Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • A federal judge ruled that President Trump cannot revoke the ban on oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean that was put in place by President Obama. Obama’s ban was indefinite, and the judge ruled this means it can only be reversed by an act of Congress (NBC News). This ruling has no bearing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was opened to drilling under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The US House held a hearing this week on a proposed bill to close the refuge to drilling. In a heated exchange, Alaska Representative Don Young dismissed the concerns of the Gwich’in people — who are against drilling in ANWR — because they do not live within the refuge (KTVA).
  • A study found that radioactivity in the majority of planktivorous species living around the Japanese Pacific Coast has reduced to levels found prior to the March 2011 earthquake that damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Species in higher trophic levels are now safe to eat, but will need another 6-14 years to return to pre-accident levels (PLoS One).
  • A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have found that red wolves (Canis rufus) are a taxonomically distinct species separate from Mexican grey wolves (C. lupus baileyi), which are a subspecies of the grey wolf. The study was conducted at the request of Congress on behalf of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and has consequences for conservation as the Department of the Interior moves to reduce allotted wolf territory and take grey wolves off the Endangered Species List (NASEM, Vancouver Sun).

Federal Agencies

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) can bar scientists accused of sexual harassment from serving as peer reviewers, even if the harassment complaints have not been investigated. NIH says this is to prevent bias — for example, an accused male reviewer might assess a female-led proposal more leniently to prevent the appearance of sexism. In 2018, 14 principal investigators were prevented from serving as reviewers (Science Mag).

Public Health

  • US rates for HIV suppression are the lowest among high-income countries. 54% of HIV-positive people in the US are on sufficient antivirals to suppress the virus below detectable levels, compared to 63% in Canada and 84% in the UK and Switzerland. Researchers think this may be due to social stigma preventing people from getting tested (Kaiser Family Foundation).
  • After a researcher in Japan published an article tying the HPV vaccine to neural damage in mice, a doctor and medical journalist accused the researcher of fabricating data. A court this week found the journalist did not provide sufficient evidence of fabrication and must pay damages to the researcher. The court did not make a judgement as to the efficacy of the vaccine, a relief for vaccination supporters in Japan who are fighting increasing anti-vaccine sentiments (Science Mag).
  • Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has over 1,600 pending lawsuits against it for damages related to the opioid crisis. One lawsuit was settled this week for $270 million which will be used for addiction research and treatment in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter had sued for $20 billion. The lawsuits claim the company used deceptive marketing and pushed the use of the drug while tens of thousands of Americans died due to opioid use every year (NPR).
  • A new initiative has been launched to increase research into neurological disorders that disproportionately affect African Americans. Neurological studied have long ignored African American communities in their studies, leading to underrepresentation in medical treatments and a focus on social and environmental causes. The African American Neuroscience Research Initiative will seek to correct this disparity (Baltimore Sun).

Climate Change

  • Major flooding is predicted for 25 states in the next two months. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that this winter was the wettest on record, which goes back to 1895. The soils in many areas is saturated, and 200 million people are at risk of being affected by the floods (PopSci).
  • Puerto Rico’s legislature has passed a bill that would transition the territory to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The governor supports signing the bill. Currently, Puerto Rico gets 2% of its energy from renewables, but the bill pushes the transition by banning coal by 2028 and reaching 40% renewables by 2025. Competing plans would ramp up the island’s use of natural gas, likely preventing the ability to reach 100% renewable energy within the timeframe (Inside Climate News).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • The Beresheet moon lander, launched by the company SpaceIL, is set to arrive on the moon on April 11. This landing will make Israel the fourth country to send a spacecraft to the moon and will mark the first private moon landing. The lander will carry a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field of the moon with unprecedented accuracy. The mission cost $100 million, a fraction of the cost of government space missions. Six more commercial moon landings are planned for the next two years (Science Mag).

Texas News

  • The city of Houston has rejected a proposal to charge residents for garbage collection in order to fund taxpayer-mandated raises for firefighters. Without an increase in revenue, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to fire up to 500 city employees to give raises to the others. Houston is the only major city in Texas that does not charge for garbage collection (Houston Public Media).

Events this week

  • The Texas Tribune is holding a lunch and discussion on higher education outcomes in Texas on April 12 at the Texas A&M School of Law in Fort Worth. Participating in the discussion will be Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, Representative and chair of the House Higher Education Committee Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), president of the University of Texas at Arlington Vistasp Karbhari, and president of Brazosport College Millicent Valek. RSVP at Texas Tribune.
  • The Texas Tribune is hosting a discussion on the anti-vaccination movement and children’s health in Texas on April 26 at the Texas Women’s University Institute of Health Sciences Houston Center. RSVP at Texas Tribune.

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