Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • In Georgia vs Florida, the Supreme Court sided with Florida and ruled that Georgia needs to restrict water use to increase river water flow to Florida in times of drought. This ruling could have serious implications for Texas downstream water use (Texas Standard).
  • The Trump administration says the Obama era interpretation of the Waters of the US Rule (aka the Clean Water Act) relied too much on science, but the administration has not proposed an alternative means of balancing scientific information with policy (Science News).
  • Mumbai, India has banned all plastic packaging. Some businesses say they have lost business because of the inconvenience of carrying containers. However, the ban is planned to go into effect for all of India by 2022. Per capita, India produces 10-fold less plastic waste than the US (NPR).
  • The population of the threatened lesser prairie-chicken is up nearly 30%, but scientists say that is still below the threshold needed for species survival (Texas Tribune).
  • Coral bleaching events are now occurring five times more frequently than 40 years ago, and scientists in the gulf of Mexico are racing to study these events, transplant lab grown corals, and spread the word about ingredients in some sunscreens that are toxic to corals (Houston Chronicle).
  • The Trump Administration is making clear efforts to change the Endangered Species Act, citing its failure to complete it’s stated goal: de-list species once listed. Opponents suggest that politicians are dismantling the act in order to appease the oil and mining industries (The Hill). The proposed changes would make it easier to delist species, more difficult to list species (by limiting what information could be used during assessment), and would streamline the assessment process. It would also delist several species currently on the list (The Hill, New York Times, New York Times).
  • The Interior Department rolled back a ban on using neonicotinoid pesticides and GMOs in Wildlife Refuge Lands, purportedly to increase crop production and make the land more profitable (The Hill).
  • A settlement has been reached between Environment Texas, the Sierra Club, and the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras. Petrobras will pay over $3 million to help replace Houston city vehicles with electric or hybrid vehicles after being sued for excessive air pollution (Texas Tribune).
  • The SEC will end an investigation looking into whether Exxon-Mobil misled investors about the risks of climate change; no charges will be made (Wall Street Journal).
  • In their review of the National Monuments, Interior Department dismissed the benefits of National Monuments in favor of their potential for generating energy (Washington Post).

Higher Education and Academia

  • Since 2000, the proportion of high school graduates going to college has risen from 63 to 70%, but the dropout rate for freshman is also increasing, nearly 1 in 5 freshman do not enter their second year (Texas Tribune).
  • Public schools that lack adequate funding in Texas are partnering with universities to provide after school and summer programs, and add services they would otherwise be unable to afford (Texas Observer).

Federal Agencies

  • After scandals leading to 13 federal inquiries, EPA head Scott Pruitt has resigned. Coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler will serve until a replacement is named (Fox News).
  • The EPA’s Science Advisory Board is requesting to review and comment on the EPA’s proposed Secret Science rule, and notes in the letter that the proposed rule promotes scientific transparency but was not developed with input from the scientific community (EENews).

Public Health

  • The FDA has accelerated the pace at which they approve drugs, allowing approval after only one clinical trial (instead of two) and using proxies for success such as tumor shrinkage rather than measuring outcomes such as survival. The pharmaceutical industry pays 75% of the FDA’s scientific review budget, and former employees say being pro-industry is required keep a job at the FDA. Critics say this has allowed the approval of expensive drugs without proof of benefit that sometimes lead to harm or patient death (ProPublica).
  • A polio outbreak arising from vaccine-derived strains has paralyzed 29 children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Science Magazine). The polio vaccine is safe and effective, yet when it is present in a group of people where many remain unvaccinated, as in the DRC, the virus has a chance to spread and accumulate potentially virulent mutations.
  • The deadly horsepox virus was recently synthesized, sparking alarm in the biosecurity community (Bloomberg). However, a biotech company in Boston, Ginkgo, argues that biological synthesis is an important new technology that could lead to many positive innovations, including novel vaccines.
  • Texas Medicaid is denying patients with hepatitis C access to a cure until they have significant liver damage. Hepatitis C is the most deadly infectious disease in America, but the cost for a cure is over $100,000 (San Antonio Express News).
  • The Trump administration is cutting the budget for groups that assist people with signing up for health insurance under Obamacare by 86%. Experts say 4 million Texans are uninsured and will miss out on coverage due to the cuts (KUT).
  • The Government Accountability Office has ruled that Energy Secretary Rick Perry violated law by posting anti-Obamacare tweets through the Energy Department’s twitter account. The GAO said Perry did not provide sufficient proof that healthcare policy is relevant to the Energy Department (Washington Examiner).
  • A resolution proposed by Ecuador during a meeting of the UN-affiliated World Health Assembly to encourage breastfeeding and limit misinformation regarding the relative benefits of using formula was challenged by US representatives. US Representatives also lobbied to remove taxes on soda in countries with rising obesity rates (New York Times).
  • Genetic information made available to genotyping companies like 23andMe has raised new issues with privacy concerns, especially given the recent case that identified the Golden State Killer with an ancestry website. Several of these companies have voluntarily agreed to a new set of industry-wide rules, including transparency when providing data to law enforcement (Washington Post).

