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Outgoing Senate Approves at Least 4 Trump Environmental Nominees in Last-Minute Session

Politics
Outgoing Senate Approves at Least 4 Trump Environmental Nominees in Last-Minute Session
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In an eleventh-hour move, the outgoing session of the Senate voted on Thursday to approve at least four of President Donald Trump's nominees to posts impacting the nation's environment, The Huffington Post reported.


The four nominees will step in to long-empty posts. They are just some of the 60 positions the Senate rushed to fill in the last hours of the 115th session of Congress so that the President would not have to restart the nomination process after the 116th Congress was sworn in. Here are the four newest Trump appointees who could help or harm the environment.

1. William Charles "Chad" McIntosh, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of International and Tribal Affairs

The Office of International and Tribal Affairs handles the EPA's relationship with foreign countries and Native American tribes, The Hill explained. The EPA was criticized by Democrats for hiring McIntosh to an advisory position before his nomination was confirmed. Now that it has been, he will replace career employee Jane Nishida, who has led the office on an interim basis since Trump took office.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about McIntosh because of his record, The Huffington Post reported. For 19 years, he was in charge of environmental compliance and policy at Ford, and, during that time, the company allowed degreasing chemicals at a plant in Livonia, Michigan to spill and break down into the carcinogenic vinyl chloride, which contaminated local groundwater.

"You can't ignore these kinds of toxic chemicals in such an enormous quantity on your property, so whoever was in charge of the environmental state of affairs at this plant did not do his job," Shawn Collins, an attorney representing homeowners whose groundwater was polluted, told The Huffington Post. "That's McIntosh."

2. Alexandra Dunn, EPA Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

Dunn will be in charge of the EPA's chemical office, including implementation of the revised Toxic Substances Control Act, Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported. Dunn is seen by environmentalists as a better choice than previous nominee Michael Dourson, a chemical industry consultant had to drop out of the running after both Democrats and Republicans raised objections.

In contrast, Dunn earned "respect for protecting the environment" during her tenure as EPA's regional administrator for New England, according to a Boston Globe profile quoted by The Huffington Post.

"We're hopeful that Alex Dunn will fulfill her commitments to implement our toxic chemicals laws as Congress intended – and not as former industry lobbyists like [Deputy Assistant Administrator] Nancy Beck are pushing for," EWG Senior VP for Government Affairs Scott Faber said in a statement. "Americans should be confident that everyday products are not being made with chemicals linked to cancer. To meet those expectations, Alex Dunn will have to clean up the mess created by her predecessors."

3. Daniel Simmons, Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Simmons is a former fossil fuel lobbyist and climate denier who once worked for an organization that called for the office he will now run to be eradicated. He was vice president of policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a coal-and-oil-funded think tank, and for the organization's lobbying branch, the American Energy Alliance, which is the branch that called for the abolition of the renewable energy office.

At the Institute for Energy Research, which argues against renewable energy subsidies, Simmons made misleading statements about the cost of wind and solar, PV Magazine reported. However, since his nomination he has changed his tune and said he "likes" zero carbon energy sources, Huffington Post reported.

4. Mary Neumayr, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

The Council on Environmental Quality is responsible for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to coordinate reviews of the impacts of federal projects on the environment and work with the White House on environmental initiatives, Bloomberg Environment reported. Neumayr is less controversial than Trump's first pick to head the office, climate denier Kathleen Hartnett White.

"I agree the climate is changing and human activity has a role," Neumayr told the Senate during her confirmation hearing, The Huffington Post reported.

However, sources close to her say she approves of Trump's deregulatory agenda. And she would have the chance to participate, given that the administration has asked the council to make the NEMA process cheaper and faster as part of its infrastructure plan. Neumayr has had a long career working for the government, including an eight-year stint as the chief counsel on energy and environmental issues for the Republican House. Before her confirmation, she had been serving as the council's chief of staff.

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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.

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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