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Republicans join Democrats in trying to revive wind energy incentives

Wind energy
Shutterstock

The political winds in the nation's capitol shifted on Thursday in favor of wind energy.

A Senate committee passed a bill that would restore two key tax credits for the wind industry. Both credits have helped spur the sector's rapid growth in recent years, but Congress allowed them to expire at the end of last year. Uncertainty over whether the incentives would be extended into 2014 was blamed for a startling decline in wind farm construction last year, when just 1 gigawatt of capacity was installed -- down from 13 gigawatts the year before.

Thursday's move by the Senate Finance Committee doesn't guarantee that the full Senate will support resurrection of the credits, much less the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But encouraging signs emerged after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) tried to kill the credits. He argued that restoring them would amount to picking energy-industry winners and losers and forcing taxpayers to "subsidize inefficient, uncompetitive forms of energy." (Meanwhile, taxpayers continue a century-long tradition of subsidizing fossil fuels.) CleanTechnica reports on the encouraging bipartisan response to Toomey's effort:

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The week in GIFs: Genies, junk, and Mary Jane

There was plenty of odd news this week, even not counting April Fools' Day. (Last week: all of your favorite vices.)

Now you can find love on a tiny house dating site:

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Tumblr

The U.N. climate report was pretty depressing, but it had a few bright spots:

could-be-worse-brad-pitt
Tumblr
Read more: Living

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These cute $40 watches can run forever on sunlight

Tattoos mean they're hipster approved.
Q&Q
Tattoos mean they're hipster approved.

If you aren’t a tiny doll with a miniature screwdriver, getting a dead watch battery replaced is the worst. Not only do you have to hunt down that little old man in the jewelry store, but you become even later than usual -- or is that just me? The hip SmileSolar watch slices through those excuses like a timekeeping Zorro by running completely on the sun:

solarsmile-solar-powered-watch
Q&Q

Citizen Eco-Drive solar watches may be out of your price range (not that you can’t afford a $325 watch, Kanye), but thankfully its more affordable imprint, Q&Q, sells the SmileSolar for only $40. The watches used to only be available in Japan, but as with cat cafés, our patience has been rewarded. ME-OW:

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Eat your heart out, Rome: This 3D-printed village was built in a day

house-3d-printed-shanghai-12
3Ders.org

To review: In the world of sustainable real estate, they’re making hobbit houses out of straw bales, outfitting old shipping containers with green roofs and compostable toilets, and now, using 3D printers to build cottages. It can be hard to keep up, we know.

In Shanghai, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co created a tiny village using little more than an enormous 3D printer. The printer produced the houses’ walls, roof, and floors, which were then manually assembled. The layers of concrete used to create each component were partially made from recycled construction and industrial waste.

WinSun claims to have constructed the entire village, which includes 10 houses, in less than a day.

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Obama admin sued for dragging feet on studies of climate impacts

alarm clock that says "late"
Shutterstock

Just over a year ago, we told you that the Obama administration would soon start requiring federal agencies to consider climate change when analyzing the environmental impacts of major projects that need federal approval. Bloomberg reported in March of last year that the new guidelines would "be issued in the coming weeks."

But many weeks have come and gone and the guidelines still haven't been released, so now activists are suing the administration to hurry things along.

The lawsuit revolves around the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of projects they oversee and to develop strategies for reducing those impacts. Since passage of the landmark law in 1969, NEPA assessments have covered a variety of potential environmental impacts. In early 2008, major environmental groups petitioned the George W. Bush administration to include climate impacts among them. After Obama came into office, his administration said it would broaden the scope of NEPA studies to cover climate change, and in 2010, it issued draft guidelines to this effect, but they've been bottled up at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) ever since.

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What’s worse than burning coal? Burning wood

wood fire
Shutterstock

In its scramble for new and clean energy sources, the U.S. government is failing to see the forest for the burning trees.

The burning of biomass to produce electricity is marketed as clean and renewable, and promoted by federal policies. But a report published Wednesday concludes that burning wood is more polluting than burning coal.

More than 70 wood-burning plants are under construction or have been built in the U.S. since 2005, with 75 more planned, according to the analysis by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Integrity.

For every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, even the "cleanest" of the American biomass plants pump out nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal-burning plants, PFPI staff researcher Mary Booth, a former Environmental Working Group scientist, concluded after poring over data associated with 88 air emissions permits. The biomass plants also produce more than twice as much nitrogen oxide, soot, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic matter as coal plants.

