Pruitt Threatens to Cut Funds for DOJ Environmental Litigation, Spends $58K on Taxpayer-Funded Flights
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt—who made a career out of suing the agency he now heads over clean air, water and climate safeguards—is trying to stop the enforcement of existing pollution-control laws by cutting off major funding for the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the New York Times reported.
According to the Times:
[ENRD] lawyers handle litigation on behalf of the E.P.A.'s Superfund program seeking to force polluters to pay for cleaning up sites they left contaminated with hazardous waste. The E.P.A. reimburses the Justice Department for that work, paying more than $20 million annually in recent years, or enough for 115 full-time employees, budget documents show.
Notably, Pruitt said that cleaning Superfund sites was a priority. He said in July, "There is nothing more core to the Agency's mission than revitalizing contaminated land."
Since taking the job, Pruitt has made several moves to suspend environmental regulations, including protections against toxic wastewater, oil and gas pollution as well as climate pollution. The conservative Republican has close ties to the fossil fuel industry and infamously denies that carbon dioxide is a "primary contributor" to climate change.
Koch asset Scott Pruitt is a threat to the health of our people and our planet. Via @NYTimes: https://t.co/h0Uhe8d76v— Michael E. Mann (@Michael E. Mann)1506562764.0
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported another instance of the EPA boss using taxpayer money for his own interests—he spent $58,219.19 on four military and private flights between February and August.
The most expensive was a $36,069 trip on June 7. Pruitt and several staff members traveled from Andrews Air Force Base to Cincinnati to join President Trump, the Post reported, citing congressional oversight committee records.
"When the administrator travels, he takes commercial flights," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the paper, adding that the administrator is the face of the agency and has an obligation to get around the country.
The EPA inspector general is already investigating the former Oklahoma Attorney General's frequent trips back to his home state amid speculation that Pruitt is really focused on a future run for Oklahoma senator or governor. Records show that the administrator's airfare for these trips cost more than $12,000, with most of that covering travel to and from Oklahoma.
Earlier this week, the Post reported that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a soundproof communications booth in the administrator's office.
Additionally, Pruitt has enlisted an 18-member security detail, costing the EPA $832,735.40 in the first quarter of 2017, records published by E&E News show.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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