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INDUSTRY LEADER, ECOLOGIST CLASH ON Global Tree Planting Proposal

A bill that would pledge U.S. participation in a global plan to plant 1 trillion trees by 2050 endorsed by President Donald Trump at Davos had environmental stakeholders split Wednesday at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Energy and Commerce Committee hears testimony on wildfire effects

Environmental experts testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday regarding the impacts of wildfires.

Lawmakers clash over climate change, future U.S. involvement

Republican members and witnesses clash on the role China and India have to play in addressing global climate change.

Senate environment committee approves NAFTA replacement deal despite climate concerns

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted 16-4 to issue a favorable report on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The trade agreement passed with bipartisan support in the House last month.

Industry Buy-In to Reducing Climate Change, Increased Protests Likely in new decade, World Resource Institute head says

2020 will see environmental activism, industry changes, and input from world leaders, WRI President said Thursday.

REPUBLICANS LEAVE HEARING ON CLIMATE CHANGE DISINFORMATION

WASHINGTON — Democrats tried to hold a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing Tuesday on industries’ use of disinformation to deny climate change, but Republicans walked out, saying the topic was beyond the subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee has eight members, but only four Republicans and two Democrats showed up for the meeting. The meeting became a Democratic forum after Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, called for a vote to adjourn, which was approved on party lines.

“Climate denial is not a matter of scientific disagreement but rather a set of tactics used by the fossil fuel industry to distort science to further their own agenda,” Subcommittee Chairman Rep. T.J. Cox, D-Calif., said.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the fundamental reasons it has been so difficult to achieve comprehensive policy solutions to global warming is disinformation. Unlike misinformation, which is unintentionally false, disinformation purposefully attempts to mislead people into believing untruths by advancing false reports, distorting accurate reports and influencing policymakers.

A UCS report found that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil spent tens of millions of dollars on a deception operation that involved raising doubts about scientific evidence, promoting spokespeople to misrepresent scientific findings to the media, paying lobbyists to thwart environmental regulations and supporting more than 40 anti-climate advocacy organizations. During this same period, ExxonMobil was one of the world’s largest polluters, emitting roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide in 2005 as the entire country of India.

A 2018 analysis by the same group found that while ExxonMobil now supports a plan for a federal carbon tax and says it is committed to reducing its methane emissions, the company continues to stress the uncertainty of climate science and remains closely tied to industry groups like the Western States Petroleum Association, which opposed Washington state’s Clean Air Rule in 2016 and says it is against “direct command-and-control regulations.”

Climate accountability profiles of other companies like BP and Chevron show that they too are often publicly supportive of sustainable industry practices but privately less willing to actually follow through on those practices.

“The science of climate change has been settled for years now,” Citizens’ Climate Lobby Communications Coordinator Flannery Winchester wrote in an email interview. “We know that it’s real, it’s bad and it’s without a doubt caused by human activity. Anyone saying otherwise is contradicting the consensus of the world’s scientific community.”

As Green New Deal Gains Traction, House Panel Emphasizes Equity in Energy Transition

WASHINGTON — Transitioning to a clean energy economy is more than just a necessary step to address climate change, Just Energy Director Chandra Farley told lawmakers on Tuesday. According to Farley, it also offers an opportunity to address issues of racial injustice, economic disinvestment and other equity issues.

Topics of equity and human impact were in the spotlight at the first House Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee hearing Tuesday, which discussed both the benefits and the pitfalls of a transition to clean energy in response to climate change.

Farley pointed to the increased health risks associated with proximity to coal-fueled power plants as an example of the structural racism of current U.S. energy infrastructure. Nearly 70 percent of black Americans live within 30 miles of such power plants, she said, and because of the disproportionate effect of these emissions, questions of racial justice must be at forefront of the energy transition.

“Any solution meant to limit the effects of climate change on lower-income, under-resourced communities must be centered in equity and must be centered in a reckoning with the reasons that these disparities exist,” Farley said.

Other witnesses, including business leaders and academics, underscored the importance of addressing climate change in a way that assists local economies.

