News Article | May 10, 2017
The story originally appeared on MuckRock and has been republished here with permission. A video produced by Stanford as part of its government funded research into psychic phenomena alleged to show Isareli illusionist Uri Geller performing various psychic and extrasensory feats. While some in the Agency were "humbled" by the film, others were quick to declare it ordinary trickery from a con artist using techniques from stage magic and mentalism. Eventually, James Randi joined the discussion with his book about Uri Geller, only to find one of the scientists involved pushing back. A copy of the video, spliced together from copies of varying completeness and quality, is embedded below, and an edited transcript can be found here. Based on five weeks of experiments, a formerly SECRET memo describes the video being presented to CIA's Office of Research and Development in January of 1973. By the next day, the Agency had already consulted with ARPA and a response was already being formulated. The memo accurately describes a number of the experiments performed, including reproducing line drawings of materials double sealed within envelopes. In other experimental tasks, Geller identified which side of a die would be facing inside of a concealed container or which container contained a piece of metal or water. According to the CIA memo, if the film was "accepted at face value", then "there is strong indication that Geller possesses uncommon abilities." Neither the experimenters nor CIA were entirely willing to accept the film at face value, however. Drs. Targ and Hal Puthoff were "well aware of the hazards of dealing with a professional magician whose avowed purpose at SRI is to obtain certification as an authentic psychic." Only if the experiments could exclude all possibility of fraud, slight-of-hand or other trickery, they argued, should it be accepted as proof of anything. The film itself warned against concluding anything more than the fact that it would be wise to perform additional research. ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency and the predecessor to DARPA, was less than convinced. Drs. Kibler and Lawrence from ARPA had traveled to SRI to observe the experiments with Geller. Based on this, they had "serious doubt htat Geller's accomplishment transcends the range of activities of a skillful magician." They also expressed concern that "the experimental bias" of Drs. Targ and Puthoff "in favor of successful outcomes" undermined their objectivity. Drs. Kibler and Lawrence also cited Geller's connection with Andrija Puharich as a reason to treat Geller with additional skepticism. For their part, the author of the memo "observed … no unorthodox behavior by Puthoff or Targ that could serve to corroborate ARPA's judgment." Regardless, they were unable to exclude the possibility that the film had been doctored or manipulated, despite what they described as SRI's "unimpeachable record." In a comment remarkably reminiscent of Aleister Crowley's emphasis on the practical, the author of the memo went on to argue that it was essentially irrelevant whether Geller's perceptions were normal or paranormal. What truly mattered was if they were reliable and could be replicated. What did it matter if Geller was simply able to apply advanced perceptual techniques or leaps of logic to arrive at a correct answer if it could be replicated and made operational? "Someone who could reproduce blueprints locked in safes without looking at the blueprints, or someone who could distinguish from a distance decoys from real missiles, would be an undoubted asset." With this in mind, the memo's author recommended additional and more controlled tests, both of Geller's abilities and of Geller himself to discover if his vision or hearing extended "beyond normal human limits." The memo's author concluded by noting that so far, that the history of attempts to prove psychic phenomena had been "a history of repeated failures." Nevertheless, they argued, the past was not necessarily a predictor of the future and it "should serve only to influence one's prior subjective probability of the rewards to be gained by funding experiments like this." The author also noted that not everyone at the Agency was entirely skeptical. Reportedly, managers within the Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) believed "something of value" could come from the experiments. One person with DS&T went so far as to tell the author that they were "humbled" by the film. References to the film within CIA's archive remain restricted, with one exception: James Randi, noted magician and debunker, had taken issue with Uri Geller, the SRI's experiments and the accompanying film. He had previously written about Geller, but returned his focus to the man in the early 1980s with his book about The Magic of Uri Geller, later renamed The Truth About Uri Geller. The book and its criticism apparently frustrated Dr. Puthoff, who responded with a "Fact Sheet" on the issue. Many of James Randi's issues centered on a suspicion that Drs. Puthoff and Targ had been too ready to accept the presence of psychic phenomena. Other issues involved the presence of Geller's friend and compatriot, who Randi felt may have been able to signal Geller or otherwise influence the experiments. In one instance, Dr. Puthoff responds to the accusation that they had been taken in by magic tricks by pointing that, within the film, they readily acknowledged the possibility that certain feats could have been achieved by other means. Though they had no indication that this had been done, it was enough to cause Drs. Puthoff and Targ to disregard those experiments as inconclusive. This same accusation was brought up with the subject of spoon and metal bending, which the author notes they found Geller unable to do in the laboratory. The film itself does show Geller bending spoons, but notes that he is unable to do so without touching the spoons. The film shows that not only did Geller touch the spoons, he rubbed them rapidly with his fingers. This is a common technique used by magicians as their