17 Ways the Trump Administration Assaulted the Environment Over the Holidays
By John R. Platt
While visions of sugarplums danced in some of our heads, the Trump administration had a different vision—of a country unbound by rules that protect people, places, wildlife and the climate. Over the past two weeks, the administration has proposed or finalized changes to how the government and the industries it regulates respond to climate change, migratory birds, clean energy, pesticides and toxic chemicals. Here's a timeline:
Dec. 18: Dropped climate change from the list of global threats affecting national security. (Oddly enough, Trump did this just five days after he signed off on next year's military budget, which just so happens to call climate change a national security threat.)
Dec. 19: Hid language that would exempt the Federal Emergency Management Agency from following requirements set by the Endangered Species Act in an an $81 billion emergency supplemental funding bill.
Dec. 20: Indefinitely postponed the previously announced ban of three toxic chemicals: methylene chloride, N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) and trichloroethylene (TCE).
Dec. 20: Signed an executive order requiring the "streamlining" of the leasing and permitting processes for exploration, production and refining of vaguely defined "critical minerals" (a list of which will be announced later by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke).
Dec. 21: Halted two independent studies by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, one to improve the safety of offshore drilling platforms and another to look at the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining in central Appalachia.
Dec. 21: Revoked the Obama-era Resource Management Planning Rule (Planning 2.0 Rule), which advocated new technologies to improve transparency related to mining on public lands. A Federal Register filing said this rule "shall be treated as if it had never taken effect."
Dec. 22: Signed the massive, unpopular Republican "tax reform" bill. The bill, which strongly benefits the richest Americans, contains numerous anti-environmental elements, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Dec. 22: Ruled that "incidental" killings of 1,000 migratory bird species are, somehow, not illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The legal opinion is considered by many a giveaway to the energy industry—which applauded the change—and was written by a former Koch staffer turned Trump political appointee.
Dec. 22: Reversed a previous Obama-era Interior Department decision to withdraw permits for a proposed $2.8 billion copper mine in Minnesota. The mine lease is owned by the Chilean billionaire who also happens to own Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's rented D.C. mansion.
Dec. 27: Announced a plan to consider dramatically expanding the use of a neonicotinoid insecticide called thiamethoxam, which has been proven damaging or deadly to bees.
Dec. 28: Declared the beaverpond marstonia snail extinct, the first such extinction under the Trump administration. (Obviously this is a failure of the administrations that preceded Trump, but the declaration still comes under his watch.)
Dec. 28: Announced a plan to repeal yet another Obama-era rule, this one governing fracking standards on federal and tribal lands. The rule, which never actually took effect, would have required companies to disclose chemicals used in their fracking fluids, set standards for well construction and required surface ponds holding fracking fluids to be covered.
Dec. 28: Trump sent yet another tweet mocking climate change during a period of record cold temperatures, a not-so-subtle hint about his legislative agenda and personal intractability on the subject.
Dec. 29: Proposed to remove or rewrite offshore-drilling safety regulations put in place by the Obama administration after the deadly Deepwater Horizon disaster, saying "it's time for a paradigm shift" in regulations.
Now that the new year has arrived, how many other changes will follow? In all likelihood, this is just the beginning. President Trump's "Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions," announced Dec. 14, contains hundreds of provisions affecting endangered species, energy development and just about every other major environmental issue. Those will all start to move forward in the months ahead.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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