Remembering Rosanell Eaton, An Outspoken Advocate for Voting Rights

When the Supreme Court shot down a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act — which required that certain places with a history of discriminating against voters get federal

With Trump At The Border, A Look Back At U.S. Immigration Policy

President Trump traveled to a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, today, continuing on his campaign to drum up support for a $5.7 billion border wall. The visit came after

What A Case Of Mistaken Identity Tells Us About Race In America

Jazmine Barnes, a 7-year-old black girl, was buried this week in Harris County, Texas. She was fatally shot while sitting in the car with her mother and siblings on the

A Blue Clue In Medieval Teeth May Bespeak A Woman’s Artistry Circa A.D. 1000

Tiny bits of blue pigment found in the teeth of a medieval skeleton reveal that more than 850 years ago, this seemingly ordinary woman was very likely involved in the production of lavishly illustrated sacred texts.

The unexpected discovery, described in the journal Science Advances, astonished scientists who weren’t setting out to study female artists in the Middle Ages. It adds to a growing recognition that women, and not just monks, labored as the anonymous scribes who painstakingly copied manuscripts and decorated the pages to dazzle the eye.

This particular woman lived in a small religious community at Dalheim, Germany. Little is known about life there, says Christina Warinner of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

“Basically all that remains are the stone foundations. A broken comb was found, but almost nothing else,” Warinner says. “There are no books that survived. There’s no art that survives. It’s known only from a handful of scraps of text that mention it in passing.”

She and a colleague were examining the teeth of skeletons from this community’s cemetery to see what had been preserved in the dental calculus, or tartar. Tartar forms from sticky plaque that traps remnants of food, bacteria and even pollen and then hardens over time.

“It’s really an extraordinary material,” Warinner says. “It’s actually the only part of your body that fossilizes while you’re still alive.”

It is true that simply grinding lapis lazuli can produce fine, airborne dust that ends up on the lips and in the saliva, the researchers found — because Radini tried it herself.

However, given the small size of this religious community — only around 15 people — it’s likely that this artist produced her own materials rather than making them for sale or for someone else.

Medieval Teeth

“You’re going to be creating your own pigments and using your pigments,” Cyrus says. “This individual may, in fact, have been doing both of those activities.”

In Cyrus’ view, this finding is extraordinary.

“It is a brand-new kind of evidence for scribal activity, and one that we haven’t been on the alert for,” she says. “We now know that evidence from teeth, and other skeletal remains, can really point towards what the daily life of a particular monastery was like. That will lead us to ask different questions when we’re doing excavations and combine different kinds of evidence to get a better understanding.”

Trump EPA Says Mercury Limits On Coal Plants Too Costly, Not ‘Necessary’

In another proposed reversal of an Obama-era standard, the Environmental Protection Agency Friday said limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants is not cost-effective and should not be considered “appropriate and necessary.”

The EPA says it is keeping the 2012 restrictions in place for now, in large part because utilities have already spent billions to comply with them. But environmental groups worry the move is a step toward repealing the limits and could make it harder to impose other regulations in the future.

In a statement, the EPA said it is “providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits.”

The National Mining Association welcomed the move, calling the mercury limits “punitive” and “massively unbalanced.”

When coal is burned it releases mercury into the air, where it can cause health risks to people including neurological disorders, heart and lung problems and compromised immune systems. Babies developing in the womb and young children are especially at risk. The main source of exposure is through eating contaminated fish and seafood.

“What has changed now is the administration’s attitude towards public health,” said Clean Air Task Force Legal Director Ann Weeks in a statement. Weeks called the EPA’s estimates outdated and said more recent research finds billions of dollars in public health benefits from reducing mercury emissions alone.

Others are concerned about the future impact.

“We should not limit ourselves in the ongoing fight against this dangerous pollutant,” said mercury expert Celia Chen of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program. In a statement, she said the warming climate, for example, might affect mercury’s impact on the environment but the EPA’s proposal could make it harder to address that. “Regulators need the tools to strengthen mercury controls in the future if needed,” she said.

Jeff Holmstead doesn’t think that’s necessarily so. He’s a former EPA air administrator now with Bracewell LLP, which represents energy industry clients. In a statement, he said the EPA is not restricting courts from considering the co-benefits of a certain regulation but merely saying it should not justify a regulation like “this case, where virtually all the benefits are co-benefits.”

Coal Plants

Since many regulators have included the equipment costs in utility rates, some worry that no longer requiring the limits could leave customers paying for the pollution controls without getting cleaner air. That’s because it also costs money to continue operating that equipment.

“It’s not unreasonable to expect that if the standards go away there will be some number of utilities that will choose to no longer operate pollution controls that they’ve installed,” says Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA during the Obama administration.

In 1990 Congress amended the Clean Air Act and advised the EPA to limit mercury emissions from a variety of industries. It took 21 years before the EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants.

The proposal to weaken the mercury limits is the latest in a series of efforts the Trump administration has taken to help the struggling coal business. The federal Energy Information Administration says U.S. coal consumption in 2018 is expected to be at its lowest level in nearly four decades.

In December the administration proposed a revision that would allow coal-fired generators to emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. The EPA has also moved to relax Obama-era regulations on carbon emissions and roll back existing regulations that govern coal ash.