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Senate Fast-Tracks Keystone Pipeline, Fails to Extend Renewable Energy Tax Credit

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Senate Fast-Tracks Keystone Pipeline, Fails to Extend Renewable Energy Tax Credit

In approving a payroll tax cut extension plan in an 89-10 vote on Saturday, the U.S. Senate included a provision that requires President Obama to make a decision within 60 days on whether to move forward with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. To make it even worse, the vote failed to include the Production Tax Credit that allows companies who invest in renewable energy to receive a grant in lieu of a tax credit, and cut the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by $8.4 billion, a 6 percent cut from the president’s request.

 If the American people understood the implications of yesterday’s vote, where the majority of our elected officials are willing to continue to lead our country down a detrimental path in support of extreme energy extraction and refuse to support investment in renewable energy, we would have hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the streets in every state of our great nation.

Republicans rallied behind the Keystone XL inclusion in the bill, saying they wouldn't vote for any payroll extension without the provision. Earlier this month, Obama issued a veto threat if the Keystone XL provision was tied to the payroll tax cut, but the White House recently said they would accept the wording of the provision that passed Dec. 17.

The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for final passage for a vote most likely on Monday. If the House passes the bill, it will be sent to Obama for his signature.

For the last six months, Bill McKibben and the folks at 350.org, Tar Sands Action and many other grassroots environmental organizations and activists, have been working day and night to educate Americans about the injustice this pipeline would bring to our country.

From exposing the inflated numbers of jobs proponents of this project are claiming it will create; to explaining the issues related with this energy intensive, extremely corrosive tar sands oil that highly paid politicians from the oil and gas industry want to pipe nearly 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to Texas port to be shipped overseas; to the impact the pipeline eruptions will have on the rivers, streams and aquifers of America's heartland; to highlighting the environmental injustice concerns to nearly a dozen tribal nations in Canada and the U.S., people who understand the long-term impacts of building this pipeline will continue to do whatever is necessary to save our democracy, slow the impacts of global warming and protect our natural resources.

For too long we’ve needed to create an energy policy that eliminates our need for foreign oil; mandates the transition to relying on cleaner, renewable sources of energy, and supports the necessary infrastructure, and research and development that is needed to lead us on a path toward a sustainable energy system. There’s no doubt these issues are complex, however solutions are available. But we need to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, that continues to show record profits at the expense of the American people, and get money out of politics so our elected officials can’t be bought by corporations.

I encourage those who are already involved with these issues to not give up and keep working to educate your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Those who are just learning about these concerns, stay connected with EcoWatch.org to learn how you can get involved.

As Bill McKibben says, “All eyes are on Obama,” so lets be sure he know how you feel about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. You can reach Obama’s office on weekdays by calling 202-456-1111 or email him through the white house comment page, asking him to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project. Your voice truly matters, so take action today.

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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