Environment Feed

We lost all our ornamental rosemary bushes in February's devastating winter storm. This debris pile is all that's left of them. (Kay Bell photo) February's surprisingly harsh winter storm has done a number on our yard. We are not alone. Major federal disaster areas were declared for parts of frozen Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. I've heard the same stories from my Austin neighbors, as well as friends in the Sooner and Pelican States. While some of our exterior flora made it through the subfreezing temperatures, quite a few of our plants succumbed. Our line of ornamental rosemary bushes in the... Read more →

Henry Paulson was running the U.S. Treasury when the country encountered its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Now he's warning of a climate crisis that could be even worse. Paulson served as Treasury Secretary during the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency, but is most widely known as the man in charge during what came to be known as the bailout of the U.S. financial system. During that 2008 crisis, Paulson directed billions of dollars to banks and other financial institutions to cover their losses from distressed assets, primarily especially subprime mortgage backed securities. A worse,... Read more →

The kids are finally back in class. Thanks to a variety of summer sales tax holidays across the country, their parents saved some cash on school clothing and supplies. Now a handful of states is offering energy-related sales tax holidays. In all cases, the eligible tax-free items are Energy Star or WaterSense, certified. These programs, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and, in the case of Energy Star, also the Energy Department Energy, encourage the use of energy- and water-efficient products and practices. Florida kicked off the energy-related sales tax holidays on Friday, Sept. 19. Shoppers can save on... Read more →

Since my mom moved to the Austin area three years ago, I've been driving the 100 or so round-trip miles every other week to visit her. I am very glad I filled up my Chevy before the last visit and that it gets good mileage. Earlier in April, regular gasoline was just a nickel more than $3 per gallon. Now at some Central Texas stations, the pump price is pushing $3.60 a gallon. Fuel costs are on my mind today not only because it's almost time to hit the road to mom's again, but also because today is Earth Day.... Read more →

If recent winter storms left you stuck on an icy road or without power, you can quit cursing Mother Nature, highway departments and power companies. Your anger might be better directed at cows. Most scientists say a major contributor to climate change, which covers not only global warming events like Australia's recent hot spell, but all types of extreme weather worldwide, is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But a group of international researchers say we also need to pay more attention to other greenhouse gases associated with livestock. In the opinion commentary "Ruminants, Climate Change and Climate Policy" published in the... Read more →

Whenever you're tempted to curse traffic as you head to and from work next year, aim some of your epithets at Congress. (Like you needed another reason!) That legislative body has encouraged workplace benefits that reward drivers who commute rather than those who take public transportation to and from their jobs. Catching some ZZZZZs on the way into work. Photo by Alexander Baxevanis/futureshape via Flicker Creative Commons. And the disparity is about be more starkly displayed in the New Year unless Capitol Hill takes action. Commuter benefit parity ends: On Jan. 1, 2014, commuters who use rail, bus or van... Read more →

Fewer of us will be going over the river or through the woods to grandma's house this Thanksgiving travel season, according to AAA. That's bad news not only for sad grandparents who won't see their families, but also for state treasuries. The drop in travel, especially of the vehicular variety, is going to cost states tax money. Overall, AAA projects that 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which the travel group defines as starting today (Wednesday, Nov. 27) and wrapping up on Sunday, Dec. 1. That's a slight decrease from... Read more →

One of my favorite T-shirts was the one the hubby brought back from Spain when he went there in 1997 to cover the Ryder Cup golf tournament. On the shirt's front was Spain's tourism logo, a colorful, stylized sun. I wore out that shirt and now it looks like the sun -- or at least those who use it for energy -- has worn out its welcome in España. Technically, Spaniards can still use the solar panels they installed to power their homes with the same resource that attracts millions of tourists. They just have to pay more for it.... Read more →

Summer officially arrived on Friday. But the longest day of the year is far from the hottest. If 2013 is anything like last year, we'll all be cursing the heat during July So now is the time to think about tuning up your air conditioning system. These pups probably would be cooler inside under the A/C instead of atop the condenser. As a general rule, your cooling system works better when you keep the outside air conditioning unit clear of everything, including pets! If you need a new residential cooling system, look into the possibility that you can help cover... Read more →

Happy Earth Day! This event was created 43 years ago in large part as a response to the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. The idea was to designate a day on which the American public could focus on air and water pollution and how to mitigate or prevent their damage to our environment. It has grown into a global movement. Heck, even the Internal Revenue Service and tax collectors at other governmental levels are involved, thanks to the many laws that offer tax breaks for environmental actions. Here are some environmentally-related tax savings to think about today and... Read more →

A Washington State representative has some news for all you bicyclists who are feeling so smug about saving the environment. You're actually causing problems, says Rep. Ed Orcutt, a Republican from Kalama, Wash. Riding nonmotorized two-wheelers causes cyclists to have "an increased heart rate and respiration," according to Orcutt. And because of that exertion, "You would be giving off more CO2 if you are riding a bike than driving in a car." Orcutt's assessment first came via an email exchange with a constituent who questioned the wisdom of the proposed new bike tax, which is part of the state's transportation... Read more →

