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New York City sees spike in traffic deaths, harbor poop

Don't stand where those blurry lights are.

One of the cool things about a city the size of New York is that it generates a lot of data. A lot of people, a lot of interaction, a lot of events. At the end of every fiscal year, the city's deputy mayor for operations puts together a document outlining how New York is doing on various metrics.

This year, there was at least one big surprise: Traffic fatalities increased. From the New York Times:

Traffic fatalities from July 2011 through June 2012 were up 23 percent from the previous year -- to 291, from 236. It was the first increase since 2007, when there were 310 traffic fatalities.

Though overall crashes fell slightly for the second straight year, 176 cyclists or pedestrians were killed in crashes, up from 158 the previous year. The other 115 deaths were motorists or their passengers, a sharp rise from the 78 drivers and passengers killed the year before. …

According to the Mayor’s Management Report, speeding, driving while intoxicated, and running red lights or stop signs accounted for a combined 54 percent of motorist or passenger fatalities. The report said a preliminary analysis suggested that the crashes were concentrated on highways, far removed from many of the areas that have been the focus of the city’s initiatives.

Traffic deaths:

All graphs in this post are from the Mayor's Management Report.

The increase was a surprise to the city and advocates alike. The commissioner of transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan, put blame on mobile devices.

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The vanishing ice cap, in two images

NASA's Earth Observatory released some images earlier today that make a dramatic point.

Here was the ice cap on Sept. 14, 1984.

Here it was two weeks ago -- near (but not at) the all-time low.

If you're more of a tactile type, the Earth Observatory website has a cool tool that lets you slide between the two images. Easy come, easy go.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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USDA OKs tofu as a meat substitute in school lunches

Mmm tofu. (Photo by flavorrelish.)

School lunches can now offer tofu as a "meat alternate," thanks to a little-noticed announcement from the Department of Agriculture in January. If you're looking for it in the government code, it's at "7 C.F.R. 210.10(c)(2)(i)(D) of the regulatory text for the NSLP," so just flip on over to that sub-sub-sub-sub-subsection.

Here's the USDA's announcement.

In short:

While tofu does not currently have a Federal standard of identity, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) encourage plant-based sources of protein such as tofu. According to the DGA, consumption of a balanced variety of protein foods can contribute to improved nutrient intake and health benefits.

Not to get post-modern, but who among us does have a federal standard of identity? (You'll soon need one to vote in various Southern states.)

Read more: Food, Politics

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The economy grows more slowly than expected, thanks to the drought

Your obligatory drought photo. (Photo by Jeff Reid.)

Earlier this year, the government projected that the nation's economy would expand at a rate of 1.7 percent during the second quarter. It didn't -- and you can blame the drought.

From the Washington Post:

The overall economy grew at a disappointing 1.3 percent annual pace in the April through June period, down from the government’s previous estimate of 1.7 percent growth. Roughly half of that decline came from a sharp fall in farm inventories. Crop production declined $12 billion over the quarter, data showed, “due to this summer’s severe heat and drought.” …

Some analysts saw this as good news, arguing that the drought-induced slowdown will only prove temporary. “Don’t panic,” cautioned a research note from Capital Economics. The weak patch, the firm argued, “will eventually be reversed when the drought abates.”

That 1.3 percent is slightly misleading; the growth was actually 1.25 percent.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Domestic oil production reaches a 15-year high

A metal insect from one of the Godzilla movies.

Why does Obama hate oil so much? All he wants to do is stop drilling oil and make everyone use cars that run on positive energy and replace all plastics with material made out of free-range bacteria or something. This guy is just the worst president ever for energy development! It's an outrage, I tell you, etc.!

U.S. oil production surged last week to the highest level since January 1997, reducing the country’s dependence on imported fuels as new technology unlocks crude trapped in shale formations.

Crude output rose by 3.7 percent to 6.509 million barrels a day in the week ended Sept. 21, the Energy Department reported today. America met 83 percent of its energy needs in the first six months of the year, department data show. If the trend continues through 2012, it will be the highest level of self- sufficiency since 1991. Imports have declined 3.2 percent from the same period a year earlier.

A combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has helped reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil. The same technology unleashed a boom in natural gas output from shale that pushed inventories to a record last year.

As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things. But, then, he was a Federalist, not a Republican.

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Three ways Romney’s new coal ad is hopelessly wrong

Hey, look. The Romney campaign has another ad attacking President Obama for the "War on Coal."

On the plus side, this ad doesn't feature any forced labor. On the minus side, basically everything else is wrong.

