By Ben Jervey
Earlier this week, staffers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received their first official email from the new administration. "Changes will likely come and when they do, we will work together to implement them," wrote Don Benton, a senior White House adviser who is now leading the so-called "beachhead" team for the EPA's transition, in the email published by E&E News.
DeSmog dives into what we know about the EPA beachhead team (including what it is and who is on it), whom its members are connected to and what the EPA should expect from the Trump team.
First, who is Don Benton and what is a beachhead team? Benton is a former Washington state legislator (with a history of endorsing conspiracy theories) and the beachhead team is the current incarnation of the EPA transition team, working at the agency to handle the transition until a new administrator is confirmed.
Agency transitions tend to be complicated and confusing and this one is particularly so. So let's take a quick step back and trace the brief but chaotic history of the transfer of power at the EPA. Before President Donald Trump officially took office, his EPA transition team was being lead by Myron Ebell, the notorious climate science denier from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
#Trump Team Disses #Ebell https://t.co/Ye1y1BtL4j @DeSmogBlog @ClimateNexus @billmckibben @350 @greenpeaceusa @NRDC @SierraClub @NaomiAKlein— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485872585.0
We've learned recently that Ebell never actually spoke to Trump, that he was actually recruited by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who not long after lost his role on the Trump team) and that Ebell oversaw the creation of an "agency action plan." That plan is confidential and Ebell has refused to talk about it, but Axios received a leaked version and published some startling, if not surprising, details, including plans to fundamentally alter the agency's reliance on science.
The following introduces what the plan calls "problems with EPA science":
"EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science. This is an old problem at EPA. In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel of EPA science advisers that [sic] 'science should not be adjusted to fit policy.' But rather than heed this advice, EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation."
On Inauguration Day, Ebell stepped down from Trump's EPA transition team (or was relieved of his duties—it's not entirely clear) and the new 10-member beachhead team was announced. This team is being led by Benton and Charles Munoz, a 27-year-old who led Trump's presidential campaign in Nevada, where he had also launched the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
The beachhead team members have 90 day contracts and traditionally such a team's role is to prepare the agency staff and bureaucracy for the arrival of the new administrator. As we've reported extensively on DeSmog, Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as EPA administrator and he faced a contentious confirmation hearing before the Senate's Committee for Environment and Public Works.
Yesterday, Democratic senators on the committee boycotted the confirmation vote, demanding more information from Pruitt's office about his "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with fossil fuel companies and calling out his office's refusal to comply with dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests from journalists and researchers from the Center for Media and Democracy. Today, Republicans on the committee suspended the rules to push through the Pruitt vote.
Thanks to a gag order and social media freeze ordered by the Trump Administration, there's little information making it out of the agency, either about what staff is working on or how the beachhead team is managing the transition.
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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