Trump administration moves to open 1.6 million acres to fracking, drilling in California

Ending a five-year moratorium, the Trump administration Wednesday took a first step toward opening 1.6 million acres of California public land to fracking and conventional oil drilling, triggering alarm bells among environmentalists.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said it’s considering new oil and natural gas leases on BLM-managed lands in Fresno, San Luis Obispo and six other San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast counties. Meanwhile, activists in San Luis Obispo are pushing a ballot measure this fall to ban fracking and new oil exploration in the county.

If BLM goes ahead with the plan, it would mark the first time since 2013 that the agency has issued a new lease for oil or gas exploration in California, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which immediately vowed to fight the move. California is the nation’s fourth largest oil-producing state, after Texas, North Dakota and Alaska, with much of the production concentrated in the southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The Trump administration is trying to “sell off our public lands again,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. The federal government oversees about 15 million acres of public lands in California, and leases some of them for private use by contractors.

Lakewood said environmentalists are particularly concerned about the possibility of a big increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process of extracting oil or gas by injecting chemicals or other liquids into subterranean rocks. The notice released Wednesday by the BLM, which allows for 30 days of public comment, specifically seeks “public input on issues and planning criteria related to hydraulic fracturing.”

Environmentalists say fracking can contaminate groundwater and increase earthquake risks, and they’ve called on Gov. Jerry Brown to ban the practice. The energy industry says there’s no evidence of environmental harm from fracking. The U.S. Geological Survey says that, when “conducted properly,” poses little risk to groundwater.

Kara Siepmann of the Western States Petroleum Association, the leading oil lobby in California, said the association is “supportive of BLM beginning the comprehensive evaluation and scoping process of federal lands in California.” Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association, whose members include smaller oil companies, said expanded production could reduce the state’s growing dependence on imported oil.

Although Brown has allowed fracking to continue, the Legislature has passed a law that requires energy producers to get additional permitting if they practice fracking. And earlier this year, when the Trump administration began the process of repealing all federal regulations of fracking, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the administration.

Fracking has become a hot-button issue in particular in San Luis Obispo County, where county supervisors placed a measure on the November ballot that would ban new oil wells and new fracking operations in unincorporated regions of the county.

The measure’s leading proponent, Charles Varni of the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County, said he was angered to hear of the Bureau of Land Management’s decision, which would affect pockets of land throughout the county but primarily in the eastern and northwestern areas.

“We don’t want to see any expansion of oil and gas extraction in San Luis Obispo County,” he said. “We want to protect our groundwater resources for higher uses.”

A relatively small amount of oil is produced on private land in the Price Canyon area of San Luis Obispo County.

Varni acknowledged that his ballot measure, if passed by voters, would have no impact on energy production on federally-managed lands.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government hasn’t opened any new energy leases in California since 2013, when a federal judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management violated federal environmental laws by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without studying the impact of fracking.

Trump wrongly blames California’s worsening wildfires on water diversions

As wildfires continued to scorch California, President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a tweet that befuddled experts, wrongly blaming the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse.

California’s environmental laws, he claimed, “aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

While decades-old state and federal forest management strategies have been cited as exacerbating California’s wildfires in recent years, experts Sunday were quick to refute Trump’s claim that water policy was to blame.

While California’s river water is tightly managed to account for drinking, agriculture and environmental needs, it is not being diverted into the ocean. And the problem is not that the state lacks the water to fight fires, but that years of drought have made forests and brush more flammable.

“On the water side, it boggles the mind,” UC Merced professor and wildfire specialist LeRoy Westerling told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We do manage all of our rivers in California, and all the water is allocated many times over. So I’m not sure what he was recommending. . . . Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn’t compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Sunday approved a federal disaster declaration for the state. Nine people have been killed by the 18 wildfires currently burning across the state. The Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco has grown to the fifth-largest in state history, burning almost 400 square miles by Sunday. and threatening 15,000 homes. Meanwhile, the Ferguson fire entered Yosemite National Park, which remained largely closed to visitors, and the Carr fire near Redding claimed its seventh life, when a PG&E lineman crashed his vehicle while working with crews to fight the blaze. Overall, more than 470,000 acres have burned in the state, with more than 14,000 firefighters on the front lines.

Trump policy shop filters facts to fit his message

President Donald Trump’s appointees in the health department have deleted positive references to Obamacare, altered a report that undermined the administration’s positions on refugees and added anti-abortion language to the strategic plan — part of an ideological overhaul of the agency’s research office.

