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Abandon Ships

About 15 percent of the world's nitrogen- and sulfur-based pollution is produced by ships -- some 30,000 of them worldwide -- yet the vessels are among the least controlled pollution sources on the planet. That wouldn't change much under rules proposed by the U.S. EPA yesterday. The new regulations, modeled after a five-year-old international accord that has been widely criticized as too lax, would require some ships to reduce their emissions by about 11 percent. But the rules would cover only new ships (although ships sail the seas for four decades) and only U.S. ships (although nine out of every …

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On the Railroad to Nowhere?

Europe has long set the standard for rail travel, with a system whose efficiency, extent, and affordability has been the envy of rail advocates in the United States. But now it seems that European transportation trends are in danger of imitating those in the U.S: In the last decade, the highway network in the European Union grew by about 25 percent, to over 31,000 miles, while the rail network shrank by 4 percent, to around 95,700 miles. Those figures represent a challenge for the 15-country bloc, which hopes to reduce pollution and traffic congestion by boosting rail travel for both …

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Mini Headroom

Can a miniature car gain a foothold in America, land of the super-sized everything? That's what B.M.W. plans to find out: Last month, the company started selling the Mini Cooper, formerly the flagship vehicle of a British company, in large U.S. cities. So far, the car has done well -- you'd have to put your name on a waiting list if you wanted one -- but the jury's still out on whether it can compete against the ever-popular (and, it would seem, ever-growing) sport utility vehicle. The tiny car, which since the 1970s has been the vehicle of choice for …

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The improbable story of how Bogota, Colombia, became somewhere you might actually want to live

"We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people," said a man in a speech last year. "Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. ... We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. ... All our everyday efforts have one objective: Happiness." Enrique Penalosa (on left). Photo: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Did the voters of Boulder, Colo. write in the Dalai Lama as their mayor? Had George Harrison turned to city planning in …

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What Fuels These Mortals Be

Surprise, surprise: The U.S. Department of Transportation decided yesterday not to increase fuel-efficiency requirements for sport utility vehicles and other light trucks for the model year 2004. The decision comes after the Senate voted last month against a sharp increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, instead directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a DOT agency, to consider the effects of higher mileage standards on passenger safety and auto industry employment. NHTSA said it did not have enough time to adequately undertake those investigations before yesterday's deadline, meaning that for the moment, fuel-efficiency standards for the gas-guzzling vehicles will …

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Dune Bugging

Almost 50,000 acres of dunes in California's Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area would be re-opened to off-road vehicles (ORVs) under a Bureau of Land Management proposal. The area has been off-limits to the vehicles since November of 2000, when the BLM, ORV groups, and environmentalists negotiated a settlement that closed the area to protect endangered species. The BLM now appears prepared to retract that agreement, saying the area could provide a "world-class recreation opportunity." But Terry Weiner, coordinator of the Desert Protective Council, said, "You cannot appreciate the dunes if you're raging across them at 40 miles an hour with …

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Ford: Tight Turning Radius

Henry Ford might be proud, but enviros are disappointed: William Clay Ford, Jr., great-grandson of the automobile pioneer, used to be known as the greenest person in the auto industry. But since taking the reins of Ford Motor Company last October, Ford has muted -- and sometimes changed -- his tune. The man who once jokingly called his company's 19-foot-long Excursion the "Ford Valdez" has promoted sport utility vehicles and lobbied against increased fuel-efficiency standards. Still, the company says it will stand by pledges to improve SUV fuel economy, sell hybrid versions of the oversized vehicles, and redesign one of …

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London Smog

A smoggy day in London town? Mayor Ken Livingstone plans to change that: Beginning next year, motorists entering central London between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. will have to pony up five pounds ($7) per day. About 40,000 vehicles per hour enter central London, a figure officials hope will drop by 15 percent thanks to the "congestion tax." Critics say that before the tax is imposed, the city's beleaguered public transportation system should be overhauled to accommodate the expected rise in users. Livingstone, meanwhile, said the program was necessary because some areas of the city had become "unlivable" due to …

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Going Whole Hog for Conservation

In welcome news for environmentalists, the U.S. Senate approved a farm bill yesterday that would double spending for conservation programs to $22 billion over the next decade. If it becomes law, the farm bill -- which also includes provisions to clean up urban drinking water, protect forests from urban sprawl, and conserve wildlife habitat -- would be the most sweeping environmental legislation since the Clean Air Act of 1990. The five-year, $44.9 billion bill also strictly limits subsidies to individual farmers and doubles the administration's request for food stamps, which would make the Agriculture Department's nutrition program the second-largest anti-poverty …

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Sting Operation

Okay, everyone knows you can't take so much as a nail clipper on an airplane these days -- but how about a scorpion? Last month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors in Miami impounded a shipment of 600 of the critters, plus 2,000 reptiles and other invertebrates. That's a lot of crawly things, but the shipment was just one of untold others that are, well, fishy -- or downright illegal. The economy might be sluggish, but the exotic pet trade is booming, and the commodities include chimps, tigers, wolves, bears, tarantulas, and just about every other creature you can't imagine …

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