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Rot-gut liquor

Amid a sea of troubles, ethanol now has an antibiotics problem

Hard times for corn fuel Photo: Todd Ehler I've been writing for a while now about problems with distillers grains, the leftover mash from the corn-ethanol process. A third of the corn that goes into ethanol winds up as distillers grains. Finding a high-value use for this "coproduct" is absolutely vital to the corn ethanol project. The fuel's energy balance is paltry -- that is, it delivers little net energy compared to how much is consumed producing it. Even the studies that credit the fuel with a positive energy balance, like this one from the USDA, acknowledge that it's pretty …

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Remaking of an Empire

Empire State Building to get efficiency overhaul

I've been wanting for a while to start a column called "Sexy Retrofits," exploring the idea that the key to green building is overhauling existing buildings, not starting from scratch. Despite what Larry Page might think. It's not the most glamorous notion, but it is energy efficient, cost effective, and exciting. I swear! So consider this the first edition, because it doesn't get much sexier than this: the Empire State Building is going green. In a news conference today, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg will appear with Bill Clinton to give details of the $20 million retrofit, which will reportedly include …

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Cleaning Up

First quarter cleantech VC funding hits $1 billion — green stimulus funds soar to $400 billion

Clean tech venture capital funding in the first quarter of 2009 hit $1 billion, according to “findings released today by the Cleantech Group in cooperation with Deloitte.” For the authors of the findings, the headline news was global cleantech VC funding “dropped 41 percent during 1Q09, compared to the previous quarter.” But that $1 billion in Q1 is still huge. Compare it to Q1 2007, when the economy was still booming — and cleantech VC funding was “only” $900 million. Or consider this — of that $1 billion spent in Q1 2009, nearly $700 million was spent in North America, …

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Couldn't car less

Toyota Prius sales down 55% compared to March ’08

Today, Toyota Motor Sales reported March '09 sales numbers, which showed a 55 percent decline for the Prius brand.  In March '08, Toyota sold 20,635 Priuses, but in March '09, only 8,924. (Maybe everyone is holding out for the 2010 model?) Overall, Toyota numbers were down 36 percent from March '08, but up 19 percent from February.

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You asked for it

Seattle’s transit-supporting sales-tax hike goes into effect

Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr If you noticed this week that your bar tab was a bit higher than usual, it's probably because of that extra shot of tequila you're now regretting the sales tax hike. As of April 1, residents in King, Pierce, and Snohomish county started paying more for their purchases -- one half of one percent more, to be exact -- and that money is going toward Sound Transit light-rail expansion, improved express-bus service, and boosted capacity on commuter trains. Sound familiar? That's probably because you marked an "X" in a spot on your November ballot …

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Thank you, Van Jones, for being busy

Every job can be green, part one

Fortunately for your humble correspondent, Van Jones was so busy when the editors of the new book, Mandate for Change: Policies and leadership for 2009 and beyond, were looking for an author for their chapter about green jobs, that they turned to me instead.  This is part one of three posts that will serialize my chapter.  There are over 40 great contributors besides me, your humble ... well, anyway, buy the book! We face several simultaneous crises—global warming, high oil prices, a brittle agricultural system and a major economic slowdown—all of which can be addressed at the same time by …

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Pulp nonfiction ... ok I stole that headline from The Nation

U.S. government paying industry to pollute

Chris Hayes has a blockbuster scoop up on The Nation: "Pulp Nonfiction," about how the U.S. government will pay the paper industry up to $8 billion this year to emit more carbon dioxide. Yeah, you read that right. The horror begins, as it so often does, with well-meaning efforts by Congress to encourage biofuels. The $244 billion transportation bill signed into law in 2005 contains a $0.51/gallon tax credit for "mixed fuels" -- that is, "taxable fuel" like gasoline or diesel mixed with an "alternative fuel." Funny story. See, for years the paper industry has relied on a biofuel derived …

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Myth: Pricing carbon will destroy the economy

Legislators from dirty-energy producing states, energy-intensive business lobbies, and conservative think tanks struggle to outdo one another with apocalyptic predictions about the effects of mandatory greenhouse gas emission reductions. See, for example, the Chamber of Commerce's video showing children shivering in the cold (really). As climate legislation evolves this year, the rhetoric is ramping up again, led by the Wall Street Journal editorial page and doomsayers-for-hire at the Heritage Institute and the Chamber of Commerce. The mainstream media passes along this kind of Chicken Littleism in gutless he-said she-said fashion, so the public rarely hears the truth: mainstream economists pretty …

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We Cement to Do That

Does carbon-eating cement deserve the hype?

I am trying to identify the plausible CO2-mitigation strategies that are scalable — that can comprise at least a half a wedge (see “How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution). So when a new process gets this much hype — as in Scientific American’s, “Cement from CO2: A Concrete Cure for Global Warming?” — it deserves scrutiny. Wired magazine’s “The Top 10 Green-Tech Breakthroughs of 2008,” provides both a good summary of the process and more evidence of the hype: 1. CALERA’S GREEN CEMENT DEMO PLANT OPENS Cement? With all the whiz …

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Stop the auction permits before they kill again

Waxman bill threatens children and elderly, says very concerned power industry

Reactions to the Waxman energy legislation are going to be pouring in over the coming days and weeks. On an early read, environmentalists are enthusiastic. But who is looking out for society's most vulnerable? Power companies, of course! Says Scott Segal, chairman of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council: ... the bill's silence on a method for allocating credits leaves open the option of an auctioning system that could double up the impact on energy consumers. Those living at or near the poverty level or on fixed incomes, and institutions like schools and hospitals are likely to be particularly hard hit. …