Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • A federal judge reversed the Trump administration’s decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears, finding that the Interior Department did not correctly interpret the available scientific research. The court also blocked a planned grizzly hunt in Wyoming (Washington Post).
  • Two dozen Latin American nations have signed an agreement to protect environmental activists who work for environmental justice in South America. South America has historically been an extremely dangerous place for environmental activists, who are regularly threatened or killed for speaking against environmental violations (Mongabay).
  • The Department of the Interior has finalized a rule that rolls back offshore oil drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill. These regulations include requiring oil companies to design equipment to withstand the most extreme weather and exposure scenarios (New York Times).
  • The Supreme Court is divided on its first case of the term, involving the designation of 1,500 acres of land in Louisiana as “critical habitat” for the endangered dusky gopher frog. The frog requires ephemeral ponds to lay eggs, but a family who owns the land say the land does not have other qualities needed to support the frogs and that they could lose millions in property value if the designation remains in place (Washington Post).
  • The US Forest Service (USFS) plans to propose a new rule which would make it easier to mine for oil, gas, and minerals in National Forests. The USFS says the goal of the new rule is to increase interest of prospectors to lease National Forest land for mining operations, while environmentalists claim the Service is ignoring its responsibility to protect public land (The Hill).

Congressional Committees

  • Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and Barbara Comstock (D-VA), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, have requested that the Government Accountability Office investigate how science-related federal funding agencies investigate sexual misconduct (Letter, PDF).

Higher Education and Academia

  • The Arizona State Board of Education has proposed new science standards which not only would eliminate climate change from the curriculum, but also fail to adequately address aspects of evolution, according to the American Institute of Biological Sciences. The standards were developed by a private, Christian college with connections to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (AIBS, AZ Central).

Federal Agencies

  • The Trump administration has released a new biodefense strategy report, mandated by Congress, which calls for increased research and resources to be invested in biodefense and designates the Department of Health and Human Services as the responsible entity (Washington Post, National Biodefense Strategy, PDF).
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would see a 5% increase in funding under a new spending bill passed out of the appropriations committee (AAAS).
  • The EPA plans to dissolve the Office of Science Advisor, a senior post that integrates science into EPA decision making, according to an anonymous report. A spokesperson for the EPA said the restructuring eliminates bureaucratic redundancy, but critics say it demotes the chief science advisor away from direct contact with EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler (New York Times).
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a new sexual harassment policy requiring universities to report to the NSF the names of NSF-funded PIs placed on administrative leave or found guilty of sexual harassment. NSF will then work with the university to determine if the grant can be re-allocated to a new administrator at the institution (Federal Register, Science Mag).
  • More than 40 scientific societies wrote a letter in support of the confirmation of Kelvin K. Droegemeier, who was nominated by Trump to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Dr. Droegemeier is a professor of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma (AIBS).

Climate Change

  • Buried deep in a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an assertion by the Trump administration that the planet will warm 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, a level of warming climate scientists warn would be disastrous. The administration cites this rise as a reason not to cut vehicle emissions, as the warming is inevitable and reductions in car emissions would not avert crisis. An MIT professor called it, “a textbook example of how to lie with statistics” (Washington Post).
  • Texas oil companies have poured more than $17 million into a campaign against a Washington state carbon tax initiative on the November 6th ballot. Supporters say the tax would raise $2.3 billion in the first five years, 70% would go to clean air and energy, 25% to clean water and healthy forests, and 5% to healthy communities (Houston Chronicle).

Public Health

  • The Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has announced a review of all scientific research that utilizes human fetal tissue after anti-abortion groups wrote a letter complaining about the FDA buying tissue from a California company to create “humanized mice.” Scientists are concerned that this review will stifle future research, while anti-abortion activists believe the decision has not gone far enough (Science Mag).
  • A new analysis finds that 39% of Americans live within three miles of a high-risk chemical facility. People of color and low-income individuals are more likely to live close to hazardous chemical facilities and are at risk of multiple health hazards, especially in neighborhoods with low access to healthy foods (Environmental Justice Health Alliance, report pdf).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • A team of scientists from Imperial College London have successfully eliminated entire populations of caged mosquitoes using CRISPR-Cas9 deletion of a single intron-exon boundary, leading to sterility. The deletion allele went to complete fixation in the population within 7-11 generations (Nature).
  • Four airlines are being sued by the US National Association for Biomedical Research for refusing to carry animals for research purposes but allowing those same animals to fly as pets (European Animal Research Association).

Texas News

  • Two years after campus carry was implemented, very few incidents have occurred that either pro- or anti-gun advocates can point to in support of their views. Data on concealed carry is not collected, but surveys estimate guns are present in at least 20% of classrooms (Houston Public Media).
  • The US government is considering creating a national interim storage facility for nuclear waste in West Texas, which would involve transporting the waste through Fort Worth. Although casks containing waste are put through rigorous safety trials, residents worry about potential contamination or terrorist attacks. Several Texas nuclear safety organizations toured the proposed route this week to bring attention to the plan and ask people to submit comments (Dallas News, Texas Tribune). Action: comment on the proposed route for nuclear waste.

Events this week

  • The November election is only a month away, and 11 propositions will be on the ballot in Austin. Interested in getting informed about the local elections? Several opportunities are listed in this blog post by Austin EcoNetwork, including open houses for ballot propositions and district specific candidate debates.
  • The Texas voter registration deadline is October 9. You cannot register to vote online in Texas. Either you have to print out a form and mail it to the county in which you live, or register in person. Action: check your voter registration and take a look at your sample ballot here.

One thought on “Weekly Digest — September 25-October 1, 2018

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