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Price clubbed

Should enviros view high gas prices as good news?

Like many environmentalists, I tend to think that gasoline prices -- even at today's wallet-rending heights -- are too low. In fact, no matter how high the market price for petroleum goes, it ought to be higher, since it won't include the so-called "external costs" of using oil. For example, whenever I burn a gallon of gas in my car, I'm creating pollution and climate-warming emissions; fostering overseas military entanglements; increasing the risk of oil spills and pipeline leaks; siphoning money from the local economy into the bank accounts of unsavory oil magnates; yada yada. Each of those factors carries …

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Let’s Baikal the Whole Thing Off

Russian president changes route of Siberian pipeline to protect lake Last month, we reported that a Siberia-to-Asia oil pipeline backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to be built half a mile from the world's deepest lake, home to hundreds of unique species. Well, we've been Putin our place: yesterday, the Russian prez ordered the pipeline rerouted to avoid Lake Baikal by at least 25 miles. Widespread public protests and opposition from Russian scientists and green groups likely had, well, nothing to do with it -- this is Putin we're talking about. More likely the dramatic reversal was theater …

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Critics say Peru pipeline is an accident waiting to happen

The boat ride down southeastern Peru's Urubamba River cuts through mountains and sweltering jungle, passing wooden shacks of colonos -- mixed race and grindingly poor Peruvians lured to the jungle with promises of free land -- and nativos, tribes recently brought into contact with the modern world. The area is a biological gold mine, home to endemic and rare species, and some of the world's last uncontacted humans. It's also home to an asset that may become the Amazonian rainforest's biggest threat: the mamma jamma of South America's natural-gas lodes. The Camisea pipeline. Big Oil has been pushing its pipelines …

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Umbra on water vapor and climate change

Dear Umbra, Coming from a scientific background, I was under the assumption that water vapor was the worst -- or you could say the best -- at causing global warming. Do you believe this to be false, and if not, why is no one talking about it? Erik Nash Dearest Erik, I've decided to use your letter as a continuation of B's from earlier this week. Spouting off on global warming. Photo: iStockphoto. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is the dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere by mass and volume, but scientists don't seem to agree on …

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Taxholes

House Republicans fight to preserve $5 billion in oil industry tax breaks In public, prominent Republicans are chastising oil companies over high gas prices, and threatening price-gouging investigations and windfall-profit taxes. Behind closed doors, House Republicans are fighting to protect some $5 billion worth of tax loopholes for those very same oil companies. Luckily for them, the country's Strategic Outrage Reserve has been completely tapped. At issue is a tax bill designed mainly to extend the tax cuts for the rich passed in Bush's first term. The Senate version includes changes in arcane tax accounting rules, among them rules that …

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Gas price rant

One of the many problems with policy discussions these days is that they tend to be narrow and literal-minded. Take the "problem" of high gas prices. Response? Tax oil companies! Cap prices! Investigate price gouging! Ease environmental restrictions on clean-burning gas! Stupid. We should take a step back. Here are two relevant facts: It's good that gas prices are rising. We want people to buy more fuel-efficient cars and drive less. In the long-term, oil prices are headed up whether we like it or not. The hardest hit by high gas prices are the poor, who have the least disposable …

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In China, Yu Xiaogang is helping locals fight back against dams

China has spent decades trying to harness its powerful river systems with dams. Enormous hydroelectric projects, most notably the Three Gorges Dam now under construction on the Yangtze River, have devastated local economies and ecosystems. Yu Xiaogang. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Chinese environmentalist Yu Xiaogang, founder of the group Green Watershed, says the people harmed by these projects are often silenced, and their stories left untold. Through a pioneering watershed management program in western China, Yu hopes to break this pattern, helping dam-affected communities both publicize their experiences and participate in the decisions that change their lives. Yu studied the …

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You Got Reserved!

Bush presents plan for combating high oil prices, halts reserve deposits In September 2000, then-candidate George W. Bush said that the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve "should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election. It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security." Guess that was some of the "pre-9/11 thinking" we hear so much about. In a speech this morning, President Bush announced that he will order a temporary halt to deposits to the reserve. "Every little bit helps [Republican congressional candidates in 2006]," he …

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Umbra on the greenhouse effect

Dear Umbra, Man-made greenhouse gases are blamed for recent global-warming trends. But man-made greenhouse gases account for only 5 percent of the greenhouse effect. Water vapor, over which civilization has virtually no control, accounts for some 95 percent of that greenhouse effect. Why has so much attention been focused on man-made gases when they comprise such a relatively small part of the problem? B. Hawley Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Dearest B., I'm going to pick apart your letter, and I truly do not mean to be snide. But the very language you use illustrates a common misunderstanding of our current situation, …

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Biodiesel: The slippery facts

Biodiesel -- the cleaner-burning vegetable-based oil that can be substituted for ordinary petroleum diesel -- is getting a lot of press these days. That's not too surprising: alternatives to oil tend to get a lot of attention when fuel prices are rising, which they're certainly doing right now. Perhaps the biggest piece of recent policy news is Washington state's new renewable fuels standard, passed just last month, which mandates that 2 percent of the diesel sold in the state must be biodiesel by the end of 2008. That got me thinking -- why just 2 percent? Couldn't we do better …

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