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Omar, Sanders Lead Bill to End Destructive Taxpayer Subsidies for Fossil Fuels

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Omar, Sanders Lead Bill to End Destructive Taxpayer Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in Washington, DC in June 2019. Michael Brochstein / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

By Eoin Higgins

Progressive Democrats led by Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday introduced a bill to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and other industry giveaways, calling taxpayer support of the climate-killing business — a counterproductive and dangerous use of federal funds as the climate crisis worsens and Americans suffer through an economic downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.


"It's past time we end the billions of taxpayer subsidies to fossil-fuel companies," said Omar, a Minnesota Democrat. "Our focus right now needs to be on getting the American people through this difficult, unprecedented time, not providing giveaways to polluters."

"Taxpayers provide $15 billion in direct federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry every year," she added. "That ends with this bill."

Omar and Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, were joined in leading the End Polluter Welfare Act by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) as well as Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.).

"At a time when we are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and an economic decline, it is absurd to provide billions of taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies' already-enormous profits," said Sanders.

"We need more safe, healthy, good paying jobs," he added, "not more corporate polluter giveaways."

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The bill would close tax loopholes, end taxpayer-funded subsidies, and bar the use of federal lands for resource extraction and federal funding for fossil fuel research.

"It is ridiculous that the federal government continues to hand out massive giveaways to antiquated fossil fuel industries that are not only financially risky, but are also destroying our planet," said Merkley.

President Donald Trump's administration has prioritized giveaways to the fossil fuel industry throughout his presidency, including as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the country.

The legislation is co-sponsored in the House by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Jesús "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.).

According to a press release from Omar's office, the bill:

would also guarantee the continued solvency of the Black Lung Disability Fund to ensure continued medical care for tens of thousands of working-class Americans who worked hard for decades to provide energy for the nation. Fossil fuel drilling and transportation also disproportionately impact indigenous communities and communities of color, who have long opposed extraction on their land.

Activists and climate advocates like Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Charlie Jiang welcomed the legislation.

"It is outrageous that the federal government has exploited a pandemic to throw even more public money at the industry that created and profited from the climate crisis," said Jiang. "A bill to end giveaways for the fossil fuel industry—which is saddled with debt and recklessly polluting Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities—is long overdue. It's time to shift our investments to protect people on the frontlines of the climate crisis and support fossil fuel workers in the transition to a world beyond fossil fuels."

While the bill faces an uphill battle, it was nonetheless seen as a good sign by Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project, executive director Mark Palmer said in a statement.

"The fossil fuels industry must change to avoid the worst effects of global warming, which is already upon us," Palmer said. "This legislation is a giant step towards reining in the pollution from oil and gas development, and we wholeheartedly endorse it."

As the country reels from the coronavirus pandemic, said Oil Change International senior campaigner Collin Rees, the bill represents an important readjustment of priorities.

"The End Polluter Welfare Act is critically needed legislation at a pivotal moment," said Rees. "We must stop propping up oil, gas, and coal with public money and invest in the people and communities most impacted by systemic oppression, Covid-19, and the climate crisis."

Markey, who was also a lead sponsor of bicameral Green New Deal legislation along with Ocasio-Cortez, sounded a similar note in comments about the new bill.

"We should be providing support for workers and those affected by Trump's criminally-negligent response to the pandemic — not bailing out the fossil fuel industry and propping up its profit margins," said Markey. "Trump is only trying to add to these decades-long payouts for polluters, when we should be directing our resources to keeping people safe."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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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