This Republican Florida Lawmaker Wants to Ban Fracking as This U.S. Rep. Wants to Abolish the EPA
Under President Donald Trump, a GOP-controlled legislature and a potentially conservative judicial branch, it's becoming increasingly clear that the federal government will put environmental regulations and the fight against climate change on the wayside.
Instead, it may be up to local and state governments to lead this good fight.
Florida is a great example of this. Around the same time that a House Republican from the Sunshine State is proposing a bill to "permanently" abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a bipartisan group of state lawmakers have introduced legislation to ban fracking in the state.
First the bad news. According to an email obtained by The Huffington Post, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has drafted a bill to shutter the EPA and is seeking support from his colleagues for the measure.
"Today, the American people are drowning in rules and regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats; and the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender," the Republican junior congressman wrote to his colleagues.
"Our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans," he continued. "It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently."
Gaetz's proposed legislation would abolish the EPA by Dec. 31, 2018, "to allow our state and local government partners to implement responsible policies in the interim."
"As conservatives, we must understand that states and local communities are best positioned to responsibly regulate the environmental assets within their jurisdictions," he wrote.
"I ask for your support in eliminating this abusive and costly agency," he wrote, adding that the deadline to co-sponsor was Feb. 3 at Noon.
Gaetz, who currently represents the 1st District of Florida, has a history of opposing environmental regulations as he considers them job killers. When he was a state lawmaker, he worked for years to repeal a requirement that all gasoline sold in the state contain some ethanol. After his bill succeeded in 2013, he hailed it as "one more mandate off the books."
Now the good news. In Gaetz's home state, state lawmakers are pushing bipartisan legislation that would prohibit the use of fracking in the state.
As InsideClimate News noted, even though Republicans across the country are largely in favor of the controversial drilling process, Republican State Senator Dana Young of Tampa filed a bill on Jan. 23 to ban fracking in her state of Florida. Fellow Republican Legislator Mike Miller of Orlando filed a companion bill in the state House of Representatives on the same day.
"This bill is concise and straightforward: It bans fracking of all types in Florida," Young said at a news conference in Tallahassee last.
Young's bill has a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors, including Sen. Jack Latvala (R), Sen. Gary Farmer (D), Sen. Linda Stewart (D), Sen. Keith Perry (R), Rep. Janet Cruz (D) and Rep. Mike Miller (R).
Michelle Allen, a Food & Water Watch Florida organizer, told EcoWatch that the measure has "the most bipartisan support a fracking ban bill has yet to have."
Many Floridians are opposed to fracking due to its potential risk of water contamination. Last week Martin County became the 14th county to pass an ordinance prohibiting fracking, joining Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Broward, Citrus, Indian River, Madison, Martin, Pinellas, Seminole, St. Lucie, Volusia, Wakulla and Walton counties. Another 23 counties have passed resolutions opposing fracking in the state.
"The fight against fracking has kicked into high gear in Florida," Allen said. "It's clear now that even conservative state legislators see the dangers of fracking to public health and the environment."
Oil and gas industry advocates insist that the technique is safe. "The United States is the leading producer of oil, natural gas and refined product in the world, and the decades-old technique of hydraulic fracturing has led to lower energy costs for consumers and improvements in the environment," Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica told SunSentinel. "Sen. Dana Young's proposed ban could undermine the benefits that Florida families and consumers are seeing today."
Meanwhile, environmentalist and public health advocates have applauded the legislation.
"We strongly support Senator Young's fracking ban bill to protect the drinking water of Floridians and our natural resources from the dangerous practice of fracking," said Sierra Club Florida lobbyist Dave Cullen.
Kim Ross, the president of Rethink Energy Florida, had similar sentiments. "We're excited by the bi-partisan support for banning fracking in Florida. The citizens have long seen that fracking is a risk Florida cannot afford for its environment, its tourism-based economy, and its communities," Ross said. "We look forward to working with these Senators to get a strong ban bill on Governor Scott's desk."
Jennifer Rubiello, state director for Environment Florida, praised Senator Young "for listening to her constituents and Floridians across the state who want a ban on fracking."
"A ban on fracking will ensure our communities, our health, and our environment are better protected. Floridians should celebrate this bill, pick up their phones, and tell their state senators to support it," Rubiello said.
Mary Gutierres, the executive director of Earth Ethics, an organization based in the Florida panhandle that could be fracked in the future said the bills are a step in the right direction.
"We need to ensure that our environment and public health are protected from the hazards that fracking poses," she said.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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