Sarah Shrader, the co-founder of Bonsai Design, an outdoor recreation and adventure company in Mesa County, Colorado, said the area has historically felt the burden of extracting natural resources from the land. When commodity prices are high, she said, the development has provided jobs and prosperity. However, when they fall, the loss can be devastating to the local economy.

Because of that boom-and-bust cycle, Shrader said, “we are trained to believe that economic prosperity is fleeting and temporary.”

As the U.S. transitions away from mineral extraction as an energy source, Shrader said protecting lands will be key because of its importance to local industries like hers.

The hearing follows the introduction of a resolution outlining the Green New Deal by Democratic lawmakers last week. The resolution proposes a sweeping package of environmental policies designed to respond to accelerating climate change, and would rapidly transition the United States away from carbon-based energy sources.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., took aim at the Green New Deal during the hearing, as did Rep. Paul Gosar, the ranking member of the subcommittee.

Gosar described the proposal as a “socialist fairytale,” while Cheney questioned witnesses about the idea of eliminating air travel. The idea is not outlined in the Green New Deal itself, but was briefly included in a draft FAQ released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The draft has since been retracted.

Rep. Jared Huffman, a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, said Cheney’s assertion was “disingenuous” and clarified that the elimination of air travel is not a tenet of the resolution.

However, the particulars of the Green New Deal were not the hearing’s primary focus.

The witnesses were not all in agreement about the effects of climate change legislation. Bill Bissett, the president of the Chamber of Commerce in Huntington, West Virginia, expressed concern about climate change policy leading to job losses in Appalachia.

Others argued that policy change could facilitate economic equality. Peter Hille, the president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, said that Appalachia has been struggling for decades, and diversifying the economy would be integral to its survival.

“The question is not: ‘How do we replace those [lost] mining jobs and get back to where we were?’” he said. “The question is: ‘How do we go forward? How do we build a new economy for Appalachia?’”

DEMOCRATS HOPE TO BE CARBON NEUTRAL IN 2030 IN GREEN NEW DEAL RESOLUTION

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., rolled out their plan for the already famed Green New Deal in a joint resolution and press conference Thursday, calling for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The highly anticipated resolution specifies some of the agenda’s vaguer goals, including meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the US through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources within 10 years.

“This is a big day for activists all over the country and a big day for frontline communities all over the country,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is a big day for people who have been left behind.”

Both Ocasio-Cortez and Markey stressed the plausibility of the lofty policy goals that urge legislators to create sustainable infrastructure for “generations to come.”

“There will be cynics who will say this does not go far enough or that this cannot be done,” Markey said as he recalled those who thought global climate agreements like the Paris accords would never occur. “I have been really comforted by their consistency – they have been consistently wrong.”

In what Ocasio-Cortez called the “first step” in a longer policy agenda, the bicameral support has over 60 cosponsors between the two chambers, including five potential presidential candidates who have supported the agenda, despite still lacking specific policies on issues like a carbon tax.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a freshman who has made herself an important social media presence as she leads a new progressive wing of the Democrats, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a champion of previous climate bills, plan to introduce the Green New Deal into the House and Senate soon. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/MNS)Onlookers and supporters of the Green New Deal capture the press conference Thursday. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/MNS)Members of the Sunrise movement held up signs that read, “We need the Green New Deal,” as they watched the press conference Thursday. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/MNS)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was one of many cosponsors in attendance at the Green New Deal press conference Thursday. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/MNS)Members of the Sunrise Movement, a founding movement of the Green New Deal that consists of many young progressives, praised the joint press conference, calling it an important first step. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/MNS)Founder of the Sunrise Movement, Varshini Prakash interviews Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in a livestream after the press conference on Thursday. Prakash and the Sunrise Movement are planning to visit key Congressional offices next week in hopes of influencing additional sponsors of the Green New Deal.

Just before the press conference, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she had not yet read the resolution of what she has called a “green dream.”

“It is a green dream,” Ocasio-Cortez, emphasizing Democrats’ unity on the issue, which she and Markey repeatedly said is a priority of Pelosi’s. “This issue faces all of us and we are not going to get divided over it. Period. We leave no one behind on our solution.”

