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2/27/2014
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The zippy folding e-bike shown in this video would be perfect for anyone with a short commute. It goes 20 miles on one charge, at speeds up to 15 mph, and it folds down to fit in your trunk or at your feet on a bus or train. A brilliant idea, coming soon to cities everywhere if the developers can raise enough funds. What better way to fight back against Big Oil than to help create cleaner renewable transportation choices? We won’t be posting many IndieGoGo projects here, but this one seems well worth supporting. Learn more at URB-E.


Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on .



2/25/2014

MAX105TaxEmblem.jpg

If you've done a vegetable oil conversion, or built a vegetable oil car from the ground up (like I did with MAX), or make your own biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, you still have a legal (and ethical, IMHO) responsibility to pay your per-gallon fuel tax. But depending on where you live, it may not be easy.

My native Oregon has a well earned reputation as a progressive state (with some embarrassing late starts—seriously, we didn't ratify the 15th Amendment until 1959) and one area where we've been ahead of the pack is road taxes. What that? You don't like road taxes? You don't like the fees for vehicle registration? You don't like gas taxes? Oh yes you do, because that's what pays for the infrastructure that makes driving possible—the asphalt, the bridges, the traffic lights—and one side effect of improving fuel efficiency is a reduction of road tax revenue.

Back in Ye Olde Days (the early 1900s) the biggest supporters of road taxes were car owners and auto clubs. The horse-and-buggy folks were pretty content with what they had, but “automobilists” wanted better roads and (for the most part) recognized that the users should be the ones to pay for them. And hey, us Oregonians led the way, with a gasoline tax in 1919, and a dozen years later, the feds decided that was a good idea and initiated a national gas tax. We also have a weight-mile tax for over-the-highway trucks, since an 80,000 pound 18 wheeler put more wear on the road than a fuel tax would cover.

We humans are pretty good at rationalizing why what's good for us personally is The Right Thing To Do. I'm quite comfortable with fuel tax, myself, and feel like I'm paying My Fair Share at the pump even though it's about a quarter of what other folks typically pay per mile. My justification? MAX's road maintenance costs are about a quarter of a typical car; MAX only weighs 1300 pounds and only has 32 horsepower, it's sure no asphalt wrinkler.

Alternative Fuel User

Nevertheless, something should be done about alternative fuel vehicles, and I'm not ready to say “Gosh, maybe the electric guys should be paying their share of road tax,” (which I personally think should be higher than MAX's share because the EVs tend to be heavier and more powerful than MAX and thus do more damage to the roads—see what I mean about rationalizing?) until I can claim the moral high ground. And I can't claim it yet, because just like EV drivers in Oregon pay no fuel tax when they plug their car into the wall, I pay no fuel tax when I buy cooking oil from Costco or 7-11 or Safeway or Kroger's.

When it goes in MAX's tank, it turns into what the Oregon Department of Transportation calls a “use fuel” (“use”, noun, with 's' pronounced like in snake, not like the s in bees), and the ODOT has a system for that, and they were happy to send me the necessary applications so I could get an official Use Fuel User License. And mail in my fuel tax every month. Plus send them a deposit in lieu of bond should I fail to mail my monthly fuel tax. And request a Use Fuel Vehicle Emblem (see the graphic at the beginning of this article, which is just the emblem header so don't get any ideas about photo shopping your own Emblem).

The paperwork, though weighty, is no tougher than an 8th Grade book report...but it's tailored for big fuel users and ODOT doesn't have a lot of 100 MPG grease burners on the books so the default deposit is a hundred bucks. Gulp. I sent them some eloquent emails and a link to a Mother Earth News MAX story, and they decided a tenner, which is good for 33 gallons of veggie oil, would be enough to keep me honest.

So we'll see how this goes. I'm going to have to keep fuel use and travel records much like a big rig trucker, and mail ODOT a monthly check, but I'll get to sleep without a guilty conscience so it will all be worth it. Besides, I can hardly wait to take my Use Fuel Vehicle Emblem to Safeway.



