Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • Two-thirds of the world’s longest rivers do not flow freely anymore, according to a new report. These rivers have been channeled, dammed, or developed to the point of being impeded. They represent 41% of the river water in the world. The last of the longest freely flowing rivers are found in remote areas of the Amazon, Congo, and Arctic (Popular Science).
  • Conservation efforts for the dunes sagebrush lizard are complicating sand mining in the Permian Basin. The lizard lives in sand dune habitat, and dune sand is particularly valuable for oil and gas drilling. Texas state regulators are attempting to increase protections for the lizard, to prevent it from being added to the federal Endangered Species List (Austin American Statesman).

Congressional Committees

  • The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a hearing this week in which former Congressional members called for the re-establishment of the Office of Technology Assessment, which was de-funded in 1995. The Office was established in 1972 to provide Congress with reports and research on technology and science in an objective manner (FedScoop).

Federal Agencies

  • An investigation has found that NASA was defrauded by an aluminum manufacturer that falsified quality testing and led to the crash of two earth science missions at a cumulative loss of $700 million. The company has been ordered to pay $46 million (BGR).
  • Following an angry backlash, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced its rule requiring its own scientists to include a disclaimer in their peer-reviewed articles that the results were “preliminary” and not “formally disseminated” by the USDA. Instead, USDA scientists will now have to include a different disclaimer notifying readers that the results do not “represent any official USDA or US Government determination or policy.” Scientists pointed out that the new required disclaimer is also problematic (Washington Post).
  • At a congressional hearing on the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) sudden cancellation of a study on the health effects of mountaintop removal for coal mining, it was revealed that a Trump-appointed DOI official, Landon “Tucker” Davis, had offered the explanation that “science is a Democrat thing.” Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary at the time, had claimed that the study was cancelled following a review of the grant process (Salon).

Public Health

  • H5N1 influenza, commonly called “bird flu,” has resurfaced in Nepal for the first time in two years. The disease is contracted by close contact with infected birds, and does not spread easily between humans. However, when contracted by humans, the disease has an approximately 60% fatality rate (Himalayan Times; United News of India).
  • The Food and Drug Administration will allow non-prescription hearing aids to be sold starting as early as next year. Only 20-30% of people who could benefit from using hearing aids actually get them (AARP).

Climate Change

  • At a meeting of the environment ministers for the G-7 countries this week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler hinted that the Trump administration might be considering re-working the way they incorporate science into policy-making. Wheeler has been critical of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest report which concluded we have approximately a decade to avert the worst consequences of climate change. Environmental policy experts are concerned the statement issued by Wheeler indicates a plan to generate alternate climate modeling data (E&E News).
  • The last 12 months (May 2018 – April 2019) represent the wettest 12-month period on record in the US, according to the latest monthly US climate report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Warmer air holds more moisture, making heavy rain events even heavier, even while warming temperatures also exacerbate drought impacts. Following record flooding in the Midwest this spring, two-thirds of states remain at high risk of flooding through May (Weather Underground, NOAA).
  • During a speech in Finland, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo trumpeted the vast “untapped resources” and trade routes being opened by melting Arctic sea ice, commenting that the melting ocean could become “the 21st century Suez and Panama canals.” During the same speech, he claimed that “America is the world’s leader in caring for the environment” (CNN).
  • The US House has passed a bill that would require the president to develop a plan to meet US goals for carbon emission reduction under the Paris Agreement, and would bar the use of US taxpayer funds for pulling the US from the agreement. The bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate (HR 9).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • German scientists have been promised a 3% increase in funding every year for the next 10 years. This is equivalent to the annual rise in science funding in Germany since 2006, but the guarantee in funding will help researchers plan for future projects (Science Mag).

Texas News

  • A bill that would direct the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to create and implement a plan to increase industrial demand for recycled post-consumer material has passed the Texas Senate and House. The bill is designed to compensate for reduced demand for raw recycled material from China, increase industrial jobs, and reduce landfill waste. It also will initiate a statewide campaign to educate the public about recycling (Texas Tribune).
  • The Texas Senate passed a bill preventing women in the state from seeking an abortion when the fetus is diagnosed with a condition likely leading to suffering and death of the baby. The bill (SB 1033) is framed as an anti-discriminatory law preventing abortions based on the race, sex, or disability of the fetus. Currently, abortions after 20 weeks are banned unless the fetus is diagnosed with a “severe and irreversible” abnormality, but this bill closes that exception (Texas Tribune).
  • State subsidies for energy companies require renewal this legislative session, and the renewable energy industry is concerned about last minute amendments that might remove their eligibility. The Austin-based conservative policy institute Texas Public Policy Foundation has been lobbying against subsidies for renewable energy companies and argues the companies are allowed to price their energy too low (Texas Tribune).
  • A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project has found that Permian Basin oil companies are releasing illegal levels of sulphur dioxide, according to their own admissions to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Sulfur dioxide may cause asthma and heart attacks. However, few producers are fined for illegal pollution. Oil industry representatives said the method used to estimate pollution “inherently overestimates” the amounts released (Houston Public Media).
  • None of the bills filed to help study the effects of climate change in Texas were ever given a hearing in this legislative session. Proponents of climate change studies were hoping Governor Abbott’s call to “future-proof” the state would help push these bills forward. However, as the session ends May 27th, these bills are effectively dead (Texas Tribune).
  • Travis County is number 22 on a list of the 25 most at risk counties in the country for a measles outbreak. Contributing factors include the international airport and high rates of unvaccinated children (KUT).
  • A new referendum has been added to the ballot for this November’s election. This referendum would determine if Texas should spend another $3 billion on cancer research. Lawmakers are encouraged after Texas researchers have gained recognition in the field, including a 2018 Nobel Prize (Austin American Statesman).

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