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ReThink Energy: 'We Will Ensure Florida Keeps Fracking Out of Our State'

Energy
ReThink Energy: 'We Will Ensure Florida Keeps Fracking Out of Our State'

In 2013, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the few organizations fighting pro-fracking bills in the Florida Legislature in reaction to public attention on drilling near the Everglades. The bills failed to garner enough votes to make it into law. Each year since, state legislators have attempted to pass similar meaningless, pro-industry regulations. Each year, they have failed. But 2015 will mark the year that the tide turned in the battle to keep fracking out of Florida.

We will keep moving to ensure Florida does the right thing and keeps fracking out of our state forever. Photo credit: G. Fardner / U.S. National Park Service

We were among the Floridians shocked in 2014 upon learning that, while we’d been going to public hearings on one well permit, another had been secretly and illegally fracked. With this illegal procedure, a more dangerous form of unconventional drilling called "acid fracking" was introduced to the Everglades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a cease and desist, but the oil company continued in defiance. DEP fined the company for $25,000—an amount that seemed like couch-change to the public.

As ReThink Energy Florida and its allies began to build public awareness, and leaders began to scrutinize the process, DEP got firmer with the company. Eventually, after the company failed to meet several simple demands, DEP revoked their permits.

By 2015’s legislative session, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the organizations in the Florida Anti-Fracking Coalition, which called for a ban on fracking in Florida. This coalition consisted of health and environmental groups, including Stonecrab Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility of Florida, Florida Clean Water Network, Our Santa Fe Rivers, Environmental Caucus of Florida, Florida Progressives, and many other grassroots activists and organizations.

Due at least in part to its work educating and engaging the public, bans on fracking were filed in the Florida Legislature by Senators Soto and Bullard, and Rep. Jenne. Unfortunately, other legislators filed fracking regulation bills again, along with trade secrets exemption bills, which required a 2/3 majority in each chamber of the Legislature to pass. While these other legislators claimed to have worked with DEP, industry, and environmental groups, the few environmental groups that they invited to the table eventually withdrew their support because the legislators refused to amend the bills to meet their bottom-line requirements.

While the bans sat unmoving, the regulatory bills began moving quickly through committees. The coalition drove phone calls, emails, press events and public awareness across the state. The primary focus was that we need to ban, not regulate, fracking. The coalition spoke to many of the issues with the bills: they would have kept cities and counties from banning fracking and they were full of loopholes, including trade secret exemption rules written by and for industry. The public testified about these bills in committee, and reminded the legislators that a ban was another option. We knew we were getting better at speaking as a unified body when the opposition attempted to address our points. Still, we knew it was an uphill battle, as we were not only arguing against industry, but also against DEP.

We did hope we could kill the trade secrets exemption bill on the Senate side, and keep it off the Governor’s desk. Our conversations with Senators indicated that even if they felt the fracking regulation bill could be fixed, they didn’t see the need for the trade secrets exemption bill.

The tide began to turn the penultimate week of session, as several leaders in the Senate expressed grave concern about the bills. These leaders told the sponsor they were disappointed in the few changes they’d seen so far.

The last week of session, the bills were scheduled for final debate on both floors. The House voted for the fracking regulatory bills but tabled the trade secrets exemption bill, perhaps because they were unsure it would have the votes to pass in the Senate.

No one expected what happened next, except maybe comedians who enjoy making fun of Florida politics. Because of disagreement between the Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate over Obamacare, the Speaker of the House ended session three days early, but without passing a budget—the one thing that they are constitutionally required to do. The move was a jab at the leadership in the Senate, and left several bills, good and bad, in limbo.

The House had passed the faux regulatory bills on Monday before they went home. While we were overjoyed that the House had not passed the trade secrets bill, rendering it dead on the table, we were worried that the regulatory bill could still pass. It was clear the House had thrown the Senate into chaos right as a final debate on the fracking regulatory bill came up in a hearing. As a result, the bill was "temporarily postponed" while its sponsor determined how to proceed.

The Senate had three options: 1) let the bad regulatory bill die a natural and well-deserved death; 2) amend the bill and send it back to the House—who was not present to hear the amended bill, thereby killing it; or 3) Pass the bill as passed in the House, which would send it on to the Governor.

In these final days of the Senate, very few people still believed the bill should pass as written; seemingly only the head of the Florida Petroleum Council still supported it. Most importantly, several leaders in the legislature had expressed concern about the bill and had worked to come up with "fixes." However, because the House had ended their session, any amendments would render the bills dead.

Wednesday, after ReThink Energy Florida and its partners had burned the phone lines, held press conferences and written even more op-eds (such as this one from Our Santa Fe River), the Senate bill’s sponsor acknowledged that the bill would not pass.

Our work is not done. Next week, we will begin doubling down on our efforts to create the necessary groundswell for a permanent ban on fracking. But today, we celebrate a victory in the end of this legislative session: the birth of a new movement that calls on leaders to take our concerns about Florida’s Energy Policy and Environment into account. We will keep moving to ensure Florida does the right thing and keeps fracking out of our state forever.

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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.

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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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