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AOC Joins Biden Policy Panel In Bid For Party Unity

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Now that former Vice President Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, the progressive and centrist wings of his party are coalescing around him, including President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the center — and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the left. And Biden, in an obvious effort to reach out to the progressive wing of his party, has asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City to co-chair a Biden campaign task force on climate change.

According to CNN, the task force's other co-chair will be former U.S. senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry — who took over as secretary of state in Obama's administration in 2013 after Clinton left that position. The task force will also include Varshini Prakash, who serves as executive director of the Sunrise Movement and has championed Ocasio-Cortez' Green New Deal.

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Trump’s EPA Prepares Another Gift For The Coal Industry

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump’s EPA administrator wants to redraw our nation’s mercury standard to benefit coal-fired power plants that belch out nearly half the nation’s mercury emissions. But the agency’s Science Advisory Board is balking.

The board, headed by Trump administration appointee Michael Honeycutt who previously opposed tougher mercury standards, told the EPA it needed to look again at how much mercury people get from fish and the harm from mercury.

“EPA should instigate a new risk assessment,” the board wrote.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA only looked at IQ losses in children born to mothers who ate freshwater fish caught by amateur anglers from lakes where the EPA had information on fish tissue. This excluded most of the fish eaten in our country, much of it imported or fish from the ocean.

“It’s absolutely incorrect,” said Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard.

Ellen Kurlansky, a former EPA air policy analyst, said the board recommendation isn’t clear about whether ocean fish should be included in a new assessment.

“What does that actually mean?” she asked.

The Trump EPA packed the Science Advisory Board with industry-friendly appointees like air pollution researcher Robert Phalen who said air can be “a little too clean” for children’s health and consultant Brant Ulsh who claims radiation at low doses may not be dangerous.

The mercury report mentioned a discredited study by consultant and board member Tony Cox that claimed soot in the air can be beneficial.

But even this tainted board couldn’t stomach what the Trump EPA wants to do to our planet. The board also questioned a proposed rule that would limit which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act and the rollback of clean car standards.

Mercury exposure at its worst can mimic cerebral palsy. When airborne mercury settles on water or land that’s often damp, microbes convert it to methylmercury which is highly toxic and becomes more concentrated as it moves up food chains to people and predators.

Mercury raises the risk of diabetes and causes cardiovascular problems for adults, including higher chances of a fatal heart attack. Even how birds sing is affected.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justifications for limiting mercury emissions, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was children’s IQ loss.

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Murray Energy, once the largest privately held coal company in the country, filed for bankruptcy in October. At least seven coal companies filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

EPA is required by law to base decisions on the “best available science.”

The Obama restrictions on mercury have worked. Mercury emissions from U.S. power plants plunged by 65 percent from 2015 to 2017. The standards prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths a year, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, according to EPA estimates.

The Trump EPA also wants to quash rules on sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants which cause acid rain.

James Murdoch Slams Climate Denial In Murdoch Media Outlets

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

As its global media empire ignores devastating bushfires in Australia, the Murdoch family has come under fire from an insider critic: Rupert’s son James. A spokesperson for James and his wife Kathryn expressed to The Daily Beast “their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage” of issues related to climate change. The couple, who have previously made their knowledge of the climate crisis public and committed millions of dollars to fight it, noted they are “particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence” that increased temperatures have contributed to the severity of the fires. The Murdochs’ News Corp. accounts for 60 percent of daily newspaper sales in Australia, where the family first began building its massive media conglomerate decades ago.

The epidemic of climate denial at Fox News and News Corp. outlets is a global problem. Personalities on their payroll across the world have promoted dangerous conspiracy theories and false punditry obfuscating the role of climate change in the devastating bushfires.

Two weeks into the new year, Fox News has already advanced anti-science talking points multiple times. On the January 13 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld blamed the media for the Australian wildfires, saying reporters are “chasing memes instead of actually fact-checking” and said they should instead “be questioning why there are so many arsonists.” The role of arsonists in the Australian bushfires has been greatly exaggerated and, according to climate expert Will Steffen, “The evidence is overwhelming that climate change is playing a prominent role” in the bushfires.

The Daily Beast’s story on James and Kathryn Murdoch’s public criticisms of News Corp. and Fox News’ climate denial noted that a regular guest on Fox host Laura Ingraham’s prime-time show has also hyped the false arson story. On January 7, Fox’s Sean Hannity also promoted disinformation on the role of arsonists in spreading the bushfires. Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren claimed, “The fact of the matter is this: Australia has an arson problem you can’t pin on global warming, climate change, or whatever title you’re giving your environmental boogeyman these days.”

Even though 2020 just started, Fox News personalities are already working overtime to poison the climate change discourse in media this year. Fox’s Mark Levin yelled that “climate change is BS” and politicians who rightly recognize the threat “are praying to idols” because “you never heard about climate change 10 years ago” (this is false). On January 10, Ingraham bizarrely dismissed the problem of receding glaciers, saying, “The glaciers in the Rocky Mountains receded, which is why we have the Rocky Mountains.” In response, regular guest Raymond Arroyo said, “It’s called nature. It happens.”

