Briefly

Stuff that matters


Not-so-great expectations

Watch out: Notorious climate denier Lamar Smith is fixated on “Making EPA Great Again.”

That’s the title he’s given to a hearing that will happen on Tuesday in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which Smith chairs.

The hearing is likely to focus in part on Smith’s Secret Science Reform Act, which passed the House in 2015 but didn’t make it through the Senate. Smith is expected to reintroduce the bill, which would require that scientific studies used by the EPA be “transparent or reproducible,” meaning independent scientists can check the work.

This may initially sound like a valid constraint, but as the Intercept explains, in practice it would prohibit the agency from using studies that contain confidential information (as many health studies do) or studies of one-time disasters like the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Scott Faber of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group told Fusion that the bill is “just horseshit.”

Last week, Smith listed “emphasizing sound science at EPA” as a top priority, and his committee announced that it will “use the tools necessary to put the EPA back on track.”

Smith’s bill is just one of many current threats to the EPA. On Friday, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced a bill to shut down the whole agency, saying, “we need to start fresh.”


reality based

It’s safe for scientists to raise some heck when it comes to climate change.

Researchers strive to be unbiased observers. For them, keeping opinions private comes as second nature. But a recent study suggests that taking a strong stance on global warming won’t hurt their cred with the public.

Facebook posts, specifically, appear to be safe territory, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Communication. Some 1,200 public participants said they wouldn’t lose any esteem for a scientist who posted about climate change on Facebook. That includes updates on new climate science, and most opinions about policy. Just be wary of pushing for nuclear power plants — you’ll lose credibility points for that one, the study found.

That’s heartening news. Especially when credible science points in a very scary direction, and the political party in charge has made its stance clear.

Scientists are the best-informed citizens on our end-all-be-all problem. And they’re taking action, raising hell over anti-science and anti-environment policies and planning a march on Washington this Earth Day. The way things are going, Earth could certainly use the help.


better than organic?

Robots are raising your kale now.

A New Jersey startup called Bowery grows leafy greens stacked in columns five high under the watchful eyes of an AI system.

The operation, which officially launched last week, uses 95 percent less water than traditional methods and is 100 times more productive on the same footprint of land, according to the company.

Bowery calls itself “post-organic,” a label to describe its integration of tech and farming practices and its pesticide-free produce. That distinguishes it from large-scale organic farms, which do use pesticides — they’re just organic ones.

bowery-plants-system
Bowery

Its AI system automates ideal growing conditions for crops by adjusting the lighting, minerals, and water, using sensors to monitor them. It can alter conditions to tweak the taste — emphasizing a wasabi-like flavor in arugula, for instance.

More than 80 crops are grown at the farm, including baby kale, butterhead lettuce, and mixed greens. The produce is delivered to New York stores within the day after harvest, and the greens go for $3.49 a box — on par with the competition.


Slash and burn

Trump plans to slash EPA’s budget and boost the military’s.

The administration on Monday proposed an increase in defense spending of $54 billion a year, or roughly 10 percent. The money would be taken from other agencies, with the EPA and its climate change programs in for particularly dramatic cuts.

This is just one early step in the budgeting process. More details should come when the president addresses Congress on Tuesday, and when the White House releases more detailed plans in March and May. But it’s actually Congress’ job to pass a federal budget.

The EPA’s budget is already just a tiny fraction of military spending. President Obama’s budget request last year called for $8.3 billion for the EPA, while he proposed spending $582.7 billion for the Department of Defense plus more for nuclear weapons, giving defense more than half of discretionary funding:

pres_budg_disc_spending_pie
National Priorities Project

But even major cuts to EPA won’t be enough to satisfy some conservatives.

When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Tea Party pundit Gina Loudon asked him, “How does it feel to be here today with pretty much everyone hoping that the very agency you are running is going to go away, literally?” He sidestepped another question from her regarding the specifics of his agency’s budget.


Sic transit gloria

Transit ridership is slipping in some big cities.

And that’s surprising because many buses and trains seem more crowded than ever. In fact, a manager of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system speculated that overcrowding might be causing the decline. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-11-12-32-am

When a subway car is jam-packed, in other words, some people decide to jump out. In general, supply just isn’t keeping up with demand. In the Bay Area, for instance, BART cars are so old that engineers can’t find replacement parts for repairs, and rider satisfaction is at a 20-year low. There just aren’t as many cars as there used to be.

In New York, ridership numbers reached historic highs before slipping last year. Perhaps more people are taking Uber and Lyft. Or maybe the system is just showing its age.

Los Angeles can’t blame an aging system. That city has been laying new tracks in a $9 billion expansion of the light rail system, yet the number of riders has been falling month after month. This could correspond to the rise in vehicle miles travelled, which fell during the last recession and stayed down for years.

But let’s be real: Big cities don’t work when they rely on automobiles for transportation. Adding subway cars, on the other hand, is a proven method to unclog the circulatory systems of growing cities.


Oh say, can you DNC?

Climate activists are rooting for Keith Ellison to head up the Democratic National Committee.

Democratic Party insiders will vote for a new chair this weekend. The winner will get the tough job of trying to rebuild a damaged party.

Ten people are in the running, but the victor is likely to be one of the top two contenders: Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison or former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Ellison backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary last year, and Sanders is backing Ellison in this race. In 2012 and 2015, Ellison and Sanders teamed up to push a bill to end subsidies for fossil fuel companies.

Climate activist (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben argues that Ellison, a progressive who is “from the movement wing,” would help the party regain credibility with young people.

A coalition of millennial leaders endorsed Ellison this week, including a number of activists from climate groups. “We want a chair who will fight to win a democracy for all and overcome the profound crises of our time — from catastrophic climate change to systemic racism, historic economic inequality to perpetual war,” they wrote.

350 Action, the political arm of climate group 350.org, endorsed Ellison earlier this month:

And Jane Kleeb, a prominent anti-Keystone activist and a voting DNC member, is backing Ellison too:

 


dakota access

Standing Rock is burning.

About 150 people voluntarily left the last occupied resistance camp by Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., the state-issued deadline to clear camps built to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. The remaining water protectors joined members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in setting fire to tents according to tribal tradition — one last blaze of defiance against the pipeline.

Police likely arrested around 50 people, and around 25 to 50 water protectors still remained in the evacuation zone after the 2:00 p.m. deadline. North Dakota law enforcement entered the camps again this morning to clear out anyone who still remained. Ruth Hopkins, a journalist with Indian Country Media Network, reported law enforcement pointing rifles at people and knifing tipis.

On Feb. 20, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asked all water protectors to peacefully vacate the camps by yesterday, maintaining that the battle is now in court and on the streets. On Feb. 15, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes asked a court to reverse a final easement that would allow the disputed portion of the pipeline to be built. And on March 10, the tribes will rally for the Rise With Standing Rock Native Nations March on Washington.

When the 150 water protectors left camp on Wednesday, they marched out holding an American flag hung upside down.