'Sharpiegate': Commerce Department Blocks Release of Inspector General's Report
Questions linger as to why NOAA officials decided to support Trump's inaccurate warnings. Apparently, the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA, does not want the public to know. The Commerce Department has impeded an inspector general's investigation into whether or not the administration coerced officials into supporting a false narrative and is blocking a release of the report, according to The New York Times.
In a memo from Inspector General Peggy Gustafson to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, she takes the rare step of publicly airing a dispute between an agency inspector general and a cabinet secretary, according to The Washington Post. In the memo, she claims that Ross' office "thwarted" the publication of her report. She claims that the Commerce Department has claimed that portions of the report cannot be made public, but they have not specified which portions, according to The New York Times.
The department's refusal to cooperate with the release of the investigation "appears to be directly linked to the content of our report and the findings of responsibility of the high-level individuals involved," Gustafson wrote, according to The New York Times.
The full report has not been released, but on Monday, a summary was posted that said that the department led a "flawed process that discounted NOAA participation," and also "required NOAA to issue a Statement that did not further NOAA's or [National Weather Service's (NWS)] interests," as The Hill reported.
That summary also said that NOAA "failed to account for the public safety intent of the NWS Birmingham tweet and the distinction between physical science and social science messaging."
That failure to account for public safety came from NOAA's officials walking back a tweet from the NWS Birmingham's office that said "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama."
It turns out the unsigned statement that contradicted NWS Birmingham's tweet was the result of pressure from the White House on Secretary Ross, who oversees NOAA and who threatened to fire the political staff at NOAA unless the contradiction of Mr. Trump was addressed, as The New York Times reported.
The full report was supposed to be released on Tuesday, but it has yet to be released, which prompted the unusual memo from Gustafson. As The Washington Post reported, Senator Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said: "This situation has gone from bad to worse. Secretary Ross must immediately cease this campaign to keep the public in the dark. The Inspector General is doing their job and the public deserves to see the report. Release the report now, Mr. Secretary."
The Washington Post also noted that this year NOAA's credibility is particularly important as forecasters are predicting an active hurricane season amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which is seeing a surge in vulnerable states like Florida and Texas. The need to social distance will pose unprecedented challenges for storm preparation, evacuation and response. That means NOAA's forecasts and advice need to have ironclad credibility since they are integral to public safety.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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