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It took some time, but the EPA finally acknowledged humans are causing climate change

It’s obvious to say at this point that climate change is caused by humans and the greenhouse gas emissions we produce. Well, for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it kind of wasn’t.

For the first time ever, the agency publicly and officially acknowledged that human activities from fossil fuel extractions to agriculture are behind the growing greenhouse gas emissions. This was part of a climate report that was due in 2017 but was delayed by the Trump White House ever since.

The Climate Change Indicators report describes the extent to which glaciers are shrinking, sea levels are rising and flooding is increasing. The impacts are being felt by Americans “with increasing regularity”, it plainly states. Under Trump’s time in office, the report wasn’t updated, as it had been under former President Obama. 

But even during Obama’s time, the EPA had never attributed global warming to human activities directly, a press officer for the agency told the BBC. That’s why this is such a big deal and represents a shift for the US – in line with more ambitious climate policies already announced by President Biden earlier this year. Simply put, it’s officially acknowledging what everyone — including EPA researchers — already knew.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement that tackling climate change “isn’t optional” at the EPA and that the agency will move “with a sense of urgency,” making clear to the entire country the dangers of the rising temperatures in the United States. 

“We want to reach people in every corner of this country because there is no small town, big city or rural community that’s unaffected by the climate crisis,” Regan said in a statement. “Americans are seeing and feeling the impacts up close with increasing regularity.”

An updated report

For its report, the EPA used a set of 54 separate indicators which, taken together, paint a grim picture of the effects of climate change in the US. It covers everything from Lyme disease (which is becoming more prevalent in some states where deer ticks can survive) to the more severe drought in the Southwest that threatens water availability. 

The agency found that heat waves are happening three times more often in the US than they did in the 1960s, averaging six times a year. As a consequence, people are using more their air conditioners to stay cool in summer, which has doubled the energy use in summer over the past half-century, increasing emissions and triggering a vicious cycle.

Permafrost has also started to melt since 1978 at almost every location measured in Alaska, the report showed. The most significant temperature increases were registered in the northern parts of the state. EPA also found that coastal flooding is happening more often at all the 33 locations studied in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts. 

Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post that the report collects data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a really important clearinghouse of this kind of information,” she added.

Announcing the new report, the EPA said the data shows how the US has entered unprecedented territory, in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster and becoming more extreme. The indicators present “multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now and here in the US,” the agency said in a statement.

The climate gap

The newly published data illustrates the gap between the current administration and Trump’s when it comes to climate policy. President Biden has made reducing greenhouse gas emissions one of his top priorities, arguing that a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources would generate new and well-paid jobs and would help the country on multipple fronts. 

While Trump questioned the idea that fossil fuels were warming the planet, Biden has already introduced a set of policies for further climate action. This includes a new climate pledge (also known as NDC), promising to reduce the country’s emissions by 50% to 52%. This meant doubling the previous pledge made by Obama in 2015. 

In March, the Biden administration had already relaunched a first version of the EPA’s website on climate change, which had gone dark under Trump. In 2017, the Trump administration asked to remove all climate change reference from government websites, including the EPA, the Energy Department and the State Department. 

A recent report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) showed that the use of the term “climate change” fell by 40% across federal environmental agency websites during Trump’s term in office from 2017 to 2021. The report also showed that access to EPA’s website dropped 20% during that time. 

“Climate facts are back”. EPA brings back climate change to its website

Following a four-year break during the Trump administration, climate change information is now fully back on the website of the United States government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The move is part of President Joe Biden’s promise to “bring science back” and take more ambitious climate action.

The website of the EPA as it is now.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump demanded the removal of all climate change references from government websites — including EPA, the Energy Department, the State Department, and beyond. Trump repeatedly doubted climate change, even calling it a “hoax,” and rejected the US taking further climate action during all his time in office.

This was not with cost. A recent report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) showed that the use of the term “climate change” fell by 40% across federal environmental agency websites during Trump’s term in office from 2017 to 2021. The report also showed that access to EPA’s website dropped 20% during that time. Trump wanted to remove an important piece of science from government websites, and he succeeded.

But now, science is back.

In a video statement, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, who was confirmed last week, said: “Climate facts are back on the EPA’s website where they should be. Considering the urgency of this crisis, it’s critical that Americans have access to information and resources so that we can all play a role in protecting our environment, our health, and vulnerable communities.”

