EPA Air Quality Chief Resigns Over Ethics Investigation
So little time, so much damage done. That's the legacy left by Bill Wehrum who spent only one and a half years as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) top air quality official before announcing that he will step down this weekend under the cloud of a federal ethics investigation over possible conflicts of interest. His resignation follows conflicting statement he made to Congress about his industry connections, according to Politico.
Mr. Wehrum worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the oil, gas and coal industries before joining the Trump administration, but did not relinquish ties to his clients. The House Energy and Commerce Committee opened an inquiry into whether he improperly worked to reverse an enforcement action in order to help DTE Energy, a former client. Watchdog groups also said he crossed a line when he gave presentations to former clients and when he worked on policy that affected litigation in which his former firm, Hunton & Williams, was involved, as The New York Times reported.
"William Wehrum was emblematic of the administration's struggles to remain ethical," said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "While it's a good thing that Wehrum's potential ethics problems will no longer affect the agency, the tone is set at the top, and if the EPA is to clean up the mess started by Scott Pruitt, the Trump administration needs to get serious about policing its ethical failures."
In his short tenure in the EPA, which started in November 2017, Wehrum has proven himself a nimble deregulator. He was instrumental to shrinking the EPA's reach, rolling back Obama-era rules meant to lower greenhouse gas emissions, slowing fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks, and rewriting the way the EPA calculates costs and benefits to favor the fossil fuel energy sector — essentially rewriting the way the agency measures the health consequences of air pollution, as The Washington Post reported. He was also the chief architect of the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which eased the path for more coal-fired power plants to open, according to The New York Times.
"Mr. Wehrum oversaw the most relentless rollback of clean air, climate and health safeguards in E.P.A.'s history," said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, as The New York Times reported. "E.P.A. strengthened not a single meaningful air quality or climate safeguard during his tenure."
Environmental activists are pleased to see him leave.
"Wehrum did more damage to the Clean Air Act than any other person in the last 40 years," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, as Politico reported. "His legacy will be more premature deaths, more hospital visits and more asthma attacks to our most vulnerable citizens."
Wehrum's ethical mishaps follow a pattern of behavior from senior Trump administration officials who have resigned while under investigation, including four Cabinet members — EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin — along with other senior staffers such as Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William "Brock" Long.
Also, the Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General is currently investigating Secretary David Bernhardt and six current or former top appointees for actions similar to Wehrum's — improper dealings with their former employers or clients on department-related business, as The Washington Post reported.
As for Wehrum's life after the EPA, one Senate Democrat who asked for an investigation into Wehrum predicted a profitable future with the fossil fuel industry.
"I can't wait to see where Bill Wehrum lands once he's out the door," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in a statement, as reported by The Washington Post. "What do you bet it's with one of the fossil fuel interests he has served so well as air chief, delivering one big handout after another?"
The Top-Down Contamination of the EPA || By: Jeff Turrentine https://t.co/hiaJ9raA1V— SafetyPin-Daily (@SafetyPinDaily) June 5, 2019
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Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
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Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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