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Umbra on choosing the least evil gasoline company

Dear Umbra, Every week I scan the gasoline signs looking for the cheapest deal, while knowing that what I pay in rock-bottom prices may come at the expense of environmental integrity and social justice. I'd like to choose my brand of gas with more conscience. Would you help? I'd love to see a ranking or rating system of the major gasoline brands. It could let us know which ones are meaningfully pursuing renewable energy sources, protecting indigenous political and property rights at the source, and making efforts to minimize the environmental impact of their oil extraction and refinement. Are any …

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Coming Soon to a Rap Video Near You

Navistar Introduces the Commercial Extreme Truck For the driver who enjoys his or her Hummer H2 pickup but just wishes it were a little bigger, a little less fuel-efficient, and a little more obnoxious, the answer has arrived: This week Navistar International introduces the CXT, short for commercial extreme truck. The CXT is 21.5 feet long (4.5 feet longer than the Hummer!) and nine feet tall (more than two feet taller than the Hummer!). It weighs seven tons empty, gets six to 10 miles per gallon of diesel gas, and will cost between $93,000 and $115,000. "We can see it …

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The Wicked Switch

Automakers Rapped for Pollution From Mercury Switches With recent revelations that just about all freshwater fish in the U.S. are contaminated with mercury, concern over the heavy-metal pollutant has regulators carefully examining every source. The fourth largest, as it happens, is automobiles, specifically the mercury switches in auto lights and brakes. Last year a record 18,000 pounds of mercury pollution were traceable to scrapped cars, according to the Clean Car Campaign. Since the beginning of 2003, automakers no longer use mercury to make the switches, but controversy remains over who should be responsible for proper disposal of existing switches. A …

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That Smarts

Cute, Tiny Smart Cars to Come to U.S. and Get Big The tiny, fuel-efficient, two-seater Smart cars (named after their manufacturer) that are so popular in Europe are coming to the U.S. Sort of. Convinced that a tiny car -- even one that gets 60 miles per gallon and has been repeatedly proven safe for drivers -- will offend Americans' sense that bigger means better and safer, Smart U.S.A. will be introducing a Smart SUV to U.S. streets in 2006. If you think that introducing another SUV to a crowded American market would be not only financially silly, but a …

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Smears of a Clown

Auto Industry-Backed PR Firm Claims California Emissions Regs Will Kill A new ad campaign by the Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America uses "Squeezy the Clown" to warn that proposed carbon-dioxide emissions regulations in California would force automakers to (gasp!) build smaller cars, which in turn will lead to increased traffic fatalities. (You see, they argue, the regs would force people to squeeze into smaller cars. Like clowns. Funny!) Though the group's name implies a grassroots citizens' effort, in fact SUVOA was bought two years ago by Strat@comm, a Washington, D.C., PR firm with extensive ties to big automakers. Critics …

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Sunflower Power

Scientists Create Hydrogen Fuel from Sunflower Oil British scientists have discovered a way to power cars with sunflower oil. While biodiesel cars that directly burn cooking oil are fairly common, researcher Valerie Dupont and her colleagues have something else in mind, as they reported this week at an American Chemical Society conference. They've figured out a way to use catalysts to extract pure hydrogen from a combination of air, water vapor, and sunflower oil. Hydrogen is frequently hailed as the clean fuel of the future, but most current methods of creating hydrogen burn the very fossil fuels responsible for pollution …

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Whining Is Job One

Ford Battles Hybrid-Friendly Legislation, Destroys Electric Cars Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford's vocal attempts to position his company as eco-friendly are sounding a little hollow this week. As the California legislative session nears its end, Ford has ramped up lobbying efforts to kill a bill that would allow drivers of fuel-efficient hybrids to drive solo in the state's carpool lanes. Ford said the measure -- sponsored by Assemblymember Fran Pavley (D) and backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) -- is a "buy Japanese" bill "intended for almost exclusive use by Toyota Prius drivers." Ford took issue with the bill's …

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The Problem, My Friend, Is Blowin’ in the Wind

Blowing Desert Dust Is Growing Environmental Problem Dust blowing up from the Sahara Desert has increased tenfold in the last 50 years and represents a growing environmental threat, warned Oxford geography professor Andrew Goudie today. And SUVs are at least partly to blame. The replacement of camels with four-wheel-drive vehicles such as Toyota Land Cruisers in the Sahara, as well as the "Toyota-ization" of other deserts in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, has led to an increase in dust storms and a rise in the total amount of dust in the global atmosphere, to some 2 billion to 3 …

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Mort Utility Vehicles

SUV Occupants More Likely to Die in Accidents You surely already know that SUVs pollute the air, contribute to global warming, boost demand for oil, and shackle our security and economic fate to volatile, politically regressive Middle Eastern states. You might even know that SUVs raise the total number of traffic fatalities and squash drivers of smaller vehicles in crashes. But did you know that SUVs are more likely to kill their own occupants? According to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an SUV occupant in 2003 was nearly 11 percent more likely to die in a …

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New Jersey’s Democratic governor takes tricks from Bush’s book

Gov. James McGreevey (left) and DEP chief Bradley Campbell. In the run-up to the 2004 election, those who have high hopes that a change in administration will automatically mean the curbing of environmental abuses by government should look to recent events in New Jersey for a cautionary tale. In the Garden State, Democratic Gov. James McGreevey, who has historically been a friend to the environment, has perplexed and outraged environmentalists by taking several pages from the Bush administration playbook. McGreevey last month signed sweeping legislation giving developers fast-track access to 1.5 million acres of the state. The act radically streamlines …