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

Politics
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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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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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