Salvage teams conduct an assessment of Shell's Kulluk drill barge in January 2013 in Kodiak Island's Kiliuda Bay in Alaska. A federal judge in Alaska told regulators April 24, 2014, to redo an environmental impact study that underestimated the amount of recoverable oil and, potentially, the risks of offshore drilling to delicate Arctic habitat.

Judge suspends Arctic drilling, orders new environmental report

In the ongoing battle over offshore drilling, a federal judge in Alaska told regulators Thursday to redo an environmental impact study that underestimated the amount of recoverable oil and, potentially, the risks to delicate Arctic habitat.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline stopped short of scrapping the $2.6 billion in leases, however. His ruling followed an appeals court decision in January that federal officials had arbitrarily decided drilling companies could extract 1 billion barrels of oil from the shallow waters off the northwest coast of Alaska. That figure led to a misguided environmental study, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said.

Now, the U.S. Department of the Interior must redo the supplemental analysis using what’s expected to be a much higher estimate for the amount of oil extractable. In the meantime, no drilling for oil or natural gas can take place.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) called the order “good news," saying it “...


NRA to mix politics with gun rights at Indianapolis convention

The National Rifle Assn. is preparing to kick off its annual convention Friday in Indianapolis, where it will mix politics with advocacy for 2nd Amendment issues, including one of its longtime goals: a national reciprocity law that would allow gun owners to carry licensed weapons across state lines.

Efforts to pass such a law have failed in the past. That it is on the agenda less than two years after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is evidence of the NRA’s resilience as well as its ability to bounce back from a low point.

The convention is expected to draw 70,000 people and to infuse an estimated $55 million into the Indianapolis economy.

Calls for tougher gun control laws echoed across the nation after Adam Lanza walked into the Connecticut elementary school in December 2012 and opened fire, killing 20 children and six educators before killing himself. He had also killed his mother.

Some states, including New York, Maryland, Connecticut and...


New Jersey forest fire scorches 300 acres, damages several homes

A forest fire near New Jersey's Double Trouble State Park scorched more than 300 acres Thursday, damaging some homes and forcing about 40 people to evacuate on a day that officials warned would deliver the perfect conditions for such a blaze.

The nearly 1 million acres of wetlands and forests that span the New Jersey Pinelands near the state’s southern coast are a major fire risk between Easter and Mother’s Day, when the pines tend to dry out in the sunlight.

The National Weather Service warned early Thursday that the added mix of low humidity and strong gusts of up to 30 mph would “lead to a more rapid spread rate of any fires that may develop.”

The strongest winds were expected in early afternoon. The weather service warned residents to avoid fires and improper disposal of smoking materials.

The fire in Berkeley Township was reported in a 911 call about 11:45 a.m. Officials said the blaze, whose cause was not immediately clear, had been 30% contained by 4:30...

A fire burns after an explosion at a Williams Cos. natural-gas plant near Opal, Wyo.

Fire rages at Wyoming natural gas plant; town's evacuation lifted

Soaring flames kept a major natural gas plant in southwestern Wyoming closed on Thursday, affecting fuel supplies across the West.

The fire followed an explosion Wednesday afternoon at one of the five natural-gas processing units at a Williams Cos. plant near Opal, Wyo. About 40 workers immediately left the plant, shutting off incoming and outgoing pipes on the way out. No one was injured.

The entire 88-acre town of Opal was evacuated Wednesday and some 60 residents who spent the night in hotels were allowed back into their homes at about noon Thursday, Opal Mayor Mary Hall told the Los Angeles Times. 

Authorities used air monitoring equipment to see whether methane levels were low enough for the town to be safe, Williams spokesman George Angerbauer told The Times.

Firefighters haven’t been able to safely reach the scene, Angerbauer said.

“What you really got to do is let it burn,” he said of the fuel.  

A camera mounted on a drone and a news helicopter have given...

American doctors killed in Afganistan

'Our hearts are broken,' friend says of Chicago doctor shot in Afghanistan

For 16 years, Dr. Jerry Umanos worked as a pediatrician at a Christian health center in Chicago, then decided in 2005 to travel to Afghanistan to continue his practice and help train doctors. On Thursday, he was one of three American doctors shot to death by an Afghan police officer who opened fire inside one of Kabul’s leading hospitals in the latest deadly attack aimed at foreigners, officials said.

“We have lost a dear friend,” James Brooks, chief ministry officer for the Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago told reporters. “Our hearts are broken. Please pray for us.”

Dr. Bruce Rowell, the chief clinical officer, said Umanos was “for many of us on staff, the pediatrician for our very own children.”

Last summer, Umanos had briefly returned to Chicago then went back to Afghanistan

The shooting took place at CURE International Hospital of Kabul, which specializes in maternity and pediatric care, according to the group’s website....