The rolling out of the resolution comes with strong pushback from Republicans who have called the GND impossible and a “socialist manifesto,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wy., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

With the Democrats controlling the House, the GND’s sponsors will need support from several Senate Republicans.

“I am very confident that this movement is going to grow so large and so powerful that we are going to find Republican senators who are going to want to work across the aisle to produce some solutions,” Markey said. “And if not, it is going to become a voting issue in the 2020 election.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey said the next step is to find additional cosponsors in the House and Senate before they come out with a more specific policy plan, though they did not give a definitive timeline for when that would be.

 

House Natural Resources Committee holds first climate change hearing in a decade

Gov. Charlie Baker, R-Mass., and Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., testified before House lawmakers on Wednesday about the necessity of federal leadership to combat climate change.

“Climate change is an existential threat,” said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who plans to co-sponsor the Green New Deal, a progressive policy to combat climate change that is expected to be jointly introduced as early as this week.

House Republicans aimed to refute federal jurisdiction and urgency a day after President Trump lauded oil and gas production in his State of the Union address.

“Climate change is real,” Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said. “The emissions we produce from fossil fuels are making it worse.”

Trump, who has publicly questioned the effects of climate change, did not mention the issue in his address.

“We need our federal partners to step up on this issue and make the United States a leader in the world again on climate change,” said Cooper, a leader of the governor-led U.S. Climate Alliance.

Baker, a moderate Republican in a liberal state that has taken action on climate change, especially in wind energy, argued that the federal government must support local government by establishing a clear bipartisan vision for climate policy and incorporating climate science into planning and legislating.

“On a number of issues around mitigation, adaptation and resiliency, there’s a lot of common ground there,” said Baker, disagreeing with members of his own party who deny the human impact on climate change.

House Republicans, who entered their first hearing on the Natural Resources Committee as the minority, questioned the human role in climate change and GND.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, argued a lack of human impact in the ice caps melting on Mars and a natural disaster that wiped out dinosaurs should be evidence that humans have played no role in climate change on this planet.

Gohmert’s fellow Republican called out Democratic 2020 candidates for supporting their younger peers’ climate policies.

“It sounds too much like a Soviet 5 year-plan, which is simply not going to work,” Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. said of the GND. “I think I can understand if someone who doesn’t have a life experience and they’re proposing something that is extremely unrealistic – impossible. But what I don’t understand is adults and grown ups and older and more mature [leaders] who are also advocating something that is impossible.”

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who has earned a zero in 2017 from the League of Conservation Voters’ congressional scorecard, argued against federal interference because he said that states have different industry needs and energy resources.

But for the Democrats on the committee and a majority of the witnesses, there is a clear relationship between humans and climate change.

“Climate change has forced us to live in a new normal, in which fires and floods, droughts and hurricanes break our communities and natural heritage,” said Rep. Deb Haaland, D-Ariz. “It’s now time for us to act.”

The hearing is part of a month-long effort by the Democrats leading the committee to draw attention to climate change.

Houston Neighborhood Shows Who Bears the Brunt of Climate Change

As climate change increases the frequency and severity of natural disasters, experts predict that the effects of hurricanes, floods, and other disasters will be much worse for low-income communities.

Houston’s Manchester neighborhood is a symbol of the problem.

On one edge of the neighborhood is the Houston ship channel, one of America’s busiest ports. Railroad tracks lay on another side of the neighborhood. Oil refineries surround the area, littering smokestacks across the sky. The community is 98 percent Latino and high school graduation and median income rates are low, but asthma and cancer rates are comparatively high.

The National Climate Assessment, jointly released by 13 federal agencies in November, affirmed this risk, noting that across all climate risks, “low-income communities, some communities of color, and those experiencing discrimination are disproportionately affected by extreme weather and climate events, partially because they are often excluded in planning processes.”

At a press conference for Justice First, a coalition of various organizations fighting for environmental justice like the Hip Hop Caucus, the Sierra Club and others, Rep. Donald McEachin, (D-Va.,) called it “one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time.

“People who are socially vulnerable are also more physically vulnerable to disasters,” Jennifer A. Horney, the founding director of the epidemiology program at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center said.

