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►  44 Tech Leaders Want to Let VW Off the Hook —Kind Of

More than 40 technology leaders have proposed a radical solution for how Volkswagen can fix its emissions-test-cheating vehicles: don’t. Instead Quartz reports the 44 signers—including Tesla’s Elon Musk—of a letter sent to the California Air Resources Board on Thursday suggest putting all the money and resources that would have gone toward fixing diesel cars already on the road toward speeding up production of emissions-less electric vehicles. “Cure the air, not the cars,“ they write in the letter. Earlier this year, Volkswagen found itself in hot water when it was revealed it had installed software to cheat emissions tests in nearly 500,000 diesel cars sold in the US, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Quartz reports regulators have ordered Volkswagen to fix all emissions-test-cheating vehicles currently on the road. In their letter, Musk and the other signers argue it’s no longer worth it from a financial or performance standpoint to keep trying to make diesel cleaner, and many owners won’t get the fix anyway. According to the Journal, they argue putting that money—as well as money from potential fines—toward electric cars and new zero-emission plants and technologies would reduce pollution 10 times what fixing the individual cars would. They also point out zero-emission cars have no way to cheat emissions tests, Quartz reports. Neither Volkswagen nor CARB have responded directly to the letter, with a CARB spokesperson telling the Journal only that their “focus has and will continue to be cleaning the air and advancing the cleanest vehicle and fuel technologies.”

In Outdoors….

The Free Press WV

►  No More Cecils: African Lions Now on Endangered Species List

Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer caused an uproar when he killed Cecil the lion—and he may have expedited the latest Obama administration mandate. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is set to announce Monday that as of January 22, lions in Africa will be protected under the Endangered Species Act, with lions in central and West Africa deemed an “endangered” species, while lions in southern and East Africa will be categorized as “threatened,“ the New York Times reports. And US hunters who want to bring back lion parts as “trophies” will need to get a permit from the wildlife agency, which will be issued only if they hunt a) legally, and b) in ways that meet conservation standards, per the Times. The new rules are likely to “dramatically change the equation for American trophy hunters who have been killing lions by the hundreds each year,“ Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the US Humane Society, said in a statement, per Time.

Although the US wildlife agency cites “newly available scientific information on the genetics and taxonomy of lions” for the sudden change, conservation groups have been lobbying for years to have lions designated as endangered, with a recent study noting the lion population in East, West, and central Africa may be halved over the next 20 years without intervention, per the Times. The drop has been linked to habitat loss, farmer and herder killings, and the decline of prey, but also to poorly regulated trophy hunting, both papers note. Some pro-hunting groups claim the stricter rules will actually harm lions, as they say money from legal sport hunting goes toward conservation in impoverished countries. But most conservation groups are applauding. “This is going to be a very exciting announcement for those who want to see greater protection for lions,“ an International Fund for Animal Welfare director tells the Washington Post.


►  Rare Venomous Sea Snake Found in California, Again

The 27-inch venomous yellow-bellied sea snake discovered dead on the sand in Huntington Beach, Calif., last week is “incredible” and “fascinating,“ but does “not an invasion” make, Greg Pauly of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County tells the Los Angeles Times. Nonetheless, it’s the second time in two months that one of the serpents—which sport a bright yellow underside and tail resembling a paddle—has come ashore on a Southern California beach. The first time was in Oxnard in October.

The snakes typically cruise the warm coastal waters of Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, and the Baja Peninsula, the Orange County Register notes. But warm waters caused by El Niño may be throwing the snake off. While highly venomous, no one has ever died from this serpent’s bite, Pauly tells the Times. “Their fangs are tiny and they can barely open their mouths wide enough to bite a person,“ he says. “So, unless you pick one up, the biggest safety concern with going to the beach is with driving there and then driving home.“


►  As Boy Scout Leader Enters Cave, Bear Grabs His Foot

Since the time he was a much younger man, Christopher Petronino has been exploring a cave at Split Rock Reservoir in Rockaway Township, NJ. On Sunday, the 50-year-old Boy Scout troop leader decided to show the cave he first entered some three decades ago to his son and the two other scouts he was hiking with. He began to enter feet-first through the crevasse-type entrance—when a black bear seized his foot. The New York Times reports the animal pulled Petronino into the cave and began biting him. That was just the start of the ordeal. NJ.com reports that Petronino twice struck the bear in the head with a rock hammer then told the boys to call 911. He assumed a fetal position with his back to the bear and put a sweatshirt over his head, reports NBC New York.

