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Kick It into Underdrive

Americans driving less, SUV fervor cooling Who woulda thunk it: For the first time in 25 years, Americans are driving less. A study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates finds that the average American drove 13,657 miles in 2005, down from 13,711 in 2004. So that's, let's see ... um, carry the one ... a whopping 54 miles. We'll take it! Last year also saw SUVs comprise a smaller chunk of new-vehicle sales; even though gas-guzzlers still account for more than half of such sales, "the passion has cooled," says the report. Data on the actual gas being guzzled was good …

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A Grist special series on biofuels

These days, ethanol is praised as the whiz-bang cure-all for our energy ills. And maybe all the sweet talk will cause this "new" fuel to forget that America dumped her for oil in the early 20th century. Oil's just so ... ew all of a sudden. We may finally be ready to return to our first love, an energy source that's been by our side in some form or another since Neolithic times. Oil was too high-maintenance and demanding, anyway. And ethanol's a much better match ... right? Or maybe biodiesel is the one? Or vegetable oil? Hemp? Turkey guts? …

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Top Goes the Diesel

L.A. auto show sees Germans, GM committing to clean-tech cars This week's Los Angeles Auto Show has set the car world abuzz. General Motors, plagued by its gas-guzzling reputation and notorious electric-car bungle, announced its commitment to creating a rechargeable plug-in hybrid, becoming the first automaker to do so. "The technological hurdles are real, but we believe they are also surmountable," said CEO Rick Wagoner, bursting with can-do spirit. And German manufacturers Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler are promoting Bluetec, clean diesel technology that meets even California's tough air-quality standards. Diesels are 30 percent more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines, and Bluetec addresses …

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Activist Sam Pratt, featured in a PBS documentary, answers Grist’s questions

Sam Pratt. What work do you do? I advise citizens' groups and campaigns on how to win against the odds, and I'm working on a manual of strategy and tactics for underdogs. When neighbors work closely together in a smart and structured way, there is no such thing as a "done deal" -- no matter what any politician or developer tells you. From 1999 to 2005, pretty much every waking moment of my life was spent challenging a subsidiary of the largest cement company in the world. St. Lawrence Cement spent $58 million in Hudson, N.Y. -- a town of …

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A dispatch from an eco-showroom evening full of luxurious goods

Emily Gertz is an environmental journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who has contributed to Grist, Plenty, WorldChanging, and other independent publications, and blogs at OneAtlantic.net. Emily Gertz. Thursday, 16 Nov 2006 New York, N.Y. I want to believe. I want to believe that we can create an ecologically sustainable and socio-economically just future for the billions of biologically distinct individuals who comprise humanity -- and other-living-thingity -- by going to sleep at night swaddled in soft organic-cotton sheets, waking up in the morning to garb ourselves in chic eco-fashions, and living out our days surrounded by beautiful, nontoxic furniture in …

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A Bee in His Bonnet

London mayor proposes steep congestion charge for gas-guzzlers London Mayor Ken Livingstone has announced plans to make the city's weekday congestion tax much steeper for drivers of polluting vehicles. Under the proposal, owners of SUVs and other gas-guzzlers would shell out the equivalent of about $47 a day to motor into London between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. (the current tax is $15). While central London residents currently receive a 90 percent discount on the congestion tax, Livingstone proposes abolishing that for SUV drivers, whom he once called "idiots." Electric vehicles and hybrids would be exempt from charges altogether. Conservatives …

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Move Thyself: A roundup of recent pedal-powered news

Wacky and weird

The Schwinn-Shank Redemption While the use of prison labor is questionable in any context, about 20 inmates in a South Dakota state penitentiary are reportedly happy to be taking part in a program that puts them to work fixing up old bikes for disadvantaged kids. No word in the media on whether the program is voluntary or not, but given prison wages, there's probably not much difference in compensation. Now if only there were a program to teach the kids how to stay upright in all that wind. The other kind of bicycle flasher Police in Clinton Township, Pa., have …

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Coffee, Tea, or Big Three?

Detroit CEOs meet with President Bush, discuss energy concerns Since lunch with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn't kill him, President Bush cozied up to another foe: the Big Three automakers. Yesterday, Bush met with the CEOs of Ford, GM, and the Chrysler Group, a trio he ruffled earlier this year by saying they'd improve financially if they made "relevant" products. Eager to show their relevance, the three pledged that, with Washington's help, they could make half their annual vehicle production biofuels-ready by 2012. The meeting -- attended by a startling number of bigwigs, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Treasury …

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The Charge of the Ultra-Light Brigade

CyberTran is the fastest, most convenient public transit you've never heard of What if there was a public transit system one-tenth the price of conventional light rail, available 24 hours a day within minutes, suitable for both urban centers and suburbs, safe and comfortable, and most important, faster than auto commuting? Think you'd prefer it over that stinky city bus? Meet CyberTran, an automated, driverless ultra-light rail system being developed in California. It could spark a virtuous cycle of demand that draws people out of their cars, says Gar Lipow. He investigates the details in Gristmill.

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Now Utah-kin

Salt Lake City requires LEED certification for city-funded buildings Salt Lake City, Utah, known for its salty lake and Mormons, may soon also be known for its green buildings. Developers funded by city money will be required to erect buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program, city council members decided unanimously on Tuesday. (Oh, Tuesday -- it was a great day.) The new ordinance is "a tremendous first step toward encouraging in every way possible greater efficiency in design and material used for buildings in our community," said Mayor Rocky Anderson, who then ran up some steps …

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