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As the curtain comes down on President Barack Obama's eight years in the White House, most Americans seemed convinced of one of two things: We're either about to Make America Great Again®, or we're about to hurtle into an uncertain epoch that I like to call the Idiocene.
But before we turn the page on this administration let's take a look back at the tall tales, regrettable pronouncements, farces and scams on climate and the environment during the Obama years. Anti-regulatory zealots led the pack, but President Obama contributed a few of his own—starting on his first full day in office:
After promising transparency, President Obama's Administration was called "one of the most secretive."
1. January 2009: The most transparent administration? Not quite.
A day after his inauguration, President Obama signed a memorandum promising: "the most transparent administration in history."
By May 2016, a different verdict came in. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called it "one of the most secretive." In August 2015, 52 journalism organizations, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, sent an appeal to the White House, asking for an end to restrictions on government employees' contact with reporters.
2. October 2009: Global warming stops (except it totally doesn't)
Scientists begin asking questions about why the pace of rising temperatures seems to be defying projections and slowing. Despite the emergence of serious, credible reasons for this – notably that the oceans are working overtime to absorb excess heat – climate deniers have a field day with cherry-picked data.
Even as daily, monthly, and annual warmth records continue to be broken, there's been "no global warming at all" for nearly two decades in Deniertown.
In a November 2009 press release, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce declares the "War On Coal" is underway.
3. November 2009: War is declared, a slogan is born
In a press release, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce declares the "War On Coal" is underway.
4. November 2009: Russian hack (no, the other one)
Hackers, believed to be Russian-based, steal thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit. Climate deniers spin a few poorly worded correspondences between scientists into a vast conspiracy to fake climate research.
The faux scandal upends coverage of the Copenhagen climate summit, the scientists are cleared of any wrongdoing by multiple investigations, and the hackers are never caught. But their work foreshadows the 2016 election hack.
5. January 2010: Moderate Republicans join Endangered Species List
The Citizens United decision breaches the dam on corporate cash. The high court votes 5-4 to fundamentally reshape the already-cockeyed way election campaigns are financed, offering cover to corporations and super-PACs to target undesirable candidates for defeat.
"Moderate" Republicans are virtually driven into extinction, and the few who acknowledge climate change have a change of heart.
6. March 2010: Fake fishing news sends real readers reeling
An ESPN.com outdoors columnist launches a viral hoax, suggesting that Obama is planning to outlaw all recreational fishing. Within days, chronic Obama critics—from Fox News and the Daily Caller to columnist Michelle Malkin, RedState.com and GatewayPundit.com—dutifully spread the word about "Obama's latest assault on freedom." Except not a word of it is remotely true.
7. April 2010: Obama's oil comment gaffe
18 days before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Obama says "Oil rigs today don't generally cause spills."
8. May 2010: Limbaugh gets to the bottom of Deepwater Horizon
Rush Limbaugh says "environmental wackos" staged Deepwater Horizon as a fundraising scheme.
9. May 2010: Anti-vax doctor defrocked
The UK's General Medical Council strips Dr. Andrew Wakefield of his license to practice. He authored the 1998 paper linking vaccines to autism. The paper was later retracted by The Lancet and declared "utterly false."
10. February 2011: The Maine governor doesn't understand BPA
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, possibly the only politician too dumb for the Trump Administration, declares that BPA's worst-case scenario would be women with beards.
11. September 2011: Solyndra slips, solar scandal soars
Solyndra fails. The solar company stranded investors and bailed on a half-billion dollar Energy Department loan amid evidence that Obama Administration cronies stood to benefit. But solar energy critics vault a relatively minor scandal into a renewables Benghazi – overlooking the generally successful record of DOE's startup loans as well as the much larger handouts given to fossil fuel companies.
12. September 2011: The Donald picks a wind fight. Fore!
Donald Trump sends the first of 16 angry, obsessive letters or emails to Scotland's First Minister about the proposed windfarm near his golf resort. Sad!!
13 and 14. May 2012: Heartless Heartland campaign
An electronic billboard on a Chicago freeway heralds the start of a campaign by the Heartland Institute to brand climate-change advocates as cold-blooded serial killers. The first features the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. It draws such a backlash that the billboards featuring climate advocates Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden (really) never get a full airing. Heartland is further tarnished by revelations that it solicited fossil fuel money to pursue its climate denial agenda.
Lamar Smith becomes Chair of House Science Committee, and eventually the Torquemada-in-Chief of government climate scientists. Rep. Smith's committee room becomes an inquisition chamber for government climate scientists and their agency bosses.
By Nadia Prupis
A Reuters investigation this week uncovered nearly 3,000 different communities across the U.S. with lead levels higher than those found in Flint, Michigan, which has been the center of an ongoing water contamination crisis since 2014.
The investigation found that many of the hot-spots are receiving little attention or funding. Local healthcare advocates said they hope the reporting will spur action from influential community leaders.
All of the communities Reuters investigated had lead levels at least two times higher than Flint's; more than 1,000 were four times higher. In most cases, the local data covered a 5- to 10-year period through 2015, the analysis states.
Areas affected by lead poisoning populate the map from Texas to Pennsylvania, reported Reuters' M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer. The available data charts 21 states that are home to about 61 percent of the U.S. population.
Despite the massive drop in lead poisoning rates since the 1970s—when heavy metals were phased out of paint and gasoline—many communities throughout the country are still at risk.
"The national mean doesn't mean anything for a kid who lives in a place where the risks are much higher," said Dr. Helen Egger, chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center's Child Study Center.
Like Flint, many of the communities are mired in "legacy lead," Reuters reported—old industrial waste, crumbling paint or corrosive pipes. But few have received help or attention.
Contamination in children can cause cognitive difficulties, which in turn can lead to low school performance, few job opportunities and trouble with the law. That cycle was examined last year when 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray died after his spine was severed in police custody. Amid protests against brutality and racism, many noted that Gray experienced lead poisoning as a child while living in an area with persistently high exposure levels.
But the problem is nationwide and affects a vast spectrum of communities, Reuters writes. Milwaukee, Wisconsin still has "135,000 prewar dwellings with lead paint and 70,000 with lead water service lines" and $50 million has already been spent to protect the city's children. Many families do not have the funds to make the repairs themselves and laws requiring owners to remove lead from their properties are not consistent state by state.
"Reporters visited several of the trouble spots: a neighborhood with many rundown homes in South Bend, Indiana; a rural mining town in Missouri's Lead Belt; the economically depressed North Side of Milwaukee," Pell and Schneyer write. "In each location, it was easy to find people whose lives have been impacted by lead exposure. While poverty remains a potent predictor of lead poisoning, the victims span the American spectrum—poor and rich, rural and urban, black and white."
In St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the most contaminated neighborhoods included in the study, even a local pediatrician's children had lead poisoning.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate approved a $170 million aid package to repair Flint's corrosive pipes and fund recovery efforts. But that is 10 times the budget the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allotted for lead poisoning assistance this year, Reuters notes.
"I hope this data spurs questions from the public to community leaders who can make changes," epidemiologist Robert Walker, co-chair of the CDC's Lead Content Work Group, told Reuters. "I would think that it would turn some heads."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.