Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Trump’s EPA is said to cut scientists out of new water policy

With the Trump administration poised to roll back key protections for much of the nation’s wetlands, scientists at the US Environmental Protection Agency are accusing the agency’s political appointees of ignoring their advice and barring them from shaping sweeping new guidelines, violating the agency’s longstanding policies.

One scientist was so distraught that the agency veteran started to cry while explaining how EPA administrators have cut specialists out of the process of crafting rules that prevent development and pollution near streams, tidal waters, and ponds.

“This has been a very painful time to work for the agency,” the scientist said in a recent interview, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal. “We’re being asked to do things that most of us feel is the antithesis of what we’ve been trying to do, and, in some cases, undo things that we’ve worked very hard to accomplish.” Then, the scientist broke down.

As soon as this weekend, after three years of attempting to scale back a raft of other environmental regulations, President Trump is expected to announce a far-reaching new policy that could drastically curb protections of the nation’s streams and wetlands and impact critical headwaters across New England.

In late 2018, the Trump administration released a draft of its plan to alter the nation’s water policy, which aims to overturn protections introduced three years earlier during the Obama administration. The changes, according to the agency’s own data, would eliminate environmental protections from about half the country’s wetlands and millions of miles of streams.

In New England, despite state protections that could limit the impact of such federal moves, changes to the so-called Waters of the United States rule could affect thousands of vernal pools, bodies of water in forests that provide habitat to many species; isolated wetlands; and a range of streams that flow after heavy rains or during specific seasons.

That means in communities without specific bylaws that prevent pollution or development in those areas, a developer wouldn’t need a permit to fill those wetlands, or a company could legally dump chemicals on that property.

Elsewhere in the nation, particularly in the Southwest, the vast majority of streams could lose federal protections against pollution and development.

Proponents, including groups representing farmers and home builders, have hailed the new regulations as overdue. When announcing the draft rules a year ago, EPA officials said the changes would increase economic growth, reduce barriers to business development, and clear up nebulous language that has sparked litigation.

“Our simpler and clearer definition would help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit or not, without spending thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at the time.

Miners, developers, and other industries have pushed for the change. Speaking last year at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the leading advocates for the new rules, Trump said the changes would save farmers from “one of the most ridiculous regulations ever imposed on anybody in our nation.”

But even the agency’s own board of scientific advisers — many of whom were appointed by the Trump administration — have dissented. In a letter to Wheeler late last year, the advisers wrote that the proposed rule was “in conflict with established science . . . and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

As the administration has worked on completing the final rules, more than 40 current and former scientists, career employees, and political appointees are voicing their concerns.

In a letter submitted this weekend to the agency’s inspector general requesting an investigation, members of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility alleged that political appointees in the agency have “suppressed” and “dismissed” the scientific opinions of career employees.

“There was no honest investigation, no commitment to the evidence, no culture of robust scientific inquiry and discussion, and no transparency,” they wrote in the complaint, which was signed by former EPA regional administrators and senior water specialists. “These headquarters employees have suppressed evidence, misrepresented data, exaggerated uncertainties, and let perceived policy implications improperly override undisputed scientific conclusions.”

They added, “This case is not one of a difference of personal views: the overwhelming number of former and current agency personnel, together with the [Science Advisory Board] and independent scientists, all agree that the headquarters employees improperly rejected science.”

Among those who signed the letter was Curt Spalding, the EPA regional administrator in New England during the Obama administration. He said there was a clear difference in how the Trump and Obama administrations approached changes to the nation’s water protections.

Before the Obama administration announced new rules in 2015, which expanded protections throughout the country, scientists and other specialists met repeatedly to help shape the rules and provided guidance that shaped the ultimate rules, he said.

“It’s clear that they’re not paying attention to the science about protecting water quality,” said Spalding, a professor at Brown University. “We tried to build a rule grounded in science; what they’re doing will mean a lot less protection for very important wetlands throughout New England that are vital to our ecosystems and drinking water.”

Another signatory of the letter , Matt Schweisberg, a former chief of wetlands protection at EPA in New England, told the Globe he worries that the agency’s final rules will be even worse than the draft version.

The proposed changes would mean that a vast number of streams and ponds won’t be protected by the Clean Water Act, a landmark law passed in 1972 that led to the cleanup and preservation of many of the nation’s waterways, he said.