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who has won support in his standoff with the federal government over grazing rights, is drawing fire  for comments about African Americans and slavery.

Cliven Bundy's 'better off as slaves' remark about blacks draws fire

LAS VEGAS -- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s battle against the federal government over land rights took an unexpected detour after a newspaper quoted the 67-year-old grandfather suggesting African Americans were "better off as slaves" because slavery taught work skills and enhanced family life.

Bundy, who has waged a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, insisting he has a right to graze hundreds of head of cattle on public lands without paying fees, has been surrounded by citizen militias that have converged on his ranch in rural Bunkerville after armed federal officials moved in to remove Bundy’s cattle.

The BLM called off the roundup and released the cattle, but says the matter is not over. Bundy and his supporters are awaiting the government's next move.

Over the weekend, Bundy spoke to supporters about general issues involved in the standoff. Suddenly, he took a turn and began discoursing on African Americans and public welfare.

“I want to tell you one more...


Colorado 4th-graders sold grandparents' pot at school, officials say

Several Colorado fourth-graders face disciplinary action for bringing their grandparents' legally purchased pot to school and apparently selling it to a few classmates, according to school officials.

The pupils, three 10-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl at Monfort Elementary School in Greeley, took the pot to school Monday for resale on campus, officials said.

The marijuana appears to have been legally purchased by adults -- grandparents in two families -- and no charges were expected to be filed, John Gates, director of safety for Weld County School District 6, told reporters, according to the Associated Press. He said the parents of the students were concerned and working with the school on discipline.

Only one student admitted to trying the drug, a small bite of an edible marijuana product, Gates said. An examination of the child showed no harmful effects, he said.

“This could not have happened had they secured their marijuana,” Gates said of the grandparents, urging...


#myNYPD Twitter campaign boomerangs across the nation

The New York Police Department has learned the hard way that Twitter is a two-edged sword with a point that has deeply embedded itself into the department's self-image.

The department this week decided to stick a virtual toe into the 21st century by launching a Twitter campaign to allow everyone to post pictures that glorified New York’s finest under the hashtag #myNYPD. It didn't exactly work out that way.

Instead of the hoped-for pictures of police helpfully aiding citizens and happy cops on bicycles -- staples of the department’s official news feed -- it got an outpouring of pictures of apparent police brutality, misconduct and just downright nastiness.

Worse, the anti-police campaign that was sparked by the #myNYPD campaign has spawned a slew of copycat denigrations including #MYLAPD, #MYCPD and #MYAPD, chronicling the alleged police ills in Los Angeles, Chicago and Albuquerque, the latter still reeling from a series of police shootings.

"Bash Tag!" screamed the New...

A machine at a natural-gas processing plant owned by Williams Companies Inc. exploded near Opal, Wyo., and led to a major fire, officials said Wednesday.

Explosion at Wyoming natural gas plant leads to town's evacuation

An explosion and fire at a natural gas plant in southwestern Wyoming forced the evacuation of the nearby town of Opal, a plant spokeswoman said Wednesday. 

No injuries were immediately reported among the plant's 42 employees or anyone in Opal, about five miles away, which has a population of 98. Officials shut down neighboring highways after the mid-afternoon blast.

Williams Companies Inc. owns the facility, which takes raw gas, processes it and ships it off in a pipeline. It's among several energy companies with operations in the area, company spokeswoman Michele Swaner told the Los Angeles Times.

The explosion is believed to have occurred at a trans-turboexpander, a machine that helps separate the components of natural gas, she said.

"When that happened, we made sure our employees were evacuated," Swaner said. "The town was evacuated as a precaution, and the town and employees are safe."

As crews were working to put out the flames, she said, the company was making arrangements to put...

At pop-up cat cafe in N.Y., you can eat, drink alongside cats

At pop-up cat cafe in N.Y., you can eat, drink alongside cats

NEW YORK -- Cat haters, read no further.

Cat lovers, rejoice. Your feline fantasy is coming true, in the form of a cat cafe. For four days starting Thursday, humans can hang out with friendly cats while eating, drinking and dangling feathery toys from fishing lines.

Purina One and the North Shore Animal League, the country's largest no-kill shelter, teamed to create the pop-up cafe. They hope New York soon will be home to permanent cat cafes, which are catching on in cities known for tight living spaces and no-pet apartment buildings.

London got its first one, Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, in March. Japan has had them for years. It also has bunny cafes for those who prefer a puffy tail to a long, swishing one. KitTea is expected to open in San Francisco this summer, becoming this country's first full-time cat cafe.

The idea is simple: Visitors pay an hourly fee or a cover charge for the privilege of lounging with cats. Lady Dinah's charges about $5 per person for two hours; it's fully...

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As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


Matt Pearce, a University of Missouri graduate, has previously written for the Kansas City Star, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Inquiry and The Pitch. @mattdpearce