How Trump is redefining the EPA

Under President Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has made industry happy and environmentalists angry. Here’s everything you need to know:

What is the EPA’s mission?
The agency was created by President Richard Nixon in 1970 — a time when industrial pollution shrouded cities in smog, turned rivers and lakes into toxic stews of human waste and chemicals, and left shorelines blackened by garbage and oil spills. “Through our years of past carelessness,” Nixon said, “we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.” He tasked the new agency with protecting Americans’ health and the environment. For most of the past half-century, Congress and the White House have enacted environmental laws that set out broad policy goals, which the EPA turns into regulations rooted in scientific research. These regulations carry the force of law. Essentially, Congress loans the EPA its constitutional authority to regulate commerce, on the assumption that scientists and technically oriented experts are able to make more specific, up-to-date regulations than legislators can.

What is Trump’s view of the EPA?
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump decried the EPA as a job-killing bureaucracy that had needlessly hamstrung the American economy with costly regulations. He vowed to “get rid of it in almost every form,” leaving just “little tidbits” of environmental regulation. This view was welcomed by many hard-line conservatives and, of course, by industry. “The American people are drowning in rules and regulation promulgated by unelected bureaucrats,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who was one of the four Republican congressmen who sponsored a 2017 bill that would have abolished the EPA. “And the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender.” Since his inauguration, Trump has stacked the EPA’s senior leadership with officials openly hostile to the agency’s original mission. His first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, had sued …read more

Source:: The Week – Science

      

A Green New Deal for cars would be easier than you think

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last year stating that the world is quickly running out of time to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the level widely agreed to be the conservative, safety-first goal to prevent serious climate harms. To get there, the world would have to cut current emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

That sounds preposterously unlikely. Even 2 degrees of warming — which would be much worse than 1.5 degrees — would be nearly impossible to hit at this point (if we set aside hugely risky geoengineering schemes or untested carbon capture industries). It would mean something like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s hugely aggressive Green New Deal starting right now, and probably adding a bit along the way. The Democratic leadership has already made certain that won’t happen in the near term.

But before we give in to despair, we should remember that the technology to address climate change is barreling along at high speed. The largest source of U.S. carbon emissions is transportation, and a Green New Deal for motor vehicles would be quite straightforward.

The reason is simple: With some decent subsidies, electric cars and buses are now cost-competitive with fossil-fuel vehicles, and they are getting better and cheaper with every passing month. Electric buses have made the greatest inroads into the market, because they are a logical choice for electrification and because China has been building them like crazy. By the end of 2018, electric vehicles were displacing about 280,000 barrels of oil demand per day — about 84 percent of which was due to buses. That’s more than the whole consumption of Greece, and a 37 percent increase from 2017.

But the electric car market is also reaching maturity, with …read more

Source:: The Week – Science

      

The 5 biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2018

1. Cloning monkeys

More than 20 years after researchers cloned Dolly the sheep, scientists in China cloned two monkeys — the first time the technique had been used on primates. The researchers transferred DNA taken from fetal monkey cells into eggs that had had their own DNA removed, stimulated the eggs to develop into embryos, and implanted them in female surrogates. The process yielded female ­identical-twin long-tailed macaques. Producing large groups of genetically identical monkeys could revolutionize research on disease. But some experts fear the technique could be used for humans — concerns the Chinese researchers dismissed. “We’re not going to do it,” said Mu-ming Poo.

2. Was there life on Mars?

NASA scientists discovered the strongest evidence yet that microbial life might once have thrived on Mars. The new evidence comes from two sedimentary rock samples that the space agency’s Curiosity rover drilled out of the bottom of Gale Crater, believed to have contained a shallow lake some 3.5 billion years ago, when the Red Planet was a warmer, wetter place. The samples contained several complex organic molecules — chemical compounds that contain carbon, the element essential to life on Earth.

3. Helping paraplegics walk

Three people paralyzed from the waist down are walking again after having electrodes implanted in their spines. Paralysis often occurs following a spinal injury because signals sent from the brain can no longer reach the nerves that activate muscles. Suspecting that the spinal cord could amplify those signals, researchers implanted tiny electrodes between patients’ vertebrae, below the injury, and delivered a weak electrical current. The results were spectacular: After months of intensive physical therapy, one patient, Jered Chinnock, could walk the length of a football field with assistance. “It feels,” he said, “like science fiction.”

4. Treating muscular dystrophy

Scientists corrected the mutations behind a form of muscular dystrophy in …read more

Source:: The Week – Science