3 Threats to Our Health and Environment on Day 7 of Government Shutdown
“Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know it's my own damn fault.” - Jimmy Buffet, Margaritaville
Politicians in Washington keep trying to blame the other guy for the government shutdown, now entering its seventh day. Like Jimmy, they should own up and acknowledge it’s their own damn fault, and they should end it before they cause any more harm to our economy, our health and our environment. In the name of not having a budget, we’re wasting money to bring back research ships from important missions at sea. Small towns with recreation-based economies continue to bleed. And progress is stalled in bringing to reality our clean-energy future.
It’s time to stop the Margaritaville-like wasting away there in the Capitol, and get down to the business of putting the American government back in business.
Heaving to: A Costly Return to Port for NOAA Ships
Many fisheries laboratories at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are closed, except a few that must be open for activities such as keeping animals alive. In a land-based lab, at least you just have to lock the door—sea-borne research ships may be forced to turn around and come home.
“If the shutdown lasts longer than 24 hours, government-owned research vessels may have to return to port, wasting significant time and money when they have to be redeployed,” the American Geophysical Union said last week.
Apparently that’s already happening: according to Crosscut, a Seattle-based online newspaper, the research ship Oscar Dyson has been called back to its port on Kodiak Island from the Gulf of Alaska, where it was supposed to pick up research buoys, which would be destroyed by storms if they aren’t picked up by winter. Other NOAA ships were also reportedly ordered to head to port.
A One-Two Punch From Nature and Congress
For the Yosemite National Park gateway town of Groveland, CA, the shutdown has been a man-made disaster on top of a natural one. In August and September, the devastating Rim Fire, one of the worst wildfires in California history, blanketed the skies with thick smoke. The giant blaze, which burned into remote parts of the park itself but did not reach the town, devastated the tourist trade, the lifeblood of the small community, during the height of the season. Now with the fire nearly all contained, Groveland was hoping to recoup some of the lost business this month. But with hikers, campers, birders, photographers and others now barred for the indeterminate length of the shutdown from visiting the spectacular Yosemite Valley, those hopes are fading further every day.
Offshore Renewable Energy Projects Grind to a Halt
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) manages the development of offshore energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). However during this shutdown, offshore renewable energy activities, including leasing federal land for offshore wind projects and management of environmental assessments, have stopped. This will mean at least some delay, depending on how long the shutdown lasts, in the development of the kind of carbon-free energy sources we’ll need to help bring an end to climate chaos caused by carbon pollution. BOEM this year has been auctioning off leases for wind and other renewables in the OCS off the East Coast. That momentum may be blunted because for now, no new environmental studies can be initiated. These environmental studies generate information that is critical in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws that protect our health and environment.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.