Energy, Environment, and Conservation
- A recent study by the National Audubon Society found that 389 out of 604 studied American bird species are at risk of losing most of their suitable habitat under current climate projections. The study found that waterbirds and forest birds are at the greatest risk of range contraction. Audubon published an interactive tool to find which species would be lost from your area based on zip code and warming projections (Audubon).
- The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has passed the Scientific Integrity Act, which now goes to the full House for approval. The bill (HR 1709) would require federal agencies to formalize, adopt, and enforce scientific integrity policies. Language about how federal scientists respond to media requests has been removed from the bill, instead leaving it to individual agencies to determine their media policies (Eos, Bill PDF). Action: contact your US House Representative and ask them to support HR 1709.
- The Justice Department is mandating that DNA be collected from people crossing the US-Mexico border without a visa, green card, or passport, effective Tuesday. Collection of DNA from those convicted of a felony is allowed under a 2009 law, and the data is stored in a database that law enforcement officials use during criminal investigations. Civil rights groups argue that a database with DNA information of all migrants violates privacy and could be abused, and lawsuits are expected to follow. It remains unclear whether samples will be taken from migrants seeking asylum (Associated Press).
- After President Trump ordered all federal agencies to eliminate one-third of their scientific advisory boards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is disbanding the Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board (ELAB) and the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT). ELAB members said the board focused on human health by testing water and wastewater, and worked on issues such as industrial chemical contamination and fracking. NACEPT provided external scientific advisors to the EPA on environmental management and justice (EE News).
- President Trump has reconstituted PCAST, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and appointed seven of a planned 16 total members. PCAST last met during the Obama administration nearly three years ago. Six of the seven appointed members work in industry; Kelvin Droegemeier, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will serve as chair (AIP).
- More than 2,000 lawsuits on the opioid crisis brought by cities and counties against drug manufacturers and distributors have been consolidated for the pretrial motions into the National Prescription Opiate Litigation. These consolidated pretrial motions will be heard by a single judge in the Northern District of Ohio, as determined by a judicial panel. These cases are then likely to be settled, but if a settlement is not reached then they will be heard in their original courts. Judge Polster, who is overseeing the pretrial motions, is also implementing a novel form of class action lawsuit in which the plaintiffs are allowed to opt-in to settlement agreements and then vote on whether they are satisfied with the settlement (KUT).
- The health insurance enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act begins November 1 and ends December 15. Prices for health insurance in Texas have remained relatively stable although enrollment has dropped during the Trump administration, with about 1.2 million Texans signing up annually (KUT).
- A bipartisan climate caucus was launched in the US Senate this week by senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mike Braun (R-IN). The goal of the caucus is to reduce the polarization and political toxicity around climate change. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) have also indicated they plan to join the caucus (The Hill).
- The new city of Austin proposed land development code has been released, and includes limits on the amount of impervious ground cover both at the city zone level, and for each watershed overall. It also increases protections for trees, reduces parking requirements, and is aimed at reducing flood risk (City of Austin).
- The Texas State Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether a Texas mother’s support of her child’s sex transition represents “child abuse.” First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer claimed the child is “in immediate and irrevocable danger.” The father of the child does not support the transition, saying the child is subject to “chemical castration.” Some transgender children are put on puberty blocking hormones to prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics with which the child does not identify, and experts say these blockers are essential to reduce suicide risk in transgender children (Texas Tribune).