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Atlanta region heads to the polls to reject a massive transportation investment

A highway near Atlanta, 1974. (Photo courtesy of Hunter-Desportes.)

In March, we told you about a proposal on the ballot in Georgia that would vastly expand Atlanta's public transit system. Called the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, the proposal would levy a 1-percent sales tax over 10 years, providing $8 billion for transit projects. Proponents created an interactive map of the results, numerous maps and fact sheets, and a series of video flyovers showing what the investment would bring.

Transportation activists are on board, as are regional politicians like Atlanta's mayor and the governor. Passing the elegantly named T-SPLOST would vastly improve transit access for Atlantans stymied since a 1971 vote rejected the construction of a regional mass transit system. For a city with the worst access to jobs via transit and a struggling economy, that would be huge.

And there's almost no way it will pass.

Read more: Transportation

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Want to predict America’s economic health? Follow the trash

Want to predict how the economy is moving? There's no better indicator to watch than trash.

In an analysis at Bloomberg (by way of the Washington Post), Michael McDonough and Bob Willis assessed which rail-transported material tracked most closely with broader economic indicators. The least correlation was between carloads of coal. The most? Waste. McDonough and Willis found that the index of how much garbage moved by rail had an 82 percent correlation with the GDP.

Which makes this graph worrisome.

Image courtesy of Michael McDonough.

The drop-off in that blue line, indicating waste carloads, mirrors a similar drop-off in 2009 -- and you know what happened then. (Or, if you don't: The economy tanked.)

Read more: Uncategorized

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Why does Dale Earnhardt Jr. hate the air?

NASCAR is not the most green sport in the universe, efforts to be more environmentally friendly notwithstanding. It's dozens of cars whipping around a track, burning fuel as fast as possible to move pistons. Very few hippies attend races.

ThinkProgress assessed the sport's environmental footprint last month. Their calculations suggest that one race uses 6,000 gallons of fuel, emitting 120,000 pounds of CO2. That's in addition to the eight to 10 sets of tires each of the 40 teams use and the oil in the engines. Hell, until 2007, NASCAR used leaded gasoline. (To the sport's credit, they are increasingly using slightly-more-environmentally friendly ethanol in their fuel.)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., surrounded by his mortal enemy. (Photo by Ted Murphy.)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of NASCAR's top drivers. He's a legacy in the sport; his father was killed in a crash at Daytona in 2001. Over the course of his career, Junior (as he's called) has raced 455 times -- meaning he alone can be credited with about 1.36 million pounds of CO2 just on the track. And that's not to mention the other emissions from burning fuel: particulates and contributors to smog. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not exactly a champion of air quality.

Read more: Coal

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Romney calls for an end to key wind energy credit

Photo by Eric Tastad.

Mitt Romney, a gentleman who is running for president of these United States, finally formalized his opposition to extending a key tax credit for the wind industry. The production tax credit, or PTC, provides incentives for growth in the wind industry and is due to expire at the end of the year. While his staff had previously suggested that the candidate opposed it, a spokesperson was direct yesterday: let it die. From The Des Moines Register:

Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Romney’s Iowa campaign, told The Des Moines Register, “He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits."

The statement makes very clear what the game is here: politics. "Stimulus boondoggles" and "level playing field" are code words, shorthand for "corruption" and "fossil fuels come first" that need no explanation from the Fox News set. Romney's argument isn't that the return on wind investments doesn't pay off or that he has a better strategy for increasing the use of renewable energy to achieve the goal of energy independence. It's talking points.

Read more: Politics, Wind Power

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Second day of blackouts leaves nearly 10 percent of humanity without power

This is not a repeat from yesterday. It is worse.

For the second day in a row, power consumption in India vastly exceeded available supply, due in part to high temperatures. The result: grid failure that first struck the northern part of the country -- which had the same issue yesterday -- then, the eastern. Reuters suggests that the outage affected 670 million people -- 9.5 percent of all people on Earth. For nearly four hours, power and transportation systems in the nation's capital were at a standstill, forcing hospitals and "VIP zones" to rely on generator backups. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Hundreds of trains stalled across the country and traffic lights went out, causing widespread traffic jams in New Delhi. Electric crematoria stopped operating, some with bodies half burnt, power officials said. Emergency workers rushed generators to coal mines to rescue miners trapped underground.

At least 46 of the 200 trapped miners have since been rescued.

Read more: Uncategorized

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TransCanada gets final OK for last leg of Keystone pipeline down middle of U.S.

Hey, guess what? TransCanada just got final approval to build its pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta all the way to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Done and done.