Fox host Mark Levin also has been screaming about climate change:

Murdoch-owned media properties have promoted climate denial well beyond Fox News, and his Australian media empire has turned a blind eye to the climate crisis. The family’s national newspaper The Australian has hyped the story about the role of arsonists in spreading the bushfires. Conservative pundits on Sky News Australia have also used the ongoing fire season to push climate misinformation and denial, including Chris KennyPeta Credlin, and habitual climate denier Andrew Bolt. In the past, newspapers owned by News Corp. have been criticized for their role in spreading climate denial.

James Murdoch remains financially and legally involved in both News Corp., where he sits on the board of directors, and the Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. (His father reportedly “had made sure that none of his children would be able to sell their voting shares to an outsider”  after he tried to cash out in 2018 following 21st Century Fox’s merger with Disney and a massive restructuring of assets.) His criticisms are just the latest installment of a decades-long power struggle within the family to shape the media empire’s political influence according to each man’s ideological vision. But because James was effectively forced out of the business after the Disney merger, he’s been relegated to lobbing criticisms from the sidelines as Rupert and rumored climate denier Lachlan Murdoch hold the reins.

When Science Fiction Becomes Fact, Start To Worry

How did you spend your holiday? If you’re like me, one guilty pleasure was devouring TV marathons, designed to offer relief from the stresses of the season. Reliable favorites include back-to-back episodes of The Twilight Zone and, on Turner Classic Movies, one whole day devoted to science fiction, imaginings both cautionary and consoling of what the future holds for our world.

But usual escapes didn’t quite work this year, not when fact is scarier than anything Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling might have dreamed up, though the serious Serling who introduced each episode of his iconic series, all furrowed brow and cigarette in hand, did signal he suspected what was coming if mankind didn’t shape up.

Hint: Mankind did not listen to that sober sage.

Let’s list just some of the gloom and doom greeting the world at the start of a new decade.

The end of the year brought surprising news from the Trump administration’s own experts — you know, those folks hired to replace scientists from the previous administration, presumably to more closely reflect the views of the boss and because of their ties to industry.

They showed some independence, with members of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board posting draft letters laying out the disconnect between policies they are tasked with adjusting and real science. The statements criticized the administration’s proposed overhaul of Obama-era regulation of waterways, efforts to curb vehicle tailpipe emissions to fight climate change and plans to limit scientific data when drawing up health regulations.

That news coincidentally paired with the umpteenth showing of the 1973 movie Soylent Green, featuring one of Charlton Heston’s less wooden performances and a future world devastated by pollution, global warming, too many people and too few resources, where the privileged use their riches to escape harm and where — spoiler alert – “Soylent Green is people!”

The start of January brought a preview, reported in The New York Times, of proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that would mean “federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects.”

Those supportive of the move contend economic and employment opportunities must be considered, while environmentalists worry about the future of air, water and wildlife. The public and courts will get the chance to weigh in on the changes to the law, expected to be formally announced this week.

Caring about air, water and wildlife is inescapable when every day brings new pictures of a continent and country burning. Man has certainly helped pull the trigger in Australia, with dozens of arrests of those charged with intentionally setting fires. But scientists and researchers have said that climate change has worsened the effects of the wildfires, which have killed many, destroyed thousands of homes and devastated flora and fauna.Climate change activists take to the streets to demand action.

“Climate change is increasing bushfire risk in Australia by lengthening the fire season, decreasing precipitation and increasing temperature,” according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Australia’s leaders, including its prime minister, remain largely unmoved, insisting that despite drought and bushfires, the country does not need to cut carbon emissions. Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor told Reuters, “When it comes to reducing global emissions, Australia must and is doing its bit, but bushfires are a time when communities must unite, not divide.”

To be fair, Serling’s brainchild series remains iconic, in part, because it was prescient in its view of the dark side of humanity, of the greed and xenophobia that trump good sense and charity when the going gets a little bit tough. He shone a light on contentious family dynamics and neighbors turning against neighbors, proving only too well his fictional alien force’s informed hunch that when it comes to defeating the human race, no outside aggression is necessary. We will do it to ourselves every time.

His science was never truly fiction.

Still, what once seemed ironic and clever comes as a shock as the fantastical scenarios increasingly play out in real time. The writing is smart, the concepts clever — and all of it is frightening.

In the 1960 film The Time Machine — not exactly H.G. Wells’ 1895 vision, but entertaining nonetheless — Rod Taylor’s character returns to his Victorian present, chastened and woeful after his “machine” offers a glimpse into the future, full of passive citizens cut off from the knowledge of the past and content to be happy and entertained, and ultimately unable to confront danger.

When I watched this time around, I sympathized with those trapped underground, perhaps more in line with Wells’ sentiment about the plight of the working class during industrialization, though they serve as the movie’s villains. That allows for a last act that contains hope for a new day.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine any sort of happy ending when the future is now.Thunberg: ‘Don’t listen to me, listen to the scientists.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.