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The accidental highway

Ed Quillen | Mar 12, 2010 02:15 AM

Glenwood Canyon on the Western Slope of Colorado has been in the news lately, thanks to a big rockslide that happened just after midnight on March 9. The tumbling boulders blocked and damaged a stretch of Interstate 70. It took four days to get the highway open again, just on a limited basis. During the closure, motorists traveling between Denver and Grand Junction faced a 200-mile detour.

So how did a narrow canyon with high and steep walls become a vital transportation corridor? Mostly by happenstance.

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Ladybugs and Lear

Nicholas Neely | Mar 11, 2010 08:15 AM

I ran into an article today about "a harbinger of bad insulation . . . good fortune and an early spring," which stirred a memory from a few years ago, an episode out of doors.

On a Friday in September, three friends and I drove east from Reno on I-80 into the Nevada desert to climb King Lear Peak.  We camped that night at the base of the mountain, which looms on the eastern edge of the Black Rock Desert — a vast playa once the bed of ancient Lake Lahontan, now the site of the notorious Burning Man festival. A lone ranch light burned in the valley below us as we crawled into our tents far from Reno's millions of technicolor bulbs.

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All aboard the coal train

Cally Carswell | Mar 09, 2010 02:00 AM

Very little is certain for ol’ King Coal these days. The numbers weren’t pretty last year. Coal production was down almost 8 percent in 2009, and consumption fell even further. Environmentalists are still fighting new coal-fired power plants tooth and nail—and winning. And the future of federal carbon regulation, which could have major implications for the industry, has gained little clarity under the Obama administration.

Which is all to say it’s a risky time to invest in coal.  Nevertheless, Montana is making moves to do just that. Amid much controversy, the state Land Board showed its commitment to leasing the Otter Creek coal reserves last month by lowering its asking price from 25 cents per ton to 15 cents after receiving no bids. And in the past few weeks, the Associated Press has reported on a number of new mines “being eyed” by the industry.

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Politics and currency

Ed Quillen | Mar 07, 2010 07:10 AM

H.L. Mencken once observed that it would have been worth losing the Civil War in order not to have Ulysses S. Grant as president. The reputation of Grant's presidency, 1869-77, has improved since Mencken's day, but apparently not enough.

Now there's a bill introduced in Congress to replace his picture on the $50 bill, a fixture since 1913, with a portrait of Ronald Reagan.

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No ESA for sage grouse

Jonathan Thompson | Mar 05, 2010 06:15 AM

You might be all in a tizzy about whether Avatar or Hurt Locker will win the big Oscar on Sunday. But a lot of folks in the Interior West -- and enviro wonks from all over -- were focused this week on a much bigger announcement: Will the greater sage grouse get federal protection under the Endangered Species Act or not?

The answer? No. At least not yet.

In a March 5 press conference, Interior Secretary Salazar said that the bird -- whose numbers have declined by 90 percent over the past century -- will not get federal protection. That's in spite of the fact that the feds believe the bird needs protection. Extensive scientific research over the past few years, said Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife Tom Strickland, has demonstrated that the grouse "does warrant protection. But we are proposing to not list, because of the need to address higher priority species." 

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Olympic Sasquatch

Lisa Song | Mar 04, 2010 08:37 AM

Quatchi is a bearded, earmuff-loving sasquatch. He was one of the official mascots of the 2010 Winter Olympics, part of a trio that included Miga, a mythical sea bear sporting a serious cowlick, and Sumi, an animal spirit with furry feet and thunderbird wings. All three were inspired by the legends of four of Canada's First Nations (Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh), the official co-hosts of the games.

It was the first time that aboriginal people had a serious role as Olympic hosts. Aboriginal culture was featured prominently in the Opening Ceremony. An Aboriginal Pavilion drew 14,000 visitors a day with its showcase of artwork, music, and history. And the Olympic medals were designed by Corrine Hunt, an aboriginal artist who incorporated traditional orca whale and raven motifs into her work.

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Totally gnarly air, dude

Nicholas Neely | Mar 03, 2010 05:04 AM

What might California save if it met the EPA's current air quality standards? From 2005-'07, the figure might have been $193 million — in hospital bills alone. That's the approximate cost of about 30,000 emergency room visits and/or hospital admissions that might have been avoided if California's skies were more breathable, according to a new report by the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research institute.

The authors of "The Impact of Air Quality on Hospital Spending" identified air-pollution-associated medical cases in more than 400 hospitals throughout the state. Then, with the help of epidemiological studies that have appraised the health rewards of lower pollution concentrations, they estimated how many hospital visits could have been prevented in each California zip code if those places were  to meet the EPA's air quality standards (perhaps a pie-in-the-sky prospect, in the short-term). Reducing pollution, of course, will come at a hefty cost; but this report demonstrates "the cost of doing nothing," as Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the Californian Air Resources Board, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Who's grabbin' who?

Jodi Peterson | Mar 03, 2010 04:10 AM

A few days ago, Editor Jonathan Thompson posted "The trouble with monuments", describing his reaction to the news that the Department of Interior has its eye on some potential new national monuments in the West. Utah politicians, unsurprisingly, have been quick to decry what they see as an unilateral "federal land grab" (despite the fact that the Interior document clearly says that before establishing a new monument, further evaluation and a study of public and Congressional support would be required).

Now, those same Utah legislators are proposing a land grab of their own. The LA Times reports:

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Sick by Sippy Cup

Lisa Song | Mar 02, 2010 10:32 AM

Beware the smiling creature in your bathtub: it's yellow, it squeaks, your kids love it, and it gets into your bloodstream—literally. The average rubber duck is covered in phthalates, industrial chemicals that make plastics more flexible. While that's good for the rubber bounciness of bath toys, some phthalates have proven to be endocrine disruptors that mess with human hormones. Two Western states (Washington and California) have even banned phthalates from children's toys.

Rubber duck









Photo credit: Muu-harku

So researchers Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie set out to find just how much phthalate the average person absorbs. In a caper reminiscent of the documentary Super Size Me, they spent four days exposing themselves to everyday chemicals, then wrote up the results in Slow Death by Rubber Duck: the Secret Danger of Everyday Things (published Jan. 2010). After washing with brand-name soaps and shampoos containing phthalates (used to add scents to beauty products), phthalate levels in their bodies multiplied by as  much as 22 times.

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This little plaza went to Market

Nicholas Neely | Mar 01, 2010 08:45 AM

This little "parklet" stayed at Divisadero ... And this news might make some San Franciscans go "Wee wee wee," all the way home.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week that the City by the Bay will create four new plazas and five "parklets" by summer, using contiguous parking spaces volunteered by corporations and neighborhood businesses. Each parklet will consist of a platform built flush with the sidewalk, with tables, chairs, umbrellas, potted flowers and shrubbery. The microparks  are meant to discourage a few more drivers — and thus, congestion and air pollution — also intended by a  bill proposed in the California State Senate to reduce "free parking" throughout the Golden State. More importantly, they'll provide a place to park your rump and nurse a coffee. (Several of the parklets will appear in front of cafes, which want you to hang out, of course.)

For the cost of just $7,000 a parklet (more for plazas), these innovative spaces are just about the only way San Francisco can continue greening its plethora of concrete amid a budget crunch. They follow on the heels of a pilot pedestrian plaza that opened in May on Market and 17th Street in the Castro. They're also inspired  by the city's popular PARK(ing) Day, during which people temporarily roll out lawns across a few metered spots to barbecue or even set up a swing.

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