The chatter is rising in New Mexico political circles that the state’s governor is close to announcing he will be a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

For one thing, Bill Richardson had told reporters he would reveal his intentions before the state legislature convenes, which it does Tuesday. For another, Richardson just returned from a successful free-lance diplomatic trip to Sudan that resulted in at least a temporary cease-fire in Darfur.

That accomplishment, which even the White House hailed, adds even more height to his stature as the only potential candidate with substantial foreign-policy credentials. Not only did Richardson serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but he also has racked up a record of success in personally negotiating the release of kidnapped Americans overseas.

Richardson told an Albuquerque Tribune reporter that he couldn’t wear the “lucky” — but now worn out — blue blazer he had donned on other foreign forays. Instead, he said he would bring a cloth strip from the jacket, which apparently did the trick.

As of Jan. 1, the remains of all U.S. troops who die in combat are being returned to their families by military aircraft or commercial planes operating under Pentagon contract. Previously, caskets were flown by military plane on the overseas leg of the sad journey, but then were transferred from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to civilian jetliners’ cargo holds for the rest of the trip to the fallen service members’ final resting places.

That outraged many in Congress, and lawmakers last year mandated not only an all-military transport, but also the presence of an honor guard to escort each casket home.

So much for Plan Bee.

Pentagon researchers say their $2.4 million experiment in using bees to detect explosives was disappointing.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, site of some of the coolest studies in the country, said it found that bees indeed demonstrated a reaction when encountering the smell of plastic and other explosives under some environmental conditions, but not all. As a result, they’re too unreliable to be relied upon in Iraq, where roadside bombs are a constant threat to U.S. forces, or anywhere else.

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are still exploring the concept.

When Manhattan stunk this past week, New Yorkers naturally blamed it on Jersey. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going a bit farther afield, blaming China and Africa for a considerable part of the air pollution in some parts of the United States.

Scientific studies have confirmed that high-altitude winds can indeed blow big plumes of dust and smog from distant lands into our skies. Recognizing that, the Clean Air Act gives state and local jurisdictions a bit of a pass on meeting pollution limits because the foreign crud is beyond their control.

But, in a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency, the chamber complains that the EPA guidelines seeking the exemptions are as murky as the air, and that this lack of clarity is blocking the development of U.S. steel mills and cement plants. As a result, American jobs are being outsourced in countries less concerned about soot and gases.

From a hunter stranded on an ice flow in the Arctic to four people and a dog rescued from a sinking boat near Tampa, Fla., a total of 272 people in trouble on land and water were located last year by a network of polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Russian government.

The system picks up distress signals from emergency beacons aboard boats, planes and personal emergency beacons, and relays the data to the Air Force and Coast Guard.

Where-Are-They-Now? Department: Two GOP senators who lost their seats in November have found new places to perch.

Conrad Burns of Montana, who was turned out of office in part because of his close ties to lobbyists, has now joined the ranks of the persuading branch of government. Burns has gone to work for Gage Business Consulting and Government Affairs in Washington, which counts Montana interests and high-tech companies among its clients. Current Senate rules bar Burns from doing any personal lobbying for a year, but he’s free to be an “adviser.”

And Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is headed to the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank. He will head the “America’s Enemies” program, where he intends to inveigh against “Islamic fascism” and the bad intentions of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

(SHNS writer Lee Bowman contributed to this report.)