body heat and the heat generated by friction warms and softens the metal, making it easier to bend. At the same time, the rubbing provides cover for a magician to manipulate the metal by pressing and bending it a few degrees at a time. In one instance, Dr. Puthoff seems to contradict not only one of the experiment's own sponsors, but the film itself. James Randi's book quotes Captain Edgar Mitchell as saying that he "was there virtually all the time" and that the experimenters had caved to Geller's "every whim." In response, Dr. Puthoff declares that Captain Mitchell hadn't been present at any of the experimentation reported in SRI's Nature magazine article. Not only does Puthoff's statement seem to contradict Captain Mitchell's, the Captain is credited in both the Nature article and the CIA memo as having provided support and financing. Moreover, he is shown to be present in the beginning of the film, actively taking part in one of the experiments. Other elements of disagreement between Dr. Puthoff and James Randi appear to be one man's word against another's, with no readily available way to verify the procedures of specific experiments. While the information to confirm or disprove specific elements of the experimental procedures likely still exists, much it remains classified, confidential or otherwise not readily available/locatable to the public. In the end, Dr. Puthoff not only stood by the results of SRI's experiments with Uri Geller, he declared James Randi's effort to debunk them a failure. According to Dr. Puthoff, the "negation" of Randi's hypothesis "provided further evidence for the genuiness [sic] of the phenomena as observed and reported." Watch the video and judge for yourself if it's paranormal activity or normal trickery. Are you "humbled" by it, or skeptical of it?
News Article | May 8, 2017
The Environmental Protection Agency is challenging reports that several members from a major scientific review board were dismissed to make room for representatives from the fossil fuel industry. Critics of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt viewed the news about the Board of Scientific Counselors as the latest step in an administration campaign to diminish the role of scientific evidence in the agency’s policymaking — further marginalizing climate science. J.P. Freire, a spokesperson for the EPA, told Yahoo News Monday that no one was fired and the scientists in question have simply reached the end of their three-year contracts as board members. He said the EPA was simply opening up the process of assembling the new board and that former members could “easily make it through the process and sit on the board again.” “Advisory panels like BOSC play a critical role reviewing the agency’s work,” Freire said. “The EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees — including those nominated who may have previously served on the panel — and carry out a competitive nomination process.” On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the EPA dismissed at least five members of the 18-person review board and was considering replacing them with representatives from industries responsible for polluting the environment — in other words, the very companies the agency is tasked with regulating. Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University, spoke out against the decision on social media, and characterized the EPA’s move as a termination. He wrote, “Today, I was Trumped.” The BOSC evaluates science and engineering research to provide advice and information to the EPA’s Office of Research and Development research program. Ponisseril Somasundaran, a chemist at Columbia University, served on the board until Friday. He was one of the scientists whose position on the board was not renewed. He agreed with Freire’s assessment that “fired” is probably the wrong term. He explained that he serves on other committees and panels and it’s customary for people to rotate out. Somasundaran said several scientists were surprised by the news but he was not, because he received an EPA email several weeks ago saying that the positions would expire on April 30 and that the incumbents might not be renominated. Members of the board are limited to two consecutive terms. “That kind of indicated that something might happen,” Somasundaran told Yahoo News. “So I wasn’t totally surprised, but I was surprised that so many were rotating out.” He said that 13 of the 18 positions were not renewed but that four could not have been renewed anyway because they had already served two terms. Therefore, nine could have continued for another term. “Not for the entire board, but it’s normal to tell a portion of them — usually one third — that they are going to ‘rotate out’ so that we can bring in new blood,” he said. Somasundaran said it’s not necessarily a bad idea for the EPA to bring aboard businesspeople and other industry representatives for different perspectives because most of the board members are from academia. “I think to have some diversity is a good idea, but if they are going to load up [on energy sector representatives], then it will be unfortunate. But I don’t know if that is their aim,” he said. “They will probably fill up the board with some academy people.” Pruitt has close ties to the fossil fuel industry and has questioned the scientific consensus around climate change. In his previous role as Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times and accused it of burdening the energy sector with unnecessary regulations. Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, released the following statement concerning the news:
News Article | May 12, 2017