The revamped website has two messages on an image carousel on the home page:

The climate crisis is an EPA priority and public understanding of the implications of the crisis is essential to addressing it. While the information on the site is still limited, there’s already useful and interactive data available, such as geographical software to learn about the indicators of climate change.

A section focuses on the importance of environmental justice. Visitors can search across a map of the US and pull up reports with information on cancer risk, air pollution, proximity to hazardous waste, and more. In New York City, for example, visitors can see that a large part of the city’s population lives close to hazardous waste and wastewater discharge.

The site also includes executive actions signed by Biden concerning climate change, and the links to previous EPA reports and other related federal agencies such as NASA and the national oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) were restored. Still, EPA officials promised that more content will soon be available, urging visitors to “return in the coming weeks as we add new information and features.”

“Americans in every corner of our country are seeing and feeling the effects of climate change,” Regan said in his video statement. “Combating climate change, it’s not optional, it’s essential at the EPA. We will move with a sense of urgency because we know what’s at stake. We know that tackling the climate crisis is the single best opportunity we have to strengthen our economy.”

President Biden made climate change a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and acted fast to deliver on his promise. He signed a set of executive orders that covered a range of environmental initiatives – including restoring the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change and suspending new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters.

The US will be hosting on April 22 (Earth Day) a virtual climate leaders’ summit as a way to persuade major emitters to strengthen their national climate commitments (known as NDC). But that will only be credible if the US leads the way with a new and more ambitious target – which is expected to be officialized at the summit next month.

Trump auctions Arctic refuge to oil companies in last bid against the environment

In one of its last strikes against the environment before leaving office, the Donald Trump administration auctioned yesterday oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The move comes after decades-long push by some Republicans to drill in one of the United States’ most vast unspoiled wild places.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

Still, the auction had a bitter-sweet result for the Trump administration. Most oil companies didn’t even try to buy the leases amid low oil prices and pressure from environmental groups, leaving the state agency Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as the main bidder alongside two smaller energy firms.

The sale of 11 areas on just over 550,000 acres achieved $14.4 million, a small fraction of what the government initially predicted it would get. Only two of the bids were competitive, so most of the land was auctioned off for the minimum price of $25 an acre. Still, Interior Deputy Secretary Kate MacGregor described it as “truly historic.”

Kara Moriarty, head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, told NPR that the sale results weren’t as “robust” as expected. But she said the industry still supports future access to the coastal plain. In a statement, she said the sale “reflects the brutal economic realities the oil and gas industry continue to face.”

“They held the lease in ANWR — that is history-making. That will be recorded in the history books and people will talk about it,” Larry Persily, a longtime observer of the oil and gas industry in Alaska, told NPR. “They had the lease sale, the administration can feel good about it, but no one’s going to see any oil coming out of ANWR.”

According to a 2017 law, the US government will have to carry out more auctions in the same area for several hundred thousand acres by the end of 2024. But the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden could overturn this requirement, especially with Democrats now having control of the Senate.

A group of environmental and conservation organizations claimed the Trump administration cheated on the way it crafted the leasing program and tried to block the sale. Nevertheless, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason rejected their request for a preliminary injunction on Tuesday and the auction moved forward.

The ANWR has been a rallying point for both Republicans and environmentalists, who have put up a strong fight for 40 years over whether fossil fuels should be tapped into. The US estimates there could be 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the coastal plain, though seismic surveys have not been conducted since the 1980s.

Covering some 19 million acres, the ANWR is usually described as America’s last great wilderness. It’s the home of many species such as the Porcupine caribou, with one of the largest herds in the world living there. The herd moves to the coastal plain region of the ANWR in the spring as it’s their preferred calving ground.

Environmental campaigners argue that the habitat is also crucial for polar bears, which are already struggling because of development in the area and rising temperatures that are melting sea ice. Polar bears numbers in Alaska and western Canada dropped 40% from 2001 to 2010, Steven Amstrup of Bolar Bears International, told The Guardian.

Native groups in Alaska have fought drilling proposals with lawsuits over the years. The Gwich’in, indigenous Alaskans who have migrated alongside the caribou and relied upon them as a food source, formed the Gwich’in Steering Committee in 1988 to oppose drilling in the coastal plain, which they call a sacred place.

“In their push to sell off our lands to the fossil fuel industry, the Trump administration has engaged in a corrupt process and disrespected and dismissed the Indigenous people,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee in a statement. “We will continue to fight this illegal sale in court.”

