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Susie Cagle's Posts

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Big 50-year plan could make Detroit greener and healthier

Detroit's city leaders, backed by deep-pocketed foundations, have laid out a new plan for remaking Motor City into a thriving and sustainable metropolis. From Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson:

[P]rops to Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit Works project he has championed for telling Detroiters the truth about their limited options for redeeming Michigan's largest city -- and reminding them how quickly those options will narrow if Detroit's elected leaders fail to seize the moment.

The Detroit Future City report unveiled Wednesday is best understood as a municipal triage plan. Squarely confronting the chasm between residents' expectations and the city's capacity to meet them, the report's authors have done their best to apportion the city's dwindling resources across a sprawling landscape of deprivation. ...

Nobody will be forced to move ... But if implemented, the Future City plan would codify the tale-of-two-cities scenario that already exists, formalizing the boundary between neighborhoods that retain critical mass and the more sparsely populated hinterlands where the amenities associated with urban living are generally unavailable.

The new Detroit Works Project 50-year plan for the city is sprawling and ambitious, but unlike a lot of huge strategic plans, it actually doesn’t seem completely insane. Put together after hundreds of meetings, thousands of surveys, and tens of thousands of snippets of community input, the 350-page “Detroit Future City” report is full of big, green ideas.

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The sharing economy, from soup to nuts

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You learned it in preschool, and now it’s back in a more grown-up way. From cars to kids’ clothes to cold hard cash, sharing is caring more than ever before. The sharing economy builds and leverages social bonds, creates a more democratic marketplace, reduces the sheer amount of stuff we need to buy, and creates more resilient communities in the process. It’s the bastard child of market disruption that began on the web decades ago (Napster, anyone?), but it's a child with a conscience.

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The kind of "collaborative consumption" we see in services like Zipcar and Airbnb has the potential to revolutionize the way we live our lives. But it's not all bartered canning equipment and blissful couchsurfing, folks -- the sharing economy is a serious moneymaker for individuals and companies who “share” their stuff for a price. Investors, who prefer the wonktastic phrase "underused asset utilization" to "sharing economy," say the market amounts to $100 billion to $500 billion worldwide, and it’s growing fast.

Here’s a breakdown of the various sharing philosophies, a few of the reasons that sharing is blowing up right now, and some ways that you can get in on the action. Just drag your pointer over the pictures for more info.

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New food-safety rules are not making us feel all that nauseated

A bout of food poisoning is a memorable and vomitous experience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million Americans each year are sickened by bad food and 3,000 of them die. In the case of food-borne illness outbreaks, like the one we saw this fall in peanuts, it can take weeks and even months to track down the culprit. We'd love for causes to be clear, but of course it's not that easy.

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Please stay out of my peanut butter, salmonella.

The Columbia Journalism Review has a long feature on why it's so hard for scientists and reporters to identify the sources of food-borne illnesses.

The epidemiology of foodborne disease is complicated; there are numerous barriers to definitively linking sick people in multiple states to the same pathogen and a common food product. One of the biggest hurdles is that foodborne illnesses are severely underreported. For every case of Salmonella that is reported, the CDC estimates that some 29 are not. ...

Detecting and solving foodborne-illness outbreaks relies heavily on the capacity and expertise of state and local health departments, which have been hit hard by budget cuts and are often tracking multiple outbreaks or small clusters of disease at once. ...

Even when dealing with confirmed illnesses, it’s difficult to definitively link them to a food product. Health officials use food-history questionnaires to help identify foods that sick people have in common, but it’s not easy to recall what you had for lunch three days ago, down to the ingredient. Cracking the cases can take some time.

It's not just our bad food memories at play here, of course -- industrial farming practices have done wonders to mix our spinach with our pig feces.

But now the Food and Drug Administration is proposing big, new food-safety rules, especially in some key farming states where our food has gotten pretty gross in recent years. The Los Angeles Times reports that the new rules are aimed at transforming the FDA "into an agency that prevents contamination, not one that merely investigates outbreaks":

Read more: Food, Politics

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Keystone protesters take the fight to TransCanada offices

Not content to protest from the trees, anti-Keystone activists mobilized on Monday at two different offices of pipeline builder TransCanada.

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Tar Sands Blockade

Nearly 100 activists took over the lobby of TransCanada's Houston office to dance, chant, prance with puppets, die-in, and then be kicked out by police.

At one point a blockader dropped to his knees and pleaded with a line of police holding batons: "Help! There are eco-terrorists upstairs! They're killing me!" Officers arrested two of the activists once they'd been ushered from the lobby.

Police, who were probably having a bad day, also did this:

Just as the action in Houston died down, eight college students and recent grads were chaining and gluing themselves inside TransCanada's corporate office in Westborough, Mass. They were promptly unchained and arrested, because that's how much TransCanada cares about your Harvard degrees, kids.

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GMO labeling initiative gets rolling in Washington state

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Label It Yourself

A ballot measure that would have required labels on all genetically modified frankenfoods failed in California this past fall, but 2013 is a new year with new hope and a new roiling labeling movement, this time in Washington state.

Supporters of a GMO-labeling ballot measure have collected far more signatures than necessary, and if they're certified, the proposal will hit the state legislature in the upcoming session and then likely be on the ballot in November. The movement's colorful spokesperson is spreading the word, as The Seattle Times reports:

"Here we go, Round 2," said the Washington initiative's sponsor, Chris McManus, who owns a small advertising firm in Tacoma. "They got us the first time in Cali, but we're stitched up, greased up and ready to go."