In an expanding controversy over the role of science in the Trump administration, two expert advisers to the Environmental Protection Agency resigned Friday in protest at the dismissal of half of the members of a key science committee. Carlos Martín, an engineer with the Urban Institute, and Peter Meyer, an economist with the E.P. Systems Group, an environmental and economic research firm, posted a joint resignation letter on Twitter, saying they were standing down to protest the agency’s decision to remove the scientists. “We cannot in good conscience be complicit in our co-chairs’ removal, or in the watering down of credible science, engineering, and methodological rigor that is at the heart of that decision,” they wrote. Martín and Meyer had advised the EPA science’s branch on research related to environmental contaminants and spills, the disposal of waste, and techniques for environmental cleanups. The Trump administration has proposed to cut the budget of that branch, called the Office of Research and Development, by $233 million in 2018. In their letter, Martín and Meyer cited in particular the failure to renew the terms of Courtney Flint, a sociologist at Utah State University, and Robert Richardson, an environmental economist at Michigan State University. Those researchers had served on the EPA’s 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, and had co-chaired a subcommittee on “sustainable and healthy communities” whose membership included Martín and Meyer. Martín and Meyer called the loss of their group’s leadership “a shock from which we cannot easily recover nor which we readily accept.” “This current context suggests there is going to be an unfair amount of manipulation,” Martín, an engineer and architect who conducts social science research on built environments at the Urban Institute, said in an interview. “From the chairs themselves, to the proposed budget, to the general discussion around the fact that there might be different views put on these subcommittees and boards that aren’t scientifically rigorous.” Martín was referring to scientists’ concerns that the EPA’s federal advisory committees under Trump will shift away from academic scientists and toward industry. Last week, the agency decided not to renew the three year terms of half of the Board of Scientific Counselors, although the dismissed researchers said they had had previous assurances from EPA staff that they would be staying on. EPA spokesman J.P. Freire countered at the time that “no one has been fired or terminated” and that the scientists could reapply for the posts. Members of EPA advisory committees tend to be outside academics or other types of specialists who play a part-time role. In a statement, a spokesman for the EPA said: “EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors serve three-year terms and are reviewed every three years. Because advisory panels like BOSC play a critical role reviewing the agency’s work, EPA will consider the hundreds of nominations through a competitive nomination process. Individuals who have previously served one term can, of course, apply through the competitive process.” Meyer suggested that process could be disruptive. “Having to start over again with brand new leadership, and leadership that, given the way our leadership has been removed, I’m not going to trust particularly, that creates a fairly substantial problem,” said Meyer in an interview.
News Article | May 9, 2017
Scientists are on high alert this week after the Environmental Protection Agency failed to renew the appointments of at least six independent researchers who served on an EPA advisory board. The decision does not directly affect the work of the scientists who are employed by the agency. Nor was anyone fired from the Board of Scientific Counselors. But the move will change the makeup of the 18-member committee tasked with reviewing the agency’s scientific efforts and suggesting strategic next steps to its Office of Research and Development. Considering that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is openly skeptical about the scientific case that climate change is being fueled by human activity, the decision made some observers quite anxious. Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, asked the agency to reconsider the decision. “Academic scientists play a critical role in informing policy with scientific research results at every level, including the federal government,” he said in a statement Monday. He added that he “would welcome an opportunity to meet with Administrator Scott Pruitt to discuss how scientists can best advise the Environmental Protection Agency on environmental science.” The American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents more than 9,000 EPA employees, issued a statement expressing fear about who Pruitt might select to fill the new board vacancies. “Our concern centers on scientific integrity and whether or not the scientists eliminated from the Scientific Advisory Boards will be replaced with impartial scientists or with scientists who will operate within the arena of opinions or industry prejudice,” the group said. That concern wasn’t completely unwarranted. EPA spokesman J.P. Freire told the New York Times that Pruitt was interested in giving industry some representation on the board. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire said. Robert Richardson, an environmental economist at Michigan State University, said he was surprised to see this statement. “This board has nothing to do with regulations,” Richardson said Monday. He should know. Until last month, he was a member of the board. On Friday, he was one of the scientists who was told his appointment would not be renewed. “We’ve never been asked to comment on policy or regulation,” he said. Traditionally, board members meet a few times a year to review the published work of EPA scientists and then offer recommendations for future directions that research might take. For example, they might suggest that EPA scientists collaborate with researchers at other government agencies who are doing similar work, or they might recommend that scientists team with communities that may be affected by the research, Richardson said. Members are appointed for three years at a time and can sit on the board for a total of two terms. Richardson said it is a part-time gig that rarely requires more than 60 to 80 hours of work over a three-month period. All of the appointees have full-time jobs. The majority of them are scientists at academic institutions, but the most recent