The boys did call, but were unable to provide their location to the 911 operator; officials began to try to track their coordinates and dispatched a helicopter. Petronino next told the boys to place the food they were carrying just outside the cave. That was enough to get the bear to emerge, and a dog that was with the group then scared the bear off. All told, Petronino spent “a substantial amount of time” with the “huffing” bear in the cave, before emerging and himself calling 911. Help arrived 80 minutes later, and he was airlifted out, says a rep for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Petronino suffered bites to his scalp and legs; the boys were unharmed. Officials are now trying to trap the bear, which they believe “was protecting its hibernation location ... they do not, at this point, consider the bear to be a Category I bear,“ meaning one that must be euthanized.


►  2 ‘Extinct’ Snakes Found Swimming Happily

Scientists feared the last of Australia’s short-nosed sea snakes died about 15 years ago, which makes this new sighting doubly auspicious: A wildlife official snapped a photo of not one but two of the snakes swimming off the western coast—and they were making googly eyes at each other. “What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population,“ says researcher Blanche D’Anastasi of James Cook University in a press release. No such snake had been spotted since the species disappeared from its habitat at Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than a decade ago. Scientists at JCU confirmed that the photos, taken at Ningaloo Reef, captured images of the sea snakes in the journal Biological Conservation.

“We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia’s natural icons,“ says D’Anastasi. The journal article had another piece of good news: A decent population of another species, called the rare leaf-scaled sea snake, was spotted in Shark Bay, more than 1,000 miles from the snakes’ only previously known habitat, notes Gizmodo. Both species are officially listed as critically endangered. The good news, however, was tempered with the bad. Generally speaking, sea snakes are on the decline in Western Australia, and the reason “remains unexplained.“ (Scientists, do however, have a pretty good idea about why snakes lost their legs.)

Agency Reopens Comment Period on 2 Crayfish Species

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reopened the public comment period on the Guyandotte River crayfish and the Big Sandy crayfish.

The federal agency says surveys found one new location of the Guyandotte River crayfish in Wyoming County and one new location of the Big Sandy crayfish in the West Virginia portion of the lower Tug Fork basin.

The agency proposed in April that both species be listed as endangered.

It says in a news release that additional surveys were funded in the summer and fall to provide more data.

A final decision will be made in April 2016.

The reopened comment period will run until January 14, 2016.

Long Delayed Air Pollution Rules Will Limit Mercury

CHARLESTON, WV - After a 20-year court fight, the EPA is set to put power plant pollution rules in place that supporters say will save thousands of lives a year. Industry lawsuits had stopped the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from going into effect at coal and oil-fired power stations around the country but a final decision by a federal appeals court cleared the way for the limits to go into effect next spring.

Jim Pew, staff attorney with Earthjustice, helped argue the case.

“These rules will save between 4,200 and 11,000 lives every year,“ says Pew. “The impacts of this pollution, and the impacts of EPA finally moving to control it, are enormous.“

The Free Press WV
Supporters say new limits on the mercury and other toxins coal (orange)
and oil (white) power plants can emit will save thousands of lives.


According to Pew, air pollution causes about one in 20 U.S. deaths. He says heavy metals in coal are a big part of that.

“Trace levels of mercury, trace levels of arsenic, chromium, lead and lots of other toxic metals,“ says Pew. “And when you burn the coal you just move the lead and the mercury and the arsenic out of the coal and into the smoke.“

The mercury standards will be the first time some of these limits will apply to existing power plants. They have applied to newly built power stations for some time. Pew says as the legal fight ground on, many power companies put in scrubbers and bag houses that brought their emissions into compliance. Pew says over time, many of them stopped fighting the regulations.

“The more responsible power plants have put the scrubbers on, and one reason that much of the power industry simply isn’t opposing these standards is they’ve already taken the steps they need to take to comply,“ Pew says.

Among other things, opponents of the rules argued the EPA followed the wrong process when determining how much the regulations would cost the industry. The National Mining Association and other coal industry allies asked that the rules be thrown out. Last week the D.C. Court of Appeals refused.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

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