sprawling Navajo reservation, which is the nation's largest, covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The Peabody Coal Co. has mined coal on tribal lands for decades, paying the tribe taxes and mineral royalties.

In 1985, the tribe claimed that Peabody conspired with Interior Secretary Donald Hodel to persuade the tribe to accept a lower royalty than other government officials thought the tribe should be paid.

The Navajos claim the government's breach of trust cost them as much as $600 million in lost coal royalties. They said the Interior Department failed in its duty under the Indian Mineral Leasing Act to protect the tribe's interest.

SENATE

Unopened ballot number shrinks

ST. PAUL, Minn. | The pile of unopened absentee ballots that could be counted for Minnesota's delayed Senate contest between Al Franken and Norm Coleman has fallen to just 387.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said Monday that all cities and counties had complied with a special court's order to submit ballot envelopes and supporting materials for the ballots, which previously had been rejected. The court plans to open eligible ballots Tuesday.

Democrat Mr. Franken leads Republican Mr. Coleman by 225 votes.

Minnesota had a surge in absentee voting last fall, but about 12,000 ballots were rejected for one reason or another.

To date, nearly 1,000 of those ballots have been deemed mistakenly rejected and have been added to the count.

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT

Salazar: Eastern wind could replace coal

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. | Windmills off the East Coast could generate enough electricity to replace most, if not all, of the coal-fired power plants in the United States, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.

But those numbers were challenged as “overly optimistic” by a coal industry group, which noted that half the nation's electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.

The secretary spoke at a public hearing in Atlantic City on how the nation's offshore areas can be tapped to meet the nation's energy needs.

“The idea that wind energy has the potential to replace most of our coal-burning power today is a very real possibility,” he said. “It is not technology that is pie-in-the-sky; it is here and now.”

Offshore energy production, however, might not be limited to wind power, Mr. Salazar said. A moratorium on offshore oil drilling has expired, and President Obama and Congress must decide whether to allow drilling off the East Coast.

“We know there are some people who want us to close the door on that,” he said. “We need to look at all forms of energy as we move forward into a new energy frontier.”

Mr. Salazar said ocean winds along the East Coast can generate 1 million megawatts of power, roughly the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized coal-fired power plants, or nearly five times the number of coal plants now operating in the United States, according to the Energy Department.

TRANSPORTATION

Economy helps hold down highway deaths

U.S. highway deaths in 2008 fell to their lowest level in nearly 50 years, government figures show, as the recession and $4-per-gallon gas meant people drove less to save more.

Safety specialists said record-high seat-belt use, tighter enforcement of drunken-driving laws and the work of advocacy groups that encourage safer driving habits contributed to the reduction in deaths.

Preliminary figures released by the government Monday show that 37,313 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year. That was 9.1 percent lower than the previous year, when 41,059 died, and the fewest since 1961, when 36,285 deaths were reported.

A different measure, also offering good news, was the fatality rate, the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. It was 1.28 in 2008, the lowest on record. A year earlier, it was 1.36.

“The silver lining in a bad economy is that people drive less, and so the number of deaths go down,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Not only do they drive less but the kinds of driving they do tend to be less risky - there's less discretionary driving.”

WHITE HOUSE

Clinton urges protection at poles

The Obama administration Monday called for enhanced protection of Earth's polar regions, proposing mandatory limits on Antarctic tourism and urging increased environmental research there and in the Arctic.

Opening a two-week conference of parties to the 50-year-old Antarctic Treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the recent collapse of an Antarctic ice bridge was a stark reminder that the poles are gravely threatened by climate change and human activity.

“With the collapse of an ice bridge that holds in place the Wilkins Ice Shelf, we are reminded that global warming has already had enormous effects on our planet, and we have no time to lose in tackling this crisis,” she told the first-ever joint meeting of Antarctic Treaty parties and the Arctic Council at the State Department.

The bridge linking the Wilkins shelf to Antarctica's Charcot and Latady Islands shattered over the weekend after two large chunks of it fell away last year. The shelf, formed by thousands of years of accumulated and compacted snow, had been stable for most of the past century before it began retreating in the 1990s.

Originally the size of Jamaica, the shelf on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula lost 14 percent of its mass last year alone, said scientists who are looking at whether global warming is the cause of its breakup.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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