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What in tar nation?

Why it matters that spilled Michigan oil came from tar sands

Michigan cleanup workerMic Stolz via FlickrBrace yourselves for this: An energy executive has been caught bending the truth to downplay an environmental disaster. Shocking, I know. The culprit here isn't BP's Tony Hayward or Massey Energy's Don Blankenship. This time it's Patrick Daniel, CEO of Enbridge Energy Partners, which owns the Michigan pipeline that burst in a Kalamazoo River tributary in late July. The spill of more than 800,000 gallons near Battle Creek, Mich., looks positively dainty compared to BP's Gulf leak, but the type of crude oil spilled caught the interest of a few reporters. Kari Lydersen reports for …

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Hide and tweak

D.C. schools refuse to disclose food-rebate accounting

Let's keep this on the down-low. Photo courtesy of Mike Schmid via flickrAttorneys for D.C. Public Schools have refused to release an accounting of more than $1 million in rebates received from corporate food manufacturers, claiming that details about the rebates constitute "trade secrets" and that exposing them to public scrutiny would hurt the "competitive position" of Chartwells, the school system's contracted food service provider. (I first reported the extent of Chartwell's use of rebates in D.C. school lunches in a July article.) The ruling by the D.C. Public Schools general counsel's office places the school district in the awkward position …

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LEAF STORM

Will Berkeley become the electric car capital?

Will Berkeley, Calif. drivers buy the Nissan Leaf en masse?With months to go before the first mass production electric cars hit American streets, the $41,000 question (before rebates and tax incentives) is whether drivers will buy them en masse. Which is why you should keep your eye on Berkeley, Calif. While I would hardly hold out my hometown as an avatar of mainstream American values, on the environmental front it's often been in the vanguard of things to come, like curbside recycling. Take hybrid cars. When I was reporting a story earlier this year on the San Francisco Bay Area …

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Friday flashback

Cars that run on crap, and 9 more green stories to amaze your friends

Prices for LED lightbulbs have dropped to $20.Photo: Flickr via kalleboo1. Bulb buster: Does Home Depot have a deal for you. One light bulb for $20. No, it really is a good deal because we're talking about an LED bulb which could glow for 30 years. No one expected LEDs to break the $20 per bulb barrier so soon, but with federal guidelines coming in 2012 that will require much more efficient light bulbs, manufacturers want to start building an LED business -- and that means lowering the price. Leslie Kaufman tells the tale in the New York Times. 2. Wake …

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Well done

The meat industry feels the heat as the sustainable-food movement gains force

Getting hot in here.Once, the meat industry acted with impunity, confident that its lobbying clout in Washington could deflect any challenges to its practices. But now, it finds itself on the defensive. In northwest Iowa, the EPA  has taken the brazen, virtually unheard-of step of actually enforcing the Clean Water Act for CAFOs, or concentrated animal feedlot operations. The agency has "documented significant water quality problems" with eight mid-sized cattle feedlots there. "Runoff from CAFOs may contain such pollutants as pathogens and sediment, as well as nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, all of which can harm aquatic life and …

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The gulf at the gas station

Can we calculate the true cost of our dependence on oil?

This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with Tom's kind permission. This might be an opportune time to make a disclosure: I am a BP shareholder. Admittedly, I’ve never attended the company’s annual meeting, and if I did, I would have very little weight to throw around. Those who believe that the price of my BP stock will recover in the next year might be wrong. Even if the stock bottoms out, however, that won’t restore a shattered Gulf, nor will it change a system that prizes easy consumption and deferred responsibility. We can only correct …

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Photovoltaic factory town

Prop 23 threatens Silicon Valley's newest solar assembly line

PG&E’s Vaca-Dixon Solar Station in Vacaville, Calif.Photo: PG&EAt an event at Google this week, green tech investor Vinod Khosla noted that solar companies are building factories in California even though it would be cheaper to manufacture photovoltaic panels in China. "The markets are here, the innovators are here, the ecosystem is here," he said, noting that the state's global warming law, known as Assembly Bill 32, or AB 32, had created a predictable regulatory climate, spurring investment in California. Adding another data point to Khosla's argument, AQT Solar, a Sunnyvale, Calif., startup, announced Thursday that it had officially flipped the …

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OILED AGAIN?

Will BP and the White House become strange bedfellows in the Gulf?

Activists send the White House a message.Photo: 350.orgRemember that $20 billion escrow account that BP is supposed to create to cover damages in the Gulf of Mexico? You know, the account that one Republican called a "slush fund" until he was told it made him look too chummy with a company that had dumped 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, so then he got all humble and sorry, except not really?  Yeah, that one.  Well, the same account is raising hackles again, only this time with enviros. Take a drill pill: As Monica Langley explains in The Wall …

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Economic climate change

Silicon Valley: Prop 23 will kill off the Googles of green tech

As the traditional Labor Day kickoff to the fall election campaign approaches, the battle is intensifying over Proposition 23, the California ballot initiative that would effectively repeal the state's landmark climate change law. And thus the title of a gathering Tuesday at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters: "Electric Bills & Oil Spills: Will California Continue to be a Clean Energy Leader?"   The not-so-subtle subtext: Not if Prop 23 passes. "We're strongly behind the No on 23 campaign," Bill Weihl, Google's green energy czar (yes, that's his title), said as he kicked off the event in a company café packed with …

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Northeast Biodiesel, Born

Co-op capitalizes renewable energy businesses

The very happy members of Co-op Power.Photo: Erik Hoffner Co-op Power, a renewable energy cooperative, broke ground on its newest green business, Northeast Biodiesel, last week. This multi-million dollar project in Greenfield, Mass. is majority-owned by the co-op and its 375 members, so that the benefits and profits stay local. Note the smiles and thumbs in the air saying yeah, we own it! The plant will make roughly 3.5 million gallons of liquid fuel a year from recycled oil for use in buses, tractors, cars, and in home heating systems. Such biodiesel is way better for the planet and climate …