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Pampas and Circumstances

The massive economic crisis in Argentina has had an unexpected silver lining for the environment: It has led to a surge in the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in cars, a cleaner fuel than either diesel or gasoline. Argentina is home to the third-largest natural-gas reserves in Latin America and the world's largest fleet of natural-gas cars, at about 800,000, or 15 percent of personal vehicles. After the peso was devalued in January 2002, gasoline and diesel prices jumped by more than 30 percent, making CNG the most economical fuel available. "There's a revolution going on in the energy …

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Dumb and Hummer

While sales of many big SUVs are dipping, Hummers are rumbling out of showrooms at a rate of 3,000 per month, topping the list of best-selling large luxury SUVs in the U.S., despite a starting price of $50,000. Some buyers say they feel patriotic in a massive Hummer H2, the civilian sibling of the military Humvees now doing active duty in Iraq, and Hummer dealers report that sales have risen with the war. "When I turn on the TV, I see wall-to-wall Humvees, and I'm proud," said H2 owner Sam Bernstein. "They're not out there in Audi A4's." The Sierra …

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Low Prestige

More than four months after the Prestige oil tanker sank off the coast of Spain, a new plan is underway for permanently cleaning up what proved to be the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history. About half of the ship's load of 77,000 tons of fuel oil has already leaked out and devastated the local environment; now a Spanish company will attempt to extract and capture the remaining oil from the wreckage more than two miles beneath the surface of the Atlantic. In work expected to start this summer, the company will first attempt to affix a valve to …

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Make ‘em Walk the Plank

Speaking of polluting ships, U.S. officials have recently uncovered a rash of illegal sludge dumping at sea, and they say it may only be the tip of the iceberg. A number of ships have been caught releasing tons of oily, toxic sludge that's produced in their engine rooms, even as captains, crews, and corporate managers go to extremes to cover up their dirty deeds, doing everything from faking waste-disposal receipts to painting over brackets used to bypass pollution controls to lying to grand juries. Oftentimes the only way to catch a polluting ship is to get testimony from crew members, …

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Everybody Wants to Play the Fuel

Sports utility vehicles, vans, and pickup trucks will be subject to slightly more stringent fuel-economy standards under a new rule released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Beginning in the 2007 model year, auto manufacturers will have to attain a fleet average of 22.2 miles per gallon for those vehicles, together classified as "light trucks." That's just 1.5 mpg more than the current standard, and still well below the 27.5 mpg requirement for cars. Critics of the new rule say it merely reflects what automakers were planning to do anyway, but the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defended …

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Paint Misbehavin’

Vexed by barnacles, algae, and other wee hitchhikers that attach themselves to the hulls of ships, the maritime industry has been fighting back with a paint that keeps hulls clean for one to five years by slowly releasing biocides that kill off unwanted organisms. Problem is, the critter-killing paint additives don't stay put -- they leach out into seawater where they can damage coral reefs and kill mollusks, seaweed, and other animals and plants. Scientists are searching for new, less destructive strategies to ensure clean ships and smooth sailing. It's not just a matter of aesthetics; barnacles and other marine …

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Urban Bright

In a groundbreaking move, New York state has developed guidelines for ensuring that low-income and minority neighborhoods are not disproportionately subjected to environmental health risks by developers. The environmental-justice guidelines were drafted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to limit the ability of developers to build unpopular and potentially hazardous projects in communities that lack the necessary resources to oppose them. Under the new policy, a project with potential environmental-justice problems will receive additional scrutiny to determine how it will affect the proposed neighborhood. In addition, existing projects will be examined to determine their impact on local communities.

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Spokes Person

Meanwhile, good news for those who entirely eschew the internal combustion engine: If a representative from Oregon gets his way, people who commute to work by bike will soon get a tax break. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), founder and chair of the bipartisan Congressional Bike Caucus, has biked to his Capitol Hill office for years; he is now pushing for cyclists to get the same benefits as those who drive or use mass transit to get to work. Under current law, employers can offer a commuter tax-exemption benefit of $180 for qualified parking plans or $100 for public transit and …

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Down on the Farm

California's budget crisis could wind up spurring sprawl. With the state tens of billions of dollars in the red, Gov. Gray Davis (D) is hoping to cut the $39 million per year that the state spends on the Williamson Act, which lets farmers pay lower taxes as long as they pledge to keep their land out of the hands of developers. More than 15 million prime agricultural acres are currently covered by the act, which many land-use experts say has been key to curbing sprawl in farming regions. "The concern is, without the Williamson Act, you'll see more sprawling suburban …

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Wish Granite

Communities across New Hampshire are invoking the state's Land and Community Heritage Investment Act to preserve open spaces, even though state funding for land conservation and historic preservation faces extreme pressure from a ballooning budget crisis. Under the terms of the act, New Hampshire matches local conservation funding efforts with state money -- an offer more than 100 communities have whole-heartedly supported at town meetings during this month alone. This surge of support for local conservation measures has given rise to hopes that the state will maintain its current funding level of $6 million per year for land-protection efforts. "We're …

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