Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Trump's Budget Plan: A Push for Even Greater Environmental Regression

Politics
Trump looks on as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during an event to unveil changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

President Donald Trump has unveiled his budget proposal for the next federal fiscal year, and it's predictably harsh for wildlife and the environment — but great for oil, gas and coal.


Of course, the annual presidential budget is more spectacle than anything else. The real budget each year comes from Congress, which may or may not take up the president's suggestions.

But whether or not the White House budget proposal's recommendations go any further, it reveals the dark truth about the Trump administration's priorities, especially as they relate to environmental issues.

Here's what we see in this year's budget:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget would be slashed 26.5%, including a 10% reduction in the Superfund hazardous-waste cleanup program, a nearly 50% reduction in research and development, a $376 million take from efforts to improve air quality, and the elimination of 50 programs that the administration perceives as outside the "core" of the EPA's mission (among them: clean-water grants for disadvantaged communities and the EnergyStar energy-conservation program). It would also reduce EPA staffing to its lowest levels in three decades, further hampering enforcement of existing regulations.
  • The Department of the Interior would lose 8% of its budget, including $587 million from the National Park Service and $80 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That includes an $11 million reduction in the Endangered Species Act listing program (which evaluates species for their extinction risk).
  • Federal land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund would be nearly eliminated through a 97% budget cut — after a long fight to reauthorize the program over the past two years.
  • The Multinational Species Conservation Fund would be cut by $9 million.
  • State and tribal wildlife grants would lose more than half of their funding.
  • The Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funding would be cut by 74% and the Advanced Research Project Agency–Energy efforts would be eliminated as part of a larger trend toward defunding research and development and basic science.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey would lose about half of its ecosystem funding, including a $36.6 million reduction for the Climate Adaptation Science Center and $37.2 million for the Species Management Research Program, which supports the recovery and conservation of hot-button species like the greater sage grouse and desert tortoise.
  • NOAA would lose several programs, including the Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Grants, education grants and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.
  • Also gone: the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures grants and the Highlands Conservation Act grant.
  • The Centers for Disease Control, as part of Health and Human Services, could lose 9% of its budget, while the U.S. contribution to the World Health Organization would be cut in half — although the administration says it won't touch coronavirus-related funding.
  • U.S. funding for United Nations peacekeeping efforts would be cut by $447 million — just as the threat from climate change makes certain conflicts more likely.

Oh, and let's not forget about the nearly $1 trillion in proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which came just two days after President Trump promised no changes to those programs.

Meanwhile the budget increases some funding in unexpected places:

  • The border wall would get $2 billion in extra funding, with another $182 million devoted to hiring 750 new Border Patrol agents and 300 border processing coordinators and related support staff. That doesn't even include the $544 million earmarked to hire 6,000 ICE personnel.
  • Infrastructure would get $1 trillion in funding, which is great, but development projects — notably pipelines and other energy-related projects — would also be subject to a sped-up permitting process designed to supersede pesky environmental regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act.
  • Nuclear energy will get $1.2 billion in research and development funding (although the budget eliminates the money to license the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository).
  • The budget adds $188 million in funding to map the ocean floor — a precursor to coastal development and deep-sea mining.
  • It also adds an unspecified amount of money for the promotion of coal, including support of "extracting critical minerals from coal and coal byproducts as one of many non-thermal, non-power uses of coal."
  • And the budget promises continued support for and increases in U.S. oil and natural gas development.

The budget also takes a quiet jab at the media by promising to cut money spent on "subscriptions." This continues a trend the administration started last year when it cancelled White House subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post and promised to repeat this version of "cancel culture" throughout the federal government. The president has infamously called journalists the "enemies of the people."

It's doubtful that much of this will make the final budget — Congress reinstated many of the Trump administration's proposed cuts when they wrote the official 2020 budget — but does that really matter? The administration has already shown its willingness to not spend congressionally allocated money on programs it doesn't like. Earlier this month congressional Democrats revealed that the Department of Energy has held onto $823 in funding for clean-energy research and development — a program whose funding the administration had originally proposed cutting by 86%.

No matter what happens in Congress, we can expect the same type of budgetary actions from this administration in the future.

"We're going to keep proposing these types of budgets and hope that at some point Congress will have some sense of fiscal sanity and join us in trying to tackle our debt and deficits," Russ Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said during a press briefing.

Speaking of that debt, the Congressional Budget Office last month projected that the federal budget deficit will reach $1.02 trillion this year due in large part to the Trump administration's tax cuts. The national debt, meanwhile, rose to a record $23 trillion this past November. Experts say White House budget will not be able to address either of those problems.

Does the Trump budget propose anything beneficial? Ironically, it promises to tackle wasteful federal spending on things like travel. Whether that includes the $650 a night that the Secret Service has been paying to house its agents at the president's luxury properties remains to be seen.

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


Nurses wear PPE prior to caring for a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Sharp Grossmont Hospital on May 5, 2020 in La Mesa, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

One of the initial reasons social distancing guidelines were put in place was to allow the healthcare system to adapt to a surge in patients since there was a critical shortage of beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment. In fact, masks that were designed for single-use were reused for an entire week in some hospitals.

Read More Show Less
Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

A grizzly bear sow with cub in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images Plus

Grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho won't be subject to a trophy hunt thanks to a federal court decision Wednesday upholding endangered species protections for these iconic animals.

Read More Show Less
Oregano oil is an extract that is not as strong as the essential oil, but appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Peakpx / CC by 1.0

By Alexandra Rowles

Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.

However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets Ronaldo Caiado, governor of the state of Goiás on June 5, 2020. Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the world's second worst coronavirus outbreak after the U.S., said Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Although natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, it is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Skitterphoto / PIxabay

By Emily Grubert

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

Read More Show Less