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Bike bans declared unconstitutional in Colorado, introduced in Missouri

no_bikes_flickr_richard_drdul_616.jpgBike happy, cyclists, and bike free! The Colorado Supreme Court this week overturned a ban on bikes in the town of Black Hawk, where since June 2010 cycling citizens have been forced to walk their bikes through downtown's narrow roads or face $68 tickets. From The Denver Post:

Black Hawk's ban forced cyclists to walk their bikes through the city's casino-lined streets on the southern end of the famed Peak to Peak Highway, a high-country scenic by-way popular with road cyclists. ...

Black Hawk had argued that its home-rule status allowed it to script its own traffic laws. The city said the 2009 state law that required vehicles to give cyclists a 3-foot berth was unmanageable for gambler-toting tour buses and casino delivery trucks navigating Black Hawk's narrow streets. So the city's leaders chose to ban bikes. ...

The Supreme Court ruled the issue was not just local but impacted state residents. The court noted that municipalities can ban bikes -- Denver prohibits pedalers on the 16th Street Mall, as does Boulder on a stretch of Pearl Street -- but it must provide alternate routes within 450 feet, as required by state law.

The city's statement on Monday said it would "look for alternatives" to address safety concerns but would not develop an alternate bike path. "The city has no plans to construct any special accommodations to address this issue."

I wonder if Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin (R) reads the Colorado news? Maybe he should! The state legislator is planning to introduce a bill to ban bicycling on at least some state roads. From the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation:

Read more: Living, Politics

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Want to fight climate change? Don’t work so hard

Sleepy business jerks
Shutterstock

Here's one way to stop global warming: SMASH CAPITALISM!

That is how I choose to read a study released this week by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which found that switching to a “more European” work schedule, i.e. working fewer hours and taking more vacation, could prevent as much as half of "global warming that is not already locked in." From U.S. News:

"The relationship between [shorter work hours and lower emissions] is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions," writes economist David Rosnick, author of the study. Rosnick says some of that reduction can be attributed to fewer operating hours in factories and other workplaces that consume high levels of energy. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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A new proposal for shipping tar-sands oil: Use the thawed Arctic!

Oil companies in Alberta have learned a key lesson about the tar-sands business. Namely: Extracting tar-sands oil is one thing. Getting it refined and sold is another.

Tar-sands oil prices continue to fall as companies struggle to figure out how to get it to customers. There are three routes to do so, shown above. The route headed west (in blue) represents the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline -- a project that is on the brink of being cancelled. Heading south into the United States (in red), Keystone XL, the tribulations of which are legendary. Headed east (yellow), a possible pipeline to the St. Lawrence Seaway which, as far as I know, exists only in theory.

But there's another possibility, one previously unmentioned -- and previously impossible: Build a pipeline due north, to the formerly frozen Arctic Ocean. From Bloomberg:

Alberta’s landlocked oil producers facing pipeline bottlenecks to the south, west and east are welcome to ship their product north, according to Northwest Territories leader Bob McLeod.

McLeod, 60, said the territorial government would consider proposals to ship crude from Alberta oil sands producers, which include Suncor (SU) Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources, to the Arctic. The territory would consider piggybacking on any new infrastructure to ship its own oil and gas, he said. ...

“The reality is, it’s doable,” McLeod said. “With climate change, the Arctic ice pack has melted significantly.” Asked if Alberta’s difficulties getting oil to market presents an opportunity for his region, McLeod said: “We think so.”

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Frackers set their sights on the Golden State

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calwest
Old-style drilling in California.

California's Monterey Shale is full of sweet, sweet crude -- maybe upwards of 400 billion barrels of the stuff. It's also full of earthquake-prone faults and fertile farmland. I have an idea: Let's frack the hell out of it! From CNN:

Running from Los Angeles to San Francisco, California's Monterey Shale is thought to contain more oil than North Dakota's Bakken and Texas's Eagle Ford -- both scenes of an oil boom that's created thousands of jobs and boosted U.S. oil production to the highest rate in over a decade. ...

"Four hundred billion barrels, that doesn't escape anyone in this businesses," said Stephen Trammel, energy research director at IHS [Cambridge Energy Research Associates].

