Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is having issues with vultures excreting on a communications tower in southern Texas. Vultures regurgitate on their own legs to kill bacteria, and the vomit is corrosive to the metal of the tower. CBP says it plans to install netting to prevent birds from reaching the tower. Hanging effigies of vultures that appear dead or struggling can also be an effective deterrent. CBP says they do not plan to harm the birds as they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (Washington Post).
  • President Trump plans to divert $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding to construct the border wall in 2020. This is five times the amount approved by Congress for the wall, enough to  build 885 new miles of wall by 2022. The Trump Administration has built 101 miles of new barriers so far, and allocated $18.4 billion to the wall. The administration’s previous efforts to reallocate military funding to the wall are currently under legal challenge (Washington Post). 
  • Invasive aoudads (Ammotragus lervia), a species from Africa which are in a genus related to sheep, are outcompeting native Desert Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) in West Texas. It is estimated there are 75,000 aoudads in North America, who are larger, reproduce easily, and consume little water, leading some landowners to shoot aoudads on sight. Aoudads are native to North Africa, where they are listed as vulnerable, down to only 10,000 individuals. In Texas, they were released to allow trophy hunting, which brings in revenue for ranchers. Many exotic ungulates that now live in Texas have been used to rescue extinct native populations across the world (The Atlantic). 
  • The US Senate unanimously passed the Save Our Seas Act 2.0 which aims to reduce marine plastic pollution by creating a Marine Debris Foundation that funds new research into marine debris response, increasing global cooperation on marine waste, and establishing new research grants for waste management and mitigation (Press Release). 
  • About 2,200 kg of carrots and sweet potatoes are being dropped over New South Wales in Australia to help feed at risk rock wallabies who have been displaced by wildfires. It is estimated 1.25 billion animals have died from the fires (Unilad). 

Congressional Committees 

  • Federal funding for research on gun violence has been approved by Congress for the first time in decades. $25 million will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health. This would allow research into the causes of gun violence in American for the first time since the 1996 Dickey Amendment halted the research by eliminating funding and preventing the use of federal money to “advocate or promote gun control” (NBC News). 

Higher Education and Academia 

  • The content and language of textbooks written for American public schools is politically influenced, even when textbooks are written by the same authors and have the same publisher. Comparing textbook content from the same textbook written for Texas and California demonstrates that the California book focus on the experiences of marginalized groups while the Texas book tends to celebrate capitalism and avoids discussion of sex or sexuality. This results from a political process under which textbooks are written by academics, then publishers customize the books based on the market, and these changes are then reviewed by politically-appointed education boards, without returning to the original author (New York Times). 

Public Health 

  • Women in Texas are resorting to attempting to end their pregnancies themselves three times more often than in other states, according to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin. An estimated 7% of abortion clinic patients say they tried to end their pregnancy using home remedies in Texas, compared to 2.2% nationwide. Nearly all of them would prefer to use a clinic, the study found, but access was limited due to financial concerns and availability of clinics. In 2013, a Texas law closed nearly half the state’s abortion clinics; the law was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2016, but the clinics mostly did not re-open (Houston Chronicle). 
  • Pakistan will extend government health care to transgender Pakistanis for the first time. The Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government is “taking responsibility” for the harassment and difficulty accessing care transgender people face when seeking medical treatment. In 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court granted transgender people equal rights, an estimated 500,000 people (Healthworld). 
  • The rate of death from cancer in the US dropped 2.2% between 2016 and 2017, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society. This is the largest single year decline since the records began being collected in the 1930’s. Rates have fallen, researchers say, because of a decline in smoking rates as well as advances in treatments (Axios). 

Climate Change

  • The 2010’s were the hottest decade on record, according to NASA and NOAA analyses. Global surface temperatures were 1 degree C higher on average than the middle of the 20th century, and since the 1960’s, every decade has been warmer than the previous one. The five years between 2015 and 2019 were the five hottest years ever recorded (New York Times). 
  • Electricity prices fell across the US in 2019 by 15-30% compared to 2018, due to lower prices of natural gas, according to the Department of Energy. Prices rose in Texas by 13%, however, due to record demand from a heat wave in August. The reserve margin of energy in Texas is expected to increase in 2020 due to new wind, solar, and natural gas generation coming online (Houston Chronicle). 
  • In Texas and Louisiana alone, enough oil, gas, and petrochemical infrastructure is in construction or planned for construction in the 2020’s to emit half-a-billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2030. Half-a-billion tons is equal to 8% of total US annual emissions, and comes on top of more than $200 billion in new projects spent by the industry since 2010. It is estimated the Permian Basin will soon emit 40% of the country’s carbon (Texas Observer). 
  • The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention voted to declare a climate emergency in December, after urging from representatives of the Elders and Youth Conference. The convention gathers thousands of Alaska Natives, some of whom opposed the vote due to oil and gas interests and their ability to develop natural resources (High Country News). 

Texas News

  • A persistent drought in the Texas Hill Country has killed the grass in the area, leaving many cattle farmers to consider abandoning their ranches. Currently, 38% of Texas is in drought, leading Governor Greg Abbott to declare a state of emergency for 17 counties in January. Texas has been experiencing increased periods of drought and extreme weather over the last several years (Texas Tribune). 
  • Oil and gas companies paid a record $16.3 billion in taxes to the state of Texas and local governments in 2019, according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association. However, production is expected to drop this year, as oil prices and the number of active rigs decline due to the trade war with China and reduced demand. A representative for the association said they are “absolutely committed to climate progress” but that Texas should resist “political schemes that call for bans of the world’s most important asset” (Texas Tribune). 

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