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Spy vs. spy: The Heartland Institute’s head-spinning hypocrisy

You can't handle the truth (if you're Heartland Institute).

When someone grabbed emails and documents from the computers of climate scientists and leaked them to the media in 2009, few organizations were as mirthful as the Heartland Institute, an outfit that has worked for years to spread the gospel of climate-change denial. Although multiple investigations into the scientists' emails debunked accusations that the researchers had subverted science and distorted data, Heartland and its allies used the so-called "Climategate" memos to tar climate science and bully the media into covering their dubious claims.

Last Monday, when an anonymous source (we now know it to be MacArthur-award-winning scientist and climate activist Peter Gleick) released internal Heartland memos to the press, the group had something else to say entirely.

The Heartland documents included details about a plan to introduce climate denial into grade school curricula and a list of major donors that includes a rogues' gallery of corporate interests. One document contained a summary of Heartland's work promoting fracking. Surprising? Hardly. Embarrassing? Apparently.

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Roads to ruin: Why ‘drill and drive’ is the new motto in Washington

Photo by Daniel Pierce.

When Republicans loaded up a transportation bill with what the NRDC’s David Goldston floridly calls “a gallimaufry of bad ideas” that included the Keystone XL pipeline and oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it seemed like a cheap political stunt: The monstrosity would never stand a chance of becoming law. Sure enough, the White House has promised to veto the bill should it actually make it through Congress.

The House passed the drilling proposals last Thursday anyway, with help from 21 oil-loving Democrats. (Twenty-one Republicans broke ranks with House leadership, voting against the bill. A handful of them are from Florida, where the $60 billion tourism industry apparently trumps a few extra mil from offshore drilling.)

But amid all the debate over the transportation bill, one truth has gone unsaid -- a truth that explains, at least in part, what these proposals are doing in the transportation bill in the first place, and why the lines between opponents and supporters are not more clearly drawn: We have become slaves to our roads.

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Unbroken homes: Five creative reuses for foreclosed houses

"Foreclosed Dreams" by street artist Banksy. (Photo by Finger Food.)

Last week, big banks agreed to fork over $26 billion to make up for some of the bungling and malfeasance that led to the massive national mortgage meltdown and economic implosion. Their misdeeds included everything from sloppy paperwork to cases where banks actually foreclosed on homes that they did not own. Seriously.

Most of the money will go to people who are “underwater” with their home loans, meaning that they owe the banks more than the house is now worth. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people have already been booted from their homes, or have thrown up their hands and walked away.

This leaves the obvious question: What do we do with all these empty houses? I did a little poking around, and found quite a few creative reuses for these places. Here are my five favorites:

Read more: Animals, Cities

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No free rides: States consider taxing electric cars

Photo by Michael Edson.

Electric cars are finally picking up speed on American roads after being stalled out for a decade or two. The new cars are zippy, they corner like they’re on rails, and they’re a hell of a lot cheaper to drive than the gas burning kind.

But that last part might change: Several states, including Washington and Arizona, are now considering taxing electric vehicles. And while many electric car drivers seem game, others are concerned that a tax could bomb a nascent industry on the runway, just as it is finally about to take off.

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Phoenix rising: Can ‘the world’s least sustainable city’ go green?

Photo by moominsean.What was the most surprising thing that came out of Andrew Ross’s two-year research stint in Phoenix, Ariz.? For my money, it’s this: People who live there (weirdly) don’t expect their desert civilization to collapse around them at any moment.

“One of New Yorkers’ favorite things is to imagine the destruction of their city. There’s a whole library of movies and novels that do this,” Ross said during a recent visit to the Grist offices. “There’s no equivalent in Phoenix.”

Chalk it up to the power of denial.

Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU, sets the scene in his new book, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City -- the product of his two-year study, which included interviews with hundred of Phoenicians:

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Non-starter: Republican transportation bill is dead on arrival

This thing isn't going anywhere. (Photo by tcb613.)

In what The Wall Street Journal calls “a move that carries political risks,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) plans to bring his behemoth, car-centric, 1950s-style transportation bill to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this week. Why is it risky? Because it’s a complete piece of junk.