While every administration puts its imprint on the executive branch and promotes ideas that advance its own agenda, this one has ventured several steps further — from scrubbing links to climate change studies from an Environmental Protection Agency website to canceling an Interior Department study on coal mining risks and suppressing reports on water contaminationand the dangers of formaldehyde.

Inside the Health and Human Services policy research shop, staffers say the political pressures to tailor facts to fit Trump’s message have been unprecedented.

Several pointed to embarrassments such as PolitiFact grading a lawmaker’s statement, based on the agency’s May 2017 report on Obamacare premium hikes, as “false,” and concluding the study had serious methodological problems.

Another report suggesting that millions more people would get health coverage if Obamacare were rolled back — a finding at odds with nearly every independent analysis — was widely mocked and produced over the objections of career staff at the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, known as ASPE, say several sources.

“The heartbreaking part is that ASPE is the source of the evidence and the science for how decisions are made,” said a former senior official, who worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations. “It’s just another example of how we’re moving to a post-fact era.”

The office has been especially vulnerable to political pressure because its leadership remains in flux. The University of Minnesota health economist tapped to lead the office by Trump has been dogged by questions about his financial entanglements, leaving his nomination in limbo for more than a year. The acting head of ASPE was recently reassigned to a regional office, and the top deputy altered McKinsey-produced data to make it more favorable to the Trump administration, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the changes.

“I find the attack on the integrity and the culture of the office to be disturbing,” said Richard Frank, a Harvard health economist who ran ASPE as an Obama administration political appointee. “This is really a departure to an office that has a 50-year history to it.”

HHS officials vigorously disputed portrayals of the office as ideologically driven.

“I reject the premise of your question and allegation,” said spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley. “Secretary [Alex] Azar has made very clear that HHS is a science- and evidence-based organization and it will operate accordingly.”

Oakley said the 120-person office has been refocused to work on Trump administration priorities like drug pricing and the opioid epidemic. Two staffers say those topics are regarded as safer ground because they are not part of the health care culture wars. Under Azar, who assumed leadership of the agency about six months ago — after most of these incidents occurred — the office has produced a six-page research brief on drug pricing, which published this week, and two studies on the opioid epidemic. Oakley said more reports are coming.

But the group’s morale and role remain diminished, as key staff and teams have dwindled; there are just three staffers working on analyzing health coverage, down from about a dozen at the end of the Obama administration, said a staffer.

Republican health policy analyst Lanhee Chen, who served as an HHS senior counselor in the George W. Bush administration, scoffed at the notion that this policy shop is more partisan than the one that preceded it.

“I don’t believe the Trump administration ASPE has put out reports that are any less analytically or methodologically rigorous than those of the Obama administration ASPE,” Chen said. “Those who express concerns regarding the quality of reports ‘falling off’ are probably using that argument as a cover for the fact that they disagree with the findings of the reports.”

Chen said he regards the policy shop as a vehicle to advance administration policy, “so in that sense, methodological rigor has not necessarily been a metric I have used to evaluate their reports. That’s why we have studies from academics and analysts outside of government.”

This story is drawn from interviews with nine individuals with knowledge of ASPE operations, most of whom asked for confidentiality to speak freely, as well as with outside observers.

Shift in office’s focus

ASPE historically has been used to investigate the impact of HHS policies and help shape future strategy, and under the Obama administration, it focused closely on the expansion of health insurance coverage and the Affordable Care Act — issues on which Barack Obama had campaigned heavily and made central to his presidency. The office published 43 reports on the ACA’s effects on rural hospitals, women’s health and other discrete corners of health care between January 2015 and January 2017 alone, generally extolling the effects and sometimes overlooking the drawbacks.

For instance, one 2016 study on choosing health plans in the ACA market was criticized for slanting its findings.

[Politico]

U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

The State Department declined to respond to questions, saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in the effort to modify the resolution, explained the decision to contest the resolution’s wording but said H.H.S. was not involved in threatening Ecuador.

“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

During the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution the W.H.O., several negotiators said.

Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organization, providing $845 million, or roughly 15 percent of its budget, last year.

The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.

In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for language that would limit the ability of Canada, Mexico and the United States to put warning labels on junk food and sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.

During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.

The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.

[The New York Times]

Trump admin tightens media access for federal scientists

The Trump administration is directing federal scientists in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to get approval from the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, before speaking to reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times.