Climate Change

  • The EPA is drafting a new rule to replace Obama’s Clean Power plan. The new rule would technically regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but would result in only minor changes to coal plants and the energy industry (New York Times). Opponents of the change suggest that not regulating emissions now will come at a large economic cost in the future (Union of Concerned Scientists).
  • Oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil and Chevron have quietly been pushing against efforts by entities such as the Heartland Institute to push the government to reduce regulations on carbon emissions. The companies cite their reputations and worker health in calling for action on climate change (Houston Chronicle).
  • Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) has introduced carbon tax legislation which is estimated to cut emission by 30-40% by 2030. Curbelo is a founding member of the bipartisan US House Climate Solutions Caucus (Citizens’ Climate Lobby). The US House recently passed a resolution against any form of carbon tax, citing economic harm (Curbelo Press Release).
  • The Texas Public Utility Commission has rejected a proposal for the largest ever wind farm, likely ending the $4.5 billion project (Bloomberg).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • Universities often value scientific output in academic journals but do not value science communication. An opinion piece in Scientific American argues that universities should value both (Scientific American).
  • Hundreds of political candidates with STEM backgrounds entered this election cycle nationwide, but in Texas, only two have survived the primary elections: Joseph Kopser (running for TX-21) and Rick Kennedy (running for TX-17). Only 16 out of 181 statewide legislators in Texas currently have STEM backgrounds (Texas Tribune).
  • Scientists have found evidence of a massive body of water under an ice cap on Mars. The water is likely very salty to remain liquid at the predicted conditions (Houston Chronicle).
  • A former biochemistry professor at Stanford University founded Impossible Foods, whose main product is the Impossible Burger, a meat-less burger with the texture of real meat provided by bioengineered soy leghemoglobin. The burger is now going mainstream, being carried at select Applebees, White Castle, Sysco, and many other companies around the world (San Francisco Chronicle).

Texas News

  • A proposed hyperloop route would run from Dallas/Ft Worth through Austin and San Antonio and on to Laredo. Hyperloops are vacuum tunnels outfitted with capsules for high-speed (670 mph) transit, at which speed one could travel from Austin to San Antonio in 8 minutes (Houston Chronicle).
  • Three cases of West Nile virus have been diagnosed in Texas in 2018, including one in Travis County (Austin American Statesman).
  • Large portions of the adult population in Texas never receive adult immunizations for preventable diseases such as pneumonia, and that proportion is larger in the Latino community (Texas Tribune).
  • A new study has found that 60% of Texans have delayed or foregone medical care due to increased costs, compared to about 50% of Americans nationwide (Houston Chronicle).
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has paid $500,000 of taxpayer money to anti-abortion advocates who lack scientific knowledge and have not successfully helped change the outcomes of cases (Houston Chronicle).
  • The majority of Texas Republicans (86%) support laws that require students to be vaccinated before entering school; a list of percentages of students with medical or religious exemptions at each school is included at the end of the article (Houston Chronicle).
  • The Midland Development Corporation has given Texas Tech $8 million to train two new child psychiatrists per year to help address a shortage of mental health providers in west Texas (Texas Standard).
  • After a Texas Supreme Court ruling, the city of Austin plans to stop enforcing its ban on plastic bags (Texas Tribune).
  • A developer provided the city of San Antonio with incorrect information about endangered species on a property he then received a permit to clear of trees. The trees have been cleared but the city stopped the project and will rescind the permit if the findings are confirmed (San Antonio Express News).
  • San Antonio’s air quality has been deemed non-compliant with EPA standard set under the Obama administration. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) disagrees with the designation, arguing that it will lead to reduced economic growth (Texas Tribune).
  • Northeast of Austin, in Milam County, residents are struggling with closing coal-fired power plants and losses in jobs. They put in a bid to be the new Amazon headquarters, but didn’t make the final list (Dallas Morning News).
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX) and several other Texas legislators have filed a bill seeking to reduce regulatory delays in building a new water reservoir in North Texas, an area especially prone to severe drought which is only expected to increase with climate change (Cruz Press Release).
  • After years of contamination issues with E. coli and asphalt chemicals, the water was declared clean Corpus Christi for the first time since 2015 (Texas Tribune).
  • Next year, Texas will become the third largest oil producer in the world, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia (CNN Money).
  • Texas set two new high records for electricity usage this month (Dallas News).

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