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For This Polluting Industry, the Trump Shutdown Is Still 'Business as Usual'

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For This Polluting Industry, the Trump Shutdown Is Still 'Business as Usual'

Sow and cub polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.

The government shutdown has left thousands of federal employees without a paycheck, but the Trump administration is making sure energy companies can continue with plans to extract fossil fuels from public lands.

Even though the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is closed during the shutdown, agency employees organized public meetings for an environmental review for oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), according to Alaska's Energy Desk.


The report said:

Emails obtained by Alaska's Energy Desk show that on Jan. 3—13 days into the shutdown—Bureau of Land Management project coordinator Nicole Hayes wrote to community leaders in Alaska to schedule public meetings for the ongoing environmental review process needed to allow oil lease sales in the Arctic refuge.

When contacted Friday by Alaska's Energy Desk, Hayes' email account sent an automatic reply: "Due to the lapse in funding of the federal government budget, I am out of the office. I am not authorized to work during this time, but will respond to your email when I return to the office."

The department also moved ahead with public meetings surrounding more oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, the report said.

BLM is using remaining funds from the previous fiscal year to pay for the work, BLM Alaska director Ted Murphy told Energy Desk in a statement.

Drilling in the pristine, federally protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—home caribou herds, polar bears, grizzlies and other unique species—had been off limits for decades, but the Trump administration has aggressively pushed for Arctic drilling projects on land and water under the guise of "energy dominance."

What's more, Bloomberg reported that the Interior Department is also issuing permits for oil companies to drill wells in the Gulf of Mexico during the government freeze.

"The oil industry is still getting business as usual and everybody else is getting shut out, so it's fundamentally not fair and it may be illegal too," Matt Lee-Ashley, a former deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department, told Bloomberg.

Not all energy projects are moving forward during the shutdown. Environmental reviews of Dominion's Atlantic Coast pipeline and TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline have also been stalled by the shutdown, as well as permits to conduct seismic blasting in the Atlantic, Bloomberg reported.

Meanwhile—as the Trump-caused shutdown continues in its third week—garbage, human waste and vandals are destroying our National Parks, another bureau of the Department of the Interior.

Following the reports, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the new chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, sought answers from David Bernhardt, the acting head of the Interior Department.

In a letter sent Monday, Grijalva questioned why public meetings for the two Arctic energy projects moved ahead even though most agency staff have been furloughed and the Interior is reportedly not responding to public inquires on the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska planning process.

"Notice that the Reserve meetings were still occurring was only provided to stakeholders the day before the first one was held, and information about the Arctic Refuge meetings is currently only available through news reports," the Democrat of Arizona wrote.

"Asking people to comment on two major development processes in the Arctic with huge potential environmental and human consequences without anyone in the agency able to answer questions defeats the purpose of the public participation process," he added.

Grijalva demanded a response by this Friday, as even with reduced BLM staff, "there should be no difficulty having those employees provide responses to these questions" since the employees still appear to be working on oil development projects.

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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