USGS employees interviewed by the L.A. Times said the policy is a departure from decades of past media practices that allowed scientists to quickly respond to media requests. The employees said that the new policy will significantly undermine this.

A spokesperson for Interior disputed this description of the policy to the L.A. Times, saying that “the characterization that there is any new policy or that it for some reason targets scientists is completely false.”

Deputy press secretary for the Department of the Interior, Faith Vander Voort, told the outlet that Interior had only asked the USGS public affairs office to follow 2012 media guidelines established under former President Obama.

The guidelines say Interior’s communications office must be notified ahead of some types of interviews but does not say that scientists must get approval before speaking with reporters as an internal email obtained by the L.A. Times indicates.

The employees said that they believe the new policies were established to control the voices of Interior employees. They believe the move is a part of larger efforts to quell discourse about climate change, which the agency has produced research on.

[The Hill]

Trump rescinds Obama policy protecting oceans

President Trump is repealing a controversial executive order drafted by former President Obama that was meant to protect the Great Lakes and the oceans bordering the United States.

In his own executive order signed late Tuesday, Trump put a new emphasis on industries that use the oceans, particularly oil and natural gas drilling, while also mentioning environmental stewardship.

“Ocean industries employ millions of Americans and support a strong national economy,” the new order states, mentioning energy production, the military, freight transportation and other industries.

“This order maintains and enhances these and other benefits to the Nation through improved public access to marine data and information, efficient interagency coordination on ocean-related matters, and engagement with marine industries, the science and technology community, and other ocean stakeholders,” it states.

The order encourages more drilling and other industrial uses of the oceans and Great Lakes.

The order stands in contrast to Obama’s policy, which focused heavily on conservation and climate change. His policy was written in 2010, shortly after the deadly BP Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling explosion and 87-day oil spill.

“America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental changes, social justice, international diplomacy, and national and homeland security,” Obama’s order stated.

[The Hill]

Why Dr. Oz’s astrology tweet was so disappointing

We’re used to Dr. Oz broadcasting outrageous, pseudoscientific ideas on his hugely popular daytime TV show, The Dr. Oz Show. The cardiac surgeon has for years devoted large amounts of airtime to peddling all sorts of suspect detoxes, diets, and other health misinformation. (He does sometimes offer good health information too.)

Now, because 2018 is weird, Oz is a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition — an advisory board devoted to promoting healthy lifestyles across the nation. One might wonder if he’d clean up his act. But it’s not happening.

On Wednesday, he (or someone running the Twitter account in his name) tweeted out this doozy to 4.3 million followers. (It has since been deleted.)

First off, astrology isn’t real. Repeat after me: “Astrology isn’t real.” Sing it aloud: “Astrology isn’t real!”

It’s a pseudoscientific parlor game that tends to make a big deal out of insignificant coincidences. For example, Mercury in retrograde. Every few months, from our vantage point here on Earth, it looks like the planet Mercury is drawing loop-de-loops in the sky. It’s an illusion that this occurs because the Earth and Mercury are orbiting around the sun at different rates. But yet astrologers take it to mean there’s an increased chance of miscommunication, among other maladies.

Also, do you really believe that everyone born in the same month could possibly share the same cosmic destiny? What hooey!

Oz’s tweet has since been deleted. But the webpage it linked to is still up (as is another recent tweet about astrology and health). On Oz’s website, you can still find a slideshow of content explaining things like “when an Aries feels blocked, this pent-up energy may appear in the form of migraines, sinus issues, or even jaw tension.”

This is drawn from a 2017 episode of The Dr. Oz Show in which he invites astrologer Rebecca Gordon to explain the connection between horoscope and health. Gordon has been featured on the show several times. And it seems Gordon is returning to the show this week to discuss the same topic.

In 2017, Oz asked her to explain the link between horoscope and health, and she brought up Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, saying the “human body is actually shaped like a 5-pointed star.” (Does she mean that because our bodies have some star-like qualities, we’re influenced by stars? Who knows!)

The tweet is silly, and so is the astrology segment on the Dr. Oz show. And largely, yes, astrology is harmless.

It’s just always disappointing to see someone with such a big audience peddle such bunk — especially because a showman like Oz is exactly the type of person who could influence a showman like President Donald Trump.

Oz often touts alternative medicines and beliefs as ways to empower his viewers and give them hope.