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5 ways Paul Ryan’s budget screws the climate and environment

Rep. Paul Ryan
Gage Skidmore

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Very Serious Person? Before he was his party’s nominee for vice president, and his extreme ideology became more widely understood, Ryan was the Washington media establishment’s favorite Republican. In 2011, Time magazine named him a runner-up for Person of the Year, crediting his “hard work ... and possibly suicidal guts” with making him “the most influential American politician.” Ryan had built up this mythology by releasing his “Roadmap” to a balanced budget, which won accolades for wrestling with projected deficits. In truth, his plan consisted mostly of lazy hand-waving gestures about spending cuts. You can say future Congresses must cut discretionary domestic spending by some huge amount, but you’re not really showing courage unless you’re actually in office when the cuts take place, turning down cries for help from your constituents. Meanwhile, Ryan proposed big regressive tax cuts, and his most concrete proposals to limit spending would do so by ending the healthcare guarantees of Medicare and Medicaid.

Well, Ryan is still chair of the House Budget Committee, and he is trying to rebuild his brand. Whatever his goal -- replace retiring Ways and Means Chair David Camp (R-Mich.), become speaker of the House, or run for president in 2016 -- Ryan wants to be considered politically brave and fiscally responsible. Recently he’s even been talking about poverty. But his new “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint for fiscal year 2015, released on Tuesday, is mostly a rehash of his old ideas. And like every Ryan budget, it's full of right-wing hobbyhorses that would do untold damage to the environment.

Here are the five main ways Ryan's plan would increase pollution, accelerate global warming, despoil public lands, and stymie Americans’ efforts to get out of their cars.

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There will be blood oranges

California farmers: Drill, baby, drill (for water, that is)

drought-hose.jpg
Shutterstock

California is locked in an epochal drought -- and yet produce aisles nationwide still brim with reasonably prices fruit and vegetables from the Golden State. How does California continue providing half of U.S.-grown vegetables under such parched conditions?

Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, one of the world's leading think tanks on water issues, broke it down for me. He says that despite the drought, California farmers will likely idle only about a half million acres this year -- less than 10 percent of normal plantings, which are about 8 million acres. And most of the fallowed land will involve "low-value" crops like cotton and alfalfa (used as a feed for the dairy and beef industries) -- not the stuff you eat directly, like broccoli, lettuce, and almonds.

In the Central Valley -- California's most important growing region, which spans 450 miles along the center of the state -- the drought is a massive inconvenience, but it hasn't cut farms off from water. Under ideal conditions, the great bulk of irrigation water flows through an elaborate network of canals and aqueducts that divert water from rivers (largely fed by Sierra Nevada snowmelt) to farms.

But lately, because of the drought, those diversions have largely stopped. The main system for getting water to the regions farms, known as the Central Valley Project, "allotted farmers only 20 percent of their share last year -- and none this year," the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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20 percent of the tricolored blackbirds on Earth are in imminent danger — but you can help save them

Blackbird_tricolored_male_summer_california_monte-m-taylor
Tsuru8

The tricolored blackbird is pretty rare -- populations have rebounded since they were first classified as endangered, but there are still fewer than 250,000 of them on the planet (up from 35,000 in the '90s). Which means it's really, really serious that a flock of 50,000 tricolored blackbirds is under imminent threat. That's 20 percent of the extant population.

The birds are nesting in a private field, which is due to be harvested tomorrow to feed dairy cattle. (Agriculture encroaching on their habitat constitutes the biggest threat to tricolored blackbirds.) Luckily, you can help them. The Audubon Society is trying to raise enough funds by tomorrow to remove the birds from danger, and you can sponsor a bird for a dollar -- or five birds for $5, or four-and-twenty blackbirds for four-and-twenty dollars, or 100 tacos for $100. Wait, not that last one.

5-dollars-5-birds

Read more: Living

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This fancy fridge makes your kale even more nutritious

nutrilight-refrigerator-electrolux
Electrolux

The NutriLight can’t make your produce last forever, but it’s pretty close. The fridge lighting system, developed by Electrolux, uses “a patented fixed wave treatment that evenly distributes light around the crisper to boost the vitamin content of fruits and vegetables,” according to the company.

The energy-efficient NutriLight only pours beneficial ray-beams onto your veggies, not UV or ultrared rays that would suck out the vitamins. (Vitamin C and antioxidants dwindle in fruits and vegetables within a few days.) With this fridge, “essentially, synthetic photosynthesis is occurring in your crisper drawer,” as Modern Farmer puts it.

Read more: Food, Living