Undocumented immigrants half as likely to commit crimes as US citizens

The tripling of the undocumented population in recent decades is one of the most consequential and controversial social trends in the US, with debates about the criminality of undocumented immigrants at the fore of this controversy.

But things are often misrepresented, a new study finds, and the reality is that immigrants don’t lead to a rise in crime — quite the opposite.

Image credit: Flickr / Payton Chung.

Researchers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that undocumented immigrants in Texas were half as likely to be arrested for violent crimes or drug offenses and less than a quarter as likely to be arrested for property crimes, compared to US-born citizens. The study covered the period between 2012 and 2018.

Previous studies looking into the link between immigration and crime could only address the issue in an approximate fashion, as most US crime databases don’t collect information on immigration status. Still, studies showed that areas with more immigrants tend to have less crime. Researchers haven’t previously been able to link a specific immigration status to the rates for specific crimes, which makes this study all the more significant.

Professor Michael Light accessed the database of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which works with the Department of Homeland Security to check the immigration status of those arrested finding that, surprisingly, undocumented immigrants had by far the lowest crime rate.

Texas has the second-largest immigrant population in the US, with roughly 4.8 million foreign-born individuals, of which an estimated 1.6 million are undocumented. The state processes large numbers of immigrants through their criminal justice system. In 2012, it had the third-highest number of reported noncitizens in their prisons.

Light and his team calculated the crime rates of U.S.-born citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants and reviewed the relative contribution of undocumented immigrants to felonies. The proportion of arrests involving them didn’t increase with time and even decreased for some offenses such as drug crimes. Meanwhile, the crime rate of US-born citizens has been steadily on the rise since 2016.

The researchers acknowledged it can be difficult to estimate the exact population of undocumented migrants. So, to consider potential errors, they calculated that how inaccurate their population estimated would have to be to alter their findings. They found the population would have to be less than half as large.

While the study doesn’t explain why undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than documented ones or native-born Americans, the researchers found some factors that seem to contribute to this. Those who emigrate to the US from other countries are generally more motivated and intrinsically less likely to commit a crime, they argued. American culture may also play a role. Assimilation theory refers to the tendency for immigrants to adopt the cultural and social values of their host country, particularly as their amount of exposure to the country’s social and cultural context increases. The findings of the study could be linked to this idea, the researchers believe.

The Trump administration has made immigration a key issue over the past four years, with Trump especially pushing the idea that immigrants generate crime. Arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) increased by 30% in 2017 after Trump gave the agency more authority to detain undocumented immigrants. Then, in 2019, the number of people arrested at the border between the US and Mexico reached its highest level in 12 years.

“Debates about undocumented immigration will no doubt continue, but they should do so informed by the available evidence. The results presented here significantly undermine the claims that undocumented immigrants pose a unique criminal risk. In fact, our results suggest that undocumented immigrants pose substantially less criminal risk than native US citizens,” the researchers wrote.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

What does Biden have in store for science? Expect changes on COVID-19 and climate change, for starters

The United States will see big changes in its main policies on health, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic among many other areas over the next months, as Joe Biden is expected to take office on 20 January.

While some of these planned changes depend on Congress approval, others will be passed more directly through executive presidential orders.

Image Credits: Flickr Stingrayschuller.

The general trend: reversing damaging action

The four-year presidency of Donald Trump witnessed a dismantling of many environmental regulations and a step back from the US’ position as a leader in climate and health — even science itself. Biden will have the opportunity and the challenge to reverse many of the policies introduced by the Trump administration that scientists and researchers claim were damaging to science.

A democrat who previously served as a vice-president, Biden vowed in the campaign to increase test-and-trace programs to help bring the coronavirus under control alongside his vice-president Kamala Harris, the first woman to be VP in the US.

Some measures will take time, and some will come on his first day at the White House. Biden already anticipated the enactment of a set of executive orders to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Worth Health Organization (WHO), among other issues, marking a big gap from the policies set by Trump.

“Instead of dog-eat-dog, maybe we will have a modicum of international cooperation, greater adherence to laws and treaties, more civility in politics across the globe, less ‘fake news’, more smiles and less anger,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and nuclear-proliferation specialist based in Islamabad, told Nature.

Acting on COVID-19

Biden’s transition team already unveiled the 13 members of what will be his Covid-19 task force once he takes office. The task force will consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address racial disparities in the impact of the pandemic.

