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Friday Finds: Tequila Transformation

Tequila takes a shot at decreasing gasoline use
A new study that looks at the life-cycle analysis of agave-derived ethanol has found that the desert plant produces relatively few carbon emissions, positioning itself as a possible biofuel and substitute for gasoline, reports the Guardian. Though agave is best known for its use in distilling tequila, the sugar-filled plant’s ability to grow on desert lands that aren’t usable for other food crops has garnered the interest of the biofuel industry, which is eager to find a plant-based fuel that won’t drive up food prices, a la the corn ethanol disaster. Scientists are already conducting agave biofuel trials in Australia, and the technology may also have potential for use in abandoned agave plantations in Mexico and Africa. Though experts warn that biofuels can’t be the only strategy used to cut carbon emissions, finding more options to fight climate change is still a success worth drinking to.

House of Representatives try to wreck summer vacations
The current battle in Washington, DC over raising the debt ceiling may just ruin your summer vacation, reports the blog Climate Progress. That’s because the 2012 spending bill is filled to the brim with special interest provisions meant to placate certain industries with big pockets, such as the oil and gas industry, while allowing these same industries to foul the air and water in our nation's iconic places without punishment. One provision would allow uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and a vacation destination for about 5 million visitors every year. Another provision blocks the EPA from doing its court-affirmed job of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which are fueling the already record heat waves and severe droughts and increasing wildfires found in places like Yellowstone and Big Bend National Park. In the Midwest, efforts to hinder pollution cleanup, wetlands restoration and efforts to fight invasive species in the Great Lakes may also hinder tourists’ ability to enjoy sport fishing and swimming in the area. And, most disgustingly, a provision to cut sewage treatment programs by 40 percent in California may leave the state’s pristine beaches contaminated with fecal matter and industrial pollutants. Stop Congress from trying to fowl up your favorite vacation getaway.
 

Cars and light trucks get revamped efficiency standards
U.S. vehicle fleets must average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, reports the Washington Post, thanks to a deal recently reached between the Obama administration and major auto manufacturers. Though the proposal is slightly weaker than what environmental and public health groups originally lobbied for, the cut in tailpipe pollution will ensure a steady stream of fuel efficiency improvements over the next decade. According to a White House press statement, the program, which builds on the first-ever national program for vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, will result in “significant cost savings for consumers at the pump, dramatically reduce oil consumption, cut pollution and create jobs.” Considering that gas prices are at record highs this summer, the change to more efficient vehicles can’t come soon enough to ease the pain at the pump.

Report finds children’s chemical evaluation program is a bust
An analysis by the EPA’s Inspector General has found that a voluntary disclosure program meant to protect children from toxic chemicals simply didn’t work, reports the Investigative Fund. Established under the Clinton administration, the Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program was “hampered by industry partners who chose not to voluntarily collect and submit information” despite many promises by the industry to submit such information voluntarily. Also hampering the effort is the fact that the 23 chemicals selected for voluntary submission in the pilot program were not even the most potentially problematic chemicals, such as Bisphenol A and phthalates, both of which have been linked to a number of health problems. The IG report is just the latest example that when it comes to cleaning up industry and protecting public health, it seems voluntary programs simply don’t work. Says R. Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who frequently serves on EPA advisory panels, “We need to have regulatory legislation, like Toxic Substances Control Act reform, that really puts EPA in the position of regulating."

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