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Election recap: Much ado (and cash) results in nothing

Photo by Sue PeacockPhoto by Sue Peacock.

There was an election yesterday. Perhaps you heard?

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall attempt spurred by an approach to dealing with his opposition that William T. Sherman would have appreciated. Organized labor, a key target of Walker, invested a lot of time and energy in his defeat but, with all of the votes in, Walker defeated Tom Barrett for the second time in two years -- this time, by a wider margin.

It was a triumphant victory for the way things already are. Not like we could use any world-changing or anything.

Read more: Politics

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Americans disagree on everything, forever

Photo by John MortonPhoto by John Morton

Remember that election in 2000, when we were all wringing our hands and talking about red and blue and -- most of us anyway -- rending our garments in despair as we stood on hilltops yowling at the cruel fates which had created this divided America? Remember those days?

We were way more politically united back then. Way more.

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The dirt on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s environmental record

Scott Walker "Obey" SignPhoto by ky_olsen.

Wisconsin is a proud state, with a unique political legacy. Its track record of progressive independence and long-standing commitment to political comity make today's recall election an aberration, a rare example of a Wisconsin turned against itself -- and a rare national example of political turmoil.

The last recall election of a governor in the United States was California's in 2003, a campaign I worked on. A friend from those days, Clark Williams, is today in his home state of Wisconsin working to turn out voters to recall Walker. I asked him how the two elections compared. "Night and day," he responded, noting the "venom" that has polluted any rational conversation about the election. It's a common refrain: A recent poll found that one in three Wisconsinites had stopped talking about politics with someone because of their disagreement. There are reports of physical altercations between supporters of either side. This is not exactly the ebullient, cheese-loving Wisconsin we picture.

Neither are the decisions being made by the governor the ones many state residents expected. The fuse for the recall was lit with Gov. Walker's move to cut collective bargaining rights for the state's public sector unions, but that's not the only gripe state residents have with the governor.

The environmental community has its own (good) reasons for complaint. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is very engaged in the recall, with lawn signs opposing Walker throughout the state and a robust collection of "Failure Files" online outlining Walker's anti-environment policies. And I mean robust. They're worth a perusal.

For those pressed for time, or on the way to the polling booth, here's an overview we assembled: Scott Walker's Murky, Polluted Environmental Record.

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Energy companies, seeing a greener future, are losing their faith in coal

The stuff fortunes were made of.

Tallying the predictions of energy industry executives is an interesting exercise. Like any dominant business sector, the energy industry's predictive powers are limited by one key damper: a blindness to change that might undermine their dominance.

But we have an opportunity to look through their tinted shades. Each year, the consulting firm Black & Veatch asks utility executives for their predictions on how the field will evolve. Highlights from the survey:

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Bathtub photo lands coal activist in child-porn hot water

Maria Gunnoe

West Virginia coal activist Maria Gunnoe is used to intimidation, as writer/blogger Aaron Bady points out. It's one thing to oppose coal companies from the office of the mayor of New York City. It's another to do it, as Gunnoe does, from the West Virginia valley floors where the coal companies live.

Gunnoe has been an activist for years, in 2009 winning the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work trying to stem mountaintop-removal mining. The prize came with a $150,000 award -- money she planned to use modestly: to extend the city water system to her house.

Her water, from a source on her property, wasn't usable. Like many others in the region relying on wells and local sources, she depended on water that had been contaminated by run-off from the coal industry's retrieval process. In some cases, the water was visibly polluted, running yellow- or copper-colored directly from the tap. Gunnoe's efforts to stem pollution somewhat ironically meant she might be able to escape it.

Her neighbors weren't (and aren't) as lucky. Last week, Gunnoe joined some of them in Washington, D.C., to present the stories of people in her community at an oversight hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. In a better world, the hearing would have ended with a commitment to stem the pollution. It ended much differently.

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Detroit turns a freeway into a river

Venice, Italy. Not Detroit -- yet. (Photo by Arian Zwegers.)

On Thursday, Detroit tried a little Venetian experiment, turning one of its freeways into a river.

This would have been great if it had been intentional, like an artistic statement about transportation and modern society or something. But instead, it was another statement: We should probably spend some money on infrastructure every so often.

Early in the afternoon, a four-foot water main ruptured on the city's west side, sending what one resident described as "a little tidal wave" rushing through the street and swamping the nearby Lodge Freeway. Water reached the windows of cars trapped in the lower part of the roadway.

Freak occurrence, right? Not really. A few days ago, there was a break in nearby Shelby Township. In February, a water main break in a residential neighborhood flooded for a month, the freezing water leaving icy obstructions across the paths of neighbors.

Read more: Cities, Infrastructure