2/25/2014

Cycle Greater Yellowstone is a weeklong bicycle tour traveling through the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The ride benefits the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the only organization dedicated exclusively to protecting the lands, water, and wildlife of Greater Yellowstone. Largely because of its stances on controversial subjects like grizzly bears, wolves, and snowmobiles, the coalition historically has not been the organization most loved by a lot of the region’s conservative ranchers and small-town residents. It appears that Cycle Greater Yellowstone is, in part, an effort to mend old wounds and build new bridges.

They’re off to a great start, with the success of the inaugural tour in 2013. I was fortunate to participate in the ride and then to write a feature article about it for the February 2014 Adventure Cyclist magazine.

I’d read that Cycle Greater Yellowstone was inspired by the success of Cycle Oregon, a 25-year-old event tour that takes a different route through the Beaver State every summer. Cycle Greater Yellowstone director Jim Moore explained to me that while there is no official connection between the two rides, there are unofficial ones.

“As the owner of Word Jones, a marketing agency, I’ve been doing marketing for Cycle Oregon for seven years,” Moore said. “When the opportunity to start a new tour came along, the Cycle Oregon event managers were collegial and helpful. The idea for Cycle Greater Yellowstone was hatched when Jeff Welsch, my brother-in-law [and communications coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition], rode Cycle Oregon with me in 2011 and saw how an event like that can bring together a diverse group of people and cultures. My sister Sherry was involved in early discussions and later applied and interviewed for [and landed] one of the assistant director positions. Some of the same marketing professionals I work with on Cycle Oregon and other Word Jones projects are involved in Cycle Greater Yellowstone.”

Cycling The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

While Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2013 attracted around 700 riders, organizers are aiming for 1,000 riders this year. I can highly recommend taking part; it’s a great way to visit a spectacular part of the country while enjoying an active vacation and supporting an important conservation cause. The food stops were abundant and well stocked; the breakfasts and dinners, nutritious and filling. Volunteers and paid workers alike were unfailingly cheerful and helpful.

“This bike ride was one of the coolest things I have done in my 62 years,” a fellow rider named Scott from Fremont, Calif., told me. “It was great to get together with my friends for such a grand adventure. I thought the food was good, especially the steak dinner. The volunteers were amazing and I enjoyed the music, usually from my tent because I was pretty tired.”

Greater Yellowstone Cycling

Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2014

The 2013 Cycle Greater Yellowstone route from West Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Mt., was superb, filled with amazing scenery, and the 2014 route promises to be just as good. Riders will go from Jackson Hole, Wyo., to Victor, Idaho, then back into Wyoming and through Hoback Junction, Pinedale, Lander, and Dubois, returning to Jackson by way of Grand Teton National Park. The tour runs August 17 - 23 and costs $1,195 for adults.



1/31/2014
Wood Pile

Long trips with a wood powered vehicle are fun. No one can travel so far for so little cost as a wood gasser - just ask any of the members of Drive On Wood, the wood gasification website. These extended trips with wood gas can save a ton of money on fuel, and I feel like it's well worth the effort.

You will need a LOT of wood though. Every mile you burn up another pound. For our imaginary 500 mile trip, that's 500 pounds (better take 600 just in case). Double that if you are coming home again. You can see that it quickly justifies a trailer to haul the wood. My wood gas Dakota will haul a small trailer without issue.

I've had to plan carefully to get enough dry wood ready. Normally I process wood in batches and let it dry before using. For this trip, I'll need 1200 lbs of wood, and it has been spread out in the sun to dry for two weeks. I'll bag it up into old fertilizer bags, made from a durable heavy plastic. Each bag holds about 12-14 pounds, so we need about 100 bags. Bagging the wood is simple but takes some effort. A big shovel and a helper make the job go much faster.

Loading Up

trailer

With the wood bagged, let's load the trailer. Stacking bags of wood so that they won't slide off, and keeping the bag ends tucked in (in case of bad weather), I've found that most of it will fit on the trailer, and some rides on the truck itself. The gasifier stays relatively cool on the surface, so even if a piece of wood touches it there is no danger of a fire. Plastic will melt, though - so I keep the bags some distance away.

