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Trump's Infrastructure Plan 'Steamrolls' Environmental Safeguards

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Trump's Infrastructure Plan 'Steamrolls' Environmental Safeguards
The Black Hawk Bridge crossing the Mississippi River in Wisconsin after high water levels last May. Crawford County Sheriff's Office

President Donald Trump boasted "a big week for infrastructure" Monday as the White House announced its long-awaited $1.5 trillion plan to improve the nation's roads, buildings and power supplies.

Infrastructure is usually a bipartisan, consensus issue, but environmental groups criticized the White House's initiative, as it involves a drastic rollback of federal environmental review to shorten the process of approving infrastructure projects.


"President Trump's infrastructure proposal is a disaster," Shelley Poticha, the managing director of the Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "It fails to offer the investment needed to bring our country into the 21st century. Even worse, his plan includes an unacceptable corporate giveaway by truncating environmental reviews."

Regulatory oversight for infrastructure projects usually falls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies. Instead, the White House plan calls for the creation of a "one agency, one decision" scheme, or one lead federal agency to streamline environmental review and the permitting process within 21 months.

As Trump said last month in his State of the Union address: "Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process—getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one."

The Wilderness Society has also listed a number of concerns about the infrastructure blueprint:

Dismantling basic environmental safeguards. The leaked version of Trump infrastructure plan would eviscerate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by collapsing time lines, freezing out experts and delegating federal authority to states and private interests. NEPA provides for the essential public review process for federal projects. Billed as "streamlining," the infrastructure proposal steamrolls over a wide array of safeguards that protect the nation's air, waters and land.

Pipelines through parks. The infrastructure plan would give Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke the authority to approve natural gas pipeline routes that cut through national parks.

Paying for infrastructure by selling off public lands. The White House document on infrastructure called "Funding Principles" included a section titled “Disposition of Federal Real Property." That provision would give the president authority to use executive orders for "disposal of Federal assets to improve the overall allocation of economic resources in infrastructure investment."

"With this infrastructure plan, President Trump would line the pockets of oil and gas companies while steamrolling environmental safeguards," said Drew McConville, senior managing director at The Wilderness Society, in a statement. "He is taking a bipartisan priority and turning it into a divisive scheme to reward friends in the fossil fuel sector."

The Trump administration has already targeted more than 60 environmental regulations, including an Obama-era rule that protects infrastructure projects from flooding and rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change.

"With such a public record of promoting the interests of corporate polluters over communities and the environment, no one should be fooled by Trump's infrastructure scam," the Center for American Progress noted last month. "It is little more than a Trojan horse designed to gut the environmental protections that are necessary for the clean air, clean water, wildlife and national parks that truly make America great."

Finally, as the New York Times pointed out, an infrastructure strategy led by an administration that denies climate change and has reversed critical environmental protections could mean that costly new infrastructure projects may be quickly rendered obsolete by the impacts of a warming planet.

"The impact of not considering climate change when planning infrastructure means you end up building the wrong thing, in the wrong place, to the wrong standards," Michael Kuby, a professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University and contributing author to the National Climate Assessment, told the publication. "That's a whole lot of waste."

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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.

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