Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • President Trump has ordered the Department of Agriculture to lift restrictions on logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest that have been in place for two decades. The Tongass is the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. President Bill Clinton barred roads and logging in half the 16.7 million acre national forest in 2001. Congress has designated 5.7 million acres as wilderness; Trump’s plan could open 9.5 million acres. A former Trump staffer said forest policy has become “an obsession of his” (Washington Post). 

Higher Education and Academia

  • A new study examined the idea that science advances come more frequently when major names in the field die. The “one funeral at a time” paradigm suggests that newcomers are able to publish new ideas when older scientists stop being able to criticize them. The study showed that after “superstar” life scientists died, publication rates by those who hadn’t co-authored with them increased by 8.6% on average over the next five years, and those papers tended to be highly cited (Inside Higher Ed). 

Federal Agencies

  • The Trump Administration has released a memo on the FY2021 Research and Development budget priorities. These include defense innovations; early-stage nuclear, renewable, and fossil energy; mapping and assessing resources in the US exclusive economic zone; research into the opioid crisis, HIV, and gene therapy; travel to the Moon and Mars; building a STEM-capable workforce; and the “extent to which components of the Earth system are practicably predictable” (Memo). 
  • Parts of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will relocate their offices from Washington D.C., to Kansas City, MO at the end of the month; one of the agencies affected is the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees research grants. Nearly two-thirds of the 500+ affected employees have decided to resign or retire instead of moving across the country (Washington Post). 
  • This week, President Trump repeatedly claimed that Alabama “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian, despite the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service (NWS, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA) predicting that “no impacts from Hurricane Dorian [would] be felt across Alabama” (The Hill; Twitter). NOAA staff were warned not to “provide any opinion,” not to contradict the president, and officials were threatened with termination by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (Washington Post; New York Times). On September 6, NOAA officials issued a statement defending the president’s statements and rebuked the Birmingham NWS office for speaking in absolute terms instead of probabilities (Politico). NOAA’s acting chief scientist is now investigating whether the agency’s condemnations violated their ethics policies on scientific integrity (Washington Post). Former and current NOAA officials have condemned the agency’s gag order as putting politics over science and public safety (Washington Post).

Public Health

  • A judge has ruled that Johnson & Johnson was responsible for Oklahoma’s opioid epidemic and has ordered them to pay $572 million, or ~3% of the $17 billion requested by the state. Johnson & Johnson will appeal the ruling (Axios).

Climate Change 

  • On September 4, 10 Democratic presidential candidates debated climate change during a town hall (CNN). Polls show climate change is now the second priority for Democratic voters, the first being heath care. Joe Biden, who leads in the polls, has a plan to decarbonize the economy by 2050. Cory Booker wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 and spend $3 trillion (The Hill). Bernie Sanders is the top rated candidate by Greenpeace. Elizabeth Warren adopted Jay Inslee’s plan, after he dropped out of the race. Julian Castro wants to spend $10 trillion aiming to convert all US electricity to renewable energy by 2035, focus on environmental racism, support fossil fuel workers, and to rejoin the Paris Agreement (Texas Tribune). Critics worry attaching major social change as proposed in the Green New Deal will work against the Democratic candidate in the general election (Politico). 
  • The Justice Department is investigating four automobile manufacturers for anti-trust behavior because of their agreement with California to maintain higher fuel efficiency standards. The administration is attempting to reverse Obama-era gas mileage requirements, and is currently defending this rollback in court. California maintains that it has the right to set higher carbon emission standards under the Clean Air Act (Washington Post).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has released a 2020 budget plan that would cut research grant funding by 90%, to $4 million. This follows five years of budget cuts. He would raise fellowships by 28%. Brazil’s Congress approves its budget in December (Science Mag). 

Texas News

  • It is now a felony in Texas to trespass or interfere with construction of “critical infrastructure,” such as dams, petrochemical plants, and pipelines. This criminalizes pipeline protesters and already is suspected to be having a chilling effect on protesting pipeline construction. Groups that support such protesters could also face fines of up to $500,000 under the new law (KUT). 
  • Four dams on the Guadalupe River are at risk of collapse, so the river authority will drain the lakes behind them and allow the river to return to its natural course. Property owners along the lakes complain of reduced property values and damage, but the dams were expected to last 75 years and are now 90 years old (Texas Tribune).

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