The trick now is getting it out.

That will require convincing residents of the Golden State to hack up the land North Dakota-style. And by "convincing," I mean "bribing."

Several oil companies have put together research teams to work on the Monterey, said Katie Potter, head of exploration and production staffing at NES Global Talent, a company that recruits oil industry professionals.

If the Monterey takes off, Potter said the impact on jobs in the state would be huge, saying the shale boom has already created 600,000 jobs nationwide over the last few years.

"It could potentially solve the state's budget deficit," she said.

The Monterey Shale is not as easy to frack as other shale areas because it's not flat -- it's been crunched up by years of earthquakes. While there are 400 billion barrels in there, only about 15 billion could be drilled out with current technology; most would require "more intensive fracking and deeper, horizonal drilling," The New York Times reports. Currently, according to the Western States Petroleum Association, 628 of California's 47,000 active wells are fracking. From the Times:

Severin Borenstein, a co-director of the Energy Institute at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, said technological advances and the high price of oil were driving interest in the Monterey Shale, just as elsewhere.

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Walmart’s big push into groceries is not good for small farmers

Yes it's cheap but ... Photo: Walmart Stores
Walmart Stores
Yes it's cheap, but ...

When you think of Walmart, you probably think of cheap Chinese products and labor. But about two-thirds of the money Walmart spends to stock up its U.S. stores now goes for domestic products. That's because, over the last decade, Walmart has moved aggressively into the grocery sector, and most of our food items are grown and produced here in the U.S. Ten years ago, groceries made up less than 25 percent of the retail giant's sales; they now make up 55 percent. From CNN:

Experts say that this shift was no accident. The nation's largest retailer adapted to fit the needs of its cash-strapped customers in the midst of a slow economic recovery. Shoppers today are more concerned with buying basics like milk and bread than electronics and apparel, many of which are foreign-made, and the retailer is shifting focus to keep up.

"Consumers have been shopping more for 'needs' than for 'wants,' and that's why groceries are still the number one thing in their budgets," said Craig Johnson, president of independent consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. "In return, Wal-Mart has become a needs-oriented store."

Walmart's crushing the competition, with higher sales than Kroger, Safeway, and SuperValu grocery chains combined. Its house "Great Value" brand boasts the biggest sales of any food brand in the U.S. To assert its dominance in the grocery sector, Walmart "leverages its scale" so its suppliers can pay lower prices to farmers, as investing site Trefis reports -- which is bad news for small farmers across the country. Sure, god made a farmer, but god also made an American profit motive. From NPR's The Salt blog:

Wal-Mart claims its emphasis on local has saved customers over $1 billion while helping farmers. But Wyatt Fraas, of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyon, Neb., would like to see those benefits and cost savings broken down.

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New York governor wants to return Sandy-damaged neighborhoods to nature

Whoever is tallying the bill for Hurricane Sandy (Paul Ryan, maybe? Chris Christie?) needs to add another $400 million in the "expenses" column. That's how much New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to spend to buy storm-damaged houses, raze them, and leave the land vacant.

From The New York Times:

The purchase program, which still requires approval from federal officials, would be among the most ambitious ever undertaken, not only in scale but also in how Mr. Cuomo would be using the money to begin reshaping coastal land use. Residents living in flood plains with homes that were significantly damaged would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses to relocate; those in even more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell; and in a small number of highly flood-prone areas, the state would double the bonus if an entire block of homeowners agreed to leave.

The land would never be built on again. Some properties could be turned into dunes, wetlands or other natural buffers that would help protect coastal communities from ferocious storms; other parcels could be combined and turned into public parkland.

jenna_pope_sandy
Jenna Pope

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San Francisco plans expensive ‘managed retreat’ from rising seas

When you live on a coastline, looking down the barrel of imminent and unstoppable rising sea levels, sometimes "managed retreat" is your only option. What if we rerouted the highways before they ever flooded?

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Apricot Cafe

That's the thinking behind San Francisco's Master Plan for the city's western shoreline. This retreat is not just managed, but proactive. KQED reports on the "test case" that other coastal cities will be watching: a more than $350 million plan to move the Great Highway and allow the surf to reclaim its turf.

