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Business & Technology


Federal loan program for coal-fired power plants suspended amid climate, cost concerns

A federal loan program for coal-fired power plants in rural areas has been suspended due to concerns over climate change and the costs of the program. The Rural Utilities Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, issued $1.3 billion in loans to coal plants since 2001 under the program. However, RUS officials said costs for new coal-fired power plants have been rising at about 30 percent a year. The White House Office of Management and Budget asked for the suspension following congressional inquiries last month. "This is a big decision," said Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice. "It says new coal …


Internal combustion news

Volkswagen’s new entry to the clean diesel fleet

Enough election talk, it's time to put some honest-to-goodness car news in the Gristmill (so this one's for you, JMG!). Volkswagen is about to unveil a new Golf hybrid, said to feature an all-electric mode at low speed and regenerative braking to compete with the Prius and its ilk. The difference is that this is a diesel-electric hybrid, which VW says will get 69 mpg and exceed Europe's (and California's) tough emissions standards. The point is somewhat moot, as this internal-combusion-perpetuating monster will not be for sale in the U.S. But is this just another indicator that clean diesel cars …


Company creates global map of wind patterns

Any way the wind blows, weather-consulting service 3Tier wants to map it. The company has created a global map of weather patterns that's available free on the internet, allowing anyone to check whether there's strong enough air movement -- and transmission capacity -- to power property in a certain area. 3Tier plans to do a similar project to show the potential of solar energy, to keep the renewable-energy industry from stickin' panels where the sun don't shine.


EPA attempt to ban bird-killing pesticide runs into opposition

The U.S. EPA has proposed a ban on a pesticide lethal to birds, but is running into resistance from the company that produces the chemical. The pesticide, carbofuran, is typically used on crops such as corn, alfalfa, and potatoes, and has been linked to the dieoff of 558 separate bird flocks since 1972. A manager with pesticide manufacturer FMC Corp. says carbofuran, "when used according to its label, can be used without causing adverse effects." But the EPA says the chemical poses an avian threat even when used as directed, and that safer alternatives exist. Nonetheless, Congressfolk from agricultural states …


Vicious life cycles

Can we trust carbon labeling?

About a year ago, I was cautiously bullish on British supermarket giant Tesco's pledge to start putting carbon labels on its food. But I think that their progress so far -- which I'll get to in a minute -- suggests an important lesson about the policy risks of treating a fuzzy exercise as if it were completely reliable. Tesco's idea was that the chain and its suppliers would pay for objective, comprehensive reviews of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the foods on the store's shelves. The analyses would cover all major steps in bringing food from farms to the checkout line …


One hell of a company

Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields

Photo: iStockphoto Monsanto dominates the global seed industry and churns out $1 billion a year in profit. Investors are so enamored of its market power and profitability that they've bid up its share price by nearly 1500 percent since 2004. So why does Monsanto rely on farms that use child labor to cultivate its genetically modified cotton seeds in India? From Forbes Magazine: Yothi Ramulla Naga is 4 feet tall. From sunup to sundown she is hunched over in the fields of a cottonseed farm in southern India, earning 20 cents an hour. Farmers in the Uyyalawada region process high-tech …


Zipcar merges with Flexcar, effs it all up

Has the east coast car-sharing company screwed up the west coast car-sharing company?

Late last year, the country's two major car-sharing companies, west-coast Flexcar and its larger east-coast cousin Zipcar, merged and became, um, Zipcar. Flexcar fans were concerned about the effects of the merger. Sadly, Flexcar fangirl Erica Barnett reports that they were decidedly negative: more expensive, fewer cars, less friendly service, etc. Zipcar, what hath thou wrought? Any Gristians have car-sharing experiences to share?


There will be ethanol

Archer Daniels Midland will squeeze out competition, says Fortune

Record corn prices aren't just squeezing consumers. They're also hurting the ethanol industry -- yes, the very folks whose ravenous appetite for corn drove up prices in the first place. From Fortune Magazine: Cargill announces it's scrapping plans for a $200 million ethanol plant near Topeka, Kan. A judge approves the bankruptcy sale of an unfinished ethanol plant in Canton, Ill.. And that was just Tuesday. Indeed, plans for as many as 50 new ethanol plants have been shelved in recent months, as Wall Street pulls back from the sector. What's up? Didn't the government recently bail out the industry …


Say cheeeeez

Kodak, Wal-Mart partner on photo kiosk recycling

Wal-Mart continues on the "Seriously? They're still doing good stuff?" path with a new partnership with Kodak that will bring recycling to those handy in-store photo kiosks. The printer ribbon, spools, and cartridges recycled annually by the program will weigh about as much as six commercial planes. Which is, even by Wal-Mart standards, big.


John McCain and Exxon Valdez

Mr. Straight Talk voted against requiring double-hulled tankers after the biggest oil spill

You're likely aware that the notorious Exxon Valdez case is back in court yet again. Yesterday, the Most Profitable Company of All Time argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it shouldn't have to pay $2.5 billion in damages to Alaskans harmed by the spill. (That was reduced from the original $5 billion, but Exxon argues it shouldn't have to pay any damages. Yes, really.) It is, of course, morally repugnant almost beyond measure for the company to be fighting this still today. But my outrage and disgust aren't particularly interesting. What might be interesting is a fact you may …