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Asbestos victims in Libby, Mont., can now qualify for Social Security disability benefits. In late May, the Social Security Administration, under the prodding of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., issued a new ruling that allows victims of tremolite asbestos to receive disability benefits. More than 1,500 Libby area residents suffer from exposure to tremolite asbestos, the byproduct of the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine (HCN, 2/21/05: Where were the environmentalists when Libby needed them most?). Previously, the agency had recognized only the symptoms and effects of a different form of asbestos, chrysotile, when deciding on disability claims.

Colorado takes a baby step toward its renewable energy goals. Portland, Ore.-based PPM Energy says it will build a 75-megawatt wind farm in southeastern Colorado near Lamar, starting this fall. The state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, will buy the juice, which is enough to power about 22,500 homes. Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz says the company plans to add 775 megawatts of wind power by 2007. In 2004, Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative requiring the state’s seven largest utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and some hydroelectric sources by 2015 (HCN, 1/23/06: Renewable law leaves the gate).

New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson is doing his darndest to save his state’s roadless areas (HCN, 7/25/05: Western governors wary of roadless forest mess). Richardson has become the first Western governor to petition the secretary of Agriculture to protect roadless forests under the Bush administration rewrite of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Richardson’s petition, which cost the state $50,000 to prepare, seeks complete protection of New Mexico’s 1.7 million roadless acres, plus the 100,000-acre Valle Vidal. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey had promised financial help to states preparing petitions, but so far, only Republican-governed Colorado and Idaho have gotten federal bucks.

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