board also included people from the global engineering firm AECOM, the Alfred P. Sloane foundation and the California Energy Commission. Of the 18 people on that board, three just completed their second term. Nine more were told in January that their appointments would probably be renewed, said Richardson, who was one of them. That’s why he was so surprised to receive an email from the EPA Friday night letting him know that Pruitt intended to let someone else fill his seat. Richardson took to Twitter to share the news: In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, however, he said that reports suggesting members of the board had been fired were incorrect. “Our terms ended and we were not reappointed,” he said. “I was given the impression by career staffers that this was unusual, but any administration has the right to appoint advisors of its own liking,” he added. “It’s not like they did anything untoward.” Follow me @DeborahNetburn and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook. To live a long life in America, it helps to be born in the right county Detailed look at the global warming ‘hiatus’ again confirms that humans are changing the climate Presidential politics has increased job stress and sapped workers' productivity, psychologists say
News Article | May 25, 2017
"The [EPA] Office of Research and Development has been at frontlines of virtually every environmental crisis. Trump wants to cut its funding in half." "When the city of Toledo temporarily lost access to clean drinking water several years ago after a bloom of toxic algae, the Environmental Protection Agency sent scientists from its Office of Research and Development to study health effects and formulate solutions. The same office was on the front lines of the Flint water crisis and was a critical presence in handling medical waste from the U.S. Ebola cases in 2014. Thomas Burke, who directed ORD during the last two years of the Obama administration and was the agency’s science adviser, calls the office the nation’s 'scientific backstop in emergencies.' President Trump’s 2018 budget would slash ORD’s funding in half as part of an overall goal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent."
News Article | May 23, 2017
« 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan powered by 2.0L EA888 Gen3B engine | Main | US sues Fiat Chrysler over diesel emissions » The Trump Administration released its proposed FY 2018 budget, which it calls “A New Foundation for American Greatness”. To help achieve the Administration’s overall budget goal in 10 years, the FY2018 budget includes $3.6 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years, the most ever proposed by any President in a budget. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is targeted for the largest percentage reduction in FY 2018, with a $2.6-billion cut (31.4%) in discretionary spending to a proposed $5.7 billion. The US Department of Energy (DOE) faces a $1.7-billion cut (5.6%) to $28 billion, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) faces a $2.4-billion cut (12.7%) to $16.2 billion, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) is looking at a cut of $800 million (10.7%) to $6.7 billion. (Health and Human Services faces the largest dollar cut: $12.7 billion, or 16.2%). EPA. All major program activities face about 34% in cuts. Enforcement spending takes a 69% haircut, dropping from an estimated $419 million in 2017 to a proposed $129 million for 2018. The Budget concentrates EPA’s enforcement of environmental protection violations on programs that are not delegated to States, while providing oversight to maintain consistency and assistance across State, local, and tribal programs. Superfund spending drops 57% from $762 million to $330 million. The new budget envisions an 18% reduction in payroll to $873 million, with a cut in civilian full-time equivalent employment of 26%: from 9,729 FTE to 7,228. Among the other highlights: The Budget includes $2.3 billion for the State Revolving Funds, a $4-million increase over the 2017 level. The Budget also provides $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, equal to the funding provided in the 2017 annualized CR. This credit subsidy could potentially support $1 billion in direct Federal loans. Targets EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) at a level of approximately $250 million, which would result in a cut of $233 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs. These geographic program eliminations are $427 million lower than the 2017 annualized CR levels. The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities. Eliminates more than 50 EPA programs, cutting an additional $347 million compared to the 2017 annualized CR level. Lower priority and poorly performing programs and grants are not funded, nor are duplicative functions that can be absorbed into other programs or that are State and local responsibilities. Examples of eliminations include: Energy Star; Targeted Airshed Grants; the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program; and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and the Mexico Border. DOE. Although the overall budget for the US Department of Energy (DOE) is a requested $28.0 billion—a $1.7-billion or 5.6% decrease from the 2017 annualized CR level—the budget provides a $1.4-billion (11%) increase above the 2017 annualized CR level for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The 2018 budget envisions an increase in direct civilian employment to 1,715 FTE—up 5.5%. Highlights of the proposed budget for the DOE include: Sustainable transportation program activities within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy face a combined 49% cut in funding. DOT. The President’s 2018 Budget requests $16.2 billion for DOT’s discretionary budget—a $2.4-billion (12.7%) decrease from the 2017 annualized CR level. Highlights include: NSF. Although all existing NSF program activities face cuts under the proposed budget, the budget adds in a new program: the Office of Polar Programs, with $409 million in funding.
