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Ethanol and Mirrors

Bush Administration Extends Contentious "Dual-Fuel" Rules In a move that will make it easier for automakers to meet fuel-efficiency standards without actually improving the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, the Bush administration announced yesterday that it will extend for four years a system that gives auto manufacturers credits for producing "dual-fuel" vehicles that can run on either gasoline or an ethanol blend. Environmentalists criticized the move, pointing out that only 1 percent of dual-fuel vehicles actually do run on an ethanol blend, in part because fewer than 200 of the 176,000 gas stations in the country offer it. Enviros also …

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The Yellowstone snowmobile controversy gets more convoluted by the minute

The past few days have brought two more odd legal twists and turns to the Yellowstone snowmobile saga, which is becoming more litigiously complex and far-flung than a John Grisham novel. She's got a ticket to ride. Photo: NPS. The story is essentially a protracted game of legal Ping-Pong: The Clinton administration served the ball when it ordered a phaseout of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks back in January 2001, just before Clinton left office. The Bush administration returned the serve in the early days of its term by freezing that decision, then reversing it in March …

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Wheeze and No Thank You

Pollution a Likely Contributor to Rising Asthma Rates Asthma rates are climbing around the world, and though scientists can't say precisely what's causing the increase, pollution is thought to be a serious contributor. The respiratory disease has become a particular problem in Asia, where terrible air quality, rapid urbanization, and poor medical treatment have contributed to a troublingly high asthma death rate. Wealthier countries are afflicted too: More than 18 percent of the population of Scotland suffers from asthma, making it the nation with the highest asthma rate in the world. In the U.S., the number of asthma sufferers grew …

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Jesus Christ’s Supercar?

Hybrid SUVs to Hit U.S. Market This Year While a "green SUV" may sound like an oxymoron, Toyota and Ford plan to roll out new gas-electric hybrid SUVs later this year that warrant the label "greener" -- or, at least, less egregiously wasteful. Ford's hybrid Escape will hit U.S. showrooms this summer, while Toyota will start selling a hybrid version of its luxury Lexus RX330 in November or December. These newfangled hybrid SUVs are expected to get 27 to 40 miles per gallon -- comparable to standard cars. Enviros don't love 'em, but say they're a definite improvement over current …

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Google Gaga

Google Bans Ads from Environmental Group The popular search engine Google is facing accusations of censorship after it refused to carry ads from an environmental group that is protesting a major cruise line's sewage-treatment methods. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Oceana paid Google to run an ad that read "Help us protect the world's oceans" when people entered search terms such as "cruise vacation" and "cruise ship." The ad itself didn't mention the cruise line by name, but it pointed web surfers to a site that criticized Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines for dumping pollutants at sea. Google ran the ad …

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Shape Up or Ship Out

Texas Ship-Inspection Company Implicated in Prestige Tanker Disaster Negligence on the part of the Texas-based American Bureau of Shipping -- a company that conducts safety inspections of ships -- could be to blame for the notorious Prestige tanker disaster, which spilled millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Spain 15 months ago and affected or destroyed the livelihoods of some 100,000 fishers and other Spaniards. So say two lawsuits pending against ABS, which seek a combined total of $1 billion in damages from the company. Though numerous problems had been found with the ship over the years and …

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Nativity Scene

Native Peoples Speak Up for Their Lands Indigenous peoples are rallying for their lands and their rights this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where a major U.N. convention on biodiversity is taking place. Representatives of native peoples are demanding the right to reject development projects on their ancestral lands, saying that multinational companies should not be able to plunder these areas for profit. Indigenous groups are also speaking out against governments that force natives off their homelands in order to create national parks and nature preserves, and criticizing pharmaceutical companies that try to patent generations-old medicinal and agricultural practices. An …

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Ballast Off!

Invasive Species in Ballast Water Messing With World's Oceans Ships that carry ballast water -- used to balance and stabilize the vessels -- also carry thousands of aquatic species across the globe to foreign habitats, where they can have environmentally catastrophic effects. Recognizing this as one of the top four environmental problems facing the world's oceans (along with pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction), 100 countries are expected to sign a U.N. treaty this week calling for regulation of ballast-water use in vessels around the world. Ballast water "can transfer pathogens and other micro-organisms and invasive species that have the capacity …

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When Irresistible Cuts Meet Immovable Pork

Senate Republicans Flailing as They Try to Push Through Energy Bill Senate Republicans are having a bad week. A proposal to push the energy bill through Congress by attaching it to the more popular and pressing transportation bill was roundly rejected yesterday. President Bush told Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Monday that he wants costs cut substantially on both the energy bill and the transportation bill, a move many observers say is a response to election-year concerns over the budget deficit. Congressional leaders managed to pare down the energy bill's costs by more than half (from $31 billion …

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The Gas Is Always Greener …

American Cars Conspicuously Absent from List of 2004's Greenest Vehicles An annual ranking of the year's "greenest" and "meanest" automobiles released today found America's Big Three auto manufacturers absent from the former list -- and well-represented on the latter. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, widely considered a top source for info on eco-friendly passenger vehicles, gave the 2004 Honda Civic GX sedan (powered by compressed natural gas) its highest score, followed by gas-electric hybrids from Honda and Toyota. Volkswagen's diesel-powered Touareg SUV got pegged with the group's "meanest" designation. "The absence of the Big Three [from the "greenest" …