According to Horney, people who live in less expensive houses or mobile homes are more likely to live in floodplains — areas of low-lying ground near a body of water and likely to experience flooding. As a result, when natural disasters or heavy rain storms hit, low-income communities are often devastated by flooding and damage to houses they can’t afford to fix while wealthier households more often have insurance or savings to pay for damages to houses.

Shannon Van Zandt, a fellow in the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M pointed out the issue of aid that lower income families have to deal with after disaster, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency gives money to rebuild homes damaged by disasters, but there often is a cap on the amount of aid.

“That may be enough for a higher income [families], but it doesn’t come anywhere close to what a low-income family needs — typically it’s their whole house that gets damaged,” she said.

According to Van Zandt, lower income families often don’t have savings or insurance to supplement the FEMA support. Many of their claims for support from FEMA are rejected because FEMA can’t determine if the damage was from the disaster or “deferred maintenance.”

As a result, the post-disaster homeless rates are higher in low-income communities.

But the problems go even deeper.

In addition to the destruction caused by natural disasters, the risk of exposure to pollutants increases following disasters in neighborhoods like Manchester.

“In the areas where we weren’t seeing pollution … all of a sudden, we were,” said Garett Sansom, a professor of environmental and public health at Texas A&M.

“PAHs (potentially harmful pollutants) were showing up in locations that we hadn’t seen before, which suggests that the water was moving some of these exposures around in a way that wouldn’t have happened had there not been major flooding.”

Studies found there was a greater percentage of open ditch drainage systems found in communities of color than other areas of Houston.

“That means there is a lot more surface water causing localized flooding and exposing the water to pollution,” Van Zandt said, which can harm drinking water following disaster.

These issues, seen throughout the nation, are exacerbated by the fact that low-income communities often are not represented, both in terms of municipal upkeep and federal support, in government decision-making.

“The recovery funds [after Harvey] went first and foremost to subsidize work going on in industry, energy, oil, gas to make up for lost profits,” said Yvette Arellano, senior staff for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “We no longer have someone who can speak Spanish within the [Environmental Justice] Department.”

“This isn’t an issue of Houston, it’s an issue of the whole country,” Sansom said.

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Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler faces questions over deregulation, coal industry

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works criticized acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler over his ties to the coal industry, his support for loosening mercury regulations and what they considered lackluster support for addressing climate change.

Two potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Cory Booker of New Jersey, were especially vocal in their criticism during the hearing on whether to confirm Wheeler as permanent EPA administrator.

“It seems there is a consistency in your actions to weakening rule, to undermining the sense of urgency that (other) agencies are telling us we face not just now, but over the next 25 years,” Booker said.

Minutes into the hearing, protestors sitting in the back chanted, “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA!” before being walked out by the Capitol Police, showing some of the public’s discontent amidst the fourth week of the government shutdown.

Wheeler defended his controversial record, pointing to the economic growth he has overseen while reducing lead exposure and making water safety a priority.

Sanders, a prominent voice in combating climate change, questioned whether Wheeler believes it is a “global crisis.” “I believe it is a global issue that must be addressed by every country,” Wheeler said.

When Sanders asked if climate change was the biggest culprit in the California wildfires, Wheeler said no. “The biggest issue is forest management,” he said, echoing a position often taken by President Donald Trump.

As Sanders emphasized that “we have 12 years in order to stop the worst impacts of climate change,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he wasn’t sold that Wheeler would take the needed immediate action.

“I’m looking for a sense of urgency. I think this agency needs this kind of leadership,” Carper said. “I’m looking for some passion here, and I don’t feel it.”

Carper and other Democrats on the committee asserted that if the EPA, which is one of the agencies shut down during the partial shutdown, had diverted the resources to prepare Wheeler for the hearing, the consequences of the shutdown could be greater.

“I do not believe that giving the acting administrator a speedy promotion is more urgent and more important than protecting the public from contamination of our air and water and land,” Carper said.

The panel’s chairman, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday by USA Today that Wheeler was qualified because of his “common sense policy,” policies which are rollbacks of Obama-era regulations that protect drinking water, as well as the easing of auto emissions regulations that limit air pollution.

