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February 2012

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Peel-off solar panels could make solar competitive with coal

Ultra-thin solar cells that can be "peeled off" from larger pieces of silicon like delicious fruit roll-ups could be the key to making solar competitive with coal, say researchers at MIT.

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All you need to know about TransCanada’s new plan for Keystone XL

Keystone XL lives! On Monday, TransCanada announced its next two moves in its fight to get the tar-sands pumping pipeline built, and its strategy now involves splitting the project into two parts. Because it stands to reason that if people object to one pipeline, they’ll have no problem with TWO pipelines!

Part No. 1: Cushing, Okla., to Texas refineries

Cushing, Okla., a small town smack dab in the middle of nowhere, plays an outsize role in global oil markets. There's a huge oil storage facility there, and oil sold in Cushing helps determine world oil prices. TransCanada wants to forge ahead with building the segment of Keystone XL that will bring oil from Cushing to Texas' hungry oil refineries, which process crude and ship it off. (That crude doesn’t necessarily help to meet U.S. oil demands: fuel was America's largest export last year.)

Because this segment of the pipeline doesn't cross any international borders, the State Department doesn't have a say in its construction. So Keystone Jr. could skip right over the approval bottleneck that sunk its big brother.

Read more: Oil

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Out of reach: How sprawl jacks up the cost of ‘affordable’ housing

Each year, U.S. taxpayers spend billions to subsidize affordable housing for low-income Americans. It’s an important part of the social safety net we’ve built to keep families and the elderly from falling through the cracks. But there’s a problem: A lot of that housing has been built far away from public transit, schools, and jobs. As a result, residents drive long distances, burning gobs of gas -- and huge holes in their wallets -- in the process.

For many residents of affordable housing, transportation and housing costs eat up over half of their income. For a struggling family, this can make healthy food, higher education, and health care seem as far-fetched as President Newt.

Lately, however, there’s been a push to alleviate transportation costs for low-income families. Efforts on the state level show some promise, and officials at the federal level are expressing interest as well.

Read more: Sprawl

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Watch Republicans try valiantly to be funny by mocking Chevy Volt

Aw, look, they're trying to make jokes! I'm going to print this right out and hang it on the fridge in a frame that says My First Satire.

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The rules for lady bicyclists, 1895 edition: ‘Don’t be a fright’

Comic by Kate Beaton

Brain Pickings has dug up a list of 41 "don'ts" for female bicyclists from an 1895 New York newspaper, and they are downright breathtaking in their amazingness.

Read more: Biking

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Critical List: TransCanada reboots KeystoneXL; the most energy-dense battery ever

TransCanada is going to reapply for a Keystone XL permit and wants to start work on the Oklahoma-to-Texas portion of the pipeline.

Envia Systems has created the most energy-dense battery ever, which could bring down the price of electric vehicles and extend their range.

Rick Santorum thinks gas prices caused the recession. No, he really does. A direct quote: "The bubble burst in housing because people couldn't pay their mortgages because they were looking at $4 a gallon gasoline."

A New York court dismissed a case by organic farmers who hoped for protection against Monsanto should the agribusiness giant's genes get into their crops.

ARPA-E's energy innovation summit has kicked into gear.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Getting homemade foods off the black market

Photo: Gregory HanThere’s no doubt a homemade food renaissance has taken root. All around the country, home picklers, jammers, and bakers have been looking for ways to transform hobby food production into small artisan businesses. In many states, however, selling food you’ve made in your home is against the law.

In California, for instance, it's currently a misdemeanor for home artisans to sell their goodies in the open marketplace. Case in point: Last June, Department of Public Health officials in San Francisco shut down ForageSF's popular Underground Market, which featured mostly home producers, because its sellers were not compliant with local and state regulations.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Into the woods: Seattle plants a public food forest

Photo by Vamapaull.

There’s a stretch of arterial in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood that I’ve traveled probably thousands of times without giving a second thought to the empty, grassy hillside it parallels. When I heard about plans to create a seven-acre urban food forest there, I had a hard time picturing the sloped field covered over in rich soil and filled with a tangle of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and vegetable patches. It seemed like an edible ecosystem too wild to spring from such an unremarkable urban space. But within the next few years, this slice of land adjacent to a city park and golf course will transform from an unofficial off-leash dog run and occasional sledding slope into the Beacon Food Forest, which some say will be the largest of its kind in the U.S.

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The Oscar goes to … ‘Tar Sands: The Movie’?

Damon and DeChristopher: dead ringers?

With last night's totally shocking (read: not shocking at all) crowning of The Artist as last year's best picture, we can finally say good-bye to Oscar season and months of back-patting, overwrought movies about gentle Nazis who can't read good, or sappy, pseudo-racial vignettes that "help" Hollywood work through white guilt. Angelina Jolie's leg will get some much-needed rest, and movie studios can get back to coming up with new ways to convince us that a weenie like Shia Labeouf can be a legitimate star. (Is he? I'll let him answer that.)

Beyond a few second-tier parties and celebrities' off-time advocacy, greens and green issues are not the focus of the occasion. It's not that we haven't had our moments: The emerald years of 2006-7 saw celebs ferried to the red carpet on briefly trendy Priuses (Prii?), and An Inconvenient Truth even brought home Oscar gold for Best Documentary and Best Song. (It was Melissa Etheridge, and no, we don't remember how it goes, either.) Last year, the flaming faucets of Josh Fox's Gasland got a nod, and this year, the enviro movement had another runner-up in If A Tree Falls, an ecoterrorism chronicle that bows heavily toward the Julia "Butterfly" Hill school of environmental sympathy.

Read more: Living

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How EPA helps big corporations greenwash

Walmart may have hybrid trucks, but its efforts at going green are a drop in the bucket considering the company's size. (Photo by Walmart Stores.)

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project.

While I generally have nothing but praise for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), its Green Power Partnership program falls short of the agency’s usual standard. In particular, the program, by providing media recognition for participating companies who procure renewable energy, inflates the activities of large companies at the expense of businesses whose clean energy transformation is much more meaningful.

Take Walmart, who appears at No. 3 in the EPA’s Green Power Partner rankings with an annual procurement of 872 million kilowatt-hours (enough to power approximately 87,000 homes per year). The EPA inaccurately credits the super-retailer with getting 28 percent of its electricity from green power, because the partnership program allows Walmart to cherry-pick its only two regional divisions that have made any strides on green energy (California and Texas).

Nationwide, Walmart gets less than 2 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.