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2010 was the deadliest year for coal miners in two decades. As of December 30, 48 miners had died in the nation’s 1,500 coal mines — including the 29 killed April 5th at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. 

Meanwhile, NPR’s Howard Berkes reports that a federal judge has upheld the federal Department of Labor’s power to close mines the agency feels are unsafe. Massey Energy Co. (owner of the Upper Big Branch mine and a mine Labor closed in Kentucky for safety reasons) claimed the federal government must go through a preliminary steps before shutting a mine. 

Not so, said the judge, giving the federal government broad powers to close mines it considers unsafe.

• The New York Times says goodbye to “Team North Dakota” — (above from left) Sen. Byron Dorgan, Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomery. 

This group has been together, dominating North Dakota politics since the 1970s. Now Dorgan is retiring and Pomeroy was defeated in the Republican sweep in November, leaving only Sen. Conrad in office.

• Karen Dillon reports in the Kansas City Star that a new report shows that factory farms are massing in Kansas and Missouri.

The report was put together by Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Rural America is going to hell in a handbasket,” said Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which supports independent producers and small farmers.

On the other hand, the Farm Bureau’s Leslie Holloway says, “You can focus on worst-case scenarios but it does not represent the day-to-day, on-the-ground experience. That is not to say there are not problems out there, but it is not the overall picture. The report tries to paint the entire business in a manner that is simply inaccurate.”

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