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The rebuilt World Trade Center complex could be a model of sustainable building

Early one morning last month, over fresh-squeezed orange juice and silver platters of breakfast treats, a coterie of New York's leading architects, developers, politicians, and environmentalists convened in a chandeliered room at the Embassy Suites hotel in lower Manhattan for a conference entitled "Greening Our Downtown." The keynote speaker was Gov. George Pataki (R), who was there to receive an award from the U.S. Green Building Council for his efforts to promote green buildings in his state and, in particular, in downtown New York City. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, architect Daniel Libeskind, and Gov. George Pataki. Photo: New …

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Swiss Miss

In a closely watched referendum, Swiss citizens voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to keep nuclear power going strong in the country. Although Switzerland has abundant sources of hydroelectric power, voters rejected two initiatives on the ballot that would have phased out the nation's five nuclear power plants over the coming decades. Philippe de Rougemont, representative for an anti-nuke coalition, predicted that the "no" vote would discourage companies from pursuing renewable-energy projects, and he blamed the initiatives' defeat on the powerful nuclear industry. "It seems that money determines the outcome of the vote," he said. The Swiss electorate also rejected a citizens' …

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40 Acres and a Tax Break

California environmentalists and farmers rejoiced yesterday when Gov. Gray Davis (D) restored $40 million in funding for farmland and open-space protection under the Williamson Act. Together, farmers and enviros had lobbied heavily against the proposed elimination of the act, under which the state pays back counties for property taxes lost when landowners are given lower property assessments in exchange for maintaining their land as agriculture or open space for a decade. The tax breaks for farmers range from 20 percent to 75 percent each year, and about 16 million acres (or more than half the state's farmland) are enrolled in …

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The Food Less Traveled

A fledgling "buy local" movement is inspiring a growing number of Americans to get more of their food from local sources and resist an increasingly globalized agriculture industry. Today produce travels an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles to reach Americans' plates, 25 percent farther than in 1980. Grapes, for example, make an average trek of 2,143 miles, according to a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Produce shipped from far afield often takes one to two weeks to get to grocery stores, losing freshness and flavor along the way. Environmental costs also mount as food travels further …

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Things That Make You Go Hummer

Yesterday, Grist reported that the average fuel efficiency of U.S. vehicles is at a 22-year low. Today, we're happy to report that at least people are upset about it. A survey of complaints about new vehicles, released yesterday by J. D. Powers and Associates, found that fuel consumption was the second-most-common complaint among all respondents. In the 17 years the survey has been conducted, fuel efficiency had never before ranked in the top five complaints. Interestingly, this year, it ranked as the number-one concern among two unlikely sets of people: owners of Toyota's highly efficient gas-electric hybrid Prius and owners …

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Daewoozy

An automobile company lobbying for stricter emissions standards? It might sound like an unlikely tale, but not when the bottom line is at stake. General Motors is pressuring the South Korean government to impose tougher standards for diesel emissions than it is currently considering. Here's why: The automaker is trying to increase the competitiveness of its Korean affiliate, GM Daewoo. GM Daewoo won't have any diesel cars ready by 2005, when Seoul plans to impose moderate emissions standards, but by 2006, it will be ready to sell cars that meet far stricter standards. If the company can convince the government …

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Orange You Glad?

Orange County, Calif., is generally associated with urban sprawl, not magnificent parklands -- but a massive new land deal could help change that. The 4,738-acre "County Great Park" will be bigger than New York's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park put together, and will include riparian corridors, botanical gardens, sports and educational facilities, and plenty of green space. The park will rise on the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which shut down in 1999. County approval for the park came this month, following years of bitter battle between those who wanted the open …

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Throwing It in Reverse

Ford Motor Company backpedaled yesterday on its promise to increase the fuel economy of sport utility vehicles 25 percent by 2020. It now says it will continue to try to improve gas mileage but will not set a fixed deadline for reaching the 25-percent goal. The company chalked up the change in plan to technological difficulties and the lack of federal tax credits for improved efficiency. The decision is likely to have ramifications throughout the industry, as the initial Ford pledge spurred General Motors and the Chrysler Group to follow suit. Environmentalists reacted with confusion and dismay to the news: …

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The Progress of Engines

Bulldozers, tractors, irrigation equipment, and other diesel-powered off-road machines will be subject to stricter emissions standards under a new plan announced yesterday by the U.S. EPA. The plan calls for cutting emissions by up to 95 percent, a move that would bring the standards for off-road vehicles in line with those for cars and trucks for the first time in decades. Off-road diesel engines are second only to power plants in emissions associated with lung cancer, asthma, and other health threats. The tougher rules are expected to prevent 9,600 premature deaths per year and save tens of billions of dollars …

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