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Investigation Reveals Trump Admin's 'Disturbing' Disregard for Data, Science, Public Health and Environment After Hurricane Harvey
By Andrea Germanos
President Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas state officials rejected an offer from NASA scientists in 2017 to use their state-of-the-art flying laboratory to evaluate air quality in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, new reporting by the Los Angeles Times reveals.
"This is disturbing," said Lina Hidalgo, judge for Texas's Harris County.
Harvey brought historic rainfall, catastrophic flooding and triggered potentially dangerous environmental and public health impacts: Houston's many refineries and petrochemical released pollutants into the air and waters, and area residents began to complain of worrisome smells and toxic sights near the facilities, as well as symptoms including headaches. The EPA asserted that the air quality posed no threat.
NASA, it turned out, was in a good position to gather data on air quality in the area with its DC-8. The jet, whose ability to ability to gather data dwarfs that of the EPA's air pollution plane or the hand-held devices used by Texas state officials, was already set up for testing because of a scheduled six-hour test flight to Lamont, Oklahoma on Sept. 14.
The response to NASA's offer? Thanks but no thanks.
Susanne Rust and Louis Sahagun reported for the Times:
On Sept. 9, David Gray, the EPA's deputy regional administrator in Texas and leader of the agency's emergency response, wrote to NASA and Texas officials that he was "hesitant" to have the jet "collect additional information that overlaps our existing efforts" until he learned more about the mission. He noted that media and nongovernmental organizations were releasing data that was "conflicting" with the state and EPA's.
The NASA scientists offered assurances that their fact-finding would not get in the way, but noted that the data would eventually be seen by the public. Texas and the EPA were unmoved.
The state-level response came from director of toxicology Michael Honeycutt, who now heads EPA's Science Advisory Board and is known for expressing views well out of the reach of mainstream science, such as the idea that lowering ozone would be bad for public health.
On Sept. 11, Honeycutt wrote in an email to NASA and EPA officials that state data showed no sign for concern, and "we don't think your data would be useful for source identification while industry continues to restart their operations."
Gray agreed with Honeycutt: "EPA concurs with your assessment and we will not plan to ask NASA to conduct this mission."
Associated Press reporter Frank Bajak noted that the new investigation adds weight to his own news agency's previous reporting showing that "Texas environmental regulators had little interest in exposing most post-Harvey industrial contamination."
Reacting to the reporting on Twitter, Dr. Chelsea Thompson, a research scientist in atmospheric chemistry, wrote, "It's worth noting that, over a year later now, all of us involved are still stunned by how this played out."
Another scientist, air pollution expert Nick Vizenor, who said he was part of lab team preparing for the potential mission over Houston, said the new investigation shows the "EPA and the state of Texas did not want to have all the information it could to try and help and protect the citizens of Houston."
"This is yet another story that shows how little the current administration cares about [its] citizens and the environment," he said.
"EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality knew air pollution was one of the unseen dangers of Hurricane Harvey, but according to news reports they deliberately chose not to use every available tool to discover it," added Elena Craft, senior health scientist with Environmental Defense Fund. "Their rejection of NASA's plan to fly a pollution-spotting plane over Houston after the storm is an abdication of responsibility and part of a disturbing trend of willful ignorance."
"Their action," she continued, "caused unnecessary risk to the health and safety of Texas families."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.