Hidden Trump Report Reveals Water Plan Will Harm Endangered Whales and Salmon
It's become a familiar story with the Trump administration: Scientists write a report that shows the administration's policies will cause environmental damage, then the administration buries the report and fires the scientists.
The latest chapter in that book happened this summer in California when federal officials suppressed a scientific report that warned that the administration's plans to deliver more water to farms in California's Central Valley will push critically endangered California salmon even closer to extinction. It will also starve a threatened population of steelhead trout and West Coast killer whales that feed on the endangered Chinook, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rather than cause the administration to rethink its policy, it treated science as something inconvenient. Two days after the scientists handed in the 1,123 page report, classified as a biological opinion, a fisheries official took it down. The Trump administration then replaced the scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service who had been drafting the biological opinion and brought in other staff to revise the biological opinion, as the Sacramento Bee reported.
In the initial report, released on July 1 and then suppressed, the National Marine Fisheries Service pulls no punches in forcefully concluding that the increased water deliveries will jeopardize the existence of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. The agency wrote that the changes "will produce multiple stressors" on winter-run salmon "that are expected to reduce survival and the overall fitness of individuals," the agency wrote, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
It went on to also highlight the hazards to threatened spring-run Chinook and threatened Central Valley steelhead, as well as endangered Southern Resident killer whales whose numbers are perilously low, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Environmentalists and salmon fishing groups classified the maneuver as a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to manipulate science in order to ratchet up water deliveries to a group of wealthy farmers who used to have a top Trump administration official on their payroll — a charge the administration denies, as the Sacramento Bee reported
"Literally before our eyes, we're seeing science suppressed by monied political interests," said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which represents commercial fishermen, to the Los Angeles Times.
The biological opinion that the administration put the kibosh on said that harmful impacts will include warm river temperatures lethal to fish eggs and newly hatched salmon; low flows in the Sacramento River; and an increase in salmon deaths at the enormous government pumps that send water south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The winter-run Chinook have been particularly vexing for conservationists. The fish is just one of nine species that are at most risk of extinction in the near future, the scientists wrote in their report, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Their odds of extinction has increased over the last decade, partly because water releases from Shasta Lake during California's severe drought were too warm for salmon eggs and hatchlings. Four years ago, 96 percent of the eggs and new-hatched fish died.
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Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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