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Our Daily Planet: What was in the Omnibus – more than you might think, and scroll down to see Eagles soar and Eaglets nibble
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, March 26th, 2018

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 Environment Funding

Omnibus spending bill before US President Donald Trump signs it at the White House on March 23, 2018.  Photo: Nicholas Kamma, AFP/Getty Images

Environmental Agencies Funds Restored, Riders Rejected

In a move that surprised many, Congress restored funding to environmental agencies across the board in the $1.3 trillion 2000-page Omnibus spending bill it passed last week.  And despite a threat to veto it, the President grudgingly signed the legislation in order to avert a shutdown.  Last week, ODP reported on one important compromise in the bill that ended the practice of "fire borrowing," but that was just the beginning.  

Here is a breakdown of the bill, by the numbers: 
  • $35b for the Interior Department and EPA and related agencies, which was $3b more than in 2017 and $8b more than the President requested
  • EPA funding remains level at $8b, with $700m more for water infrastructure improvements, $600m more for safe drinking water, and $63m more for Superfund cleanups
  • EPA also gets $6b in a new loan fund for water infrastructure to accelerate water projects of national and regional significance
  • The National Parks receive $3.2b, which is $200m over 2017 levels plus $360m for parks construction needs and $2.5b for park operations 
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.6b, which is $75m over 2017 funding and nearly $300m more than the President's request
  • Fish and Wildlife science programs received a nearly $300,000 increase, even though the President proposed to zero that out
  • NOAA received $5.9b, $234 million more than the fiscal 2017 enacted level, including $1 billion for the National Weather Service and $883 million for NOAA Fisheries operations, research and facilities
  • Energy Department received across-the-board increases for many programs, including research efforts and energy efficiency programs that the Trump administration has sought to cut deeply, including ARPA-E that was zeroed out instead received an increase of $47m to $353m, and the office of renewable energy received a $200m increase to $2.3b
Many "poison pill" environmental riders were removed from the bill, such as:
  • Rescinding of the waters of the U.S. rule 
  • Weakening of the Endangered Species Act
  • Blocking of the EPA's efforts to combat smog
  • Blocking the rolling back of the methane gas pollution rule
  • Blocking the agency from enforcing water quality standards in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Delaying the deadline for states to submit plans to comply with the Clean Air Act
Why This Matters:  This is a huge win for the public and for conservation.  It is the result of Members of Congress hearing loudly and clearly from their constituents that the public values clean air, clean water, parks, biodiversity, clean energy, and science.  

To Go Deeper: 
The Democrats created a detailed summary of the Omnibus bill.  You can read it here.

 Climate Change

Extreme Weather Fluctuations Might Be Harming Our Hearts

February on the East Coast brought extremely erratic weather to the entire region. One day was (typically) cold and wintry and the next saw highs bordering on summer weather. This forced people to switch between fans and thermostats and t-shirts and winter coats with annoying regularity. However, scientists are now beginning to study how these drastic swings in temperature affect our health and it turns out it could be putting increased stress on our hearts. As Nexus Media reported, "Cardiology researchers in Michigan recently linked extreme day-to-day changes in temperatures to a significant increase in heart attacks, a finding that raises the disturbing possibility of yet another harmful effect of our warming planet on human health."

“While the body has effective systems for responding to changes in temperature, it might be that more rapid and extreme fluctuations create more stress on those systems, which could contribute to health problems,” said Hedvig Andersson, one of the cardiology researchers of the study. She also noted that scientists still don’t know the precise underlying mechanism that may be at work. Based on their calculations, the researchers predicted there could be nearly twice as many heart attacks on a hot summer day with a temperature fluctuation of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius, or 63 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, than on days with no fluctuation. 

Why This Matters: Climate change is making weather patterns more unpredictable and pushing weather extremes off the scale. Existing evidence also suggests that climate change already is tied to heart problems, from the dangerous effects of air pollution, including from climate-fueled wildfires, to that of stress, a known risk factor for heart disease. After Hurricane Katrina, researchers noted a three-fold increase in heart attacks likely due to the stress people endured after the natural disaster. Climate change is often dismissed by naysayers who call it alarmism but science shows that there are very tangible consequences not just to the environment but to our health and wellbeing as well. 


Solar Impulse--The First Solar-Powered Flight Around the World

This past weekend here in D.C. concluded the 26th annual D.C Environmental Film Festival whose theme this year was "From the Frontlines" with works that focused on the people working to protect and preserve the environment through wildlife conservation, habitat protection, and other efforts. Variety's Ted Johnson did a roundup of the feature films this year if you're curious. On the festival's website there's also a list of environmental films that are now free to stream

I (Miro) got a chance to see the D.C. premiere of the film Point of No Return which gave a behind the headlines look of the first solar-powered flight around the world in the aircraft Solar Impulse. Pilots Bertrand Piccard (fun fact, Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Piccard is based off of his great uncle) and André Borschberg along with their team of engineers worked on the Solar Impulse since 2003 to perfect the energy efficiency and precise engineering of the aircraft (which weighed the same as an average car but had the wingspan of a 747 jet). In the film, the pilots take turns battling nature, their own crew, and sometimes logic itself, to make this treacherous flight possible and bring awareness to how renewable aviation can change the world. 