McManus told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that the measure is not a scare tactic.

“A little bit more information never hurt anybody about the foods they eat.”

But opposition is beginning to coalesce. Farm industry representatives call the proposal an attempt to scare people away from food sources that have no known health risks. If the initiative wasn’t about scaring people, asked Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, why did supporters deliver their petitions in an old ambulance?

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Chevron’s own firefighters might have contributed to Richmond refinery fire

A small corroded pipe caused the initial blast at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., this past August, but the oil giant's own firefighters, in their haste, may well have been responsible for the fire's spread.

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The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the ongoing investigation, which reveals that early efforts to put out the flames may have actually stoked them.

"One theory we are exploring is that emergency response activities inadvertently accelerated the rate of the leak," said Daniel Horowitz, managing director of the Chemical Safety Board. "We are comparing possible tool marks on the pipe with tools recovered from the incident."

One tool that may have inflicted the apparent damage is a Halligan bar, which has a hook-like implement with a sharp end. Firefighters are commonly equipped with the device to help them gain entry into burning buildings.

Don Holmstrom, the Chemical Safety Board's lead investigator looking into the fire, said the blaze might well have happened even without the apparent puncture, but that the external damage could have been "an aggravating factor."

Investigators have not determined what sparked the blaze, but have raised questions about Chevron's decision to continue to run crude oil through the pipe even as workers responded to the initial, small leak.

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Richmond, Calif., fights back against Chevron’s choke hold

Chevron has dominated the town of Richmond, Calif., for 110 years, but that dominance is finally being called into question. Tensions have been escalating for decades, but came to a head after a fire in August 2012 at the oil giant's Richmond refinery belched toxic smoke all over the Bay Area.

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When Chevron sought city permits to rebuild the refinery, the Richmond mayor and City Council called for stronger pollution and safety controls. But in December, the city Planning Department approved permits that will allow the company to bring the refinery back to full production with only very minor improvements in emissions.

Last month, Chevron agreed to pay $145,600 to settle 28 different air-quality violations that had taken place at the refinery before the fire. That works out to $5,200 for each screwup, which ranged from not filing reports on hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide pollution incidents to the fact that the the oil giant didn't check part of the refinery for leaks for two years.

For most of its 110 years in Richmond, Chevron -- the town's biggest employer and a big donor to local political campaigns -- has put out fires and paid fines and not looked back, while local residents suffered from sustained health problems. Now, The New York Times reports, the winds are shifting:

“They went through a period of time when they took a very hard-line, confrontational position with the City of Richmond, and I don’t think it was working for them very well,” said Tom Butt, a councilman who has been critical of Chevron and who won re-election in November, despite the oil company’s support for three other candidates. “They were facing a situation where the majority of the City Council were not their friends, and so they decided to try a different position.”

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A new year, a new Keystone XL blockade

Late Wednesday night, the Keystone XL blockaders launched a new tree-sit in Diboli, Texas, coinciding with kickoff of a direct-action training camp.

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Last month, TransCanada, which is constructing the southern leg of Keystone XL, got around an 85-day treetop blockade by rerouting the pipeline. With this new tree-sit, located 150 miles south of the old one, "blockaders have found a location around which the pipe cannot easily be rerouted,” activists said in a statement.

A number of protesters on the ground have been arrested so far today, but the two activists in the trees are still untouched, and there have not (yet) been reports of police using force against anyone. In the past, police have put blockade activists in choke holds, dragged them on the ground, and pepper-sprayed them into compliance.

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Cash for Clunkers program drove right into a brick wall of waste

Hey, remember back in 2009 when President Obama was saving the American car industry by whatever means necessary, including offering cash incentives for trading in old cars for newer, more efficient ones? And remember how a lot of people used that incentive to buy cars that were only marginally more efficient than their junked clunkers?

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Billed as stimulus both for automakers and the environment, the Car Allowance Rebates System, better known as Cash for Clunkers, turned out to be clunker itself. Besides fueling more unsustainable new-car-buying consumerism, the program also destroyed thousands of older, functional vehicles -- vehicles that, according to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), were almost 100 percent recyclable. Through Cash for Clunkers, about 690,000 vehicles had their engines destroyed and many were sent to junkyards, bypassing recycling companies altogether.

E Magazine reports:

The ARA issued a report when the CARS program was announced saying that a much more efficient program would have been to encourage recycled parts usage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explained at the time that the engines must be destroyed to prevent the vehicles from being resold and taking the road again. For any dealer that did not follow that law, there was a hefty $15,000 fine per infraction against them.

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Fiscal-cliff deal ups tax benefit for transit riders

FISCAL CLIFF TRIGGER WARNING! Obviously there's a lot to be annoyed about in this deal, but there are a few bright spots that aren't getting much attention. Renewed tax credits for wind energy are cool, and even more people will benefit from a near-doubling of a tax benefit for transit riders.

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The benefit is basically a tiny tax shelter for the dollars you're spending on public transportation, available if your employer participates in a federal program. On Dec. 31, 2011, that shelter was shrunk from $230 a month to $125, while the benefit for people who drive to work and pay for parking was increased from $230 to $240 -- meaning the government was incentivizing people to drive instead of take public transit. Now, thanks to the fiscal-cliff deal, tax benefits for transit takers and car parkers will be equalized -- both will get a benefit of up to $240 a month.

From Transportation Nation:

Read more: Cities, Living