Maple Syrup Farmers vs. the Constitution Pipeline
The civil disobedience movement of which I'm a part, We Are Seneca Lake, opposes the transformation of a beautiful upstate New York lakeshore into a giant storage depot for natural gas from out-of-state fracking operations.
So on Friday, six Seneca Lake defenders drove across the border to stand with our brothers and sisters in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania who oppose the seizure, via eminent domain, of the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove and its transformation into a 120-foot-wide right-of-way for the proposed 128-mile-long Constitution Pipeline.
We Are Seneca Lake defenders joined two dozen other protesters in the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove. Photo credit: Colleen Boland
This pilgrimage is one that many others have made before us ever since Jan. 29 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a partial Notice to Proceed with tree-cutting along the Pennsylvania portion of the pipeline, which will carry natural gas from the fracking fields of northeastern Pennsylvania into Schoharie County, New York—and, from there, throughout New England, Canada and possibly to overseas markets.
After visiting the maple grove, we attended the court hearing where Judge Malachy Mannion of the U.S. District Court in Scranton was ruling on whether the five defendants were guilty of contempt of court for obstructing tree cutting on their property and whether his previous order allowing the tree-cutting to make way for a shale gas pipeline could be challenged in court.
Accompanying us on yesterday's road trip was our beloved videographer, Bob Nilsson.
Nilsson had a particularly dramatic day. First, en route to the maple farm, while filming a chainsaw-wielding group of tree cutters on a nearby property, he was charged by one of them and nearly punched out.
This is Bob Nilsson, videographer for We Are Seneca Lake. Note: his name is Bob. Not “Jeff." Photo credit: Colleen Boland
Then, later that afternoon, while Nilsson was seated in the back of the courtroom in Scranton, a witness under oath wrongly fingered him as “Jeff," an individual who was alleged to have participated in obstructing a tree-cutting crew in the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove on Feb. 10.
The witness—retired state trooper Monty Morgan who now works security for the pipeline company—claimed that he recognized the gray sweatshirt and goatee.
From up on his bench, Judge Mannion sized up our videographer's clothing and facial hair.
“Is your name Jeff? What is your name, sir?"
“My name is Bob Nilsson."
But that single case of mistaken identity may ultimately have helped to play a role in the final verdict of that hearing. The lawyer who argued the case for the defense, Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, went on to demonstrate that Morgan could identify none of the defendants among those who were said to have prevented workers from cutting trees in recent weeks. (Energy Justice Network is the only staffed organization in northeast Pennsylvania supporting landowners facing eminent domain).
Ruling that the lawyers for pipeline company, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners, had inadequate proof of identity, the judge dismissed the contempt of court citation against the five defendants. The five had stood accused of flaunting the judge's previous order to allow the tree cutting—which itself upheld the decision of FERC when it denied a stay on cutting the family's maple trees earlier this month. The pipeline right-of-way requires the destruction of 200 maples on this farm alone—roughly 80 percent of the family's sugaring trees.
“We consider this a victory because the judge found insufficient proof of contempt," Ewall told me after the hearing ended. “Constitution Pipeline Company is threatening this family's livelihood for a pipeline that may never be built. They still don't have FERC's permission to construct, yet they bully and intimidate landowners while offering paltry compensation for taking their land."
Megan Holleran, 29, a family spokeswoman, agreed: “This is the best outcome that we could have hoped for." She seemed visibly relieved at the ruling, noting that her mother was one of the defendants. “We still have hope that the Constitution pipeline company will wait to cut trees until they have construction permission. We will continue to ask for that."
At the U.S. District Court in Scranton, family spokeswoman Megan Holleran speaks with the landowners. attorney, Michael Ewall after the hearing that found insufficient evidence to charge five of her family members with contempt. Photo credit: Colleen Boland
But, for those who support maple sap lines over gas pipelines, the Holleran family's triumph over the contempt charge was the only good news of the day—and could prove a Pyrrhic victory in the end.
The maple trees themselves were put on the literal chopping block.
Judge Mannion reaffirmed his earlier decision to grant eminent domain status to the pipeline company and made clear in his ruling that, from here on out, he will direct U.S. marshals to “arrest and detain people interfering with tree cutting" and that “violations of this order may result in other penalties," including the costs of additional security and the costs to the pipeline company for delays.
Further, he warned the landowners that they have “an affirmative duty" to remove people from their land who intend to obstruct the tree cutting—or they themselves will be compelled to pay such costs.
Survey stakes mark the path of the proposed Constitution pipeline as it cuts through the Holleran-Zeffer family's maple grove near New Milford, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Colleen Boland
In other words, the property owners cannot stop their trees from falling and have no right to tell the FERC-approved tree cutters to get off their land even if ...
- those trees are the basis of the family business.
- the owners do not consent to the seizing of their property by eminent domain to serve the needs of a pipeline company hellbent on fossil fuel expansion.
- the sap is already running in the sap-gathering lines, and even if the maple sugar season is heartbreakingly early this year and the emergency of fossil-fuel induced climate change hangs over us all, and any hope of survival depends on many more trees pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and much less natural gas heading to burner tips.
As the federal judge in a federal courthouse made clear yesterday, with me and an ill-treated videographer bearing witness, the rule of law dictates that the trees must fall.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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