With Nation Transfixed by Impeachment, Trump Admin Quietly Serves Offshore Drilling Companies a 'Sweetheart Giveaway'
By Andrea Germanos
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was condemned Monday for a proposed policy shift on offshore drilling panned as a "sweetheart giveaway" for a former client.
The new extraction-encouraging proposal was announced last month in a report by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), two agencies within the Interior Department and occurred, according to transparency group Western Values Project, "under the cloud of impeachment."
Bernhardt's announcement followed longstanding fears that the former lobbyist would use his position in the federal government to serve the interests of the fossil fuel lobby above those of the American people and public lands. The recommendations laid out in the report pertain to royalties for offshore leasing and drilling.
"Federal officials," as Louisiana's Houma Today reported, "are offering oil and gas companies a discount on the fees they pay the government to drill in the Gulf of Mexico's shallow waters."
If enacted, the policy to "ensure maximum resource recovery" would benefit the oil and gas industry National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), on whose behalf Bernhardt previously lobbied, said Western Values Project.
Also noteworthy, said the advocacy group, is that the report was co-authored by BSEE Director Scott Angelle, who also has ties to the fossil fuel industry. Western Values Project said that, during the government shutdown, Angelle — who has NOIA's stamp of approval for his current position — green-lit 53 permits for offshore drilling for companies that sit on the board of directors for NOIA.
"Since day one, Secretary Bernhardt has operated as though Interior was his own personal lobby shop by doling out favors for his former clients with impunity. This offshore royalty rate reduction deal is short selling our shared resources and ripping off taxpayers," said Jayson O'Neill, deputy director of Western Values Project.
"With Trump's own corruption dominating headlines," he continued, "Bernhardt probably thought this sweetheart giveaway to his former oil and gas client would slip by unnoticed."
Oil giants like Chevron and Shell are already taking advantage of a loophole in federal law to avoid paying at least $18 billion in royalties on oil and gas drilled in the Gulf since 1996, The New York Times reported in October, citing a report from the Government Accountability Office.
The possible policy shift sparked environmental worries from New Orleans-based advocacy group Healthy Gulf, which called the proposal "a recipe for disaster" in a tweet last month.
"This administration wants to lease areas of the Gulf for 'high-risk, small-upside opportunities' to smaller oil companies who don't have the resources to handle spills," the group said. "This proposal is as illogical as it is dangerous."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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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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