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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.
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The depths of the oceans are heating up more slowly than the surface and the air, but that will undergo a dramatic shift in the second half of the century, according to a new study. Researchers expect the rate of climate change in the deep parts of the oceans could accelerate to seven times their current rate after 2050, as The Guardian reported.
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By Joni Sweet
Should you skip your annual checkup? The answer would have been a resounding "no" if you asked most doctors before the pandemic.
But with the risk of COVID-19, the answer isn't so clear anymore.
Are States Allowing Preventive Care Visits?<p>First things first: If you're experiencing a medical emergency, don't delay treatment.</p><p>While there's the potential that you could be <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/hai/data/portal/index.html" target="_blank">exposed to infections at the emergency room</a>, the health risks of avoiding urgent medical care could be far more severe.</p><p>Hospitals have also implemented precautionary measures, like distributing masks to patients, that help cut down the risk of viral exposure.</p><p>Now that that's out of the way, is it possible to start catching up on routine healthcare appointments, like physicals and dental cleanings?</p><p>"Different places are in different stages of opening up," said <a href="https://www.methodisthealth.org/doctors/arvind-ankireddypalli/" target="_blank">Dr. Arvind Ankireddypalli</a>, primary care physician and geriatrician at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. "Preventative services might not even be available in some communities, [and in others] medical appointments may be on a case-by-case basis."</p>
Is it Safe to Go to the Doctor?<p>If your state is open (or will end its lockdown soon), you may be able to start booking preventive care appointments, like Pap smears, cancer screenings, checkups, and dental cleanings.</p><p>But is it worth the risk of possible exposure to the new coronavirus?</p><p>Opinions vary among healthcare providers and the conditions of their patients, as well as the infection rate in their communities and availability of personal protective equipment.</p><p><a href="https://www.lenhorovitz.com/" target="_blank">Dr. Len Horovitz</a>, internist, pulmonary specialist, and director of Carnegie Medical, recommends that patients avoid delaying their annual physical or other types of preventive care.</p><p>"You will encounter problems that are best seen earlier rather than later," he said. "It is possible to provide a safe environment for a patient in the doctor's office. There's no reason for people to put off an annual exam; these are important appointments that help keep problems from getting out of control."</p><p>In an effort to curb the spread of infection, Horovitz has been following a strict set of procedures at his office, including allowing just one patient in at a time, requiring patients to wear masks and gloves, and disinfecting the examination room between every patient.</p><p>Other physicians, like Ankireddypalli, conduct a risk-benefit analysis for every patient before agreeing to see them in person.</p><p>"It is probably not appropriate to keep delaying visits for high-risk patients, like older adults or people with chronic conditions," he explained.</p>
Role of Telehealth Visits<p>Telemedicine visits, where doctors connect with patients via phone or video chat, can be an option if in-person appointments are risky or prohibited.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/downloads/medicaid-chip-telehealth-toolkit.pdf" target="_blank">Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services</a> and some private insurance companies have expanded coverage for telehealth services during the pandemic. As a result, some practices have seen the <a href="https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/during-pandemic-telehealth-visits-soar-10-week-300-group-practice" target="_blank">use of telemedicine services soar</a> over the last few months.</p><p>"Telemedicine is a way that patients can be seen, evaluated, counseled, and informed about their healthcare without being exposed to the dangers of going into lobbies and offices," said <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/biographies/ommen-steve-r-m-d/bio-20053861" target="_blank">Dr. Steve Ommen</a>, cardiologist and associate dean of the Mayo Clinic Center for Connected Care, which offers telemedicine services.</p><p>"It is particularly relevant for patients who already have a relationship with a provider, the appointment is for an ongoing care episode, and the patient doesn't need to be touched," he said.</p><p>A virtual doctor's visit can't be a substitute for all routine care, though. Cancer screenings, blood draws, evaluations of lumps, Pap smears, and other services still need to be done in person.</p><p>But even if you do have to go to the doctor's office, telehealth services can help cut down on the amount of time you spend there, thus potentially reducing your exposure to the new coronavirus and other germs.</p>
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Viral images of thousands of people eschewing the recommendations of medical experts and epidemiologists were on full display in the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend. In Missouri, St. Louis County officials called the images of crowds gathered at pool parties at bars and yacht clubs in the Lake of the Ozarks an "international example of bad judgment," according to The Washington Post.