But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said Wheeler does what the coal and oil industries want.

“I believe you have your thumb, wrist, forearm and elbow on the scales in virtually every determination that you can in favor of the fossil fuel agency, and I think that is very unfortunate,” Whitehouse said.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., questioned him on proposed loosening of mercury regulations, which Wheeler’s opposition is concerned about due to mercury poisoning, increasingly a global health issue. “I don’t understand EPA’s position,” Cardin said. “It seems the mercury standards have worked.”

In response, Wheeler explained that the EPA had reassessed an Obama-era cost-benefit analysis of the rules. “I do not believe a single piece of mercury technology will be removed,” Wheeler said.

According to committee staffers, there is currently no timetable in place for a confirmation vote.

10 House Republicans join Democrats to approve USDA funding

WASHINGTON – House Democrats, joined by 10 Republicans voted Thursday to pass a bill that would fund the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, which have been shut down for nearly three weeks, though the measure is unlikely to get Senate approval.

Two Republicans Thursday joined eight who earlier had decided to break from the president’s policy of opposing any federal agency funding that does not include $5.7 billion for a border wall.

After a failed negotiation meeting between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders Wednesday, House Democrats continue to roll out bills this week to open various agencies in an attempt to ease the effects of the partial federal government shutdown.

While some USDA agencies are “essential,” most are closed, halting functions such as announcing agricultural statistics, inspecting animals and plants and providing subsidies to farmers.

“[The effects] have been profound, and it’s only going to get worse,” said Michael Marsh, President and CEO of the National Council of Agriculture Employers. “If [farmers] need to get an operating loan [from Farmer Services], that is going to be delayed,” which means an insecure future for the farmers trying to plan and hire employees.

For example, farmers who rely on the subsidies to buy seeds have been unable to do so, which could mean lower crop yields. Further, should food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — funding stop, millions of American consumers will be affected, which affects farmer’s bottom lines.

Agricultural research has been halted during the government shutdown, which has long-lasting implications, according to National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition spokeswoman Reana Kovalcik.

“All farmers do research,” she said. “Research trials could be ruined or lost,” including the simple task of watering plants in a greenhouse.

In their arguments, House Democrats emphasized the impact failing to pass the agriculture bill would have on families and farmers, while House Republicans continued to back Trump.

“Our food supply is at risk. When you go to the grocery store, you can’t be sure that the product you are buying is safe,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D – Conn., said, because routine food-safety inspections are not occurring.

Although the USDA has announced that SNAP will continue to be funded in February, Rep. Barbara Lee, D – Calif., speaking from her own experience relying on food stamps, argued that it might not be enough.

House Republicans argued that the Democrats were simply rehashing a bill that was passed in the Senate.

“By bringing forth the Senate version of this bill, it completely ignores all of the work (the House agriculture) subcommittee has done over the past year,” Rep. Steve Palazzo, R– Miss., said.

Kovalcik, representing farmers, simply wants the new Congress to approve the bill that that Senate approved last year. “If it was good enough at the end of 2018, it should be good enough now,” she said.

The bill now moves on from the House to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring a bill to a vote unless it is certain that Trump will sign it.

Washington argues salmon case in US Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – Washington state argued to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that replacing hundreds of stream culverts blocking salmon migration is onerous and too expensive.

In the 1850s, the federal government signed the Stevens Treaties with Indian tribes, granting them the “right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

In 2001, some 21 northwest Washington tribes, joined by the United States government, asked a federal judge to rule that Washington state had a treaty-based duty to protect salmon habitat.

In 2013, the court ordered the state rebuild clogged culverts that had the greatest impact on salmon flow by 2030.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2016.

Now the issue is before the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department wants a declaration that the state had a treaty-based obligation to refrain from degrading the fishery resources.

“When the United States promised the tribes federal protection for their pre-existing right to fish, that included more than just the hollow promise of access to fisheries that could be blocked off and emptied of their salmon,” Assistant Solicitor General Allon Kedem told the justices.

But Washington State Solicitor General Noah Purcell argued that the lower court rulings ignore the fact that the salmon harvests affected by the culverts have declined less than 5 percent.

