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Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Waxman Question Koch Brothers' Financial Interest in Keystone XL Pipeline

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Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Waxman Question Koch Brothers' Financial Interest in Keystone XL Pipeline

As a writer of environmental issues, as well as a person concerned about the future of the planet, I am anxiously awaiting the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. I keep questioning if the U.S. is ready to set an example by eliminating fossil fuel extraction. Will we get down to the hard work of moving forward on a different energy path?

The letter points to Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by David Koch, as having “run a multi-year pressure campaign in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, including airing ads against members of Congress for opposing the pipeline.”

With all the recent news about oils spills and the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster—you have to wonder about the advisability of 1,660 miles of pipeline transversing the nation. It will be transporting 830,000 barrels of oil on a daily basis from the Canadian Alberta oil sands to the refineries of the beleaguered city of Port Arthur (home to several refineries, chemical plants and an incinerator). I have written about the abysmal lack of environmental justice for the indigenous communities in Canada and the low-income urban victims in Port Arthur.

There are constantly new sidebars in the debate. One was about the contractor who compiled the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and if there was a conflict of interest stemming from a prior relationship with TransCanada. Allegations aside, the EIS did make note of “elevated levels of carcinogen and mercury” that would be emitted into the air and acknowledged the “difficulty” of cleaning up potential spills.

On their page about the Keystone  XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department puts forth that it is considering the application from TransCanada Corporation based on numerous factors “including” foreign policy concerns, economics, energy security, health and the environment.

When I looked at the comments from the public (close to 125,000), it was clear on why those who were opposed to the pipeline had weighed in. Their apprehensions referenced the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, finding alternative sources of energy, the abuse of eminent domain and the impact on populations of color.

The pro-pipeline comments skewed to job creation and energy security. A majority of them used identical language stating, “I’m writing to encourage you to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as quickly as possible.”

Okay. So each side is mobilizing in their own manner. Yet I couldn’t help thinking of those rote answers when I read the press release from the offices of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which released a letter they had sent to Koch Industries. It specifically asked if their business or affiliated companies had “financial interests” in the pipeline.

Addressed to David L. Robertson, the president and COO of Koch Industries, the letter said:

“Groups backed by Charles and David Koch have lobbied and run political ads to support construction of the pipeline. But Koch Industries has consistently denied financial motives played any role in these activities, asserting that the Keystone XL pipeline has ‘nothing to do with any of our businesses.’ We want to know whether this is true.”

The letter points to Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by David Koch, as having “run a multi-year pressure campaign in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, including airing ads against members of Congress for opposing the pipeline.” It goes on to underscore the Koch financial connection to entities seeking to dismiss the science that has emphasized “the relationship between the use of carbon-based fuel and climate change.”

Rep. Waxman and Sen. Whitehouse present eleven detailed questions, along with requests for documentation. Some of the points covered are:

  • The number of leases, acres and exploratory wells held by Koch Industries or it subsidiaries in Alberta, Canada.
  • Current and expected levels of production expected from lands leased in Alberta, Canada.
  • Potential impact that the passage of the pipeline would have on the value of their lease holdings.
  • Connection between the amount of oil coming from the Canadian tar sands and the amount that is processed at Koch Industries/subsidiaries refineries.
  • Connection between the amount of oil coming from the Canadian tar sands and the amount that is “purchased, shipped, or exported yearly” by Koch Industries/subsidiaries.

Question eleven is my favorite, because it seeks to unpack the trail of money between Koch Industries, Koch Affiliated Foundations and donations to Donors Trust/Capital (qualified on DeSmogBlog as a major funder of anti-science groups), with groups that are involved in “climate science research.”

The closing line from Rep. Waxman and Sen. Whitehouse reads: “Your cooperation in providing this information to Congress would be greatly appreciated.”

It will be interesting to see what response, if any, the two legislators—and the American people—receive.

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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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