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EPA likely to tighten smog rules

Houston has a long way to go before its air is safe to breathe, despite a decades-long effort to scrub the skies of lung-damaging smog, the latest science suggests.

The Environmental Protection Agency this month released a study showing that ozone, or smog, can cause asthma attacks and heart disease and contribute to early deaths at levels lower than the current national standard.

The 490-page report sets the stage for tighter restrictions for ozone that even some environmentalists say may be impossible for the eight-county Houston region to achieve on a consistent basis.

Even if Houston did meet the stricter limits proposed in the study, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has clashed with its federal counterparts on other regulatory matters, argues that the smog-fighting effort would be unnecessary and overly expensive.

Nonetheless, the EPA is expected by the end of the year to move forward with a new standard, which would be the toughest yet.

The current ozone standard — set under President George W. Bush in 2008 — allows up to 75 parts per billion. The new study, which adds to a growing body of research on the health risks of smog, calls for a limit as low as 60 parts per billion and no higher than 70 parts per billion.

—Matthew Tresaugue, Houston Chronicle

Quadruple bombing in Baghdad kills at least 25

BAGHDAD — Three bombs that targeted public markets and a fourth bomb placed outside a Shiite mosque exploded Monday night in Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding dozens, the police reported.

The quadruple bombings appeared to be the latest in a wave of Sunni radical mayhem that has proliferated in Iraq and is playing an increased role in the war in neighboring Syria.

The first was a car bomb in the Ur neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad, a heavily populated Shiite area, that killed 10 civilians and wounded 26 near a public market. Another car bomb killed nine civilians and wounded 30 in a famous public market in the Karrada district. A third bomb exploded in a market in western Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, the police said, killing four civilians and wounding 15. A fourth bomb detonated near a Shiite mosque in the al-Amil neighborhood of southwestern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding nine.

In Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb aimed at an army patrol killed two soldiers and wounded two others, police sources reported.

In western Iraq’s Anbar province, an incubator of Sunni radicalism, police said a suicide bomber killed a police officer and wounded eight others at a checkpoint near the house of an important tribal leader who has allied with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to fight al-Qaida militants in Anbar.

The rise in Sunni radical militance has been tied in part to a series of daring but little noticed breakouts from Iraqi prisons that has freed hundreds of hardened jihadists who are now among the leaders and foot soldiers of the Sunni groups operating in neighboring Syria and in Iraq itself.

—Duraid Adnan, The New York Times

Immigration reform unlikely before midterm elections

WASHINGTON – Immigration reform: It just gets harder from here.

While some of the primary proponents of reform cling to hopes of getting it done this year, others are far less optimistic.

Speaking on CNN Sunday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a tireless immigration-reform promoter, repeated his view that his party cannot win another national election until it takes action on immigration.

“I have not given up hope that we will act, and we must act” this year, McCain said.

But in the House, where national political strategy takes a back seat to the calculus of individual congressional districts, odds are lengthening.

Despite the fact that some in the House GOP majority – including, historically at least, Speaker John Boehner – say they believe comprehensive reform is needed for reasons both political and policy-driven, last year’s momentum on the issue is fast becoming nothing but a memory.

—David McCu

Russians protest disallowed hockey goal at U.S. Embassy

MOSCOW — It was the biggest demonstration so far concerning the Sochi Olympics, and it had nothing to do with gay rights, environmental damage or corruption.

Dozens of Russian fans gathered Monday outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, some brandishing hockey sticks, to protest a disallowed goal scored by the Russian team in Saturday’s Olympic hockey match against the United States in Sochi, a decision that they felt cost them the game against their old Cold War rivals.

A crowd of mainly students erected a large banner in front of the embassy reading, “Turn the referee into soap!”, a common Russian chant at sporting events, implying the referee is fit only to have his bones and body fat boiled down for soap.

The object of their good-natured ire was Brad Meier, the U.S. referee who overturned a goal late in the third period that could have meant a victory for the Russians in the close-fought game, which the U.S. went on to win, 3-2, in a shootout.

Many Russians, including the team’s coach, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, accused Meier afterward of making a mistake in disqualifying the shot from Fedor Tyutin, although the International Ice Hockey Federation has backed the referee’s decision.

To emphasize their point, some demonstrators used kitchen graters to turn blocks of soap into powder, a video report from a pro-Kremlin news site, Life News, showed.

—Patrick Reevell, The New York Times