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A Bipartisan Group of Former EPA Heads Say the Agency Must Return to Its Mission

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A Bipartisan Group of Former EPA Heads Say the Agency Must Return to Its Mission
Skyhobo / E+ / Getty Images

Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leaders from four different administrations testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Tuesday, and all agreed on one thing: They don't like what the Trump administration has done with the place.


Officials who had led the EPA under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama urged Congress to use its authority to make sure the agency was doing its job of protecting the nation's environment and public health.

"EPA's success is measured in human lives," Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the later years of the Obama administration, said, as Grist reported. "I find it disconcerting because this collection of past EPA Administrators feel obligated to testify together and individually to make the case that what is happening at EPA today is simply put, not normal and to solicit your help to get it on a more productive path."

The former administrators expressed concerns about the current leadership's regulatory rollbacks and disregard of science, arguing it was now prioritizing the needs of industry over human and environmental health.

The EPA, now led by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has sought to roll back Obama-era greenhouse gas regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and enhanced vehicle fuel efficiency standards. The testimony comes about two weeks after a New York Times story uncovered that the EPA might change how it conducts the next National Climate Assessment to rule out worst case scenario climate change predictions. It comes three weeks after the Times further reported the EPA might change how it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter air pollution in order to make its Clean Power Plan replacement seem less deadly.

McCarthy noted that, under Trump, the agency touted regulations based on how much they would save manufacturers, not how they would protect air, water and health.

Christine Todd Whitman, who led the agency under George W. Bush, agreed, as CNN reported. She raised an American Journal of Public Health study that found the current administration "has explicitly sought to reorient the EPA toward industrial and industry-friendly interest, often with little or no acknowledgment of the agency's health and environmental missions."

"This unprecedented attack on science-based regulations designed to protect the environment and public health represents the gravest threat to the effectiveness of the EPA—and to the federal government's overall ability to do the same—in the nation's history," Whitman said.

Her fellow Republicans also criticized the EPA's new approach to scientific research.

"Does the agency have adequate resources with the strong scientific capability it needs?" Lee Thomas, who led the EPA under Reagan, asked, as CNN reported. "Is it seeking input from key scientific advisory committees? Is it coordinating actively with the broad scientific community on research surrounding environmental issues? I don't think they do."

The bi-partisan support for a strong EPA that tackles the climate crisis was notable. In a pre-testimony interview with ABC News, three of the former Republican administrators shared their concerns about the agency's new direction.

Whitman said the agency was beginning to "backslide" on gains made in ensuring cleaner air and water.

William Reilly, who headed the agency under George H. W. Bush, said the EPA needed to act on climate.

"If we continue business as usual, it's catastrophic," Reilly told ABC News. "We're the number two emitter in the world after China."

The EPA did not return requests for comment from Grist or CNN, but Wheeler defended its work in a press release earlier this year.

"The Trump Administration has continued to deliver on its promise to provide greater regulatory certainty while protecting public health and the environment," he said, as Grist reported.

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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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