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By Jeannette Cwienk
When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?
More and More Multilayer Packaging<p>How easy is it to recognize multilayer packaging? With drink cartons, it's usually obvious that they're made from a combination of different materials, but with other products, such as candy wrappers, it's a different story.</p><p>Such packaging can be made from a complex mix of up to 10 different films of plastic, which as Joachim Christiani, managing director of German recycling institute cyclos-HTP, explains, is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-produces-record-amount-of-packaging-waste/a-51293541" target="_blank">invisible to consumers</a>.</p><p>"In recent years there's been a trend toward so-called multilayer packaging, which is extremely light and thin. It saves material as well as CO2 emissions during transport, but can't be recycled," Christiani says.</p><p>Because it is not possible to melt the different plastics together, or — at least for now — to separate the individual films from one another at recycling plants.</p>
Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
Room for Greenwashing<p>According to a 2018 survey by Germany's vzbv consumer protection association, most consumers would like to see more plastic recycling, especially when it comes to packaging.</p><p>Although some products come in packaging that is advertised as being "made from recycled material," Elke Salzmann, a resource protection officer with vzbv, says that can be misleading.</p><p>"It says nothing about how much recycled material the packaging actually contains," according to Salzmann. "And it also doesn't mean that the recycled plastic comes from collected plastic waste. It could just as well come from plastic leftovers created during the production of primary plastic."</p><p>The term "ocean plastic," which some textile and shoe manufacturers use to advertise the recycled plastic in their product lines, can also be misleading, Salzmann says.</p><p><span></span>"Plastic waste from the ocean is in much too bad a state to be recycled. Instead, they use plastic waste from beaches or riverbanks."</p>
Laws Against Plastic<p>Images of garbage choking our waters and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/eurythenes-plasticus-a-deep-sea-crustacean-full-of-plastic/a-52663559" target="_blank">killing marine wildlife</a> have played a key role in giving plastic a negative reputation among the public, and politicians have started to act.</p><p>Many countries worldwide have introduced bans on single-use items, and in Germany, a 2019 packaging law stipulates a plastics recycling quota of 90% from 2022, up from 36%. That said, the quota only refers to how much material has to be fed into the recycling system, not how much ultimately needs to be recycled.</p>
Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
Clear Plastics Are Easiest to Recycle<p>As things stand, PET bottles are easiest to recycle because they're not mixed with other materials. New bottles can therefore easily be made from the old ones and the recycling rate is high. But the color of the bottle can pose a problem.</p><p>Because plastic is sorted by type rather than color, if different colors of plastic are mixed, the resulting recyclate cannot be used for light-colored packaging, which many manufacturers want. The upshot is the introduction of new plastic instead.</p><p>Consumer and environmental associations have long called for recyclability, greater sorting purity and better sorting facilities, but their most important demand remains waste avoidance through reusable systems.</p><p>"Why melt down disposable bottles to make new disposable bottles when you can refill them up to 20 times?" Buschmann asks.</p>
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When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the future of the Cannard Family Farm—whose organic vegetables supplied a single Berkeley restaurant—was looking stark.
Building Food Communities<p>Family farms in California and across the country have been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on their markets. But in the health-conscious Bay Area, where celery was already one of the first groceries to disappear from the produce rack, demand for fresh local produce has shot up. The challenge is in redirecting food from farms to new customers.</p><p>Sonoma County has historically been an agricultural region. When the organic food movement sprang up in the 1970s, this area was one of its early proponents. The first farmers markets and CSAs appeared in the 1980s and flourished, but the burgeoning network was later eclipsed by an inflated wine industry, much of it owned by distant corporations.</p><p>According to a 2018 crop report, 60,000 acres have gone to grapes, with only 500 acres in food crops. Land prices have skyrocketed, the cost of labor has gone up, and increased regulations have all made it harder to run a viable business here. Many farmers had turned to "boutique" specialty crops for restaurants.</p><p>"Farmers are always in an uphill battle, especially ecological farmers," says Wiig of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "I often hear them say, 'I'm working my butt off and hoping for the best.'" That's even more true now, as the pandemic strangles economies the world over.</p>
Scaling Up Support<p>F.E.E.D. Sonoma, a food hub that aggregates produce from dozens of local farms, was another quick responder. When the pandemic hit, it went from serving Bay Area restaurants to building a cooperative of farmers, filling food boxes for distribution at F.E.E.D.'s Petaluma warehouse and other drop spots in the county.</p><p>"Our local food system is extremely diverse," says co-founder Tim Page, who has the energy of a visionary combined with the skills of a businessman. "We have a ton of small farms but we don't have the infrastructure to support them. That is what F.E.E.D. is trying to establish." Since converting the restaurant supply business to a CSA, it has gone from 90 boxes to 450. Ultimately, the goal is 1,800 or more.</p><p>"I grew up in L.A.," Page says. "Every single farm is gone. The same thing will happen here if the general public does not understand the importance of it.</p><p>"That understanding was on display at the Sonoma Farmers Market, which now operates with strict restrictions and safety precautions because of the virus. "We think F.E.E.D. is going to save us," said Candy Wirtz, co-director of Paul's Produce, a well-established farm in Sonoma, as she weighed out my purchases. The CSA model could be transformative for Paul's and other farms across the country.</p><p>Subscribing to a CSA is a lifestyle change for consumers, to be sure. It means eating what's in season and learning to cook unfamiliar vegetables. But it's a change that many people are making now because of the stay-at-home orders. "People just have to learn to cook again instead of eating out," says Judith Redmond, part-owner of Full Belly Farm near Sacramento.</p><p>In light of this newfound commitment to CSAs, Perrotti, of Coyote Family Farm, says: "My hope is that this solidifies instead of going back to the way things were. I hope the importance of local farming stays at the forefront."</p>
Farms With Futures<p>To help small farmers stay in business during the crisis, Community Alliance is also advocating for stimulus dollars. "Most often subsidies go to a small number of the largest farms, or to buy food that goes to food banks from far away, while local farmers can't sell their food," Wiig says. "We want food banks to buy from local farms."</p><p>This seems like a win-win. Millions of tons of food is being plowed under as 60 million people are now going hungry, 17 million of them since the pandemic began, according to Feeding America, the national network of food banks.</p><p>But it's complicated. David Goodman of the Redwood Empire Food Bank puts it plainly: Local food is too expensive. "We distribute nine and a half million pounds of produce annually," he says. "It costs about 9 cents a pound, 3 cents to transport. With 82,000 people to feed, it would be a luxury to think of tending to local needs by buying locally."</p><p>That reticence is partly because the food bank system is tangled in bureaucracy. The USDA decides what to purchase and from where. Because of the distances between sites, the federal agency has tended to favor foods with long shelf lives, such as canned and processed foods, and long-lasting produce like apples and potatoes. "If local food is what we need, there has to be a plan," Goodman says.</p><p>Such a plan might be where short-term disaster relief meets long-term resilience. Michael Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for transforming California's food system. To get serious about preparing the food system for future disasters, Dimock says, the government needs to be involved. Roots of Change is now advocating for a tax on sugary beverages to help foot the bill.</p><p>Dimock says the state needs a paradigm shift for farms to remain viable in the face of multiplying disasters to come—not only pandemics, but fires, floods, and other symptoms of climate change. "How bold will people get in the months ahead to demand real change? My hope is they will get more radical."</p><p>Food is fundamental. While farmers have yet to face the full economic impact of this pandemic, their collaborative efforts, along with local grassroots networks, could mark the beginning of a new economy laboring to be born.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Nearly 200 Canadian organizations on Monday rolled out their demands for a "just recovery," saying that continuing business-as-usual after the pandemic would prevent the kind of far-reaching transformation needed to put "the health and well-being of ALL peoples and ecosystems first."
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Alberta Energy Minister Calls Pandemic ‘a Great Time’ to Build Pipelines Due to Protest Restrictions
Anti-pipeline protests work.
That's the implication behind comments made by Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage Friday on how coronavirus social distancing requirements could ease the construction of Canada's controversial Trans Mountain Expansion project.