“I have not seen such a wholesale abandonment of environmental protection in the 40 years I’ve been at this, and I went through the changes during the Reagan administration,” said Schweisberg, now an environmental consultant in Merrimac. “I think it’s certain that the impacts of this are going to be extremely harmful.”

In response to the allegations, EPA officials said in a statement that the agency “takes science integrity seriously” and that the “career professionals” at the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers have been “actively involved” in the development of the new rules.

“Assertions that the Trump administration’s revised definition . . . will leave thousands of stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands unprotected are categorically false,” said Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman.

He said previous federal definition of the waters subject to the new rules have proven “too speculative to be meaningful for regulatory purposes.” The final rule, he said, “will be grounded in the law, informed by science.”

He added, “A reputable newspaper like The Boston Globe should know better than to run a baseless story.”

Among the groups that have supported the EPA’s efforts to change the water rules is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a trade group representing 25,000 beef producers around the country.

They said the rules implemented during the Obama administration meant that nearly every cattle producer with more than 20 acres of land would have been forced to wade through a sometimes-expensive, bureaucratic process to do basic things such as build a feedlot. A federal judge blocked the Obama rule from taking effect in many states.

“We think the new rule is going to be a step in the right direction,” said Scott Yager, chief environmental counsel to the association. “The 2015 rule expanded the federal government reach beyond what we have ever experienced in history.”

But environmental advocates said the arguments supporting the administration’s changes are misleading.

“The EPA’s own graphs and numbers show how much will be lost,” said Kyla Bennett, a former wetlands scientist at the EPA who now serves as science policy director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “The fact that so many current and former federal employees have spoken out against this flawed rulemaking process speaks volumes.”


Fight fires with facts – not fake science

Eliminate fuel, prevent ignition, stop arson, end irresponsible land management policies

Paul Driessen & Duggan Flanakin

“We are all born ignorant,” Benjamin Franklin once said, “but one must work very hard to remain stupid.”

Greens are incensed over suggestions that anything but fossil fuels and climate change might be turning green California and Australian ecosystems into black wastelands, incinerating wildlife, destroying homes and killing people. The notion that they and their policies might be a major factor in these fires gets them so hot under the collar that they could ignite another inferno. But the facts are there for all to see.

PG&E certainly failed to maintain, upgrade and repair its transmission lines and towers, leading to sparks that caused multiple fiery cataclysms. However, California now has over 129 million dead trees in its forests – and a long history of refusing to thin them out, clear brush or permit others to do so. Fuel levels in Aussie forest, brush and grasslands areas have likewise climbed to near-historic levels in recent years.

The total area burned in New South Wales and Victoria is now approaching the area burnt in Victoria back in 1851, Australian scientist Dr. Jennifer Marohasy notes. 2020 summer temperatures in Australia may get as hot as they did back in 1938-1939. US climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer agrees.

In both California and Australia, people bemoan the loss of eucalyptus trees in fires. But many don’t want them removed or even thinned out. They don’t know (or won’t accept the fact) that fallen eucalypt leaves and bark create vast expanses of flammable material, while their spicy-smelling oil is highly flammable. A spark can ignite an explosive firestorm in air laden with gasoline-like vapors, followed by horrific crown fires among the trees and ground fires in the dead leaves and bark.

Rainy winters in both places cause rapid, lush plant growth that is aided by rising levels of atmospheric plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide. Long, hot, dry summers – or prolonged droughts – can follow, drying out the trees, brush and grass, and setting the stage for catastrophic wildfires.

Environmentalists, politicians, regulators and judges say removing trees and brush will damage habitats. But when the inevitable conflagrations hit, habitats are cremated and obliterated, down to soil organisms and organic matter. Subsequent downpours and snowmelts wash the remaining soil away. What habitats?

Some recent fires could be called “historic” or “unprecedented” – especially if monster fires of a century or more ago are left out of the calculation; or if conflagrations elsewhere are not included. Few people know about the Great Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire of October 8, 1871, even though it killed 1,200-2,500 people, many of them turned into little piles of ash. The Peshtigo debacle was overshadowed by another big fire that day: the Great Chicago Fire, which burned 98% less land and killed far fewer people.