All the luggage and passengers ride up front. This is the downside of travelling in a pickup truck, and things can quickly get cramped in the driver's seat. It's tempting to make room on the trailer - but you'll need every bit of that wood for fuel. Wood takes up a lot of space!

(Read more about how much wood it takes for a wood burning truck, at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.)

Here's a few videos of a trip I took to New Hampshire, 1,000 miles away:

Getting on the road is the same process as I explained in part 1 - we light up the gasifier, and this time I fill up the hopper completely. A full charge will get this truck about 60 to 70 miles down the road. It will vary depending on the wood, and driving speed.

Have Wood Will Travel

DrivingTime to head out, and merge onto the freeway. Despite the power loss associated with wood gas, this truck will maintain 65 mph all day long. I've learned to take advantage of downhill slopes, which will bring up your speed - of course, uphill means slowing down again. And the half-ton of wood back there isn't helping. It will get lighter as the day goes on.

Fifty miles into the trip, and I'm keeping an eye on the gauges. Some tell me the vacuum, and others the temperature. I don't want the vacuum to get too high - that will reduce the power output, and may indicate plugging up somewhere in the system. Temperatures tell me if I'm reaching the limits of the gasifier's output. I don't want to overheat anything, but we're still within the target range. Everything's good.

Throw Some Wood on the Fire

The temperature in the hopper starts to rise, which indicates that we're about out of wood. I now have to stop and reload. On the freeway there are very few good places to do this, and so I'll try to get off at an exit or rest stop if possible. Getting out, I grab four bags off the trailer and prepare to add the new wood.

Roadside1

Refueling can be a dirty job, if you're inexperienced. As soon as you open the lid, smoke will start to escape, and if the wind is wrong it will get all over you. In your eyes and nose. Parking with an eye to the wind is smart. Now with the lid off, I'll run a poker down through the wood to break up any bridging, and keep things loose.

Dump in the new wood, stow the bags, and then I drive on. If I was careless, I may have tar on my hands from handling the lid. Some alcohol and paper towels will do the trick. I never mind the extra work here, because I see all the cars that got off the freeway behind me. They aren't getting their hands dirty; instead they're pulling out their wallets. They're laying down hard earned cash just to keep their wheels moving. That part I can do without.

Driving in Large Cities

City

Eventually I may come to a big city. Time to pay a bit more attention, and try not to get lost. If everything's running smoothly, there's no problem. I generally refill the gasifier right before, and cruise on through. If I do need to fill up, or if the gasifier isn't behaving, I can easily switch on the gasoline for a few miles. This is one reason I would never disable the gasoline on a wood powered vehicle, because there are times when the system falters, or you just need a bit more power.

I've driven a lot of miles through busy cities, and crawled through rush hour traffic; not once has anyone looked over from the vehicle next to me. To most folks this truck looks like any other. Since there's no smoke escaping, they have no reason to question the barrels in the back.

At long last we've reached our destination. Maybe it was a wood gas convention ... or perhaps just visiting a friend. Either way there's a big smile on my face.

At the end of a long trip, there's some maintenance on the gasifier. You have some ashes to empty, condensate tanks to drain and possibly new hay in the hay filter. Each of these is a somewhat messy job, and best followed by a shower and clean clothes afterward. Staying clean during maintenance is an advanced skill, and comes with practice. I've seen Wayne Keith light up, operate and lightly service his gasifier wearing good clothes, and he comes out spotless. Personally, I'm not quite there yet.

ConclusionWayne

In the end, it is a lot more work traveling under wood power than just filling up your tank. It's a lot like heating with wood vs. propane or electric. You can't just flip a switch. But the reward is in the independence it gives you. I am not worried about a fuel shortage or sky-high gas prices. Nor am I supporting the oil companies with my hard-earned pay. And that's a good feeling!

If you'd like to learn more about gasification, please visit Drive On Wood.