Why This Matters: Since circumnavigating the globe, Piccard and Borschberg started the Solar Impulse Foundation to raise awareness about the drastic need to switch away from fossil fuels and the opportunities that are possible in transitioning to clean forms of transportation. As Piccard told Wired, "My goal is that it becomes an organization that helps governments take decisions in favor of solutions for climate change. We have now a huge network with Solar Impulse, a political and media network, where we can just inform."


Image: NASA
The Sky Is Falling

China's Tiangong-1 space lab, which is no longer working, is expected to make a blazing return to Earth sometime within the next week or so, with some debris possibly surviving to reach the planet's surface. On average, a total of between 200-400 objects that are being tracked by the government re-enter Earth’s atmosphere every year. Scientists, in a global effort to reduce space debris, are able to safely maneuver retired satellites back into Earth’s atmosphere so that one of two things occur. For satellites orbiting close to Earth, operators lower the orbit of a decommissioned satellite so that it will naturally re-enter the atmosphere within 25 years (known as the “25-year Rule”).  As the satellite begins to fall back toward Earth and loses altitude, it generates a lot of heat which breaks up and burns most of the satellite machinery.  Or, if the satellite has enough fuel, operators can guide it to a crash landing in the ocean far from any land.  Human populations are rarely affected by things falling from the sky (from outer space) because humans live on a small percentage of the Earth’s total surface area. 

Why This Matters: The Department of Defense in cooperation with NASA currently monitors over 50,000 objects orbiting Earth, 60% of which are tiny, but 40% of this space junk (roughly 20,000) is
 larger than a softball. Only about 1,000 are actual spacecraft.  Space debris is the collection of defunct man-made objects in space like old satellites, spent rocket stages, and fragments from disintegration, erosion, and collisions.  But as we put more things up in space, more things are bound to come down.  Look out below!


The "Starbucks: Break Free From Plastic" coalition protesting outside of the Seattle Center during Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting on March 21.   Photo:
Starbucks: Trying to Walk the Walk

Plastic protesters from a group aptly named "Starbucks: Break Free From Plastic" made some noise outside the annual meeting of Starbucks in Seattle last week.  The company responded by announcing a $10 million partnership with Closed Loop Partners and its Center for the Circular Economy to establish a consortium to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge. This is the first step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that would allow cups around the world to be diverted from landfills and composted or given a second life as another cup, napkin or even a chair—anything that can use recycled material.  In a statement, the company's sustainability chief said, “No one is satisfied with the incremental industry progress made to date, it’s just not moving fast enough. So today, we are declaring a moon shot for sustainability to work together as an industry to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market, with a three-year ambition.” 

At the same time, the company announced an expansion of its coffee traceability program.  It will create an integrated data platform that will create real-time transparency between coffee farmers and customers in Starbucks stores. The pilot allows Starbucks to explore the viability of scaling this traceability technology to its more than 380,000 farmers  “Achieving sustainability means we have to assure trust and transparency from bean to cup,” said Johnson. “Starbucks is one of only a few coffee companies that can trace our coffee to specific farms, helping to ensure a viable livelihood for the farmers.  And we are unique in that we want to leverage an open-source approach to share what we learn with the rest of the world.”

Why This Matters: Coffee traceability is the next step in the sustainability evolution for this staple of modern society.  But they have a long way to go on plastic and recycling.  A report found that over four billion Starbucks cups end up in landfills each year.  Nearly 1 million people have signed a petition calling for an end to Starbuck’s non-recyclable cups.  Starbucks has pledged to redesign its paper cups several times in the past decade. In 2008, Starbucks said it would create fully recyclable and biodegradable cups by 2015 and that it would sell 25 percent of its drinks in reusable cups in that time.  Starbucks is hardly the only coffee company with this problem.  And to their credit, they give you a slight discount for using a
reusable cup or carafe -- and they sell them right in their stores.  They need to do better, but so can we (myself included)!



One Cool Thing: Baby Eagles Basking In the Sunday Sun

We thought we would share with you this update from last week's story about the new eagles that hatched last week here in Washington, D.C.  They are doing very well!  In this photo you can see the two baby chicks! For more action, watch the video below.  

What You Can Do:  Help the Earth Conservation Corps name the babies!  The Earth Conservation Corps is in search of classrooms to help name the two eaglets! If you meet the above criteria and would like your classroom to participate, please email them at The submission period will close on March 31 at 11:59 PM. The top 20 names will be chosen by Earth Conservation Corps staff to then be voted on by the general public starting on April 2. The winning names will be announced by April 10 and the classroom(s) whose names were chosen will be given a very special reward!

Liberty and Justice Feeding their chicks!  


Former Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was on Real Time with Bill Maher over the weekend and shared her views about the dangers of discrediting scientists and the importance of the agency. It's definitely worth the 6 minutes to watch!
"We have to let scientists tell the truth and we have to listen to it and base decisions on it."
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