News Article | May 8, 2017
Nationwide, counties with the poorest quality across five domains - air, water, land, the built environment and sociodemographic - had the highest incidence of cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer. Poor air quality and factors of the built environment -- such as the presence of major highways and the availability of public transit and housing - - were the most strongly associated with high cancer rates, while water quality and land pollution had no measurable effect. The findings may help reduce cancer by driving policy to lower pollution in areas with high cancer rates linked to the environment. Previous research has shown that genetics can be blamed for only about half of all cancers, suggesting that exposure to environmental toxins or socioeconomic factors may also play a role. "Most research has focused on single environmental factors like air pollution or toxins in water," said Jyotsna Jagai, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead author of the study. "But these single factors don't paint a comprehensive picture of what a person is exposed to in their environment -- and may not be as helpful in predicting cancer risk, which is impacted by multiple factors including the air you breathe, the water you drink, the neighborhood you live in, and your exposure to myriad toxins, chemicals and pollutants." To investigate the effects of overall environmental quality, the researchers looked at hundreds of variables, including air and water pollution, pesticide and radon levels, neighborhood safety, access to health services and healthy food, presence of heavily-trafficked highways and roads, and sociodemographic factors, such as poverty. Jagai and her colleagues used the U.S. EPA's Environmental Quality Index, a county-level measure incorporating more than 200 of these environmental variables and obtained cancer incidence rates from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program State Cancer Profiles. Cancer data were available for 85 percent of the 3,142 U.S. counties. The average age-adjusted rate for all types of cancer was 451 cases per 100,000 people. Counties with poor environmental quality had higher incidence of cancer--on average, 39 more cases per 100,000 people--than counties with high environmental quality. Increased rates were seen for both males and females, and prostate and breast cancer demonstrated the strongest association with poor environmental quality. The researchers found that high levels of air pollution, poor quality in the built environment and high levels of sociodemographic risk factors were most strongly associated with increased cancer rates in men and women. The strongest associations were seen in urban areas, especially for the air and built environment domains. Breast and prostate cancer were most strongly associated with poor air quality. "Some of the counties we looked at were very large, with both urban and rural areas in a single county, so to tease apart the interplay between the measures of quality in our five domains and how they impact urban and rural areas," Jagai said, "we will need to look at geographic areas smaller than counties." Co-authors on the study are Lynne Messer of Portland State University; Kristen Rappazzo and Danelle Lobdell of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Chris Gray and Shannon Grabich of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. This research was funded in part by contracts EP09D000003 and EP12D000264 from the EPA Office of Research and Development and by an appointment to the Internship/Research Participation Program Office of Research and Development (National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory) of the EPA, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the EPA and the Department of Energy.