Yet another fact demolishes the all-too-typical claim that recent Australian fires are due to manmade climate change. Many (perhaps most) of those fires were caused by humans – some accidentally, but many deliberately. More than 180 alleged arsonists have been arrested since the start of the 2020 bushfire season, with 29 blazes deliberately lit in part of southeast New South Wales in just three months!

At least two dozen people have died in Australia’s fires, along with thousands of sheep and cattle, over 2,000 koala bears, and several hundred million other animals. US wildfires have likewise exacted horrific death tolls. A few years ago, Duggan hosted a benefit concert for the families of the Fallen Nineteen, the 19 City of Prescott firefighters who died battling the 2013 lightning-ignited Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona.

Now, the Washington Free Beacon reports, “a media outlet affiliated with ISIS has been instructing the group's radical adherents to set forest fires in the United States and Europe to cause mass ecological disasters, according to posts on an internet forum dedicated to the terror group.” The Middle East Media Research Institute has flagged four posters published in the pro-ISIS Quraysh media outlet. The first said (English translation): “Oh monotheists [followers of ISIS], ignite fires in the forests and fields, and we are addressing especially those who live in Europe and America, for the fires are painful to them.” The fourth poster got more specific: “Ignite fires in the forests of America, France, Britain and Germany, for they are painful to them." Might some ISIS follower have viewed Australia as equally deserving of ecotage?

A recent report by Pulitzer Prize winning Los Angeles Times reporter Bettina Boxall may make greens even hotter under the collar: “Human-caused ignitions spark California’s worst wildfires but get little state focus,” the headline reads. Her key point is damning: “It doesn’t matter how dry the vegetation, how fierce the winds or how high the temperature; if there is no ignition, there is no wildfire.”

Noting that the 2019 California fire season was far less deadly than that in 2018, when the notorious “Camp Fire” destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 86 people, Ms. Boxall attributes the comparatively mind 2019 fire season to actions PG&E took to shut down power to many Californians, often for days. She quotes Stanford University researcher Michael Wara, who testified before a Congressional committee that Pacific Gas & Electric’s inspections of wind damage to its lines and equipment made it clear that, without preventive shutdowns, “we would have had a significant number of utility-caused fires” in 2019.

Boxall found that all of California’s 20 most destructive wildfires were human-related, with half due to power line or electrical problems. She also noted that a study of US records from 1992 to 2012 found that human activity (power lines, carelessness and arson) was responsible for 84% of wildfires and 44% of acreage burned nationwide. That’s the ignition factor. Two other factors are equally important.

Even if there is ignition, if there is insufficient fuel, there will still be no wildfire – at least not monstrous, deadly conflagrations. Thin the forests, remove dead trees, control brush and grass levels, especially in dry seasons and arid regions. It’s basic, intelligent land management; the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

Preparation also means maintaining fire breaks and access roads into forest, brush and grass lands; building and maintaining sufficient escape routes and warning systems, and making people aware of them; ensuring that each family and community has an escape plan; and having enough trucks, airplanes, helicopters, other equipment and personnel to respond to average fires and worst-case scenarios. It means educating children and adults about how to prevent fires, put them out, and get out of their path.

(California public schools offer multiple courses on climate change. Cool California lists even more. But as long as politicians and even industry leaders keep spreading the false gospel of climate change as the principal cause of wildfires, the need for personal and political responsibility will be ignored.)

Third, actual response to a fire means ensuring the political, social, financial and institutional support to get sufficient personnel, equipment and water to a fire before it turns into an uncontrollable inferno.

Do all that, and the recovery phase – rebuilding homes, businesses, habitats, wildlife numbers and shattered human lives – will be far less extensive, costly and traumatic. Difficult recoveries will also be minimized by not wasting scarce time and money on fashionable, politically correct, “woke” issues like how many fire fighters are of a specific ethnic or sexual identity group. People and animals in the path of a roaring inferno care only that first responders are prepared, equipped and on time. So should politicians.

Every one of these vital matters is within our power to control – if we can muster the political willpower to take appropriate action. None of them involves climate change.

It doesn’t matter if Earth’s or California’s or Australia’s average annual or summer temperature is 0.1 or even 1.0 degrees warmer. Or that a drought is a day, month or year longer than X. Or whether the climate and weather fluctuations are driven by human or natural forces. Or that America, Australia, Britain, China, India or Indonesia is “not doing enough” to curb fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate change did not cause 129 million trees to die in California – or prevent the state and feds from removing the dead trees, thinning the forests, and clearing overgrown brush and grass. Ditto for Australia.