1/21/2014

For the past two years I have driven around for free, using scrap wood instead of gasoline. It's a daily challenge, and yet remains the most rewarding choice I've ever made. Wood gasification represents independence to me; only a few folks can thumb their nose at the gas stations and keep driving. Several of us are now doing so, thanks to Wayne Keith over at Drive On Wood, the wood gas community website. One of our catch phrases is "smile with every mile" or SWEM. And it's true! It puts a smile on my face every time. But this daily pleasure comes with a lot of work.

Start Your Wood Gasification Engines!

Dakota_overhead

Every time I take a short trip to the post office, it's about a 5-minute procedure to get rolling. Wood gasifiers are much like wood stoves, in that they need a fire to be lit, and it takes time to warm up. Fortunately they are designed to heat up fast and without needing "kindling" - there is always a layer of charcoal ready to burn.

So when I'm ready to go, I'll put the mail in the truck, and open some valves up. Off comes the lid, and I run fans to create a draft. Lighting the gasifier with a propane torch is fast and easy. And at this point I add a 12-pound bag of wood, close the lid, and let the fans heat up the fire. I watch the output of the wood gas (it has a peculiar odor), and once satisfied I will crank up and head out. By the time I make my round trip of about 10 miles, most of the wood I added will be gone.

Preparing Logs for Wood Gasification Fuel

The wood itself is quite a job. It sounds wonderful to drive around for free, but nobody is handing you wood chunks on a silver platter. Anyone who heats their home with wood knows what I'm talking about. For the most part, you need to find scrap lumber, downed limbs, sawmill waste, etc. Almost none of this wood is exactly the right size. I will eventually build a wood chunker like this one to process sawmill slabs, but currently I use a chop saw and a splitting axe.wood_processing

Using these, I can process enough wood in one morning to last for a week of driving. But that's not the end of it! Most of this wood is still green, and won't burn in the gasifier as-is.

Drying wood is not hard — but it does require thinking ahead. You can't dry wood very well in the winter, when it's raining, snowing or frozen solid. Smart drivers would cut plenty of extra in the summer and store it away for use in bad weather. You may have guessed that I'm not always among the smart ones ... for this winter season I've gone scrounging for already dry wood, so that I can skip the drying step.

Once the truck is going, it very quickly comes up to temperature. Still, during the first mile you have to take extra care at stoplights, because the gas produced is weak. You don't want to stall the engine right in the street. I much prefer a long straight stretch of road for the first mile, so I can warm the gasifier up fully without stopping. Once warm, there's no problem stopping for any short length of time. The gas is ready and waiting when you set off again.

At the post office, I don't have to do much for the gasifier. Shut the engine off, and close a valve to the intake. As you can see, it blends right in with the other cars in the parking lot. I take care of business inside, and return to a still hot gasifier, making plenty of gas for me to fire up the engine. Once I'm rolling, there is a short lag while the gasifier comes back to full blazing heat. This slight power lag can surprise you at first, but planning ahead will keep you out of trouble. A shot of gasoline can ease the transition, or I can wait for the blowers to heat things up again.

Cost to Fuel a Vehicle with Wood

Dakota at Post Office

Soon enough, I'm headed back up the street on 100% wood power, mission accomplished. Total cost of the trip? A couple ounces of gasoline to crank up, and some extra time. Out of pocket cost is practically zero. I'll arrive home on wood gas, and close the valves again. If I need to make another trip, I don't need to relight, just run the fans and it heats back up. After 3-4 hours without oxygen, the insides cool off and the fire goes out. No smoke exits the system, everything is sealed inside.

As you can see, wood gas is quite practical for a short trip around town, and the extra trouble it takes is well worth it. As a rule of thumb I won't start the truck for less than a 5-mile round-trip. At that point a bicycle, electric vehicle or small efficient car is more effective - and maybe I should be combining more trips... or seeing some of the countryside.

But what about a longer distance? Like a 500 mile trip? Stay tuned for Part 2.

If you'd like to learn more about gasification, please visit Drive On Wood.