In 2014, he testified before a Senate subcommittee about his role promoting “green coffee extract,” which he claimed aided in weight loss. “My job, I feel on the show, is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” he said. “And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look … for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”

Hope can be helpful. But it’s often a lie.

[Vox]

Trump administration nominates immigration hard-liner for migration post at State Department

The Trump administration has tapped immigration hard-liner Ronald Mortensen to be the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Mortensen, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that advocates restricting legal and illegal immigration, previously worked for the State Department as a foreign service officer, according to his biography on the center’s website.

Mortensen’s nomination was announced by the White House on Thursday, among several others, and has to be confirmed by the Senate.

The bureau that Mortensen would be in charge of is expected to provide “protection, ease suffering, and resolve the plight of persecuted and uprooted people around the world on behalf of the American people,” according to its mission statement.

According to the State Department, this includes working with refugee and at-risk populations to offer protection and aid.

Mortensen has written several articles published on the Center for Immigration Studies website that are highly critical of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program put in place by the Obama administration that offers protection from deportation for certain individuals who were brought into the United States as children.

In a post he penned in 2009, Mortensen claims that “illegal immigration and high levels of identity theft go hand-in-hand,” “children are prime targets” of identity theft by undocumented immigrants and “Illegal aliens commit felonies in order to get jobs,” among other things.

In February 2017, Mortensen wrote that “President Trump’s Executive Order 13768, ‘Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior United States’, has shocked illegal aliens and their supporters because, unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration will not ‘exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.’ This means that the vast majority of people unlawfully in the United States are once again subject to deportation.”

[CNN]

Bill Gates: I had to explain to Trump the difference between HIV, HPV

Bill Gates discloses in newly revealed footage that President Trump twice asked him to clarify the difference between HIV and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” aired footage Thursday night of the Microsoft founder speaking at a Gates Foundation event, telling the crowd about two meetings he had with Trump, one at Trump Tower during the presidential transition and another at the White House last year.

“Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HPV and HIV,” Gates said. “So I was able to explain that those were rarely confused with each other.”

Gates also said that at both meetings Trump had asked him about the negative effects of vaccines.

“In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren’t a bad thing, because he was considering a commission to look into the ill effects of vaccines,” Gates said.

“And I said, ‘no, that’s a dead end. That would be a bad thing, don’t do that.’”

Gates said last month that Trump was “super interested” in the idea of a universal flu vaccine.

He added that Trump had asked him to be a science adviser, but that he told the president that he didn’t believe the role would be a good use of his time.

[The Hill]

Media

 

NASA program to track greenhouse gas is canceled

A NASA program that cost $10 million per year to track carbon and methane, key greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, has been cancelled, a US space agency spokesman said Thursday.

The end of the program — called the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) — which tracked sources and sinks for carbon and made high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon — was first reported by the journal Science.

“Now, President Donald Trump’s administration has quietly killed the CMS,” the report said, describing the move as the latest in a “broad attack on climate science” mounted by the White House.

The journal said NASA “declined to provide a reason for the cancellation beyond ‘budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.'”

It also quoted US space agency spokesman Steve Cole as saying there was no mention of the CMS in a budget deal signed in March, which “allowed the administration’s move to take effect.”

Cole, responding to a request for comment from AFP, said Trump proposed cutting the CMS project and four Earth science missions last year.

After much deliberation, Congress decided they wanted those four space missions to be funded, writing them into the budget bill they passed in March 2018, he said.

But since CMS was not among them, it was cut as proposed, Cole said, describing the entire process as a joint effort by lawmakers and the executive branch.

Existing grants would be allowed to finish but no new research would be supported, he said.

Trump has already announced the US pullout from the 2015 Paris climate accord, a deal signed by more than 190 nations to slash polluting emissions from fossil fuels.

Cole told AFP that Trump has proposed cancelling another Earth science mission, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3), for next year, though it did receive funding for fiscal year 2018.

According to Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts, the CMS cuts jeopardize efforts to verify the emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate deal.

“If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” she told the journal Science.

Canceling the CMS “is a grave mistake.”

Cole, however, said in an email that the “winding down of this specific research program does not curb NASA’s ability or commitment to monitoring carbon and its effects on our changing planet.”

He said a new ecosystem carbon-monitoring instrument, called GEDI, is set to launch to the International Space Station later this year.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/white-house-cancels-nasa-program-greenhouse-gas-report-221244337.html?soc_src=hl-viewer&soc_trk=fb

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