News Article | April 30, 2017
“Okay, so what’s next?” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, on Sunday morning as he looked out at the nearly 100 women gathered inside a meeting room at Union Station. Less than 24 hours earlier, they had joined tens of thousands of demonstrators on a sweltering day in the nation’s capital for the latest mass protest of the Trump era. The Peoples Climate March had been a chance to push for action on climate change and to oppose what activists see as an unprecedented assault on environmental protections during President Trump’s first 100 days. Protesters had chanted and sung, carried clever signs, Snapchatted and tweeted their way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Now, the streets of Washington were quiet. The crowds had mostly gone home. Trump was still in the White House. Republicans still controlled Congress. And the entire climate movement, which had seen the Obama era as a time of progress in combating global warming and prioritizing environmental safeguards, faced the question Karpinski had posed: What’s next? Part of the answer, they hoped, was in this room. The women, most in their 20s and 30s, some looking weary from the previous day’s protest, had followed signs through Union Station that read, “Run to Win. Environmental Candidate Training.” They would spend the day learning the ins and outs of running for office at every level of government, from fundraising to organizing to connecting with voters. The gathering was a reminder that while marches can make for good pictures and serve as an energizing force, the fight over the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies will unfold on many fronts and over months and years, not days. “It can’t just be a march. It has to be a movement,” the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit civil and human rights group that tries to foster grass-roots activism among younger Americans, said in an interview. “A march is one day, but a movement is really what we need to be successful.” He noted that a key theme of Saturday’s march, which followed a demonstration in New York in September 2014 as world leaders gathered for a climate summit, was not entirely about resisting Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulation — although that certainly was a central goal. Rather, he said it also was intended to jump-start the building of a stronger, more diverse, more strategic environmental movement. That includes training candidates for office at the local, state and national level. It also includes amplifying the voices of people in minority and indigenous communities who have been disproportionately affected by pollution and global warming. And, ultimately, it includes persuading elected officials that their constituents care deeply about environmental issues. “We clearly know that demonstration without legislation leads to frustration. We understand that,” Yearwood said. But he added that change is possible, even during an administration that is less than friendly to environmental causes. He pointed to the Richard Nixon era, when widespread anger over pollution, smog and unsafe water prompted the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. “When people are fired up about issues, politicians do pay attention.” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said simply trying to stop Trump’s environmental agenda in the courts and on Capitol Hill won’t suffice. “The urgency of climate change demands that we do much more than play defense for the next few years,” Brune wrote in an email. “Fortunately, there’s an emerging consensus on climate action outside the Beltway. We intend to get dozens of mayors to commit within the next several months to move their cities to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. We’ll also accelerate our successful efforts to replace coal with clean energy in the electric sector. And we’re investing more than $1 million this year to train the hundreds of thousands of new activists that have become a part of the Sierra Club since the election, to build enduring political power.” They certainly have their work cut out for them. In his first 100 days, Trump has moved swiftly to wipe out large pieces of his predecessor’s environmental record and to cripple regulators, with the stated goal of freeing fossil fuel companies from onerous regulations so that they can grow and hire workers. He has signed executive orders aimed at rewriting key rules to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, lifting a moratorium on federal coal leasing, expanding offshore drilling and removing a requirement that federal officials consider the effect of climate change when making decisions. The administration has announced it will reconsider stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. It has approved two major oil pipelines, Dakota Access and Keystone XL, that President Barack Obama had halted. Trump also has proposed slashing the EPA’s budget by 31 percent and cutting more than 20 percent of the agency’s workforce. If enacted, his budget would sharply reduce money for the Superfund program and cut the budget for the EPA’s prominent Office of Research and Development roughly in half. It would eliminate more than 50 programs, including grant programs that help cities and states combat air pollution and infrastructure aid to Alaskan native villages and towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. An office that focuses on environmental justice issues would vanish. So would the Energy Star program. The White House has yet to say whether it intends to pull the nation out of the Paris climate accord, under which almost every country agreed in 2015 to begin slashing emissions of carbon dioxide to slow global warming. Even if the United States technically remains part of the international agreement, it almost certainly will no longer play the leading role it did under Obama. Back inside Union Station on Sunday, the talk was more of local action than global action. There’s often a feeling “of being stuck, of being bogged down, of looking at what’s happening on the national stage and feeling helpless,” Stephanie Garcia Richard, a state legislator from New Mexico, told the group of potential female candidates. But she added, “You don’t need to be in Congress to make environmental change.” Rather, she argued it was important to work on “the most important policy question of our time” at any level. But that remaining on the sidelines was no longer an option. “Please, please consider doing this very hard but necessary thing of putting yourself out there,” she said. “We need more of you.” EPA plans to offer buyouts as part of Trump push to shrink workforce Trump, reversing Obama, will push to expand drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic
News Article | March 1, 2017
The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post. While administration officials had already indicated that they intended to increase defense spending at the expense of other discretionary funding, the plan spells out exactly how this new approach will affect long-standing federal programs that have a direct impact on Americans’ everyday lives. “The administration’s 2018 budget blueprint will prioritize rebuilding the military and making critical investments in the nation’s security,” the document says. “It will also identify the savings and efficiencies needed to keep the nation on a responsible fiscal path.” The funding level proposed, which the document says “highlights the trade-offs and choices inherent in pursuing these goals,” could have a significant impact on the agency. Its annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion. And because much of that funding already goes to states and localities in the form of grants, such cuts could have an even greater effect on the EPA’s core functions. Though President Trump professes to care strongly about clean air and clean water, almost no other federal department or agency is as much in the crosshairs at the moment. As a candidate, he vowed to get rid of the EPA “in almost every form,” leaving only “little tidbits” intact. The man he chose to lead the agency, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, sued it more than a dozen times in recent years, challenging its legal authority to regulate such things as mercury pollution, smog and carbon emissions from power plants. The plan reflects those past sentiments. As proposed, the EPA’s staff would be slashed from its current level of 15,000 to 12,000. Grants to states, as well as its air and water programs, would be cut by 30 percent. The massive Chesapeake Bay cleanup project would receive only $5 million in the next fiscal year, down from its current $73 million. In addition, 38 separate programs would be eliminated entirely. Grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites, would be gone. Also zeroed out: the radon program, climate change initiatives and funding for Alaskan native villages. The agency’s Office of Research and Development could lose up to 42 percent of its budget, according to an individual apprised of the administration’s plans. And the document eliminates funding altogether for the office’s “contribution to the U.S. Global Change Research Program,” a climate initiative that President George H.W. Bush launched in 1989. The staffing reductions, which could be accomplished through a buyout offer as well as layoffs, were among several changes to which the EPA staff was asked to react by the close of business Wednesday. Multiple individuals briefed on the plan confirmed the request by the Office of Management and Budget, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The document acknowledges that the cuts “will create many challenges” but suggests that “by looking ahead and focusing on clean water, clean air and other core responsibilities, rather than activities that are not required by law, EPA will be able to effectively achieve its mission.” [Trump to propose 10 percent spike in defense spending, major cuts to other agencies] Any cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process and would probably face resistance from some lawmakers. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a former chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, said he did not think Congress would approve such a steep drop in funding. “There’s not that much in the EPA, for crying out loud,” he said, noting that Republicans had already reduced the agency’s budget dramatically in recent years. Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, declined to comment Wednesday on the cuts targeted but said in an email that the panel “will carefully look at the budget proposal once it is sent to Congress.” The EPA also would not comment on the budget proposal. But its new administrator cautioned this week that the particulars of the budget remain in flux. “I am concerned about the grants that have been targeted, especially around water infrastructure, and those very important state revolving funds,” Pruitt told the publication E&E News after Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday. He said he already had spoken with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney about the agency’s funding. “What’s important for us is to educate OMB on what the priorities of the agency are, from water infrastructure to Superfund, providing some of those tangible benefits to our citizens,” he said, “while at the same time making sure that we reallocate, re-prioritize in our agency to do regulatory reform to get back within the bounds of Congress.” [Pruitt to EPA employees: ‘We don’t have to choose’ between jobs and the environment] It is unclear whether Pruitt’s appeal would produce any changes: The document states that any requests from agencies to increase or reallocate funds must be accompanied by budgetary offsets. Those could include “alternative funding cuts, balance cancellations or viable user fees.” It instructs agency officials to “make sure any appeal is consistent with campaigns or other policy statements.” Agencies must submit any alternative budget proposals to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs by Friday, the document states, and OMB will convene a meeting April 15 to discuss the “initial draft of the workforce reduction plan.” As details of the blueprint emerged, environmental advocates and the EPA’s most recent administrator blasted the White House proposal. “This budget is a fantasy if the administration believes it will preserve EPA’s mission to protect public health,” Gina McCarthy, who served as the agency’s leader from 2013 through the end of the Obama administration, said in a statement Wednesday. “It ignores the need to invest in science and to implement the law,” she said. “It ignores the lessons of history that led to EPA’s creation 46 years ago. And