12/5/2013

Did you know that the number of cars that can plug in is growing? There are 13 all-electric vehicle models scheduled to hit dealerships in 2014, and 10 plug-in hybrid electric models. Compare them using Clean Cities' Light-Duty Vehicle Search.

Search for alternative-fuel vehicles using the Light-Duty Vehicle SearchClean Cities offers a robust collection of tools and publications that help stakeholders deploy alternative fuels and vehicles. The Light-Duty Vehicle Search is a searchable database that allows users to easily find and compare alternative fuel vehicles.

Until recently, consumers and fleet managers looking for alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) had just a few options available directly from manufacturers. Today, there are more than 17 million light-duty AFVs on the road, and a buyer's options are numerous. For example, the 2014 model year features more than 180 AFV and hybrid electric vehicle models, including more than 85 flex fuel vehicles.

An arm of the U.S. Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office, Clean Cities works with thousands of stakeholders in communities across the country to reduce petroleum use in transportation. Clean Cities' vehicle comparison site helps buyers navigate these options. It lists individual models by fuel type, manufacturer, and class. Better yet, the handy, interactive tool allows you to select multiple vehicles, across multiple model years, and review them in a side-by-side car comparison. Select one or more models and the vehicle comparison site provides key information (e.g., fuel economy, engine size, and transmission type) for each model. A quick link to the Vehicle Cost Calculator lets you estimate the total cost of ownership and emissions.

Search the database to find and compare alternative fuel vehicles and generate printable reports to aid in decision-making. These cars might not qualify for vehicle-acquisition credits under the U.S. Department of Energy's EPAct State and Fuel Provider or Federal Fleet Management programs, so be sure to contact these programs if you have questions about eligible vehicles.




11/29/2013

With every quaint clicky-clop of the horse-drawn carriages and bicycles whizzing back and forth downtown, we’re not surprised that the lodging options and cuisine of Mackinac Island, Mich., reflects its historical past. Nearly every experience, given the charm of the place, came with stairs to climb, real metal keys needed to open doors, and, sometimes, bats to shoo away (there’s a zillion more bats than people residing on the island).

That’s not to say what my family and I experienced lacked the travel comforts many are accustomed toMackinac Island Hospitality these days (AC included). But every bag of luggage, marked with hand-written notes (not barcodes), was delivered by horse-drawn carriage or balanced on top of bicycle handlebars.

My family and I discovered that those in the hospitality business on this small island (Read Part One, “Where Cars are Illegal: Eco-Tourism on Mackinac Island, Michigan”) showcase the best of the past, blending it perfectly with modern sensibilities and, by default of it being an island, an ecological awareness to protect and preserve exactly what the millions of visitors come to see and experience every year.  Plus, we discovered a few restaurants at Mission Point Resort that serve up uber-local Lake Huron whitefish in a tasty and big way.

Mackinac Island Lodged in History

Opting for a break from the hustle of Mackinac Island’s downtown and feeling that getting dressed up just to eat dinner at The Grand Hotel required too much formality for our tastes, we settled in first at the more laid back Mission Point Resort at the quiet, eastern end of downtown – about a fifteen minute walk from the ferry docks. Its inviting Great Hall, resembling a sixteen-sided tepee constructed in 1956 with 50-foot long Norway pine trusses harvested from nearby Bois Blanc Island, reflects the history of the site before it became a resort in 1988. Cozy fireplaces in the Great Hall, plus Main Lodge and Straits Lodge, were likewise built from limestone quarried on the island. Using local building materials was the norm, in the old days.

“Perhaps what is now our Great Hall answered the prophecy held by Native Americans in the region that one day, on the east of the island, a great tepee will be built where all nations will come to learn of peace,” explains General Manager Bradley McCallum, about his present day, 239 room resort that includes bike rentals, swimming pool and putting green for adults and kids alike.

During the 1950s, however, the international Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement started here, advocating for love and honesty, not communism, during the period after WWII; a museum on site captures its interesting history. An observation tower with four museum floors cover everything from the shipping industry to the movie cult classic, Somewhere in Time, largely filmed on the island and in the sound studio created and used by the MRA.

