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The Dirty Scheme to Make Americans Buy More Gasoline

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The Dirty Scheme to Make Americans Buy More Gasoline
Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Rhea Suh

It's not often that an industry chieftain brags to investors about picking the pockets of American families with help from the White House.

That's what happened, though, after Big Oil schemed with the Trump administration last summer to ensure higher gasoline consumption—to the tune of $16 billion a year—and more climate-disrupting carbon pollution from our cars, vans and pickup trucks.


An important investigative story by the New York Times lays bare this craven sellout of the public interest and details the hammerlock the oil industry has on domestic policy under President Trump. The article details how the Trump administration bowed to the major oil companies to try and gut commonsense rules that were already saving consumers billions of dollars a year at the pump and helping clean up our dirty tailpipe emissions.

In a cynical confession, Gary Heminger, chairman of Marathon Petroleum, boasted to analysts last week that weakening the clean car rules would boost gasoline sales by up to 16.8 million gallons a day.

At $2.65 a gallon, the national November average, that comes to $44.5 million a day, or more than $16 billion a year, money that American workers won't be able to spend on their families' needs because it will go, instead, to the oil industry. "However," Heminger warned investors, "you have another side who doesn't want to pivot away" from the fuel savings and pollution reductions the rules support. "So we have a lot of work to do to keep this momentum going."

That so-called "work" doesn't come cheap. In the national elections of 2016 and 2018, campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry totaled $176 million, with 87 cents of every dollar going to Trump's party.

It's paying off for the industry—at the country's expense.

In 2012, with the endorsement of the major automakers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation teamed up on a pair of rules that cut tailpipe pollution from our cars, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks. The rules had the industry on track to double gas mileage by 2025, cutting the nation's oil consumption by a staggering 2.4 million barrels per day by 2030.

It's one of the most important steps we've taken, as a country, to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change. That's because our cars and light trucks account for about 17 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contributing to the problem. Mile for mile, the 2012 rules cut the carbon footprint of driving in half.

The measures have supported a surge in manufacturing jobs, with nearly 300,000 Americans hard at work helping us to get more miles from a gallon of gas or moving us closer to the electric cars and hybrid vehicles of the future. Some 70,000 of those jobs are in Michigan alone, where more than 224 facilities are turning out materials or components to help make our cars run cleaner and more efficiently.

Last August, though, the Trump administration proposed gutting the rules, throwing national support for clean car progress into reverse. Automakers wanted flexibility in meeting the clean car standards. On balance, though, the rules complemented tens of billions of dollars in industry investment in a new generation of automobiles.

So it was something of a mystery as to why the administration turned away from standards that save our families billions of dollars a year at the pump, fight the central environmental challenge of our time, and help create scores of thousands of well-paying jobs. The Times article provides the answer: it's not the automakers but, rather, the oil companies that see the road ahead through the rearview mirror.

We're not going to stand by and watch Donald Trump put our future at risk to pump up oil profits. We're fighting this proposal. We'll make our case in court, if necessary, and we've joined other groups in calling on the EPA and the Transportation Department to come clean about how the administration sold out our environment and our pocketbooks in its fealty to fossil fuels.

As my NRDC colleague Luke Tonachel testified in a federal hearing on the proposed changes last September, "We Americans pay taxes so that the government will serve and protect us, not Big Oil."

Rhea Suh is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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