it ignores the American people calling for its continued support.” S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in an email that the proposed budget would devastate critical federal financial support for communities across the country. “These cuts, if enacted by Congress, will rip the heart and soul out of the national air pollution control program and jeopardize the health and welfare of tens of millions of people around the country,” Becker said. The instructions to the EPA signal how the new administration plans to delegate many responsibilities to the states even as it decreases the money they will receive from the federal government. The document directs the agency to get states “to assume more active enforcement roles” when it comes to federal environmental standards. In addition, it says, the agency should curtail its compliance-monitoring activities. “Basically, the direction is to reduce enforcement, which is already pretty strained,” said Eric Shaeffer, head of the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy group, and a former head of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement. He noted that state programs are often “woefully underfunded” and at the mercy of state politics and pressure from large companies. Environmental justice activists are particularly alarmed at what they may face with the new administration. The document states that it supports the idea of environmental justice, but it would eliminate that EPA office and “assumes any future EJ specific policy work can be transferred to the Office of Policy.” On the South Side of Chicago, the neighborhood where Cheryl Johnson lives is known as “the toxic doughnut” because of the 200 leaking underground storage tanks and 50 landfills there. The EPA office has given People for Community Recovery, for which Johnson is the executive director, and other organizations money to conduct technical assessment of local facilities and provide training to educate residents. And, Johnson added, it also has provided a place where residents could appeal to force local polluters to come into compliance with federal standards. Losing that resource “would devastate a community like mine,” she said. It would be “like putting us in a chamber, to be disposed of.” More from Energy and Environment: Hundreds of current, former EPA employees urge Senate to reject Trump’s nominee for the agency Scott Pruitt, longtime adversary of EPA, confirmed to lead the agency Trump EPA official juggles two jobs in two Washingtons, and it hasn’t gone well For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | March 2, 2017
The Trump administration’s proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency is looking dramatic indeed. The plans call for laying off thousands of staff, eliminating entire programs and making deep cuts to the agency’s research office, the Office of Research and Development (ORD), according to recent reporting by The Washington Post. That’s not to say all of this will happen — or that any of it will. Congress makes the final decisions on funding the government. But it’s a stunning proposal to researchers familiar with the workings of the EPA. “I think a deep cut would be devastating to the nation’s capacity to do environmental health and ecosystem research,” said Jonathan Samet, a former chair of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee who is now a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California. Samet and two other former EPA science officials — Thomas A. Burke, who served as the agency’s science adviser and headed up ORD under President Barack Obama, and Bernard Goldstein, who was EPA’s assistant administrator for research and development under President Ronald Reagan — went even further in a commentary published Wednesday, calling on President Trump to change course and stand up for the agency and science. “Evidence-based decision making on the environment should not be abandoned,” the two scientists write in a timely essay in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth. Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.” The researchers now all hold academic posts. They describe the EPA’s Office of Research and Development as the “preeminent environmental research organization, a cornerstone of our global leadership in environmental science, and a key player in the training of environmental health scientists.” The ORD had a budget of $521 million in 2015 with a staff of 1,755. And the Post reported Wednesday that the administration is considering a proposal to cut this office by “up to 42 percent.” There are many reasons that would be devastating, Samet said in an interview. One of them is that when environmental crises happen, like the Flint, Mich., or Deepwater Horizon disasters, you need a science infrastructure that’s ready to move. In these crises “that demand research and environmental surveillance and quickly trying to assess the toxicity of agents, the nation needs the capacity that ORD has,” Samet said. Samet and his co-authors aren’t the only academic scientists standing up for the EPA right now. Others are reacting to the first of many expected environmental rollbacks — Trump’s executive order this week directing the agency to rescind the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which sweeps many smaller waterways under the protections of the Clean Water Act. Seven presidents of scientific organizations representing more than 200,000 members have signed a letter opposing the first of many expected environmental rollbacks: Trump’s executive order this week directing the agency to rescind the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which would protect many small waterways. The researchers argued the rule was based on solid science when it comes to the understanding of the importance of wetlands and how they relate to larger bodies of water. The scientific societies weighing in are the Society of Wetland Scientists, the American Fisheries Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Ecological Society of America, the Phycological Society of America, the Society for Ecological Restoration, and the Society for Freshwater Science. The more Trump and his administration propose environmental rollbacks and cuts to environmental or other science funding, the more researchers can be expected to speak out. Thousands are expected to march on Washington, and around the globe, on April 22 — Earth Day.