We must play the hand we have been dealt. That means acting responsibly and intelligently to prevent and respond to wildfires under whatever climate, drought, diseased and dead trees, or other conditions exist, wherever and whenever we live. Ben Franklin would be proud of us.

Via email


Don’t blame climate change for Australian wildfires

If all you read was the liberal press, you'd think the Australian bush fires are Mother Earth’s punishment for the heresy of allowing global warming. Reality is a little different — actually, entirely different. The current wave of wildfires running rampant across the Australian countryside certainly isn't aided by dry weather and heat, but it's actually the result of environmentalists’ naivete, not climate change.

The problem is the same one the United States has with forest fires: people simply not understanding how the environment works. In both cases, the countryside has evolved to deal with and prosper from frequent and low-level fires. But if these are suppressed, then the large and hot fires, taking out the canopy, for example, will eventually happen and entirely devastate the flora and the fauna.

It’s been environmentalists insisting we suppress all examples and incidences of wildfires. Therefore, blame for the current damage should be laid at their door.

The evidence is all around us. When Europeans first came to North America, they were astonished at the glades and meadows found in the land’s forests. These were created by the Native Americans’ use of fire to clear the land. This was done on a regular basis, and fires only ever touched the underbrush. Because of these frequent fires, there was never enough fuel to spark a massive fire that would damage the adult trees and devastate the whole ecosystem.

Exactly the same is true of Australia, just even more so.

Australia’s native Aborigines got there some 50,000 years ago, so 40,000-odd years before Homo sapiens crossed the Bering Strait to inhabit North America for the first time. They've been using fire as a land management tool ever since — and 50 millennia trains an ecosystem rather well, it turns out. The land is not just adapted to fire, it depends on frequent and low-level fires to continue existing.

The move away from this approach is more than just some people doing the wrong thing. It is an example of hubris, which always is followed by disaster. Here, that end state is a wall of flames devouring towns, people, and every other living thing in its path.

The hubris is in environmentalists insisting on the management of their surrounding world without actually understanding it, to claim, as so many have for decades now, that we must suppress all fire simply because fire is bad. Disaster arrives when reality turns up to tell us different. Without that low-level burning, the fuel stock builds up — and, eventually, there will be that lightning strike, that cigarette end, that sets the entire area ablaze.

This is, of course, just Friedrich Hayek all over again and his insistence that politicians just never have enough information and knowledge to be able to plan societal matters for us. The plans that are laid go wrong when they meet the facts.

Just as one recent example, the Crescent Dunes solar plant was out of date before it was even completed. Yet the Nobel laureate, Steven Chu, happily left taxpayers on the hook for $737 million in government loan guarantees. And let's be honest about it, the Nobel only goes to really clever people, and Chu was supported by the entire information-gathering apparatus of the federal government. And, still, even he, with that backing, got it so woefully wrong.

So it will be with the Green New Deal, Elizabeth Warren's insistence that she can change capitalism, and all the rest. We will only see more smoke burning from any idea rooted in central government’s competence.


2015 prophecy: Bushfire scientist David Packham warns of huge blaze threat, urges increase in fuel reduction burns

He was ignored

Forest fuel levels have worsened over the past 30 years because of "misguided green ideology", vested interests, political failure and mismanagement, creating a massive bushfire threat, a former CSIRO bushfire scientist has warned.

Victoria's "failed fire management policy" is an increasing threat to human life, water supplies, property and the forest environment, David Packham said in a submission to the state's Inspector-General for Emergency Management.

And he argued that unless the annual fuel reduction burning target, currently at a minimum of 5 per cent of public land, "is doubled or preferably tripled, a massive bushfire disaster will occur. The forest and alpine environment will decay and be damaged possibly beyond repair and homes and people [will be] incinerated."

He said forest fuel levels had climbed to their most dangerous level in thousands of years.

Mr Packham produced his submission in response to a review of bushfire fuel management announced last month by the state government and to be conducted by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Packham said a comprehensive fuel reduction burning regime reduced fuel loads, and consequently reduced the intensity of bushfires, cutting the speed at which they spread. This gave people more time to find safety and fire services more time to respond, he said.

