News In Brief

Federal regulators opened an investigation into the high natural gas prices in California that threaten to derail efforts to contain the state's electricity costs. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked pipeline operators, marketers, and utilities for details on bulk sales to California. The state's Public Utilities Commission charges that gas marketers are raising local prices by withholding supply. Suppliers cite problems such as too few pipelines in California and an insatiable demand for for gas by power generators willing to pay high prices.

A Utah jury found defendant Tom Green guilty of four counts of bigamy and one count of failure to pay child support, bringing an end to the state's first polygamy prosecution in almost 50 years. Green, who has five wives and 29 children, could be sentenced to 25 years in prison next month. The secretive practice of polygamy gained a foothold in Utah with the arrival of Mormon settlers in the 1840s, but the practice was banned 100 years ago. Legal experts say the conviction of Green gives prosecutors ammunition to go after the state's estimated 20,000 polygamists.

The first female cadets to finish four years at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the nation's last public military academy to go coeducational, received their diplomas. The 14 women, one of whom graduated in December, were the last of the 25 female freshmen who stepped into VMI's barracks in the fall of 1997. Eleven dropped out because of the tough regimen. While other military schools began admitting women in the 1970s and '80s, VMI resisted. But its policy was changed under orders from the US Supreme Court.

Former attorney general Janet Reno said she's seriously considering running for governor of Florida next year, setting up a potentially high-profile race in a state where she was surrounded by controversy during the Elian Gonzalez saga. Reno, a Florida native, served five terms as public prosecutor in Miami-Dade County. She said in an interview that she will likely make a decision on her plans by year's end.

A Bush administration review recommends that the US not support a draft pact to enforce an international treaty banning biological weapons, The New York Times reported, quoting an unidentified official. In a unanimous review, an interagency team said the current version of the protocol would be inefficient in stopping cheating and that its deficiencies cannot be fixed by the November deadline. After six years of negotiations, diplomats in Geneva produced the draft agreement, which would establish measures to monitor a ban on biological weapons. That 1972 treaty prohibits biological weapons but lacks a way to verify compliance.

At least nine large fires burned across drought-stricken Florida, sending smoke over Disney World and temporarily closing the "Alligator Alley," I-75. No rain has been forecast. Fires spanned the northwest Panhandle down to south Florida. The largest wildfire, in the Big Cypress National Preserve west of Miami, has burned 20,800 acres and has been only about 30 to 35 percent contained. A 450-acre blaze, near Disney, was 35 percent contained.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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