Senators Sell out the Public and Then Go on Vacation
On Aug. 2, 24 Senators demonstrated their obedience to the coal industry by introducing a new bill that permanently blocks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating toxic coal ash.
By introducing the bill right before the August recess, they hoped that the public wouldn't notice their sycophantic pandering to the coal polluters. Waterkeeper Alliance noticed and thought we would shine the light on just how far they are willing to go to sell out public and environmental health in exchange for more polluting business as usual from one of the most toxic industries in the U.S.
Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND), Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced S. 3512, the so-called “Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act.” Like putting paint over termite infested wood to hide the flaws and fool someone into buying something rotten to its core, this bill is an amended version of an unsuccessful vehicle that Conrad and Hoeven filed last October. Since they couldn't fool enough people to buy what they were selling 10 months ago, they decided to add a little window dressing to see if they could get any takers. The fresh paint they added is not thick enough to hide the rot that infests the entire 43 pages of the new bill.
Not only does S. 3512 remove the U.S. EPA’s regulatory authority to regulate coal ash, it also does not require polluters to clean up contaminated sites. Never mind that the federal government already spent thousands of dollars promulgating a new coal ash rule, and received hundreds of thousands of public comments from Americans around the country who supported strong federal oversight. "To heck with what the People want," said all 24 Senators who co-sponsored the bill. "We'll just ignore them and do what the coal industry wants." So they wrote a bill that:
- Allows the U.S. EPA to create a permitting program for coal ash only if the states opt-out
- Provides no deadlines for states to issue permits if they chose to incur the cost of creating their own permitting program
- Prevents the U.S. EPA from enforcing any standards in the bill or in permits issued by the states
- Does not mandate cleanup of old coal ash waste dumps
- Does not require new coal ash dumps to install liners
- Exempts new coal ash ponds from requirements to install leachate collection systems
This latest bill comes at a time when coal-fired power plants are producing larger volumes of more toxic coal combustion waste than ever before. Coal contains naturally-occurring heavy metals and other pollutants. When it is burned to produce electricity or make steel, these pollutants are released into the air. In order to prevent respiratory illness from smog and forest killing acid rain caused by burning coal without safeguards, the EPA required coal-burning facilities to install air pollution control technology. That new technology created thousands of jobs and resulted in a dramatic reduction of air pollution. Unfortunately, many of these newly-installed systems remove the hazardous pollutants from the air and add them to coal combustion waste ponds, making coal ash much more toxic than ever before.
The new bill ignores the growing toxicity of coal ash. It allows the coal industry to dump coal ash into waste pits that have less control than household garbage. It contains grossly inadequate structural stability standards for the dams that hold the waste, making another Kingston coal ash disaster possible.
The new coal ash bill (S. 3512) contains inadequate structural stability standards for more than 1,000 coal ash dams in the U.S. It doesn't do enough to protect communities or waterways from disasters like this:
Because S. 3512 has no deadlines for state regulation and does not mandate clean up of old leaking coal ash ponds that are currently contaminating water, it is little more than a do-nothing bill. It won't clean up more than 1,000 dirty coal ash ponds all over the U.S. and it won't make future disposal of even more toxic coal ash safe for communities and waterways. The bill is a sham and a giveaway to the coal industry, making it yet another great example of Washington putting the polluters' interests over the people's.
By now, your Senators should be back at home for the August recess. At some point in the next three weeks, they should be available to hear from their constituents. If you are sick and tired of legislators serving the corporations more than they serve the people, now is the time to let them know.
Here is a list of the Senators who co-sponsored the rotten coal ash bill:
Max Baucus (MT), Kent Conrad (ND), Herbert Kohl (WI), Mary Landrieu (LA), Joe Manchin (WV), Mark Warner (VA), Mark Pryor (AR), Claire McCaskill (MO), Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Robert Casey (PA) and Jim Webb (VA).
John Hoeven (ND), Mitch McConnell (KY), Rob Portman (OH), John Boozman (AR), Roy Blunt (MO), Ron Johnson (WI), Jerry Moran (KS), Lamar Alexander (TN), Pat Toomey (PA), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Thune (SD) and Orrin Hatch (UT).
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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