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Tesla sedan gets best Consumer Reports auto review of all time

Tesla's sexy Model S
Tesla Motors
Tesla's sexy Model S.

The good news just keeps flowing -- like electricity from a renewables-infused grid -- for electric-auto maker Tesla Motors.

Consumer Reports just gave the Tesla Model S Sedan its highest-ever score for an automobile. The glowing review and sky-high score of 99 out of 100 came in the same week that the 10-year-old auto manufacturer enjoyed its first profitable quarter.

Some highlights from the breathless review:

This electric luxury sports car, built by a small automaker based in Palo Alto, Calif., is brimming with innovation, delivers world-class performance, and is interwoven throughout with impressive attention to detail. It’s what Marty McFly might have brought back in place of his DeLorean in  “Back to the Future.” The sum total of that effort has earned the Model S the highest score in our Ratings: 99 out of  100. That is far ahead of such direct competitors as the gas-powered Porsche Panamera (84) and the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid (57).


Judge says EPA’s lax guidelines on dispersants can stand

A worker spraying Corexit in the gulf.
A worker spraying Corexit in the Gulf.

Should the federal government regulate where oil dispersants can be used and how much can be dumped into waterways following oil spills?

“Nah,” says the EPA.

Environmental groups filed suit last year seeking to force the agency to improve its oversight of the use of dispersants. But a federal judge this week tossed out the lawsuit after oil industry attorneys helped EPA win on a technicality.


Strawberry fields, not forever: Workers ditch farm after it punishes them for fleeing wildfire

Yum, smoky and injurious to worker health.
Strawberries: not worth choking over.

Workers on a strawberry farm in Southern California were fired last week when they became worried about smoke from a nearby wildfire and left mid-shift. After a media backlash, the farm offered the workers their jobs back, but the workers said, essentially, "Screw you."

The strawberry pickers had taken shelter inside from choking smoke and falling ashes from the Springs Fire, defying an order from a foreman who told them to suck it up and keep on picking. From NBC4:

The ashes were falling on top of us, one of them explained, adding “it was hard to breathe.”


California town of Sebastopol will require solar panels on all new homes


Vineyards won't be the only things flourishing when the sun shines on the fertile city of Sebastopol, Calif., in Sonoma wine country. The liberal stronghold of fewer than 8,000 residents this week became California's second city to require that new homes be outfitted with panels to produce solar energy.

A vote by the City Council on Tuesday evening came less than two months after a similar program was approved in Lancaster, Calif., a conservative desert city with 150,000 residents nearly 400 miles away.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:


GOP throws tantrum over Obama’s EPA nominee

Gina McCarthy
Reuters/Jason Roberts
Gina McCarthy -- she's just too EPA-ish.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee refused to show up for work Thursday morning, basically because they really don't like the EPA.

The committee was scheduled to vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy, President Obama's pick to head the EPA. The vote had already been delayed three weeks to accommodate grumbling Republicans, according to committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Then, this morning, right before the scheduled committee hearing, the eight GOP members sent a letter saying they were going to boycott.

From Politico:

“This has nothing to do with Gina McCarthy,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who charged that the boycott has more to do with a desire to obstruct EPA’s role in climate change regulations. ...


Tesla turns a profit, mulls driverless feature

Tesla roadsters charging in the parking lot at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.
John Upton
Tesla roadsters charging in the parking lot at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.

Electric-car pioneer Tesla just reported its first ever quarterly profit, jolted into the black by strong sales of its all-electric sedans and by a form of carbon trading under California's clean-cars program.

And with that achievement under its belt, the Californian company is moving on to conjuring another type of magic. Tesla is in talks with nearby Google to develop a car that can run not only without any gas in the tank, but without anybody in the driver's seat.

First, the financial news. From CNNMoney:

The electric-car maker announced its first-ever quarterly profit on Wednesday, blowing past analyst estimates.


This scientist needs your help to study air pollution from coal trains

Dan Jaffe
Dan Jaffe

“Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air?”

Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington-Bothell, thinks that’s a fair question to consider as Washington state grapples with whether to allow the construction of coal-export terminals that could triple the amount of daily coal-train traffic chugging through the state.

But Jaffe, whose lab has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers on air pollution, hasn’t been able to scare up funding to research the potential air-quality impacts of those coal trains. In the absence of dollars from the usual government or corporate channels, he has turned to the internet to crowd-fund this vital research. Jaffe started a page on Microryza, a sort of Kickstarter for scientific research (a great idea with a name that unfortunately does not roll off the tongue). He writes:


Joe Biden kinda sorta maybe opposes Keystone XL pipeline

Joe Biden and Elaine Cooper
Sierra Club
Sierra Club activist Elaine Cooper with Joe Biden.

Vice President Joe Biden told an activist on Friday that he doesn't support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, according to a post on the Sierra Club website.

While the veep was working the crowd at an event in South Carolina, Elaine Cooper got a moment with him:

I asked him about the administration’s commitment to making progress on climate and whether the president would reject the pipeline. He looked at the Sierra Club hat on my head, and he said “yes, I do -- I share your views -- but I am in the minority,” and he smiled. ...

I know that this vice president is a man who isn’t afraid to speak from his heart, and who sometimes gets out in front of the rest of the administration on moral issues. It was nearly a year before, on May 6, 2012, that Biden said that he was “absolutely comfortable” with marriage equality. What the vice president said to me on Friday was equally brave and equally right.

Environmental leaders seized on the news, BuzzFeed reports:


Nuclear plant spills radiation into Lake Michigan

Palisades Nuclear Generating Station
Palisades Nuclear Generating Station

Last summer, a leaky tank led to the shutdown of the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan. So plant owner Entergy patched up the leak, fired back up the reactor, and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, the best did not materialize.

The tank began leaking again. But no worries, thought the Einsteins at Entergy, it was only leaking a gallon a day. That was OK, they figured, because the NRC had allowed it to leak up to 38 gallons a day. As of Friday, they were still doing that whole "hoping for the best" thing.

But on Saturday the leaky drip turned into a gush, and all the hoping in the world couldn't hold back the tide of spilling radioactive water. Nearly 80 gallons of water containing small amounts of radioactive tritium and possibly trace amounts of cobalt and cesium spewed into Lake Michigan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the AP.


PG&E hit with big penalty for big natural-gas explosion

The San Bruno explosion's aftermath, photographed 10 days after a pipeline ruptured and ignited.
Thomas Hawk
The aftermath of the San Bruno explosion, photographed 10 days after a pipeline ruptured and ignited.

It looks like Pacific Gas & Electric's shareholders are going to have to spend $2.25 billion on safety improvements because of a 2010 natural-gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco exurb of San Bruno.

That was the record-breaking penalty proposed this week by staff of the California Public Utilities Commission. The agency's five commissioners will have the final say on the proposal, and PG&E will have an opportunity to try to barter down that price tag. The company says it has already spent more than $1 billion on improvements since the fatal accident.

The penalty is being characterized by the agency and media reports as a "fine," but while fines are typically paid into general government coffers, this $2.25 billion would be invested fully in improving the safety of PG&E's infrastructure. And the money would need to come out of shareholder profits; it couldn't be gouged from customers by hiking their bills.

Read more: Climate & Energy