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Sequester Cuts: How It Will Strain the Economy and Put Americans' Health at Risk

Energy
Sequester Cuts: How It Will Strain the Economy and Put Americans' Health at Risk

DeSmogBlog

By Farron Cousins

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The failure of elected officials in Washington, D.C. to reach a deal on the “sequester” led to an automatic $85 billion cut to the federal budget on March 1. And, unfortunately, environmental initiatives and other projects were the first to be placed on the chopping block.

Environmental programs within the U.S.—everything from wildlife refuges to clean air and water programs—have already been grossly underfunded for years, and the sequester cuts are only going to make things much, much worse for our environment.

One program that was gearing up to be cut less than 24 hours after sequester took effect was the Bureau of Labor Statistics green jobs survey. This program allowed the administration to track the creation and tally of jobs within the clean energy and other “green” sectors, a program that many Republicans in Washington had wanted to cut from day one. 

But those cuts are just the beginning. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the mandatory cuts are going to severely hurt investment and research into lightweight automobile construction and fuel cell technology, investments that were aimed at helping increase automobile fuel efficiency and reducing our gasoline consumption. Those programs will now have to wait to receive funding.

Chu said that the cuts the Energy Department is facing would significantly slow down the country’s quest to become energy independent, a goal that 64 percent of Americans (from both sides of the political aisle) favor.

Frances Beineke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the sequester cuts will force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on their air quality monitoring across the U.S., as well as their programs to monitor drinking water. This puts all Americans at risk of breathing polluted air and drinking contaminated water. 

Jobs in the environmental sector will also take a significant hit, as the Department of the Interior is now having to plan job cuts for park rangers in state parks, as well as reduced hours for those who manage to hold onto their jobs.

Never a group to allow an opportunity to bash the EPA slip away, the dirty energy industry-funded Heritage Foundation has used the sequester cuts to highlight how wasteful (and intrusive) the EPA is for American taxpayers:

Heritage experts Jack Spencer, Nicolas Loris and Katie Tubb argue instead for freedom-based reforms, writing that Congress should:

  • Prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, saving families who rely on the 82 percent of the energy used in the U.S. that produce greenhouse gases;
  • Stop the EPA’s regulatory overreach, which is artificially driving the cost of energy higher, harming job creation and providing little to no environmental benefit; and
  • Repeal the EPA’s energy efficiency initiatives, which drive up gas prices and restrict consumer choice.

Such reforms would save taxpayers money by reducing the scope of the EPA’s ever-expanding mission, and they would also serve the needs of the economy by lightening the heavy regulatory burden on America’s businesses.

The spin from Heritage underscores the severity of the cuts facing the country. Not only will the sequester cuts put a tremendous strain on our economy as a whole, but the health effects that will result from more pollution and less monitoring will become a second wave of economic (and of course, environmental) impacts that should leave us all worried about the future.

Visit EcoWatch’s AIR, WATER and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

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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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