Energy efficient home improvement tax break is back ... until Dec. 31

This weekend's massive snow storm has left record levels of the fluffy white stuff from the Upper Midwest to New England. In the northeastern part of the country, the Weather Channel reports that five states -- Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and New York -- have had locations that recorded 30 inches or more of snow from the storm that's been named Nemo. Time lapse of Feb. 8, 2013, snow storm courtesy geofffox.com If you are among the thousands of folks who are socked in because of the snow, you might have learned something about your house. Like it's cold.... Read more →

The 2013 driving season won't kick in until Memorial Day weekend. That's quickly followed by thousands of Americans hitting the road for summer vacations. But some folks are already worrying about the cost of those trips from a gas price standpoint as well as possible taxes. What's prompting the transportation tax concerns? The Government Accountability Office issued a new report in December 2012 that examines the financial advantages, for Uncle Sam, not drivers, of a mileage-based transportation tax system. Your highway tax dollars at work: Federal funding to build and maintain the nation's highways and bridges comes primarily from federal... Read more →

Things are really getting exciting in North Carolina. Not only are Tar Heel State residents getting added attention from the presidential candidates -- it's still considered a swing state -- purchasers of energy-efficient appliances this weekend won't have to pay any sales tax. That's right. North Carolina's annual fall Energy Star sales tax holiday begins today, Friday, Nov. 2, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 4. During these three days, certain appliances that meet energy-saving standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are sales tax free. Just look for the Energy Star label on clothes washers,... Read more →

If you live in Georgia or Virginia and need a new washer, refrigerator or dishwasher, you are in luck. When you buy a new energy-efficient appliance this weekend to replace your dilapidated one, you won't owe any state or local sales tax on the machine. Heck, while you're at it, you might as well redo your bathroom while you're at it. Fixtures that use less water also are sales tax free in the Old Dominion and the Peach State this weekend. In general, both Georgia and Virginia tax collectors are waiving the sales taxes on certain products that carry the... Read more →

I grew up in West Texas so I know about living in an arid region. In recent years, that drier lifestyle is something that many more folks across the rest of the Lone Star State have had to learn to live with. Texas, like much of the rest of the United States, has been dealing with drought conditions for years. Late September data from the National Drought Mitigation Center show that 54.77 percent of the country is in moderate drought or worse, the largest percentage so far recorded at that level and a slight increase from the previous week's percentage.... Read more →

Lindsay Lohan wasn't among the celebrities who attended the Democratic convention last week, but she did the next best thing. Taking advantage of Obama's participation in social media, Lohan dropped the prez a Twitter request in response to a statement in his acceptance speech regarding tax cuts. Lohan has since deleted her online plea for tax relief for Forbes-list millionaires, but not before it was captured in screen shots. It's unclear exactly what Lohan wants -- 140 or less characters does have its drawbacks in dealing with complex topics such as taxes -- but the quotation marks around the word... Read more →

If the weather isn't too hot where you are, take a walk today in honor of Henry David Thoreau. He was born on July 12, 1817. Thoreau is known by most as the author of "Walden," also often referred to as "On Walden Pond." The book was the product of Thoreau's stay in a cabin at Walden Pond, now part of Massachusetts' Walden Pond Reservation, from July 1845 to September 1847. Because of Thoreau's legacy, Walden Pond has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement. But Thoreau was more than just a... Read more →

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on May 2 signed 294 bills passed by the legislature into law. Guess which one got the most press? The flush tax. The new law's official name is the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fee, but flush tax is a catchier name and invokes the despised T word. That's always handy rhetoric, especially in an election year. Under the environmental law, the annual fee will double from $30 to $60 effective July 1. The charge generally will show up in monthly water and sewer bills, but those with septic systems could see the higher fee included in their... Read more →

This Earth Day 2012, the hubby and I hiked a portion of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve near our home. It was a wonderful outing. The morning was cool, wildflowers and butterflies were out in force (as the hubby's cell phone snapshots show) and we got a great view of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Sorry, the bird wasn't nearly as accommodating as the butterflies when it came to picture taking. Many of our neighbors are dismissive of this lovely little bird. What they really don't like is that it gives the U.S., city of Austin and Travis County governments so much... Read more →

Although America's national parks account for less than 1/13th of one percent of the federal budget, the open spaces that belong to us all are generally high on budget cutters' lists. The overall appropriation for the National Park Service is nearly $400 million less, or 13 percent smaller, than it was 10 years ago, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). If the the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction can't come up with a budget plan by Nov. 23, says the NPCA, national park budgets could be cut by as much as another 9 percent. And that, says... Read more →