Donald Trump has not yet been sworn in, but the Republican Congress has convened. Shortly it will begin hearings on Trump's appointments—as a block more like a cabinet suited for a corporatist President Ted Cruz than a populist like candidate Trump.
Trump and the Republicans control the White House and Congress. What they don't control—where they are weak—is the public conversation. Tweets turn out to be a good mechanism for getting headlines but not for creating a story line—and that's our opportunity. The confirmation hearings should be used by concerned Democratic and Republican Senators to hold Trump accountable for delivering on his incoherent smorgasbord of promises. The two key environmental nominees are Rex Tillerson and Scott Pruitt. The media has focused around their opposition to action on climate, Tillerson saying "suck it up and endure climate chaos," Pruitt being a denialist. But it has not yet told the story of their full threat to our environment, our health, our economy and our national security. Below, to start this broader and more troubling dialogue, are ten questions the Senate must ask Tillerson and Pruitt before it votes on whether to confirm them.
America - Don't Be Fooled, Trump's Cabinet Picks Can Be Stopped (@bruneski on @EcoWatch) https://t.co/PsFEYCIqWJ #pollutingPruitt #Rexxon— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1482351305.0
Questions for Rex Tillerson, Nominee for Secretary of State
1. Mr. Tillerson, Lee Raymond, your predecessor, made clear that he didn't view ExxonMobil as a U.S. company and didn't "make decisions based on what is good for the U.S." Your have stated that you signed oil leases that undercut U.S. foreign policy in Iraq because "I had to do what was best for my shareholders."
Q: Can you explain where, specifically, the interests of the oil industry might diverge from those of the average American? What advice you would give the president to ensure that the interests of the U.S. prevailed over those of oil companies?
2. Following Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and the seizure of the Crimea, you and ExxonMobil visibly continued to support Russia's development of its off-shore Arctic oil fields. You pursued partnerships with Russian oil interests faced with western sanctions. You clearly aligned with Russia.
Q: Did you believe these actions served the interests of the U.S.? Or were you putting your shareholders first?
Putin and Tillerson Talk Drilling the Arctic on Saturday Night Live https://t.co/XmF2XL3N9U @savethearctic @EnvAm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1482101406.0
3. Russia's has refused to collaborate with international efforts to prevent human rights repression in Syria. This has resulted in the victory of the Assad regime and the butchery of Aleppo. The FBI and the CIA have concluded that Russia actively hacked American political parties in an effort to destabilize our democratic system and perhaps tilt the outcome.
Q: Do you believe it is still in the interests of the U.S. for our oil companies, including ExxonMobil, to provide technical and financial support to assist Russia in becoming a more powerful oil producer? Do you still oppose sanctions against Russia for violating international norms in Syria, the Ukraine and around the U.S. elections?
4. Russia has recently joined with OPEC to artificially rig the oil market. Prices have risen 20 percent as a result. U.S. consumers are again paying more than a fair market price for gasoline and diesel.
Q: What steps would you recommend the U.S. take to discourage Russia from conspiring with OPEC to price-gouge? How would you recommend to the president that he ensure that the price of oil never again soars to $70, $80, $90 even $100 level? In your view, how important to the U.S. are moderate—below $60—oil ?
5. You have repeatedly said that while you believe in climate change, it is not yet possible for the world to move beyond fossil fuels, because alternatives are not ready.
Q: If we continue to rely on petroleum for 90 percent or more of our transportation energy, can you assure Americans that the price of getting around will never again spike to the levels we saw over the last decade? Is getting off oil just a climate issue or is it also an economic necessity? If alternatives are not yet ready, would you urge the U.S. to actively join with other oil importing countries for a Manhattan style project to bring low carbon transportation technologies to full competitiveness within the next four years?
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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