History aside, there’s nothing like kicking back on Mission Point Resort’s Adirondack chairs arranged on their spacious lawn overlooking Lake Huron, perhaps after a bicycle ride around the island.  At night, we felt as though we could reach out and touch the Milky Way in the crystal clear sky from our comfortable perch.  Star-gazing, sometimes accented by the aurora borealis, is hard to be topped.  If the aurora borealis isn’t bright enough for you, just disappear around the bend into the state park about a minute walk away.

At the other end of the downtown is one of the few remaining Historic Hotels of America, The Grand Hotel, world renowned for its frozen-in-time ambiance and 5-star service.  Largely credited for putting the island on the map as a tourism destination – in 1887 -- this 385-room summer hotel features the world’s largest front porch, stretching two football fields long.

The Grand Hotel’s immaculate gardens, spacious lawns with bocce ball players and a labyrinth mask the hotels green innovations taking place behind the scenes, like their innovative liquid heat-exchangers that redirect the heat created by air conditioning units to heat the swimming pool or their guests’ shower water.  Due to the historic nature of the hotel, solar panels are out of the question, but water and energy efficiency were not, earning them certification as a Green Lodging Michigan Leader by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.  Befitting the Gilded Age the hotel reflects, we had to get dressed up after 6 pm for a 5-course dinner or if we wanted to enjoy some live piano music at their Cupola Bar overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.

Plenty of other family-run bed & breakfasts offer attentive care of travelers, like the cozy Inn on Mackinac, situated in a colorful Victorian-style mansion with breakfasts provided al fresco and surrounded by lush perennial gardens.  Decking around its spa area is made from recycled milk jugs.  Its porch is perfect to hang out on after exploring the island by bike, on horseback or on foot.

Recycling on Mackinac Island goes way, way back: Back to the time when the soldiers at Fort Mackinac, which perches on a bluff overlooking the tidy and historic downtown, were ordered to “get the lead out” of the area around their targets at the rifle range outside the fort.  Being on and island, nothing should go to waste.

Today, aggressive efforts have been undertaken by Mission Point Resort to hand-sort every bag of garbage, a key element in their process of securing a Green Lodging Michigan Leader certification on which they’re working.  Recyclables with Michigan deposits has turned “trash” into a cash flow while food waste is composted on the island.  This same commitment is shared by most businesses, including the Grand Hotel, which hosts over 134,000 guests every year.  Of course, flowers and other plants seem to be on growth steroids, thanks to the never-ending supply of horse manure.

Culinary Outposts

While humdrum French dips may still dominate many of the menu boards, Mission Point Resort’s threeMackinac Island Food restaurants -- Round Island Bar & Grill, Chianti at Mission Point and Bistro on The Greens – showcase the locally abundant Lake Huron whitefish, prepared in numerous and delicious ways.  Our favorite, the Semonlina Dusted Lake Huron Whitefish, prepared with a creamy asparagus risotto and pescatore sauce, captures Executive Chef Keith Schockling’s focus on selecting only the freshest fish. He also smokes many of the meats and makes his own pickles served at the restaurants there.

At The Grand Hotel, poolside we cooled off with an old-fashioned snow cone.  But it’s their lavish lunch buffet or five course dinner in their Main Dining Room that may, on occasion, feature a delicious organic chicken breast or sumptuous ginger squash soup served by white gloved waiters that suggests times are starting to change, even at the Grand.

The need for a quick energy fix can be had with any number of fudge shops dotting the Main Street about every hundred feet.  The fudge-makers whip it up right before your eyes, so it can’t get any fresher.  If you’re big on samples and have the time to browse, you can probably walk away with about a half a pound alone.

While Mackinac Island’s “greenest” lure may be the bicycle trails, nostalgic appeal of a by-gone time and the complete absence of automobiles, the hospitality shared with guests reflect an attunement to both history and island realities.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored  Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef, along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. Ivanko writes and contributes photography to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, including most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living.” They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine. Their Inn Serendipity is a finalist for Green America’s People & Planet Award; your vote is welcomed by December 2.









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