The bill, which is soaked in suburban identity politics, would cut all designated funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the Safe Routes to School program, and grants that have encouraged “complete streets” projects. If Boehner has his way, it would kill a longstanding rule that sets aside a portion of the gas tax to fund trains and buses and other public transportation systems. And to add insult to injury, it is loaded up with a long list of provisions that would pave the way for oil drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So while an increasingly nervous-looking Boehner pushes this jalopy down the road, the rest of America is having a grand time making fun of him.

Read more: Politics, Transportation

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Urban outfitters: The Nature Conservancy goes to the city

Can a group of fly fishermen and bird watchers find its way in the concrete jungle?

When Bill Ulfelder looks out over the chiseled, concrete and glass landscape of New York City, he sees habitat -- not just for people, but for critters, too. Ulfelder is the executive director of the Nature Conservancy in New York (the state, not just the city), and he is on the cutting edge of what could become a major shift for the world’s largest conservation group. The city’s parks and sidewalks, he says, are fertile ground for urban forests. Waterfront parks are prime real estate for marshlands. And all those rooftops? He imagines turning them into a system of “sky island” wildlife preserves.

“There are 22,000 acres of roof space in the city. It’s essentially equivalent to another borough,” he says. “There’s a lot of talk about rooftop gardens and storm-water catchment. But this is also a great opportunity to put habitat back in the city. Don’t just plant sedum [a plant often used in green roofs]. Let’s think about habitat for pollinators and birds.”

It’s the concrete jungle recast as a high-relief Serengeti. Super. Cool.

Read more: Cities

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Paranoia strikes deep: GOP exposes ‘dangerous’ U.N. sustainability plot

Put your U.N.-proof thinking caps on. (Photo by Arden.)

Things at GOP headquarters are even more crazytown than we could have imagined.

The Republican National Committee -- the group that shapes the national GOP political platform, devises campaign strategies, promotes candidates, and bashes all things Obama -- passed a resolution in January warning Americans of a sinister plot hidden in a United Nations report called Agenda 21. Short of suggesting that we all wear tinfoil hats and keep an eye out for contrails, the RNC would have been hard-pressed to put itself further on the wacko fringe.

Here’s the windup to the resolution, unearthed by the New York Times on Feb. 3:

WHEREAS, the United Nations Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control … and,

WHEREAS, the United Nations Agenda 21 is being covertly pushed into local communities throughout the United States of America through the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) through local “sustainable development” policies such as Smart Growth, Wildlands Project, Resilient Cities, Regional Visioning Projects, and other “Green” or “Alternative” projects; and,

WHEREAS, this United Nations Agenda 21 plan of radical so-called “sustainable development” views the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms; all as destructive to the environment …

What’s that? The America way of life is destructive to the environment? Banish the thought.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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Boehner’s last stand: House leader wants to kill transit funding

Rep. John Boehner thinks trains and buses are bogus, apparently.

It was apparently not enough to obliterate funding for bike lanes and walking paths and kids trying to get to school. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to keep our tax dollars from paying for public transit as well.

Earlier this week, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) unveiled a draft transportation bill that would cut all designated funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the Safe Routes to School program, and grants that have encouraged “complete streets” projects. Still, it looked like the more egregious provisions would be stripped away as the legislation -- titled “The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act” -- ran through the lawmaking process. And at least the bill maintained the country’s longstanding, if weak, commitment to public transportation.

Then, Wednesday night, Boehner and the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee proposed killing a longstanding rule that sets aside a portion of the gas tax to fund trains and buses and other public transportation systems.

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A bill of goods: With their latest transportation bill, GOP sides with the suburbs

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled their version of a national transportation bill this week. This is the legislation that doles out billions of dollars annually to highways, train lines, and -- at least in the past -- to bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and a program called Safe Routes to School that helps kids get to home room each morning without being flattened by a passing car.

The last few would seem like a populist no-brainers, but if House Republicans have their way, even Safe Routes to School will get no more love from Washington.

I mean, really. Is nothing sacred?