Shutdown, Drilling and Coal: The Trump Administration’s Holiday Gifts to the World
By Tara Lohan
President Trump didn't exactly lie low over the holidays.
The battle over border-wall funding and the announced departures of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stole most of the headlines, but they were hardly the only events of the Trump administration's Christmas.
We kept a close watch on news affecting the environment, health and wildlife, and there was plenty to keep us busy. From new developments on plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to attacks on air-pollution regulations, here's a blow-by-blow account of what you may have missed:
Dec. 14: Trump tapped his budget director and notorious climate-change denier Mick Mulvaney as his new chief of staff. The former South Carolina Congressman has a 6 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, and when asked about funding for climate programs in 2017, he said, "We consider that to be a waste of your money."
Dec. 15: Trump announced that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is facing numerous investigations, would be out at the end of the year. Follow-up reporting reminded folks that Zinke will likely still be forced to account for his actions. And of course, the infrastructure of like-minded fossil fuel boosters that he put into place in Interior will live on long after he's gone.
Dec. 18: Thirteen species being considered for Endangered Species Act listing were all denied protection by the Trump administration. The ill-fated species include the Cedar Key mole skink, Florida sandhill crane, Fremont County rockcress, Frisco buckwheat, Ostler's peppergrass, Frisco clover, MacGillivray's seaside sparrow, Ozark pyrg, pale blue-eyed grass, San Joaquin Valley giant flower-loving fly, striped newt, Tinian monarch and Tippecanoe darter. (One of those species, the Ozark pyrg, won't get protected because it's been declared extinct—after waiting decades as a candidate species for the Endangered Species Act.)
Dec. 19: Trump's Department of Energy helped grease the wheels for the natural gas industry by speeding up the export-approval process for liquefied natural gas.
Dec. 19: The administration released a plan to reduce children's lead exposure, but it got mixed reviews, with many concluding it lacked teeth to make any significant difference. "This plan does not actually promise to take specific regulatory or enforcement action within any specific time," said a statement from Erik Olson, senior director of Health and Food for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Dec. 20: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced his resignation. In a rare exception to Trump administration denialism, Mattis spoke about the threats of climate change and their potential impacts on national security and global political stability.
Dec. 20: The Bureau of Land Management released its "draft environmental impact statement" for opening up the famed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Sticking to a rushed timeline, the agency said it intends to start lease sales later this year.
Dec. 21: The federal government is still fighting protection for grizzlies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a notice that it will appeal a decision by a judge in Montana that reinstated Endangered Species Act protection to grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area after the agency moved to delist them in 2017.
Dec. 22: A partial government shutdown began after Trump refused to sign a continuing resolution over demands for funding for a border wall that would devastate wildlife, public lands and regional economies. The shutdown furloughed biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Service, climate-change researchers from NASA, rangers and other staff at national parks, weather forecasters and a host of other government employees working to protect and steward our public-trust resources.
Dec. 25: Within days of the shutdown, access to online information from various federal agencies was reported missing, including public documents from the Department of the Interior related to a controversial plan to change conservation rules that would threaten sage-grouse habitat. Online tools and information sites from the ENERGY STAR program and other government agencies were also shut off.
Dec. 26: As the shutdown continues, reports emerge about how it puts wildlife and public safety at risk at national parks and other federal lands. The problem only got worse by the end of the month, when the parks whose gates remained open—but whose staffs were not allowed to work—reported overflowing visitors' toilets and a rash of vandalism, fires and other damage to natural habitats.
Dec. 28: In a move that could affect future public-health rules, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft rule that would change the way the government determines the cost and benefit of harmful air pollutants. Critics point out this would hurt both humans and wildlife. "EPA's proposal to undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards is one of its most dangerous efforts yet," said a statement from Harold P. Wimmer, chief executive of the American Lung Association.
Dec. 29: The impacts of the partial government shutdown reached the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which finally ran out of funds and furloughed staff whose jobs include, "answering Freedom of Information Act requests, inspection of power plants and reviews of toxic substances," Mother Jones reported.
What will January bring? We'll undoubtedly see more similar attacks on the environment, and the effects of the government shutdown will continue to build. But House Democrats are already planning to introduce a new spending bill that could, in theory, reopen the EPA and other agencies, and the new wave of recently elected pro-environment Democratic candidates is about to take office. Whether that leads to progress, or if we'll keep getting coal in our stockings, remains to be seen.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published byThe Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist,Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Tropical Storm Josephine Also No Threat to Land<p>Meanwhile, the season's record-earliest tenth named storm, Tropical Storm Josephine, was also struggling with high wind shear as it traced out a path over the open ocean.</p><p>At 5 a.m. EDT Saturday, Josephine was located about 310 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 15 mph with top sustained winds at 45 mph. Josephine is expected to bring one to three inches of rain over portions of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico over the weekend. Josephine will encounter steadily rising wind shear through Monday, peaking at a very high 30 – 35 knots. This high shear is likely to destroy Josephine's circulation by Monday, before the storm can affect any other land areas.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/tropical-storm-kyle-forms-unlikely-to-affect-land/" target="_blank">Yale Climate Connections</a>. </em><em></em></p>
By Ute Eberle
In May 2017, shells started washing up along the Ligurian coast in Italy. They were small and purple and belonged to a snail called Janthina pallida that is rarely seen on land. But the snails kept coming — so many that entire stretches of the beach turned pastel.