I know, I know: The Keystone XL pipeline has been held up. You protested at the White House to stop it. That's cool. But what you may not know is that Keystone XL would augment a section of pipeline that already brings tar-sands oil from Canada to Nebraska. On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the last permits TransCanada needed for a still-empty stretch from there to the Gulf Coast. Which means that the company will soon have a complete shunt traversing the entire height of the United States.

President Barack Obama encouraged TransCanada to move ahead with the segment that will run from a refinery in Cushing, Okla. to Texas after he rejected the broader [Keystone XL] plan, saying the pipeline needed to be rerouted around Nebraska's sensitive Sand Hills region. For that project, TransCanada needs presidential approval because it crosses an international border. The shorter portion only requires permits from state and federal agencies. TransCanada said the final of three permits it needed from the Army Corps of Engineers had been approved. …

The line from Cushing will help relieve a bottleneck at the Oklahoma refinery, but doesn't fulfill TransCanada's broader goal of transporting more Canadian crude to U.S. refineries.

The key word there is "more." Transporting more Canadian crude.

Here's what TransCanada's grand, oily vision for North America looks like, via Inside Climate News.

Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of Inside Climate News.)
Read more: Oil

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A weekend of protests barely makes the papers

There were at least four major protests this weekend targeting fracking, nuclear power, pollution, and mountaintop-removal mining. Here's a quiz: How many of these protests did you know about?

There was Saturday's banjo-festooned fracking protest in Washington, D.C. It was called "Stop the Frack Attack," and it called on politicians to stop the frack attack. Some estimates suggest that 5,000 people participated in the action; UPI asked a pro-fracking guy how many were there and he said that he heard 1,500 from a cop, so UPI went with 1,500.

Anti-fracking protestors march in Washington, D.C. (Photo by TXsharon.)

There were also protests in Japan and China. Earlier this month, some 100,000 people rallied in Tokyo to try and prevent a nuclear generator from being turned back on. Over the weekend, tens of thousands more marched outside of Parliament with the same aim: calling on the prime minister to halt the use of nuclear power. (There were no reports of banjos.)

Read more: Climate Change, Coal

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Medal-less Germany generates 25 percent of electricity from renewables

This is the German flag. It has not yet been raised at the London Olympics.

Germany now generates 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. The nation has not, however, won any Olympic medals.

Germany produced 67.9 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy in the first half of 2012, a record high and an increase of 19.5 percent from the same period last year, industry figures showed on Thursday. …

Wind energy was the largest contributor of green power, accounting for 9.2 percent of all energy output, BDEW said.

Biomass, or material acquired from living organisms, accounted for 5.7 percent and solar technology for 5.3 percent.

Read more: Renewable Energy

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Enbridge doesn’t seem to understand how pipes are supposed to work

If these belonged to Enbridge, that grass probably wouldn't be green.

The worst inland oil spill in U.S. history was in Michigan in 2010, from a pipeline owned and operated by Canada-based Enbridge. (We've talked about it before.) Hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil spilled in and around the Kalamazoo River. Investigators blamed "organizational failures at Enbridge Incorporated." (In June of this year, the river was "returned to its people," which is a weird way of saying that it's mostly been cleaned up.)

Anyway, I wonder who will be blamed for last Friday's leak?

Canada's Enbridge Inc prepared on Sunday to replace part of a pipeline that leaked more than 1,000 barrels of oil in a Wisconsin field, shutting down a key conduit from Canada and provoking fresh ire from Washington. …

Enbridge said two landowners had been affected and that one family had been relocated for their safety and comfort, but that most of the spill was restricted to the pipeline right-of-way. It kept its estimate of the spill at around 1,200 barrels -- about as much as would fit in six very large oil tanker trucks.

It found some oil on two small farm ponds, but said they did not connect to moving waterways and that drinking wells did not seem to be affected.

Local residents said one house had been "covered with oil." Oil trucks, Enbridge vehicles and about a dozen crews were working in the area, which had been cordoned off by sheriff deputies. Local law enforcement officials said they had been told it may take up to 30 days to clean the area.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Drought leads to ethanol backlash, finicky farm animals, and higher food prices for you

This is what corn futures have done over the summer. I know it looks like the same graph we've shown you before, but it isn't. The key difference is the number at the top right. It used to be a high of $7.50. Now corn is predicted to sell for more than $8.00 per bushel in December -- an increase of 60 percent since spring.

Corn futures from CME Group. Click to embiggen.

The reason for the price spike, at the risk of sounding like a broken record: the drought. Less corn production, higher corn prices. We've noted that these price increases (and, in fact, expectations of higher prices) will impact other foods over the short- and long-term. But the meat industry is already feeling the pinch this summer -- both because of concerns about corn prices and because animals have less of an appetite during a drought. Smithfield Foods is hedging against increased prices by importing corn from Brazil, a "highly unusual" step.

Read more: Climate Change, Corn, Food