Conservation and Alternative Energy

  • Currently, 20 Texas State Parks and 11 Wildlife Management Areas are actively leasing land for oil and gas drilling. Action: you can help prevent further damage by 1) stopping new leases, 2) supporting the removal of Kelcy Warren from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (he is the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the same company that is funding the Dakota Pipeline), and 3) supporting more oversight of these activities (Sierra Club). 
  • Action: ask your Texas legislators to secure funding for infrastructure in the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park near Dallas Fort Worth via Sierra Club Form (Star Telegram).
  • A company called Waste Control Specialists has applied for a permit to store high-level radioactive waste in West Texas, especially near poor, underserved communities. Action: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is taking public comment as part of the environmental review until March 13th (Sierra Club, regulations.gov).
  • Recently, 15,000 barrels of oil spilled from a pipeline near Trenton, Texas; only a small fraction has been cleaned up (Dallas News).
  • A new environmental report shows that Energy Transfer Partners has had 69 accidents and polluted rivers in four states in only two years. Most of the accidents have occurred in Texas (Color Lines, Full Accident Report).
  • Several bills have been introduced to mitigate water waste in Texas (Sierra Club). Action: contact your State Representative and ask them to support reducing water waste in Texas.
  • Biologists suggest that a proposed border wall will stymie the movement of endangered species more than people. USFWS has no plan to study the potential impact (Tribune).

Higher Education

  • A new bill (H.R.610) introduced by Representative Steve King (R-IA) would repeal nutrition standards and reallocate funding for public schools by implementing a voucher plan. The bill could exacerbate differences in school quality, essentially denying good education to poorer populations (Vice, Washington Post). Homeschoolers worry this will affect their freedom in education (Brietbart).
  • The official public comment period for streamlining the high school science TEKS is open from March 3 to April 18. The committee requests comments specifically about how to reduce time spent teaching. Action: Submit comments regarding how removing standards 4A, 6A, and 7B would reduce teaching time. These standards were identified as confusing and anti-science by an expert panel; scientists also found them to be anti-evolution. See our previous post for more information.
  • The National Center for Science Education’s annual report for 2016 is now available. The report briefly reviews the challenges to the integrity of science education and summarizes the results of the NCSE/Penn State survey of climate change education (NCSE).

Federal Agencies

  • The White House’s 2018 federal budget proposes to increase defense funding in part by shrinking the basic science budget at the NIH, NSF, and Office of Science at the Department of Energy, and other civilian science programs (~$37 billion currently). Republicans complain how little it increases defense and Democrats aim to fight such spending cuts. The budget must be approved by Congress (Science).
      • Following proposed budget changes, the Department of Defense may become a greater source of funding for scientific research (Wired).
      • The Trump administration is proposing to cut 40% from the budget of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. This office funds a $50 million external grant program to universities (Science).
      • Trump’s administration has proposed a $990 million dollar cut (17%) to NOAA, which will impact severe weather prediction and toxic algal monitoring in the Great Lakes (conservancy.org, Washington Post).
  • President Trump signed an executive order that instructs the EPA to revise President Obama’s 2015 Waters of the United States rule, a recent change in how the EPA regulates the Clean Water Act of 1972 that mainly clarifies which bodies of water are protected (Vox). Opponents see the rule as Federal overreach; supporters view it as protecting waterways with more specific guidelines. While the executive order has no immediate legal significance, it signals an intention to fight (repeal/revise/delay) the regulation. The legal battle is expected to take several years and end up in the Supreme Court (NYT).
  • Action: Send a letter to your congressperson to co-sponsor bipartisan bill H.R. 1054, “The Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act” (form letter)
  • The Department of the Interior secretary Ryan Zinke stated in a memo that he opposes the sale of federal lands to private or state owners (George Wright Society). He also was the one to sign the order repealing the ban on lead bullets last week (The Hill).

Public Health

  • 600 plaintiffs claim that eating fish from the San Jacinto River has given them cancer due to industrial waste and chemical dumps that have occurred over decades (Houston Chronicle). The site is currently being cleaned by the EPA (The Galveston Bay Foundation).
  • Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced they will use poison to reduce the population of feral hogs in Texas, environmentalists worry about spills, people and other wildlife eating the hogs, and whether the poison kills hogs humanely (Sierra Club).

City of Austin

  • The city council passed a resolution that helps enable driverless cars in Austin. Mayor Steve Adler has said he wants Austin to be to the autonomous vehicle industry what Detroit was to the last century of automakers (KXAN News).
  • The Austin City Council is cutting the number of its committees in half to reduce redundancy and increase efficiency. The five committees will now be: Audit and Finance, Health and Human Services, Housing and Planning, Mobility, and Austin Energy Utility Oversight (Community Impact). Find your city council member and their committees here.

Climate Change

  • Permafrost that has existed since the last ice age 10,000 years ago is thawing across northern latitudes (InsideClimate News).
  • This is officially the warmest winter on record for Austin, part of a long-term warming trend since the 1970’s in Texas (Austin American Statesman).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • A new study using Facebook supports that scientists do not lose credibility when they become political (The Atlantic).
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is hosting a webinar on March 14th on integrating social justice into science and collaborate with local groups in your community. Register online here.
  • The fast processing of visas for highly skilled workers (H-1B), which used by visiting researchers, may be suspending in favor of faster renewal of older H-1B visas (The Verge). Other reforms to the H1-B visa process may be forthcoming, depending on Congress (NPR).
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