The Ligurian coast has been swept by snails turning its color pastel.
A World Between Worlds<p>The neuston comprises a multitude of weird and wonderful creatures. </p><p>Many, like the Portuguese man-of-war, which paralyzes its prey with venomous tentacles up to 30 meters long, are colored an electric shade of blue, possibly to protect themselves against the sun's UV rays, or as camouflages against predators.</p><p>There are also by-the-wind sailors, flattish creatures that raise chitin shields from the water like sails; slugs known as sea dragons that cling to the water's surface from below with webbed appendages; barnacles that build bubble rafts as big as dinner plates; and the world's only marine insects, a relation of the pond skater.</p><p>They live "between the worlds" of the sea and sky, as Federico Betti, a marine biologist at the University of Genoa, puts it. From below, predators lurk. From above, the sun burns. Winds and waves toss them about. Depending on the weather, their environment may be warm or cool, salty or less so.</p>
Sea snails can make up the neuston.
Velella velella jellyfish living on the surface of the ocean.<p>But now, they face another — manmade — threat from nets designed to catch trash. A project called <a href="https://theoceancleanup.com/" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a>, run by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, has raised millions of dollars in donations and sponsorship to deploy long barriers with nets that will drift across the ocean in open loops to sweep up floating garbage. </p>
Collecting With the Current<p>"Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable," <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/green-entrepreneur-sets-sights-on-great-pacific-garbage-patch/a-38855785" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a> declares on its website.</p><p>But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup's proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.</p><p>One focus of Helm's studies is where these organisms congregate. "There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we're trying to figure out why," says Helm.</p><p>One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. "Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life."</p>
Waste collection in the Pacific Ocean heralded by The Ocean Cleanup.<p>The Ocean Cleanup says Helm's concerns are based on "misguided assumptions."</p><p>"It's true that neustonic organisms will be trapped in the barriers," says Gerhard Herndl, professor of Aquatic Biology at the University of Vienna and one of project's scientific advisors. "But these organisms have dangerous lives. They're adapted to high losses because they get washed ashore in storms and they have high reproductive rates. If they didn't, they'd already be extinct."</p><p>Helm says they just don't know how quickly these creatures reproduce, and in any case recovering from passing storm is very different from surviving The Ocean Clean Up's systems which could be in place for years.</p>
Communication Breakdown<p>The Ocean Cleanup invited Helm to a symposium on the topic in December, where both sides presented their points of views and didn't seem to find much common ground. Since then, direct communication between them has stopped, says Helm. "They're not interested in talking to me anymore."</p><p>Both sides agree that much is still unknown about the neuston. But one thing that has been established is that most of the oceans' fish spend part of their lifecycle in the neuston. "More than 90% of marine fish species produce floating eggs that persist on the surface until hatching," Betti says.</p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has undertaken one of the few studies into this ecosystem, collecting data on the neuston on the relative abundance of neuston and floating plastic debris in the eastern North Pacific Ocean during a 2019 expedition to the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area where plastic pollution has accumulated on a vast scale. But it is not yet sharing what it has found. The information was being prepared for publication in an as of yet unspecified journal, probably some time next year, an Ocean Cleanup spokesperson said. </p>
Inshore Solution?<p>Helm believes the best way to tackle the marine plastic problem would be to position the barriers closer to land — across river mouths and bays — to catch garbage before it reaches the sea.</p><p>"Stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean is the most cost-effective — and literally effective — way to ensure that it's not entering our environment," she says. </p><p>As for the plastic already floating in open waters, she does not believe it is worth sacrificing parts of neuston and wants to see more research first. </p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has made barriers across rivers a part of its mission. But it is also going ahead with its original vision of pulling trash from the open water. In late 2018, the project deployed a 600-meter, u-shaped prototype net into the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Great Pacific Garbage Patch</a>. </p><p>The system ran into difficulties, failing to retain plastic as hoped, and needing to be brought shore for repairs and a design upgrade, after which Ocean Cleanup says it gathered haul of plastic that it will recycle and resell to help fund future operations.</p><p>Over the next two years, the project hopes to deploy up to 60 such barriers to collect drifting flotsam. Helm isn't the only one concerned about these plans.</p><p><span></span>"We should think twice about every action we take in the sea," Betti says. "In nature, nothing is as easy as we think, and often, we've done a lot of damage while trying to do a good thing."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2646992655#/" target="_self"></a></em><em></em></p>
By Hope Dickens
Molly Craig's day begins with feeding hungry baby birds at 6 a.m. The birds need to be fed every 15 minutes until 7 at night. If she's not feeding them, other staff at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, Illinois take turns helping the hungry orphans.
By Douglas Broom
"Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people," said former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt.
So the FAO is using Twitter to remind the world of these five hidden benefits of forests.
A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.
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