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NOAA Examines Sandy Response

The government agency charged with monitoring approaching storms has issued a post-mortem on Sandy. Among the conclusions: the NOAA needs more than one storm-surge modeler and a better social media strategy.

As Sandy approached landfall six months ago, news media struggled to decide what to call the meteorological phenomenon. Hurricane Sandy? Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy? Extratropical Cyclone Sandy? This terminological chaos, which eventually gave rise to terms like “Superstrom” and “Frankenstorm,” was partly the result of debates within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which the agency details in a post-Sandy service assessment released today.

APTOPIX Superstorm Sandy

NOAA needs more than one modeling system for storms like Hurricane Sandy, a new examination finds. (NOAA, via AP)

When the storm began to shift from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone, the agency debated how to handle it--should the National Hurricane Center pass warning duties off to the National Weather Service's forecasting offices now that it wasn’t a hurricane? Would downgrading it hours before landfall cause people to disregard warnings? The Hurricane Center handed off warning duties to local forecasting offices as the storm, now a post-tropical cyclone, neared North Carolina, but the transition created a jumble of warnings and reports. From the assessment:

Milked out

Down With the Soviet-Style Dairy Program

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I agree with John Boehner: the dairy program in the farm bill is "Soviet-style." Therefore, it's a huge disappointment that a bipartisan effort to streamline the program just failed in the House of Representatives:

An amendment to gut the dairy program sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) was defeated on a 20 to 26 vote. ...

Goodlatte argued that dairy should have access to margin insurance without a requirement that farmers participate in a program to limit production. He cited the opposition of House GOP leaders to the dairy program as being a reason the farm bill effort failed last year and an extension of the 2008 farm bill was needed.

Say Goodbye to Cars

High costs and a constantly expanding array of other options are spurring more Americans – especially young ones – to kick the long-running American car habit.

Cars, long a status symbol for American youth, are increasingly being passed-over by millennials the New York Times reports. According to a study released Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the driving boom of the past sx decades is over. Even though the U.S. population increases every year, 2013 marked the eighth year of declining driving. In aggregate, America’s vehicle owners are driving fewer miles than they used to. As federal data shows, total vehicle mileage driven in the U.S. is essentially back where it was in 2005. And many millennials aren’t even picking up the habit.

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A young woman rides a subway in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

What’s behind the dramatic, continued decrease? Two answers: the high cost of owning a vehicle and the increasing ease of public transport.

RESILIENCE

Preventing the Next Sandy

Humans may not be able to stop climate change. But they can take preventative action to mitigate it’s effects. The Rockefeller Foundation is kicking off a $100 million project to make cities more resilient in the face of more powerful storms and rising tides.

The foundation associated with one of America’s most iconic, historical names is launching a challenge to bring better resilience and sustainability to cities around the world. The Rockefeller Foundation announced Tuesday that it will invest $100 million into cities worldwide to help make them better equipped for the ecological challenges they may face in the future.

Superstorm Sandy

Waves washed over the seawall at Battery Park in New York during Hurricane Sandy. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

“In this world today we will not be able to predict or prevent every catastrophe, take climate change—extreme weather, raging fires, vicious storms,” Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin told the Daily Beast. “That’s where resilience comes in. We can prevent their catastrophic impact much better, by implementing resilience strategies that let us buffer those shocks more effectively.”

SUNSHINE

SolarCity’s Lease on Life

Backed in part by Tesla founder Elon Musk, SolarCity is succeeding where many other solar companies have failed. Josh Dzieza reports on the company’s innovative business model.

Sun Concept, Ampulse, Evergreen, Solyndra: the long list of defunct solar companies is enough to give pause to anyone trying to enter the business. But at least one company, SolarCity, has been succeeding where so many others have failed. Its secret? Staying away from manufacturing and focusing on installation.