Some people believe the Andrews government will dump the minimum 5 per cent burning target in response to the Inspector-General's report. Five years ago, both major parties backed the "minimum of 5 per cent" target, a key recommendation of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission held after Black Saturday.

The Black Saturday fires killed 173 Victorians, while hospital emergency care was delivered to more than 800 others. The fires destroyed 2133 houses and burnt hundreds of thousands of hectares.

The royal commission examined the role of fuel reduction burning and in its final report recommended a prescribed burning program with "an annual rolling target of a minimum of 5 per cent of public land each year, and that the state be held accountable for meeting this target".

It also criticised what it described as the state's "minimalist approach to prescribed burning", and warned that the state had "allowed the forests to continue accumulating excessive fuel loads".

The commission investigated fuel reduction burning and the Black Saturday fires. It found that the rate of spread and size of the Beechworth-Mudgeegonga fire, which killed two people, "were significantly moderated by previous prescribed burning". And it said that in some places the rate of spread of the Kilmore East fire, which killed 119 people, was "appreciably slowed by previous prescribed burning".

But the commission also heard that no large-scale fuel reduction burns had been conducted in areas where the two most deadly Black Saturday fires, the Kilmore East and Murrindindi bushfires, gathered force in the first hours after they ignited.

Several weeks before Black Saturday, the Whittlesea fire captain noted excessive fuel loads and dryness around Strathewen (which was smashed by fire on Black Saturday) and Mount Disappointment. He attributed the "conditions to a lack of fuel reduction and drought".

Mr Packham said if the government scrapped the planned burning target it would have to be prepared to accept the consequences. "If they do decide that, and it's a democratic country, they can decide that, but I want them to stand up and take responsibility when the outcome falls apart," he said.

Mr Packham estimated that if Victoria had had a consistent 5 per cent planned burning regime on public land in the years leading up to Black Saturday, scores of lives lost in the devastating blazes would have been saved.

Submissions to the bushfire fuel management review will be accepted until 5pm on Friday. The Inspector-General for Emergency Management has been directed by the state government to deliver his report by the end of this month.


Platypuses said to be on the 'brink of extinction'

This just about "fears" and what "could happen".  There is nothing factual below.  The journal article is "A stitch in time – Synergistic impacts to platypus metapopulation extinction risk".  It is pure armchair modelling based on extensive guesses.  There was no actual research involved. No feet were muddied.

And the assumptions are all one-sided.  What if some features of  modern environments are actually helpful to the platypus?  There are plenty of examples of modernity helping a species. The "bin chickens" (Ibises) are known to most Brisbane people

It seems to me that dams might actually be helpful to the platypus. They give it a big choice of what water level they want to feed and breed at.  But that would never have occurred to our modellers.

And the major scare the modelling was based on was global warming.  What if there is no global warming?  There has certainly been very little warming for the last century or so

This whole article is just a tawdry attempt to get something into the journals by using conventional scares.  The journal editors were negligent in publishing something so insubstantial

Australia's beloved platypus is now feared to be on the 'brink of extinction'. Researchers at the University of New South Wales say the number of platypuses in the wild could fall by 66 per cent by 2070 because of climate change and other threats.

Researchers said soaring temperatures across the country, the intense drought and land clearing are all contributing to the species' decline.

Richard Kingsford, director for UNSW's Centre for Ecosystem Science said the future for the animal was 'grim'.

'This is impacting their ability to survive during these extended dry periods and increased demand for water,' Mr Kingsford said in the journal article, Biological Conservation, The Age reported.

'If we lost the platypus from Australian rivers, you would say, 'What sort of government policies or care allow that to happen?''

Gilad Bino, the study's lead author said the threat of climate change could affect the platypus's ability to repopulate, noting they could face 'extinction'.

'We are not monitoring what we assume to be a common species. And then we may wake up and realise it's too late,' Dr Bino said.

The platypus is listed as 'near-threatened' under the IUCN Red List of threatened species but Dr Bino says the government needs to assess how much the animal is at risk.

The study's researchers said in order to prevent total extinction the platypus' habitat would need to be managed.

The Victorian Environment Department said they were working with the federal government over whether the platypus' status needed to be changed to 'threatened'.

NSW said they recognised issues such as the drought could be placing the platypus 'at risk'.

Platypuses live in freshwater areas and are found along the east coast and southeast coast of Australia.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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