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Mileage-based car insurance could be a boon for the environment

Most of us don't think much about car insurance. We eyeball the policy every year, fiddle around with a few changes to bring down the premium, and then forget about it until the bills come. And come they do -- each exactly the same amount, no matter whether we've driven across the country or left the car in the garage. Counting the miles. Doesn't sound right, does it? Mileage -- like factors such as age and driving record -- has long been correlated with accident risk. The more you drive, the higher the chance of a crash. But unlike a …

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Umbra on driving in neutral

Dear Umbra, I have a question about getting the most miles per gallon. If you put your car into neutral at stops or going downhill, do you save any gas? My car is an automatic. JeffVerona, N.J. Dearest Jeff, Another great question we have all pondered. Louisa and her fellow mechanics thought you might save a little gas. Let me be more specific: a very, very small amount of gas. Droplets. In the final cost-benefit analysis, those droplets you save cannot compare to what you risk. Should you suddenly need to execute an accident-avoiding maneuver while coasting in neutral, you …

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Umbra on car heaters

Dear Umbra, My friend and I have a bet going that I hope you can settle. She thinks that running the heat in a car in the winter is "free" -- that is, it doesn't use additional gas. As a conservationist, this pleases her greatly. However, I think that turning on the heat does use additional gas if you are using the defroster. Can you settle this for us? Thanks! SamaDenver, Colo. Dearest Sama, You win. But I fear this is a wager with no practical application: The defroster is not a luxury feature. Seeing the road is a vital …

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Going Dutch

Dutch Car Crosses Finish Line First in Solar Stakes A Dutch-designed solar vehicle dubbed the Nuna II crossed a finish line in Australia yesterday to win the 2003 World Solar Challenge. The race, which covers 1,870 miles from Darwin in the north of Australia to Adelaide in the far south, is seen as a proving ground for new solar technologies. Thanks to the relentless sunlight in the Australian outback, the cars can often exceed 60 miles per hour -- and indeed, the Nuna II covered the entire distance in just 30 hours, 54 minutes. The Dutch entrant, which also won …

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Coal-hearted

New Stats On Energy Use in China Alarm Environmentalists The most populous country on the planet may also pose the biggest threat to the global climate, according to recently released statistics about coal production and consumption in China. Until a few months ago, many energy experts hoped that the nation would have a relatively limited impact on climate change, because its state-owned companies were thought to be increasingly efficient and coal use appeared to be declining steeply. But with the release of the official government figures, cause for optimism has disappeared: Coal use in China is growing faster than almost …

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Cold, Hard Kashmir

Kashmir Gets an Amusement Park, but Enviros Are Not Amused The war-torn Indian province of Kashmir is hardly a place you'd go for amusement -- but now, you can go there for an amusement park. That's right: On Sunday, a private bank unveiled a brand-new amusement park in the town of Pahalgam in the Himalayan foothills, to the delight of many locals, who have been deprived of ordinary entertainment by the ongoing conflict in the region. But environmentalists are not amused in the least; they fear that Pahalgam, long famed for its natural beauty, could become a hotspot for money-hungry …

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Working to develop the Volkswagen of solar homes

Just off I-75 in Tennessee, halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, past a Home Depot, a Ford dealership, a Krispy Kreme, and a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, there is a newly developed tract of low-income homes built by volunteers of Habitat for Humanity. A bright idea: the Indrajaya-Kinandjar solar house. At first glance, nothing about the development seems out of the ordinary. The houses are pleasant one-story colonials with porches, shutters, and carefully trimmed lawns strewn with tricycles and kick balls. But upon closer inspection, the development turns out to be more than just another housing project in sprawling Middle America; it …

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Get on the Clean Bus, Gus

Washington State Cleans Up Its School Buses Washington state has launched an ambitious program to retrofit its diesel school buses with devices that curb pollution. Throughout the country, public health advocates and parents alike have grown concerned about school buses' dirty emissions, which can contribute to a range of health problems, particularly in children, whose lungs are still developing. Four years from now, the U.S. EPA will require that new buses include exhaust-cleansing equipment, but that won't help kids now, so Washington is trying to get a jump on the problem. The state aims to retrofit 5,000 of its 9,000 …

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Run Out on a Rail

Senate Rejects White House Proposal to Restructure Amtrak A White House plan to restructure Amtrak was, uh, derailed yesterday by nearly unanimous bipartisan opposition in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The six-year Amtrak reauthorization bill proposed ending federal operating subsidies for the passenger rail service, opening some routes to private operators, and turning the Washington-to-Boston service area over to the states. Committee members called it an ill-disguised effort to dismantle the beleaguered rail system and leave states holding the financial bag. Even one of the only champions of the plan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), acknowledged that "there …

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Return of the Smog Monster

Southern California Air Quality Takes a Turn for the Worse After years of gradual improvement, Southern California's air quality took a tumble this summer, falling to its worst levels since 1997 due to the combined effects of hot weather and increasing emissions. Taken as a whole, the region's air quality has dramatically improved in the last quarter-century, but the rising smog levels in the last three years, and especially this past summer, threaten that long-term trend. Southern California had 30 percent more smoggy days this summer than last, and twice as many smoggy days as Houston, usually a close competitor …

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