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BUILD Act could make it easier to green toxic brownfields

Nearly all of America's cities contain brownfields -- contaminated, abandoned sites that can be as big as old rail yards or as small as former dry cleaners. The EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites nationwide.

A Worcester, Mass. brownfield.
MA Dept. of Environmental Protection
A brownfield in Worcester, Mass.

Greening all those brownfields is no easy task, and the EPA's Brownfields Program still has a long way to go. But a new bill introduced in Congress could help.

The BUILD Act -- BUILD stands for Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development -- would make brownfields cleanup grants available to a wider variety of groups and local governments, and would generally smooth the way for communities to redevelop these properties. The bill specifically calls for extra assistance for disadvantaged and rural communities.

The legislation is sponsored by a motley bipartisan crew of senators: Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). That's right: Republicans are working with Democrats to support the EPA's efforts to clean up cities. Even in these mad, sequestery times, there appears to be a bit of sanity on Capitol Hill.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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California town could require solar power on every new house

drawing of solar panels on houseWith year-round high temperatures and less than two inches of rain on average a month, the desert town of Lancaster, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, seems like a great place for solar. But Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris isn't taking any chances (which is exactly what you would expect from a mayor named R. Rex Parris).

Parris, a Republican, is "hell-bent on branding his sprawling Antelope Valley community not just as the solar capital of California but as the 'solar energy capital of the world,'" according to Mother Nature Network.

The mayor is proposing a zoning change that would require houses built after Jan. 1, 2014, to include solar-power systems. Lancaster has long been a solar leader, but Parris is trying to take it to a whole 'nother level, pending the city council's vote.

From KCET:

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BP officially quits the solar business

BP logoRemember when BP tried to rebrand itself as "Beyond Petroleum" and came up with a new logo designed to evoke solar power? Well, looks like the company might have to call in some new branding consultants. NPR's Morning Edition reports:

"We have thrown in the towel on solar," [BP CEO] Bob Dudley said after delivering a wide-ranging speech Wednesday.

"Not that solar energy isn't a viable energy source, but we worked at it for 35 years, and we really never made money," he added.

BP has been winding down its solar operations for a few years. The company now says it is "focusing on those sectors of the energy industry where we can profitably grow our business," which means a shift to wind and biofuels. Really though, can you blame BP for being worried about money? The company only made $11.6 billion in profits last year, and it might still have to pay billions to atone for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Wah!

More from NPR:

BP's exit from solar has more to do with a changing business than lack of will.

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Bacon is really bad for you

Processed meat: Delicious but deadly
Shutterstock / Slavica Stajic
Processed meat: Delicious but deadly.

Hot on the heels of the horse-meat scandal, here's more bummer meat news.

Eating more than 0.7 ounces a day of processed meat -- salami, cured bacon, sausages, that kind of thing -- will make you more likely to die prematurely, killed by a heart attack or cancer.

Read more: Food

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Senator feels bad for BP, wants it to bid on new Gulf drilling leases

Sen. Landrieu in 2011, championing the RESTORE Act, which will direct 80 percent of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines to Gulf Coast states and restoration projects
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Sen. Mary Landrieu wants to set BP free.

Pity poor BP.

That's the message from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La). She is among the lawmakers who say the federal government needs to cut the company some slack and allow it to bid on Gulf Coast drilling leases when they're auctioned off by the Department of Interior later this month. The company was temporarily banned by the EPA in November from bidding on new leases because of the "lack of business integrity" it demonstrated "with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response."

That ban has now dragged into its fourth hellish month and has so far prevented the company from bidding at one entire auction. Enough is enough, as far as Landrieu is concerned.

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Domesticated and wild bees are both in trouble

It's tough times for bees. Over the past few years, colony collapse disorder has wiped out some entire beekeeping operations, and scientists don't understand or agree on the cause. In Europe, respected scientists and agencies are declaring some popular pesticides too dangerous for bees. Stateside, it's another story.

On Tuesday, the U.S. EPA hosted a bee summit to talk about the problem. "The EPA has been working aggressively to protect honey bees and other pollinators," the agency says. "The 2013 Pollinator Summit is part of the agency’s ongoing collaboration with beekeepers, growers, pesticide manufacturers and federal and state agencies to manage potential pesticide risks to bees."