The justices repeatedly questioned Purcell on what the state considered substantial degradation of salmon population.

“A decline of half or anything approaching half would obviously be a large decline, a substantial decline,” Purcell said. “But certainly, something between 1 and 5 percent is not a substantial decline.”

“We have to replace culverts when no salmon can reach them,” he said. “And that is an utter waste of public funds.”

The state estimates that cost at $2.4 billion.

The district court told Washington state to defer culverts that had less than 200 meters upstream of useful salmon habitat.

“Those are culverts that will make extremely little difference to be replaced, and each one costs several million dollars,” Purcell said. “The court did not exclude ones even where there’s another barrier 10 yards upstream or 10 yards downstream that the state does not control.”


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Energy Secretary Perry grilled on National Lab funding in the President’s Budget

WASHINGTON— Energy Secretary Rick Perry faced tough questions on proposed funding for oil drilling in the Arctic, renewable energy and security of the energy grid Tuesday during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s 2019 budget request.

But it was the funding of renewable energy and technology research that appeared to be a common concern among senators of both parties as they picked apart funding cuts and redistributions proposed for the many National Laboratories funded by the Energy Department.

The National Laboratories are a series of research facilities located across the country that rely on federal funding to carry out their research. Among them are the Los Alamos Laboratory, where the first atomic bomb was developed, and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

Some senators were concerned that many of the labs facing funding cuts conduct research on green energy, such as the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which is developing biofuels, or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which works on solar, wind and biofuel technology, and is facing a nearly 50 percent funding cut.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, where the Renewable Energy Lab is located, said he was proud of the work that the National Labs have done for advancing research in the world, but was concerned that the DOE was not on the same page.

“[We’re] incredibly proud of what the National Renewable Energy Lab has done in Colorado, and I think we have achieved so much because we’ve had that research and that partnership with the federal government,” he reminded Perry. “So, can you give me the assurances that I need—many of us need—to make sure that we continue our strong support of our National Labs?”

Perry responded that while he agreed in principle with Gardner, it’s up to Congress to appropriate funding for the issues they deem most important.

The Trump administration budget request also advocated for the elimination of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy or ARPA-E, a 10-year-old program devoted to research into renewable energy and better batteries. The Trump administration justified the cuts by “recognizing the private sector’s primary role in taking risks to commercialize breakthrough energy technologies with real market potential.”

But senators were not swayed by that explanation. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., pressed Perry on the elimination of the program, citing the progress it has already made.

“Let me ask you a little bit about ARPA-E, I’m still trying to wrap my head around, given the advancements that have been made there in solar cells, and power controls, lithium-ion batteries, why would we want to zero-out that program?”

ARPA-E’s budget of around $309 million ranks it as a mid-size laboratory compared to the DOE’s other projects., such as the $1.2 billion Idaho National Library or the $2.2 billion Los Alamos Laboratory.

Cantwell criticizes Zinke for “unprecedented” attacks on public lands

WASHINGTON —Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s policies are an “unprecedented” attack on public lands and the environment, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said Tuesday.

Zinke explained to the committee President Donald Trump’s 2019 Interior budget request of $11.7 billion, down from the $13.5 billion budget for fiscal 2017 that has been continued into 2018.

But Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the committee, pressed Zinke about his alleged use of public funds for travel on private jets and to replace doors in his office at a cost of $138,000, charges that are under investigation by his department’s inspector general.

“I never took a private jet anywhere,” Zinke said at the hearing. “I resent the fact of your insults, and I resent the fact that you mislead.”

Cantwell also focused on what she called the Trump administration’s “unlawful exercises of presidential or secretarial power.”

“Over the past year, the Trump administration has overseen an attack on our public lands and on our nation’s strong conservation ethic that I believe is unprecedented,” Cantwell said.

The department announced that it would consider expanding offshore drilling leases in public waters in January, and internal agency documents show that the department was focused on the potential for oil and gas exploration at Bears Ears National Monument, a protected Utah site.

