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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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Niceland

The world's first commercial hydrogen filling station will make its debut next month in Iceland, the country where the hydrogen revolution is expected to first take root. Other hydrogen filling stations scattered around the globe are private or restricted, but starting April 24, the new Reykjavik station will open its doors to the public -- not that many average Janes and Joes have hydrogen-powered cars yet, even in Iceland. And maybe there need be no hurry to acquire them. A study released last week by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the environmental benefits of gas-electric hybrid vehicles, which …

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Umbra on wood floors and solid waste

Oh Wise Umbra, We'll be replacing our carpeting with wood flooring, probably from one of the major home stores (Home Depot or Lowe's). Are wood floors a really bad environmental choice if they are made from unsustainably harvested wood? Would I be better off going with a (probably petroleum-based) fake wood floor? Also, is there any environmentally responsible way to dispose of my old carpet? If the nice garbage collectors pick it up, I'm sure it will sit in a landfill till long after I've made it to the spirit world. Also, I've got loads of things in the house …

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Umbra on eco-friendly roofs

Dear Umbra, Our roof is getting pretty old and starting to fall apart. It's one of those asphalt-shingle roofs that most houses have these days. Before we call the roofing company, I'd like to know what's the greenest kind of roofing material to use. Metal? Cedar? More asphalt? I'm sure lots of other readers would like to know, too! Thanks, Wally Bubelis Seattle, Wash. Dearest Wally, Like other readers, you may need a drink or two to wade through the perplexing nexus of budgetary, aesthetic, and environmental concerns involved in making sustainable-building decisions. It sounds to me like you're looking …

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