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Lessons from Blackout 2003

Things started to go awry near Cleveland at 3:06 p.m. on Aug. 14, more than an hour before the largest North American blackout in history. A transmission line carrying 345 kilovolts of power overheated, sagged into a tree, and automatically shut off to protect itself from melting entirely. Instantaneously, the colossal current of electricity it was carrying found a new route, sluicing into a neighboring cable. Twenty-six minutes later, the cable that picked up the misplaced load was also toast, a victim of overload. Stranded commuters cross the Brooklyn Bridge during the blackout. As the mounting flow of wayward electricity …

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Mexican Standoff

Feds Will Study Environmental Impact of Mexican Trucks on U.S. Roads Bowing to a federal court order, the Bush administration announced yesterday that it will study what the environmental impact would be of an increase in Mexican trucks on U.S. roads. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals banned Mexican trucks from the U.S. in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental, labor, and trucking groups, which claimed that the administration had not determined what effect increased emissions from the trucks would have on air quality. The Transportation Department will proceed with a study, which is expected to take 12 …

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Summer Hummer Bummer

Hummers Destroyed by ELF in Southern California Dozens of Hummer H2s and other large SUVs were burned and defaced on Friday, the result of arson and vandalism at four car dealerships in Southern California. The Earth Liberation Front, a loosely knit association of militant activists, claimed responsibility for the actions, saying they were intended to "take the profit motive" away from those who sell gas-guzzling, polluting vehicles. SUVs were spray-painted with such slogans as "fat, lazy Americans" and "I (heart) pollution." One dealership suffered an estimated $1 million in damage. Hummer enthusiasts staged a rally outside the dealership on Sunday …

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At a Loss for Birds

FCC to Investigate Why Millions of Birds Fly into Cell-Phone Towers The Federal Communications Commission is launching an investigation into the reasons why high numbers of birds are killed by flying into cell-phone and broadcast towers in the U.S. Each year, an estimated 5 million to 50 million birds die this way, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Researchers suspect that lights on communications towers somehow attract the birds. The inquiry is part of an FCC plan announced in May to study how the rapid spread of cell-phone and other towers affects the environment, historic sites, and Native American …

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Lessons in environmentally friendly living from New York City

In 1975, Ernest Callenbach published a slim book called Ecotopia, in which the Northwest secedes from the United States and establishes itself as an ecological paradise. The text became a counterculture classic, and the term "Ecotopia" entered the lexicon, embodying the American tendency to think of the continent's forested far coast as a land of recycling bins and spotted owls, old-growth purity and environmental correctness. New Ecotopia? But Callenbach was wrong, hindsight shows. On the most important criterion, New York City has a better claim to the title of Ecotopia than does the soggy region stretching north from San Francisco …

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Arson Ick

Radical Environmental Group Claims Responsibility for San Diego Fire Saying it was trying to send a message about "rampant urban development," the Earth Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for a $50 million fire that destroyed an apartment complex in San Diego two weeks ago. No one was injured in the fire. The destruction of the apartment complex, which was being built on the city's rapidly growing northern boundary, marks the costliest attack ever by ELF, an underground organization that since 1996 has been deliberately setting fire to commercial developments that threaten the environment. A banner left at the scene of …

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Grid and Bear It

Conservation, Alternative Energy Get Boost from Blackout In most of the U.S. and Canada, last Thursday's history-making blackout is little more than a memory: The lights are on, the AC is cranking, transportation systems are running, and it's business as usual. Still, some officials, including New York Gov. George Pataki (R) and Ontario Premier Ernie Eves, warned people that they might feel the lingering effects of the power outage and encouraged everyone to conserve energy wherever possible. In some cities, such as Detroit, public transportation was free through the weekend as part of a plan to discourage the use of …

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Dude, Where’s My Clean Car?

Automakers Drop Longstanding Suit Over California's Car-Emissions Rule Clearing the way for more clean cars in California, two major automakers have agreed to settle a lawsuit over the state's landmark regulation that calls for increased production of low-emission and zero-emission cars and trucks between 2005 and 2020. General Motors and DaimlerChrysler will now join other automakers in preparing to sell millions of less-polluting vehicles in California to help the state tackle its infamous air pollution problem. As one of the world's largest vehicle markets, California has great influence over the worldwide auto industry; New York and Massachusetts have previously announced …

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Let the Games Be Green

Enviros Accuse 2004 Athens Olympic Organizers of Green Failings Organizers of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens are already getting poor scores from environmentalists, who say the Greeks have missed numerous opportunities to make the games more eco-friendly. Greece won its bid to host the games in part by pledging to protect vulnerable natural and cultural areas and deal with problems related to air pollution, water quality, traffic, and waste management, but WWF Greece and Greenpeace say little progress has been made in these areas. The enviros also point out that solar power, non-toxic building materials, and recycling systems have …

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Flexible Fools

Automakers Can Dodge Fuel-Economy Rules with Flex-Fuel Vehicles U.S. automakers are dramatically boosting production of "flexible-fuel" cars and trucks that can run on either gasoline or E85, a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas that results in lower greenhouse gas emissions -- but this trend is more likely to harm the environment than help it. Owners of flex-fuel vehicles almost always fill them up with gasoline because E85 is so hard to find -- it's sold at fewer than 150 of the estimated 176,000 gas stations in the U.S. Still, car manufacturers get credits toward meeting federal …

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