Fatal Fungal Disease Linked to Millions of Bat Deaths Confirmed in Texas
A deadly fungal disease responsible for the deaths of millions of bats across the U.S. has been confirmed in Texas for the first time.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease in bats caused by a cold-loving fungus known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which infects the skin on the muzzle, ear and wings of hibernating bats. Infected bats have obvious fungal growth on their body, but may also behave erratically both inside and outside of caves during the winter when they should be hibernating, according to the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team. The fungus that causes the disease was first detected in the state in 2017, but there were no signs of the WNS that it can cause, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). In the years since, the fungus has spread to dozens of sites in 21 counties. At the time, biologists said that it usually takes a few years after detecting the fungus for the disease to manifest.
The infected animal is a type of bat known as cave myotis (Myotis velifer) and was found in the central part of the state on Feb. 23. Analysis conducted by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center confirmed the presence of both the fungus and the disease that it causes.
"Finding WNS in Central Texas for the first time is definitely concerning," said Nathan Fuller, bat specialist at TPWD. "Biologists had hoped that white-nose syndrome, a disease that thrives in cold conditions, might not occur in warmer parts of Texas. We're following up on several other reports to determine whether this was an isolated incident or if the impacts are more widespread. We recently received a report from a site in Bell County of five cave myotis that we suspect were infected as well. We should know more in the next few weeks."
WNS was first detected in New York more than a decade ago and has since spread from the northeastern part of the country to the southcentral states at what the USGS calls an "alarming rate." It is believed to have been introduced from Europe where bats appear to be resistant to the fungus. The fungus is largely transmitted between bats but can be brought into caves on the clothing and gear of humans.
As of this year, millions of bats in at least 33 states and seven Canadian provinces have died from the disease. In some parts of the U.S., normally long-lived winter bat populations have fallen by more than 90 percent. Because many species only produce one offspring each year, experts say it could take decades for some populations to recover.
Currently there is no cure for WNS but scientists are collaborating to study the disease and understand how it spreads to infect bats, as well as what can be done to control it. Lab tests have shown that oral vaccines may increase the chances of surviving an infection, reports Science News. Evidence suggests that WNS only occurs in bats and is not transmissible to humans as the fungus only grows at temperatures between 41 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much lower than the human body, according to the National Park Service. No human infections have been documented after exposure to WNS-infected bats or caves.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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