By Mary Anne Hitt
The latest facepalm/outrage comes in the form of confirmation hearings that start this week for four completely unacceptable nominees to critical leadership positions at EPA.
This Wednesday, Sep. 20, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works will decide whether to confirm Bill Wehrum to lead the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, David Ross as chief of the EPA's Office of Water, and Michael Dourson to head up the agency's chemical safety programs. Later this month, they will hold a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler as EPA's deputy administrator, the agency's second-in-command.
We can thank EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for these four horsemen of the EPA-pocalypse—four people who will gladly choose polluters over public health and clean air and water standards every time.
Andrew Wheeler, who Pruitt has tapped for the number two spot at EPA, was described by the Washington Post as a "longtime coal lobbyist" and has worked on behalf of a company which reportedly has numerous environmental and worker safety violations. Wheeler has spent his career challenging vital life-saving environmental protections that keep our air and water clean so that we can keep our families safe (I wrote this post about him earlier this summer). He also used to be an aide for outspoken climate-denying and corporate-polluter-loving senator, James Inhofe.
Bill Wehrum, Pruitt's pick to head up the office in charge of enforcing the Clean Air Act and keeping your air safe to breathe, is a lobbyist who represents a host of coal, oil, gas, and chemical companies, and was a former George W. Bush-era EPA official. If you recognize his name, it's because he was also nominated to this position in 2006—his nomination was withdrawn when he failed to earn support of the 60 Senators needed for confirmation.
And while he's nominated to lead the EPA's air and radiation office, ironically enough, he's said that the Clean Air Act shouldn't apply to the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change and superstorms like Hurricane Harvey. As my friend John Walke at NRDC put it, Wehrum "is an industry lawyer who was largely responsible for the Bush EPA's record of violating the Clean Air Act more often, and allowing more illegal emissions of harmful air pollution, than any EPA administration before or since."
David Ross, nominated for for the top spot at the Office of Water, has sued the EPA many times related to its clean water safeguards in his work representing fossil fuel states like Wyoming, including challenging the Clean Water Rule and the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program (he lost the latter lawsuit, which the court called "long on swagger, but short on specificity"). According to E&E News, he "has represented states and industry in lawsuits against the agency—some of which were filed by then-Oklahoma Attorney General and now EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt."
Finally, Michael Dourson is on deck to head up the EPA division that oversees the chemical industry, called the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, "Dourson has extensive, longstanding ties to the chemical industry (as well as earlier ties to the tobacco industry). He also has a history of failing to appropriately address his conflicts of interest." The first example they cite hits close to home for me as a West Virginian—they report he was the sole spokesperson for an expert panel studying the 2014 Elk River chemical spill but failed to disclose, until cornered by a reporter, that he had previously "done paid work for both of the companies that produced the chemicals involved in the spill."
In addition, Dourson has spent much of his professional career writing studies that undermine existing science and concerns about toxic chemicals, and call for weaker regulations on chemicals like pesticides. As our friends at the United Farm Workers explain, Dourson was paid by Dow Agrosciences to downplay concerns about a toxic pesticide and cast doubt on a Columbia University study linking exposure to it by pregnant women to irreversible neurodevelopmental problems in children—in other words, to hide the fact that the pesticide is dangerous to kids. As you may have heard, in a highly controversial move the EPA recently reversed restrictions on the use of this pesticide, called chlorpyrifos, shortly after meeting with officials from Dow.
Senators shouldn't get fooled—Scott Pruitt has seized the EPA and is trying to install polluter lobbyists in key positions. We can't let dirty fuel lobbyists win—we need the Senate to draw the line and reject these nominations.
Mary Anne Hitt is the director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
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By Jun N. Aguirre
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