Zinke’s actions represent an “abandonment” of his stewardship of the country’s public resources, Cantwell said, adding that Zinke had “undermined the public trust” by gutting key conservation programs and prioritizing energy development “at any cost.”

“Many of these actions are not popular with the public and are legally being challenged in court,” she said. “I believe these actions will ultimately be overturned as unlawful exercises of presidential or secretarial power.”

She then turned to what she called an “absurd” decision — raising national park fees, including entrance fees at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. She said the higher fees will hurt Washington businesses and communities.

Zinke said discounted rates at national parks for the elderly and veterans, among others, are hurting the parks.

“When you have a park like Rainier, the money that they receive coming in the front gate, I want to make sure more of it goes to that park superintendent so he has flexibility in how he spends it,” Zinke said. “American parks belong to the public and everyone should have access.”

Washington cherry blossoms to bloom earlier than last year

Karen Cucurullo, interim superintendent at National Park Service, reveals the expected date of the cherry blossom bloom. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)National Cherry Blossom Festival staff members take selfies onstage after the press conference. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)Muriel Bower, mayor of the District of Columbia, addresses attendees at the Newseum press conference Thursday. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)Cups adorned with artwork by Maggie O'Neill, the festival's official artist, were given away to attendees. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)The Goodwill Ambassadors from National Cherry Blossom Festival hold cups to give away to attendees. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)Interns from The Japan-America Society of Washington DC pose onstage after the press conference. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)Takehiro Shimada, minister of communications and cultural affairs, holds up a Japanese treat in the shape of a cherry blossom. Attendees received it in a goody bag. (Rhytha Zahid Hejaze/MNS)

WASHINGTON—This year, Washington’s famous cherry blossom bloom may come a week early—with the peak bloom expected between March 17 and March 20, five days ahead of last year’s date and following a general trend of earlier blooms that researchers say is due to a warming climate.

The 91st Annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which begins March 20, celebrates the gift of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees from the Mayor of Tokyo to Washington in 1912.

“We should all be proud that people equate the spring with Washington, D.C. Not just here in Washington, not just the nation, but across the globe,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser at a press conference Thursday at the Newseum. “It really is a rebirth for all of us.”

The festival—which is expected to welcome 1.5 million visitors —will feature a month of events around the city, including concerts, a Japanese street festival and a parade on April 14.

Crowded into the Newseum, attendees were the first to hear the dates of the peak cherry blossom bloom, during which 70 percent of the blossoms will open and bathe the Tidal Basin in a sea of pink for weeks.

Last year’s peak began March 25, setting this year’s prediction a week apart. Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Parks Service—which tends to the cherry trees—said predicting the peak is no simple task. NPS experts rely on historical data and careful observation of the trees in order to make their prediction.

“The trees go through six stages on the way to peak bloom,” Litterst said. “Last year and this year we hit that first stage only a day apart, so there is no correlation between when that process starts and when we hit peak bloom.”

The first stage, in which small green buds first appear on the barren tree branches, was reached on Feb. 25, the fifth-earliest date in 27 years.

Data plotted by Zeke Hausfather. Data via Yasuyuki Aono.

In 2016, a video from the NPS discussed data showing that Washington has undergone an increase in temperature at a rate of 1.6 degrees-per-century, and noted that heat signals the end of winter to flowering trees and initiates the blooming process.

Meanwhile, researchers in Japan, who have tracked the dates of the cherry blossom bloom since 800 A.D. found that in the last 200 years the date of the bloom in Kyoto has advanced around seven days, correlating with an average temperature increase of 6.1 degrees.

The primary gift of 3,000 cherry trees in 12 varieties has now expanded to 3,700, but many of the originals have been replaced due to their short lifespan.

Takehiro Shimada, the minister of communications and cultural affairs at the Japanese Embassy and Diane Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, emphasized the friendship between Japan and the U.S. that the festival represents.

“What started with a gift of trees, now is the nation’s greatest springtime celebration,” Mayhew said. “So those 3,000 cherry trees given as a gift in 1912 by the mayor of Tokyo to Washington D.C. is the roots of the festival expressing friendship and peace. It’s a great message that the world needs to be reminded of.”

 


 

Medill Today // February 25, 2020