The summit highlighted some sobering details on the scope of the problem, but it also gave a platform to Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont, and Monsanto -- companies that make the very kinds of pesticides that have been linked to bee deaths. This week, Bayer also announced a "bee care tour" and new efforts to "minimize the impact" of neonicotinoid pesticides that mess with bee brains.

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Pink-slime maker’s lawsuit against ABC grows slimier

pink-slime-ground-beef-carousel
Cobalt123

I would probably be bitter, too, if I were Beef Products, Inc. Those are the folks behind uber-gross "lean finely textured beef," aka "pink slime," the ammonia-soaked cow trimmings added as filler to ground beef. During pink slime's heyday, it ended up in more than two-thirds of American hamburgers, at a ratio of up to 15 percent slime to 85 percent burger. That slime was cheap, and so chemical-packed that it sterilized the rest of the meat. Mmm, food!

Fast-forward to today: The origins and grossness of "pink slime" are well-known, fast food restaurants have given up the stuff, and BPI is as pissed as a parent whose kid was unknowingly served pink slime in her USDA-approved school lunches.

According to TIME, only about 5 percent of ground beef contains the "lean finely textured" stuff now. Following an 11-part ABC News series that ran last March and April, BPI says its revenues have dropped from more than $650 million a year to $130 million. The company filed a lawsuit last September against ABC, anchor Diane Sawyer, and other named defendants seeking $1.2 billion in damages. ABC didn't coin "pink slime" -- a USDA scientist named Gerald Zirnstein did, in 2002 -- but ABC and its parent company Disney sure do have deep pockets.

BPI has hired "a high-powered Chicago trial lawyer," according to Reuters, which reports the case "is shaping up to be one of the most high-stakes defamation court battles in U.S. history." The company's founders say they plan to fight 'til the bitter, slimy end, regardless of the cost. "We have to do this," one told Reuters. "We have no other choice."

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Carbon dioxide levels made a big, scary jump in 2012

NOAA's carbon dioxide measurements are taken at Mauna Loa, Hawaii
Shutterstock / Galyna Andrushko
NOAA's carbon dioxide measurements are taken at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose to just under 395 parts per million last year, according to new figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Compare that to the 350 ppm target that many climate scientists and activists say we need to get down to -- activists like those at, yes, 350.org.

Global CO2 levels last year jumped by 2.67 parts per million, which might not sound like a dramatic leap, but it's the second highest one-year increase since record-keeping began in 1959, surpassed only by the 1998 spike of 2.93 ppm.

From the Associated Press:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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New Volvo tech aims to keep drivers from hitting cyclists

Those outside-the-car airbags are pretty sweet, but what if we could make cars automatically stop before they, you know, hit people?

That's what Volvo's up to, with a newly updated auto-brake system that recognizes slow-moving pedestrians and now also fast-swerving bicyclists. "When bicyclists swerve in front of an automobile heading in the same direction, the setup immediately alerts the driver and applies full brake power -- a world's first Volvo says," reports Engadget.

13-03-06Volvobikedetection
Volvo

Volvo's promotional video of the technology in action presents the cyclist as a kind of clueless headphone-wearing dolt, while the car driver appears empathetic. Still, you can at least see how it works:

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Faux meats get a boost from horsemeat scandal

Thanks, horsemeat! Faux meats in the U.K. are seeing a big uptick in popularity after the recent spate of Euro meat contamination.

The Guardian reports:

Quorn, the UK's biggest vegetarian ready meal brand, said it had seen sales growth more than double in the second half of February as shoppers snapped up its burgers, mince and sausages made from a form of fungus. The company is having to increase the number of shifts at its fermenting plant to cope with demand.

Other specialist brands have also enjoyed a surge in sales since January when regulators found horsemeat in ready-made burgers sold in supermarkets. [British supermarket chain] Asda said sales of meat-free foods had been booming in recent weeks as the scandal has widened to include well known brands including Findus and Birds Eye.

Fry's, a South African brand which sells frozen vegetarian sausages and pies mainly to health foods shops such as Holland & Barrett, said sales had risen 30% since the beginning of February, three times the pace of its growth over the last few years.

Quorn's burgers are entirely horse-free.
cizuskas
The ingredients of Quorn burgers don't include horse.

At the same time, sales of frozen meat burgers tumbled. From The Huffington Post: