Ford F-150The Ford F-150 pickup would receive a C grade under a new federal gas mileage rating system.Photo courtesy MSVG via FlickrThe federal government doesn’t do simple — which make its latest idea for rating auto fuel efficiency a thing of rare beauty. Simple beauty. 

Hummer bummer: Here’s how it would work: Cars get graded based on gas mileage. That’s it. Electric cars get an A+. Hybrids, like the Prius, get an A-. A Ford F-150 pickup earns a C. And a gas pig like the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, a D. (The feds don’t do Fs). Grades would be displayed in a big, honkin’ circle at the top of the gas mileage sticker that prospective buyers would see on all showroom vehicles. This is one of two auto sticker updates being considered by the EPA and the Transportation Department. The other is a less dramatic sticker redesign. Naturally, groups like the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers don’t like idea of big letter grades slapped on car windows. They say that would place a “value judgment” on the vehicle. Ah, yeah, that’s kinda the point. 

Ding dong, the witch hunt is dead: Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, climate change skeptic, and right-wing poster boy, took it on the chops yesterday. For months now, he’s been after climate scientist Michael Mann, claiming that Mann committed fraud while he was a University of Virginia professor by manipulating climate data. Several investigations already have cleared Mann of wrongdoing and on Monday, Virginia Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross, Jr. joined the crowd. He ruled that Cuccinelli never made a case that fraud had been committed. Said the happy Mann: 

I’m very pleased that the judge has ruled in our favor. It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests.

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Update:  Cuccinelli says he won’t drop his campaign against Mann and plans to redraft his request for emails and other documents from the University of Virginia. 

Better stimulate than never: Last week, the Obama administration gave itself a big pat on the back, claiming that its stimulus package will help double the U.S.’s renewable energy capacity by 2012. Michael Grunwald, writing in Time, chimed in with an amen, describing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as the “most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world’s largest venture-capital fund.” No question the stimulus package throws a lot of money at renewable energy. But AP reporter Frederic Frommer takes a glass-half-empty view. Frommer suggests that the White House over-hyped how much the stimulus money will be able to sustain renewable energy growth, how much it will cut solar energy costs and make electric cars affordable, and how much it will spark a high-speed rail boom.

Hope and mirrors: Unless Congress renews them, stimulus grants for renewable energy projects will run out at the end of the year. So a lot clean energy developers are scrambling to get their projects in under the wire, especially in California, where utilities also are required to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by the end of 2010. The state isn’t likely to make that goal, but the dual deadlines have brought a solar land rush to the California desert. Last week, the California Energy Commission approved the state’s first solar thermal power planet in 20 years, one that will create 250 megawatts of energy using mirrors to capture the sun’s heat. An even bigger project promises to become the largest solar plant in the world, with the capacity to produce 1,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 800,000 homes. Some call the construction of this huge solar plant a watershed moment. As Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told Greenwire’s Scott Streater:

This project will be the signature project for the industry. It gives the industry a level of credibility that we haven’t had to date simply because solar has been small scale. But if projects like this can move forward, it will show the country we do not need to be dependent on toxic energy sources any more, and we can rely on solar to provide a large portion of the country’s energy.

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Life’s an itch: In the realm of climate change consequences, virulent poison ivy might not seem so dire. But for me, well, I get a rash when poison ivy is in the same zip code. So it doesn’t make me happy to learn that all the extra carbon dioxide in the air is basically a steroid for the vile weed. Laura Hambleton, writing in the Washington Post, quotes researcher Jacqueline Mohan about her computer model for plant life in 2050. Mohan’s model is based on CO2 projections. 

Tree seedlings grew 8 to 12 percent more, with more C02. Poison ivy grew 149 percent more. Poison ivy is getting bigger, faster, and nastier.

I itch, therefore I am.