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The federal Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a proposal for the largest mountaintop removal plan in West Virginia’s history. The Spruce Mine was planned by Arch Coal Inc., and would have covered 2,300 acres in Logan County. (See above.)  The Washington Post’s story, “Obama Administration Cracks Down On Mountaintop Mining,” can be found here

The EPA said that the mine would use “destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and the clean water on which they depend.”

The decision, a dramatic one, immediately set off more talk of a continuing conflict between Democrats and coal. Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tattoo has a good analysis of the politics of this situation — and of the facts of the case. See it here

• A new audit has found that the rural loan program, administered by the USDA, was “plagued by lax government oversight and many of the same sloppy banking practices that fed the broader mortgage debacle,” the New York Times reports.

The value of federally backed rural home loans soared from $3.7 billion in 2007 to $16.2 billion in ’09. The audit found that many of these loans were made improperly and that a wave of defaults may be pending.  

• USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack proposed new guidelines for school meals.

 These “wide-ranging” rules, according to the Washington Post, “would gradually reduce sodium, limit starchy vegetables, ban most trans fats, require fat-free or lowfat milk, increase whole grains, add more fruits and vegetables, and, for the first time, limit the number of calories children consume daily.” 

• Just to give you an idea of what’s happening in the states, we see this morning that the first draft of the Texas budget cuts 8,000 jobs

• The agriculture boom continues. Combine sales were up for than 37 percent in December. Four wheel drive tractors were up 40 percent. 

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