Federal Agencies

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has selected eight new members of the Scientific Advisory Board, which advises the EPA Administrator on scientific issues. The new members include John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama and one of the most outspoken climate skeptics in academia. While Christy has said the climate is undoubtedly warming, he has criticized the US government’s climate models and assessments about the severity of impacts, and opined that such climate alarmism is overblown and unfair to polluters (EPA; Washington Post).
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a report on the use of science in the Trump Administration. The report describes how a consistent combination of censorship, data deletion, politicization, vacancies, funding cuts, and exclusion of scientists from decision-making processes has led to a “sidelining” of scientific research and opinion in decision and policy-making (Union of Concerned Scientists).
  • Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has been nominated to permanently replace Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for the energy industry; during the government shutdown, he took unprecedented measures to ensure that the Interior Department was able to continue processing permits for energy extraction. He was a driving force behind reducing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments and has advocated restructuring the Endangered Species Act (Washington Post). Many Democrats and environmental groups believe his lobbying ties provide too many conflicts of interest for him to be a viable secretary (Washington Post).

Climate Change

  • A German task force announced a recommendation for Germany to phase out coal power by 2038, and a timeline which suggests taking one-third of the country’s coal power offline by 2022. Coal currently supplies 42% of Germany’s power. Critics say the timeline is unrealistic, especially considering that Angela Merkel refuses to rely on nuclear power; environmentalists criticize the plan as insufficient to meet Paris Agreement targets (Forbes).
  • A new report finds that red states are more likely to suffer economic damage from climate change, in comparison to blue states, which are primarily located further north, and might see agricultural benefits from warming. Texas and Florida are likely to be hit particularly badly, due to droughts, reliance on fossil fuels, and increased storm damage (The Hill).
  • Record-setting cold gripped the US midwest this week as abnormally warm air in the Arctic pushed the polar vortex south, leading to the coldest day in Chicago since 1985. Just the previous week, a heat wave in Australia led to wildfires and blackouts as air conditioning demand overwhelmed power grids. Scientists point to climate change as a likely contributor not only to heat waves, but also to other types of extreme weather including the increasingly frequent polar vortex displacements (New York Times).

Outreach / Professional Development

  • Interested in getting involved in local politics and helping the community? Apply to serve on a city board or commission! City Council members nominate board members, and there are current vacancies for members in charge of environmental quality, conservation and sustainability, resource management, parks and recreation, water policies, animal welfare, zero waste advisory, and more. View the full list of vacancies here.

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • The United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT) because it is the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Periodic System by Dmitri Mendeleev. During the year events, competitions, and ceremonies will be held to recognize the contributions of the Periodic System to chemistry, physics, and biology (IYPT).

Texas News

  • According to an new report by Environment Texas, oil and gas drilling operations in the state increased unauthorized air pollution 27% in 2017 compared to 2016. The companies say these pollution events are caused by unavoidable equipment malfunctions or operator error that cause them to exceed their government-permitted limits, while watchdog groups claim the frequency of these violations indicates a lack of real effort towards pollution control. A total of 63 million pounds of toxic compounds and greenhouse gases were released, which could add up to $2.3 billion in fines from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ); however, TCEQ only levied $1.2 million in fines in 2017 (Texas Tribune).
  • Construction on a segment of the border wall that cuts through the National Butterfly Center is likely to begin this month. Customs and Border Patrol officials recently informed the Center that the wall segment will employ industrial lighting above the wall that will shine all night, which could disrupt wildlife and have a negative consequence on ecotourism in the area (Texas Observer).

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