SolarCity Event

Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk has invested in SolarCity. (Mark Von Holden)

SolarCity was founded in 2006 by Lyndon and Peter Rive, on the advice of their cousin, Elon Musk, the Paypal founder who went on to start Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and is enjoying something of a moment. Tesla Motors just posted its first quarterly profit. And SolarCity, which went public last January, has seen its stock more than triple.

Good Government

Big Fat Green Government

Tree huggers and deficit hawks rejoice: The federal government is buying up to 10,000 hybrid cars. There’s never been a better time to switch gears, writes Daniel Gross.

Procurement policy we can believe in!

It’s not much of a slogan. But with President Obama’s domestic agenda apparently crippled by recalcitrant Republicans, it’s something for progressives to hang their hat on.

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius at a dealership in California. (Denis Poroy/AP)

FARMER IN THE DOCK

Raw Milk on Trial

A Wisconsin dairy farmer is set to go on trial for a strange offense: selling raw milk to a group of consumers who were members of a private buyer’s club. Sarah Begley reports on the clash between regulators and foodies.

So in many parts of America, it’s basically legal to grow, sell, and smoke pot. But you can go to jail for selling people fresh milk?

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Alex Bamford/Getty

Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger, a 41-year-old father of ten, will go on trial later this month for three counts of licensure violation and one count of violating a hold order. The maximum combined penalty: $13,000 and/or two and a half years’ jail time. All for 300 gallons of raw milk.

Solar Mandates?

Two towns in California have passed laws requiring newly built homes to install solar panels. Is mandating green energy the wave of the future?

Can you force people to go green?

Two cities in the Golden State have recently made it mandatory that new homes install solar panels.

Residential Solar

Workers install solar panels on a roof. (Toby Talbot/AP)

ELECTRIC

Tesla’s Surprising Success

After a decade of losses, the controversial maker of expensive electric cars actually makes a profit.

For years, the rap on electric cars has been that they are too expensive and it’s too hard to make money on them. And the evidence certainly seems to bear it out. General Motors says it loses money on every unit of the Volt, which is really a plug-in hybrid not a full-on electric car, and Nissan is has been cagey over whether it is making money on the small number of all-electric Leafs it produces and sells. Neither company specifically breaks out the profit and loss statement of its electric car production.

Tesla

A Tesla Model S sits outside the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

But Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley electric sports-car manufacturer, is something of a pure play electric company. Its quarterly reports provide a window into the business of electric car manufacturing. And in the first quarter of 2013, at least, it showed that if you make and sell enough high-priced cars, you can make money in the electric car business. (The quarterly report can be seen here.)  This is the first time the company has been in the black since it launched in 2003. The company didn’t deliver its first car until 2008 and has just started producing vehicles in large numbers. Total profit for the 2013 first quarter: $11 million.  

Trash Cash

Is China’s junk appetite declining?

China has stopped taking thousands of tons of recyclable trash from the U.S., which could mean huge garbage back-ups for cities.

For years China has been one of the main importers of recyclable trash from the U.S. but the country just can’t take it anymore—literally. Quartz reports that the Chinese have put up an import wall on foreign waste and recycling stations in the US are backing up with plastic bottles and products that aren’t going anywhere.

Most people likely don’t know that the majority of the trash and recyclables collected in the US isn’t re-processed here, it’s sent to other countries. Trash, in fact, is one of America’s largest exports and the volume of trash leaving our shores has doubled since 2006. China is the number one customer. Factories there turn used cardboard and paper into new cardboard and paper, and use the resign from plastics in manufacturing processes.

Recently though, China has imposed restrictions on foreign trash and become pickier about what types of plastics it will accept. The new measure is called Operation Green Fence and Chinese reports show that the country has been turning away hundreds of thousands of tons of waste from the U.S. This may spell out big issues for American cities, where the technology and markets for recyclables isn’t strong enough for the overwhelming amount of waste produced.

Shame on You, Walmart!

With an Ohio Walmart hosting a holiday food drive for its own workers, The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky criticizes the notoriously stingy company for not paying them more.

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