National briefs: 12/18/10

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MSHA considers mine shutdowns

WASHINGTON -- The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is weighing whether to shut down three more coal mines with court orders, after using the power for the first time on a Massey Energy mine last month.

A judge in Kentucky on Friday did not dismiss the case against Massey's Freedom Energy Mine No. 1 in Pike County, Ky., though in a hearing he asked MSHA to amend its complaint against the mine in light of Massey's decision to halt coal production there.

MSHA filed the complaint against the mine Nov. 3, an unprecedented use of a court injunction power that the government had often threatened but never employed. Solicitor of Labor Patricia Smith said Friday that U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar seemed receptive to MSHA's power to shut a mine down through an injunction in extreme cases rather than going through the cumbersome pattern of violations process -- in which mine owners often tie up cases with legal challenges to violations.

Ms. Smith said the agency was considering taking the action against three more mines, but would not reveal any details about them.

MSHA cited the Freedom Energy mine repeatedly for serious violations before seeking the injunction, claiming the mine's ventilation, structure and maintenance were troublesome.

Drone crashes in El Paso

EL PASO, Texas -- A small drone used by Mexican federal police was flying in its country's airspace before malfunctioning, forcing controllers to crash it across the Texas border in El Paso, a Mexican government official said Friday.

The unmanned aircraft was on routine patrol before it crashed Tuesday night in an El Paso yard, official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. No one was injured when the drone landed behind a house in a former agricultural area near the border.

'Scientific integrity'

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration Friday issued long-awaited guidelines designed to protect federal scientists from political interference -- the first time the federal government has had an explicit government-wide policy of this kind.

Among the new guidelines in the four-page memorandum is a prohibition against government public affairs officers asking or directing federal scientists to alter scientific findings. The guidelines also require that "data and research used to support policy decisions undergo independent peer review by qualified experts."

Ex-Gitmo detainee fights

NEW YORK -- Lawyers for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the former Guantanamo detainee who was acquitted of more than 280 counts of murder and conspiracy last month in a terrorism trial in Manhattan, asked the trial judge Friday to dismiss the sole count on which he was convicted.

The lawyers argued that because Mr. Ghailani was acquitted of so many charges stemming from the bombings in 1998 of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction, for a single count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property.

Shuttle tested for cracks

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA fueled space shuttle Discovery at the pad Friday, not for a flight but for tests to help understand mysterious cracks that appeared in the fuel tank during a launch attempt last month.

Discovery is grounded until at least the beginning of February because, while the cracks have been fixed, engineers still do not know what caused them. The concern is that cracks could cause chunks of foam to pop off and, in the worst case, slam into the Discovery at liftoff.


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