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Umbra on speed limits

Dear Umbra, I was babbling about the '70s energy crisis, gas rationing, and the nationwide 55 mile-per-hour speed limit at work the other day, and found myself explaining to a group of younger people how you save gas if you drive slower. They had never heard such a thing! Could you refresh my memory about why 55 is the magic number for saving fuel? They need to hear it in scientificese. RuthDenton, Texas Dearest Ruth, As you well remember, 55 mph was decreed the national speed limit in 1973. It was lifted in rural areas in 1987, but stuck around …

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What New Orleans could look like the second time around

I heard that George Bush told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin the city could be remade into "a shining example for the whole world." If Bush did say that, it surely wasn't an environmentally sound renaissance he had in mind. But that is precisely what is needed. Call it Eco New Orleans. It should encompass not just the city, but the other places blasted by Katrina and by FEMA's impressively incompetent response. The Eco New Orleans I'm talking about should extend scores of miles in every direction. It should be a place attuned to the definition of sustainable development put …

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Feline Groovy

German inventor denies using dead cats to make biodiesel German inventor Christian Koch says he's patented a way to convert trash into eco-friendly, high-quality biodiesel fuel that costs one-fifth the going price of diesel in his home country. To produce the alternative fuel, Koch claims he uses waste including paper, textiles, and plastics -- but no dead cats. Got that? Koch is trying to set the record straight after the German paper Bild ran a story claiming he used run-over cats as raw material -- "for a tank he needs 20 pussies," read Tuesday's headline. On Wednesday, the paper asked, …

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Go Truck Yourself

Bush admin unveils weak new fuel-economy rules for light trucks The Bush administration surveyed the landscape -- gas prices rising, fears of oil dependence spreading -- and concluded that bold leadership was required. So it invaded an oil-rich country. Heh, well ... on to Plan B! Yesterday, the administration proposed a new set of auto fuel-economy rules. Tightening the standard for passenger cars? Uh, no, that would stay at an average of 27.5 miles per gallon. Finally imposing some requirements on mega-SUVs like the Hummer H2? Wrong again. Instead, most SUVs, pickups, and minivans would be divided into six categories …

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A plug-in electric hybrid that gets 12,500 MPG and has a range of 20 miles

It’s an electric bike

I don't know what this guy's hang-up is with Deuce Bigalow, but high gas prices and the following comment by Odograph on the cost of plug-in electric hybrids got me thinking again. In lieu of paying $3-6K more for a plug-in hybrid electric car: What if you drive a prius and plant $3-10K worth of trees? What if you skip the prius, buy an echo and plant $13-20K worth of trees? What if you spend $1k and ride a really nice bike? I especially liked his last idea. I jumped on the net to see what was new for electric …

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Biodiesel: it's what you make it out of

Replacing fossil fuels with biodiesel may do more harm than good

I remember when real environmentalists drove smoking VW vans with bumper stickers that said stuff like, "You can't call yourself an environmentalist if you eat meat." They didn't get the best gas mileage, but hey, you could do worse. They were replaced by the forest-green Subaru Outback (Eddy Bower edition if you were really cool), seen by the dozens in any REI parking lot. These are presently being eclipsed by the ubiquitous Prius. But, there is stiff competition from the diesel Jetta replete with biodiesel stickers all over the butt end. As we all know by now, biodiesel can be …

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Dispatches from a student-run clean-car campaign

The Road to Detroit campaign is run by 11 student organizers from around the U.S., one big, beautiful biodiesel and veggie-oil bus, and many friends and allies. Road to Detroit is a campaign of Energy Action, a student and youth clean-energy and global-warming coalition. Friday, 19 Aug 2005 DETROIT, Mich. We know you know about fuel-efficient cars. You may even own one. Peak oil, the rising price at the pump, and new car technology have made headlines from coast to coast and back again; you've probably even considered naming your first born "Prius." This summer, a group of student organizers …

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Miser Permanente

Americans get creative at saving gas as price per gallon soars Ever since dinosaurs walked the earth, died, and decayed under high subterranean pressures to become the fossil fuels we so depend upon today, Americans have carried on a brontosauric love affair with gasoline. But with prices climbing toward $3 a gallon, that may change. Well, at least a little. More folks seem to be telecommuting and participating in car- and vanpools. Car-sharing firm Flexcar has reported a recent uptick in inquiries; it's been able to control fuel costs by making heavy use of hybrids. Some drivers are being more …

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Umbra on biodiesel vs. straight veggie oil

Dear Umbra, I have the opportunity to convert a 1979 non-turbo Mercedes into a non-diesel. The question I have is: to which should I switch, biodiesel or vegetable oil? I can't seem to find out which one is best, just that these two are better than any petroleum-based fuels, which we already know (thanks for your earlier column on hybrids vs. veggie oil). Also, is it possible to switch from biodiesel to veggie oil, or vice versa, once a conversion is made? MargaretCincinnati, Ohio Dearest Margaret, I've noticed a lot of confusion about the distinction between straight veggie oil (SVO) …

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For This Relief Much Tanks

Big SUVs likely to keep guzzling gas under forthcoming fuel-economy plan The Bush administration is said to be abandoning efforts to set fuel-economy standards for huge SUVs like the Hummer H2 and Ford Excursion, which fall outside the weight classes covered by current standards. Those concerned about the warming globe, skyrocketing gas prices, and foreign-oil dependence have long chafed at the loophole, but, well, Big Auto has more lobbyists than they do. American automakers say such standards would damage their shaky bottom lines. The administration is poised to release its new plan for auto fuel-economy standards later this month; it …