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Judge Tosses Major Keystone XL Permit

Energy
Judge Tosses Major Keystone XL Permit
Keystone XL pipes for construction in Swanton, Nebraska on Aug. 13, 2009. shannonpatrick17 / CC BY 2.0

A federal judge delivered a win to endangered species and a blow to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday when he tossed a crucial permit it needed to cross hundreds of rivers and streams.


The ruling marks yet another setback for the 1,200 mile-long fossil fuel project that was first proposed in 2008 but canceled twice during the Obama administration over climate concerns before President Donald Trump resuscitated it in the early days of his administration, The Associated Press Reported.

"The court has rightfully ruled against the Trump administration's efforts to fast track this nasty pipeline at any cost," Tamara Toles O'Laughlin of environmental group 350.org said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We won't allow fossil fuel corporations and backdoor politicians to violate the laws that protect people and the planet."

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled in Montana in favor of a coalition of green groups including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who brought the suit challenging the permit last year, HuffPost reported.

He found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not consider how a 2017 water crossing permit would impact endangered species like pallid sturgeon.

While the decision comes less than two weeks after pipeline construction started on the U.S. / Canada border in Montana, it won't immediately halt that construction, The Associated Press reported. However, it could cause major delays going forward.

"It creates another significant hurdle for the project," Anthony Swift of NRDC told The Associated Press. "Regardless of whether they have the cross border segment ... Keystone XL has basically lost all of its Clean Water Act permits for water crossings."

Pipeline owner TC Energy said it would review the decision but pledged to move ahead.

"We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project," the company said in a statement reported by The Guardian.

However, the project could face an even more immediate setback. The same judge will hear a case Thursday, April 16 brought by tribal communities seeking an injunction to halt the just-started construction on the border over concerns construction workers could bring the new coronavirus to rural communities there.

If and when the project is completed, it would transport around 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect to pipelines leading to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.


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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