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Senator Urged to End Oil Subsidies

Energy
Senator Urged to End Oil Subsidies

Environment America

Environment Washington was joined by Pete Mills from Congressman Jim McDermott’s office, Rachel Padgett from Fuse Washington and local activists to call for an end to $44 billion in subsidies to big oil. The groups highlighted the environmental and public health threats—from last year’s massive BP Gulf oil spill to global warming pollution—posed by America’s continued dependence on oil. They also pointed to the enormous profitability of big oil companies. The top five companies have already reported more than $67 billion dollars in profits in the first half of this year.

“It’s time to end subsidies to big oil—a polluting industry with record profits,” said Katrina Rosen with Environment Washington. “We would like to thank Rep. McDermott for his leadership on this issue. And we encourage Senator (Patty) Murray to use her position on the Congressional super committee to end subsidies for big oil now.”

Royal Dutch Shell recently announced second quarter earnings for 2011, reporting profits of $8 billion, a 77 percent jump from the same period a year ago. Exxon recently reported a whopping $10.7 billion in profits for the quarter, or $21.3 billion in the first half of this year—an increase of 54 percent from 2010. One use these companies have found for new funds is increased lobbying, with Exxon increasing lobbying expenditures by 25 percent this past quarter, bringing its total this year to $3 million.

“We simply can’t afford billions in handouts to big oil when Washington families are struggling to get by,” said Padgett. “We need Congress to focus on creating good jobs for the middle class, not padding the profits of oil companies.”

We have strong environmental leaders in Washington State, including Congressman McDermott who sponsored a bill to cut big-oil subsidies and use the money for renewable energy, instead. “With record profits in the midst of otherwise hard economic times, we don’t need to provide big oil companies with extra cash,” said McDermott. “Big oil seems to be doing just fine on their own. If we are going to be serious about moving away from carbon based energy, removing subsidies to the oil giants is a great first step, which is why I have sponsored legislation to do just that and will continue to sponsor legislation to cut unnecessary subsidies to big oil."

Washington’s Congressional delegation has the opportunity to lead on this important issue. Sen. Murray is a co-chair of the Congressional super committee on deficit reduction, and is in a powerful position to stop wasteful subsidies to oil companies. Murray has voted to end oil subsidies in the past. Earlier this week, 14 U.S. Senators sent a letter to Murray, urging her to cut oil subsidies during the super committee’s negotiations. Washington’s Rep. Adam Smith (WA-9) and Rep. Norm Dicks (WA-6) signed a House version of the letter to the super committee.

Ending subsidies to big oil is only one step in getting America off of its over-dependence on oil. In recent weeks, President Barack Obama unveiled a clean car standard outline that will require cars and light trucks to reach the equivalent of a 54.5 miles-per-gallon (mpg) standard by 2025, and finalized a similar rule for heavy-duty vehicles, including work trucks and buses, through 2018. These combined standards have the potential to reduce our oil dependence by 1.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

“Big oil has been profiting from pollution for far too long,” added Rosen. “We are asking Senator Murray to use the super committee negotiations to stop the practice of handing tax breaks to a polluting industry that already costs us too dearly.”

For more information, click here.

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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