The argument presented is as follows:

  • Obama has an ad -- this ad -- noting that Romney once suggested coal plants kill people. That ad is therefore an "attack ad."
  • Obama once said that people could build coal plants, but "it would bankrupt them."
  • Obama has a "War on Coal," while we "lose jobs to China."
  • Your job is in danger.
  • Mitt Romney approves this message.

Setting aside the first and the last points, let's assess the ad's accuracy. Spoiler: It does poorly.

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NIMBY to the max: Building helipads to stop wind turbines

There is a town in Michigan called Benzonia, near the middle of Benzie County. It was not, as I first assumed, named by Snoop Dogg after a 24-hour bender, but rather is how Americans mispronounced the French name of a nearby river. Americans are like that.

A few locals in the area are uninterested in having wind turbines around. (More like NIMBenzie, amirite?) So they are fighting back. In a weird way.

Some Benzie County residents launched a new weapon in their efforts to block rural wind turbine development: helicopters.

Turbines can't be built near heliports -- lift-off and landing pads for helicopters -- and experts believe turbine opponents' tactic could reverberate statewide, just as Michigan's alternative energy debate intensifies.

Benzie's Joyfield Township -- once considered part of a four-township site for an industrial wind farm -- could soon have up to eight licensed, stand-alone public heliports. It would give the rural farming township of 800 souls south of Benzonia more heliports than the rest of Michigan combined. ...

"It seems pretty fishy to me," said Susan Zenker, who lives near one of the proposed heliports. "I know all of the people who have applied, and as far as I know not one of them has a helicopter."

As far as she knows. Some of her neighbors may have one of those houses where the roof splits in two and opens up to allow a helicopter to fly out of the attic.

The best way to prevent turbines? Turbines. (Photo by rkelland.)

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Senate exempts U.S. airlines from E.U. emissions plan, pretends action is green

An emitter emitting.

Over the weekend, the Senate buckled down, putting in a late-night session on Saturday before heading out of town for a few weeks. Nice work, if you can get it/are a millionaire.

One of the pressing issues the body addressed: whether or not American airlines would be subject to the European Union's newly implemented fees on aircraft greenhouse gas emissions. The E.U.'s proposal, announced earlier this month, would require airlines that fly to and from E.U. countries to participate in an existing cap-and-trade system, granting each a certain level of CO2 output per year. If an airline exceeds that amount, it would have to buy an allowance.

The Senate, you will not be surprised to learn, decided that American airlines should be exempt. From the Wall Street Journal:

The Senate bill would allow the U.S. transportation secretary to prohibit the country's carriers from complying with the EU plan. An amendment added to the Senate bill—which passed unanimously—would require that prohibition to be reconsidered if the EU amends its plan or the U.S. introduces its own measures—or if progress is made through [the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization].

The trade group representing the largest U.S. airlines on Saturday welcomed the Senate vote, having unsuccessfully tried to block the EU's move in court and repeatedly called on the Obama administration to take legal action through ICAO.

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A carbon tax could bring down the deficit, if it weren’t a pipe dream

The proposal is strongly endorsed by this guy.

From Reuters:

Imposing a $20 per metric ton carbon tax in the U.S. could reduce the country's budget deficit by 50 percent over the next 10 years, a report by the Congressional Research Service said on Tuesday.

Such a tax would generate approximately $88 billion in 2012, rising to $144 billion by 2020, the report said, slashing U.S. debt by between 12 and 50 percent within a decade, depending on how high the deficit climbs.

Please print this article out and throw it on top of the giant pile you keep of policy proposals that could dramatically reduce the deficit but will never, ever make it into law.

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Donald Trump is having methane release problems

Donald Trump, who is an obnoxious idiot, is building a golf course in the South Bronx. And like its owner, the property emits unhealthy levels of gas.

From the Daily News:

High levels of explosive methane gas have been discovered next to Bronx homes that abut a dump the city is turning into a golf course for Donald Trump, a Daily News investigation has found.

As construction of the $97 million links has accelerated this year, methane in quantities the state considers potentially volatile has been repeatedly detected in test wells just yards away from homes. …

“That concerns me. What are we breathing?” asked Stephanie Machuca, whose Balcolm Ave. condo sits about 25 feet from a green-capped well that registered excessive amounts of methane in May.

The Trump golf course is now under construction on top of a dump that was closed in 1963.

People. There are too many jokes to be made. Trump builds crap out of garbage! Trump land is flatulent! Trump poisons low-income community! (Well, that's less a joke and more a prophecy.) Hot air! My brain is melting.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy