Elizabeth Shogren | KERA News

Elizabeth Shogren

The chemical that was found last week to be contaminating the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians is used to clean coal. But very little is known about how toxic it is to people or to the environment when it spills.

The Endangered Species Act, which turns 40 on Saturday, helped bring back iconic species such as the wolf, grizzly bear and bald eagle, after hunting, trapping and pesticides almost wiped those animals out.

But a very different kind of threat — global warming — is pushing some species like the polar bear to the brink of extinction.

One government biologist discovered the best way he could help save polar bears was to quit his job.

A New Kind Of Conservation Problem

American pioneers saw the endless stretches of grassland of the Great Plains as a place to produce grain and beef for a growing country. But one casualty was the native prairie ecosystem and animals that thrived only there.

Some biologists are trying to save the prairies and they've picked a hero to help them: the black-footed ferret. In trying to save this long skinny predator with a raccoon-like mask, the biologists believe they have a chance to right a wrong that nearly wiped a species off the planet.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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Most Americans' experience with plague is limited to history books. In the 14th century, it famously wiped out half of Europe's population. But right now, the bacteria is quietly ravaging wildlife in parts of the American West.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF A PRAIRIE DOG)

The Supreme Court has agreed to review an Obama administration policy that requires new power plants and other big polluting facilities to apply for permits to emit greenhouse gases.

To get these permits, which have been required since 2011, companies may have to use pollution controls or otherwise reduce greenhouse gases from their operations — although industries report that so far they haven't had to install special pollution control equipment to qualify for the permits.

The rule is part of a larger effort by the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases.

The Environmental Protection Agency's second stab at a proposal to set the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants would make it impossible for companies to build the kind of coal-fired plants that have been the country's biggest source of electricity for decades.

Under the proposal, released Friday, any new plant that runs on coal would be permitted to emit only about half as much carbon dioxide as an average coal plant puts into the air today.

Five years ago this week, a Canadian company proposed building a pipeline to send heavy crude oil from Alberta to U.S. refineries. Although the Obama administration's answer on the Keystone XL pipeline is not expected anytime soon, politicians in Washington and Canada are ramping up the pressure for the project, while environmentalists are pushing hard against it.

"It's a jungle if you're an eagle right now on the Chesapeake Bay," says Bryan Watts, a conservation biologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. "You have to watch your back."

Americans have long imagined their national symbol as a solitary, noble bird soaring on majestic wings. The birds are indeed gorgeous and still soar, but the notion that they are loners is outdated, Watts and other conservationists are finding.

Ancient North Americans gouged elaborate rock art into a heap of big boulders northeast of Reno, Nev., more than 10,000 years ago and perhaps 15,000 years ago. That makes the carvings the oldest known petroglyphs on the continent, according to a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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