"A lot of the things we're recommending at Ocean Beach are very expensive," says Benjamin Grant, who manages the Ocean Beach Master Plan for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). "But you have to set them against the costs of the band-aid measures already taking place."

Read more: Cities

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Alaska senator offers a fresh, new energy policy calling for more drilling in Alaska

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today unveiled a new energy plan, a document that she'd been hyping for weeks. In January, she called it "very comprehensive," which is, I guess, an improvement over other people's moderately comprehensive proposals.

Murkowski is the one who doesn't appear to be only a head floating in space
usarak
Murkowski is the one who doesn't appear to be only a head floating in space.

Murkowski very savvily linked the release to the Super Bowl power outage, noting that the darkened Superdome "helps to perhaps kick-start the debate" over exactly how much offshore drilling we should do. Oh, that was a spoiler: Murkowski thinks we should do a lot of offshore drilling. And if we had, the Superdome wouldn't have gone dark last night, because the game could have been played by the light of burning barrels of crude.

So. The plan. Here's how the Anchorage Daily News describes it. (We've gone ahead and removed the filler.)

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How the shale boom came to North Dakota — and how it’s spreading west

It really is an apt image: a series of briefcases, presumably in a range of colors from dusty brown to black, sitting in the freezing air on the steps of a North Dakota courthouse sometime before dawn. The briefcases served as proxies for the oil and gas company representatives jostling to buy mineral rights in the empty flatness of western North Dakota, representatives not eager enough to close the deals that they would stand in subzero temperatures.

Williston, North Dakota, in 2008
afiler
Williston, North Dakota, in 2008.

This scene leads the New York Times Magazine's overview of the state's newest-but-not-only oil boom, the cacophonous hustle to split apart the Bakken shale with hydraulic fracturing. The Times has been on a North Dakota bender of late, covering gender issues and infrastructural strains caused by the boom. But this most recent piece provides the most insight on how the boom came to be and how long it might last.

They have been through this before, the people of North Dakota, first in the ’60s, a decade after oil was discovered in the state. And then again in the late ’70s, when the boom was driven by rising oil prices. Monthly oil production, which peaked in 1984 at 4.6 million barrels, fell to half and then went sideways for nearly a quarter-century. By February 1999, there wasn’t a single rig drilling new wells in the state, and oil development looked to be yet another cautionary tale in the familiar boom-and-bust history of the region ...

And then around seven years ago -- driven by technological refinements that have made North Dakota a premier laboratory for coaxing oil from stingy rocks -- the state’s Bakken boom began in Mountrail County. … The first areas of the Bakken to be hydraulically fractured were on the Montana side of the Williston Basin in the Elm Coulee Field, where oil was discovered in 2000. Early treatments there were called “Hail Mary fracks” because geologists and engineers would just drill a well, pump in frack fluid and pray for a robust result. The technique is more exact now. Certain grades of sand or sometimes proppant made of ceramic beads are matched to certain kinds of rock, and the wells are fracked in stages, as many as 40 stages per well.

Just how much oil is in the Bakken is still unknown. Estimates have been continuously revised upward since a 1974 figure of 10 billion barrels. Leigh Price, a United States Geological Survey geochemist, was initially greeted with skepticism when, about 13 years ago, he came to the conclusion that the Bakken might hold as much as 503 billion barrels of oil. Now people don’t think that number is as crazy as it seemed. …

[A]s the volume of oil in the Bakken shale is still a moving target, and recovery techniques are increasingly sophisticated, some estimates put the life of the Bakken play, and the attendant upheaval it is causing in North Dakota, at upward of a hundred years.

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Dodge made ‘God made a farmer’ Super Bowl ad, and I made an angry face

Farmers: We like them! So does Dodge, I guess, because there's not any other clear reason why the American car company would make this ad except to try to associate itself with a trade close to America's scrappy -- and white male -- identity.

From Dodge's portrayal, you'd hardly know that almost a third of farm operators are women, and the population of farm owners of color is growing by full percentage points each year. You'd also hardly know who does most of the work on most of those farms.

Read more: Food