4 Horrible Ways Federal Budget Bill Will Impact Climate
Yesterday Congress passed its budget bill, a massive monster of well over 1,000 pages that was dubbed the "Cromnibus." Passing the bill was essential to avoid another government shutdown such as the one in October 2013 that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
Unfortunately, the bill, written behind closed doors and introduced just this past Tuesday, included a lot of bad things with virtually no time for negotiation or for the public to become aware of them. And naturally, with the number of climate deniers in Congress, the bill arrived stuffed with environment-related "poison pills"—things they could not enact as stand-alone bills but which reluctant colleagues were forced to swallow in order to maintain essential government functions.
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Here are some of the worst of these provisions:
1. I'm sure you guessed, given the rhetoric from both the congressional climate deniers and their backers such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that crippling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is at the top of the list. And while they didn't go as far as to insert ALEC's dream item—eliminating the EPA entirely—they did deal it a devastating cut. The bill slashes $60 million from its funding, which would take staffing down to levels not seen since the late ’80s, preventing the agency from being able to effectively carry out functions such as monitoring water and air pollution and the clean-up of toxic waste dumps.
2. The bill deals the U.S. a blow to its international reputation on climate issues, blocking any allocation of funding to fulfill the U.S.'s pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, created by developed nations to help poorer countries combat the impacts of climate change. While it's mostly symbolic, since the Obama administration hasn't requested any funding for this in 2015, it makes the U.S. look regressive on climate issues instead of a leader. This week even world climate laggard Australia, which has been aggressive in its support for continued fossil fuel use and moving backward on clean energy, finally made a pledge to the fund after saying it wouldn't.
3. Last year the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. adopted guidelines barring the financing of coal-fired plants in other countries unless they used carbon capture technologies. The new budget contains a big wet kiss to coal. It would allow the bank to invest in coal-fired plants overseas, claiming that this will make electricity more affordable and somehow prevent the loss of U.S. jobs.
4. Lightbulbs! Will they never get over their obsession with lightbulbs? The bill blocks funding for the government to enforce lightbulb efficiency standards, something certain conservatives have been trying to do since the standards were enacted in 2007, with bills such as Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's hilariously named "Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act." Such efforts are also largely symbolic. U.S. lightbulb manufacturers have already moved on from manufacturing old-style incandescent bulbs to making newer and more efficient types.
"House Republicans are at it again," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "In their last act of the 113th Congress, polluter cronies are holding key, must-pass funding bills hostage in the hopes of extracting various and sundry poison pills to appease their fossil fuel and Big Ag patrons. These attacks range from attempts to gut protections that safeguard clean water, public land and wildlife to opening up the floodgates for more dirty money in politics to petty jabs like removing funding for the salary of a single life-long civil servant. The American people didn't vote for dirty water or dirty politics, but House Republicans are giving us yet another preview of the havoc they'll try to wreak in the months to come."
Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, agrees. “This bill is clear evidence—if more were needed —of the Republican leadership’s polluter-funded goal of rolling back protections for air, climate, water and wildlife. Thankfully, the White House and Congressional Democrats were able to keep the worst items out of the bill and to dilute many of those that made it in. But the public will be worse off from provisions weakening protections of waters, attempting to block actions to help cut carbon pollution in other countries (despite frequent Republican demands that other countries do more), blocking endangered species decisions that are based on science and preventing enforcement of effective energy efficiency measures."
“This bill is just a preview of the broader battle next year,” he warned.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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