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Trump's EPA Wants to Build More Coal Plants as U.S. Consumption Falls to Lowest Level in 39 Years

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Trump's EPA Wants to Build More Coal Plants as U.S. Consumption Falls to Lowest Level in 39 Years
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is currently overseen by ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, is expected to announce a plan to end a climate regulation on coal-fired power plants on Thursday, the New York Times reported, citing four unnamed sources.

The move would lift an Obama-era rule that required newly built coal-fired plants to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, ultimately removing a hurdle to build new plants, the publication said.


That mandate, finalized in 2015, has previously faced legal challenges from coal companies and conservative lawmakers who argue that CCS is too costly and not commercially available, as Utility Dive noted.

"We are supportive of EPA's decision to revise the standards for new coal plants," Michelle Bloodworth, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told the Washington Examiner in a report published Tuesday. "We do not feel like the practicality of CCS has been adequately demonstrated or economically feasible. If we are ever going to build new coal plants in the country again, we will need reasonable standards."

The Trump administration's latest environmental rollback is not expected to immediately jumpstart investments and construction of new coal plants, which are not financially viable because of cheap natural gas and environmental regulations, the Times said.

Rather, it's a yet another signal from the Trump administration that it is ignoring dire climate warnings and embracing the polluting fossil fuel industry instead.

Incidentally, a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday found that the nation's coal consumption in 2018 is expected to be the lowest in 39 years. That decline is partly due to retirements of coal-fired power plants that have shuttered due to low natural gas prices, environmental concerns and emissions standards required by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, the report said.

Of course, Trump's EPA has already proposed significantly weakening the 2011 MATS rule that limits the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from coal plants. In October, news got out that acting EPA administrator Wheeler drafted a plan that would undermine the regulation.

"Coal use is at its lowest level in nearly four decades and the Trump Administration can't stop this country from continuing to move beyond coal," Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said in a press release. "The EIA's announcement shows major progress for communities across our country who've worked feverishly over the past decade to shift America away from dirty, expensive coal plants that poison their communities and add to the climate crisis."

"It's also another repudiation of the Trump administration's agenda, which has relentlessly attacked clean air safeguards, denied science, and peddled alternative facts just so its corporate polluter allies can make a buck," Hitt added.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

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