Some of the members of the task force include Luciana Borio (former Food and Drug Administration official and biodefense specialist), Rick Bright (former head of the vaccine-development agency BARDA, fired by the Trump administration), and Atul Gawande, surgeon and recently departed CEO of Haven Healthcare, a not-for-profit health body.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe and effective.”

While President Trump has repeatedly downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, opposing local efforts and even suggesting cutting down on tests, Biden’s team has committed to increasing test-and-trace programs. The new administration vowed to work side-by-side with state- and local-level officials to implement mandates nationwide and strengthening public-health facilities.

The president-elect has also promised to make decisions grounded in science. This also a sharp contrast with Trump, who sidelined government scientists at public-health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shunning scientists and science alike.

Biden announced plans to reopen the lines of communication with other countries and international organizations.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris understand that no country can face our current challenges alone, and hopefully will re-engage and help re-form key science-based multilateral institutions,” Marga Gual Soler, an adviser on science diplomacy and policy to the European Union, told Nature.

What to do with face masks will be one of the first tests for Biden. His team already concluded they can’t impose a national mask mandate from the White House, they will need to work with governors and mayors on this end. But the White House could ask for the use of masks on federal property and during interstate transportation. Still, they need to gather support from governors and work on persuasive messaging.

Image Credits: Phil Roeder.

The same applies to testing, another key decision for the new president. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist and expert in medical testing for viruses, said the new administration should invest in simple, do-it-yourself coronavirus tests that could be distributed across the country to tens of millions of households.

On their transition website, Biden and Harris said they want to double the number of drive-through testing sites and establishing a Pandemic Testing Board, an organizing body that will direct the production and distribution of “tens of millions of tests.” They also want to deploy a US Public Health Corp to protect at-risk populations.

They plan to invest $25 billion in the manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, hoping to guarantee a free vaccine to every American. Clinical data for any approved vaccine will be publicly released. The new administration also wants to prevent price gouging for approved COVID-19 treatments.

Environment action

Biden will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards Trump abolished and launch what could be one of the boldest plans on climate change the US has ever seen. While some programs may find resistance from Senate Republicans, the country is on track to make a big change in its environmental policy.

The new administration has plans to develop renewable energy even further, restrict oil and gas drilling on public land, block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country and encourage other countries to cut their emissions even further. It’s all part of a large package Biden is getting ready and will see the light in January.

Under Biden, the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2ºC and ideally below 1.5ºC. Biden has promised measures to put the US will on track for net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. Scientists have said this would have big implications for the Paris goals.

Image credits: Diane Greene.

An analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a non-profit organization, said Biden’s climate plan could put the Paris Agreement’s goals “within striking distance”. If fulfilled, the US would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 75 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, decreasing global warming by 0.1°C by the end of the century.

The US is the world’s second-biggest polluter, behind China. Trump decided to leave the Paris Agreement, which became official one day after the presidential election. The move signaled to the world that the US wouldn’t lead the fight against climate change anymore, with critics saying this undermined other nations’ effort.

Biden said he will not allow fracking on federal land. Fracking is a drilling process in which chemicals are injected into rocks to liberate natural gas and oil and is controversial because of its environmental impact. However, about 90% of it occurs on state or private land, so most operations won’t be affected.

He has also vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. If he can’t implement it through Senate, he’ll rely on executive orders to advance his agenda.

Candidates are already being considered for the top environmental posts under the new administration. Mary Nichols, who has implemented many of the nation’s most liberal climate policies, is a leading contender to head the EPA. The former secretary of state John F. Kerry may get involved with climate policy.

Andrew Light, a former senior climate official in the Obama administration, said Biden is focused on lowering emissions and increasing jobs. “There will be a big push on electric vehicles, a big push on efficient buildings, both residential and offices, a big push on creating a new kind of civilian conservation corps and doing a lot of nature-based solutions on climate change,” he told the BBC.

It remains to be seen how much of his plans Biden will actually be able to accomplish. However, one thing’s for sure: US science will witness a very different presidency.

While it waits for election results, the US formally withdraws from Paris Agreement

With its presidential elections in full swing, the United States has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. President Trump had announced the move in 2017, but United Nations rules meant that it comes into effect today.

Credit Flickr Matt Johnson

The Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015 to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to keep global temperature rise well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.51C.

The delay of the US exiting the agreement is due to the baked-in complex of its rules, so written specifically due to the possibility of a country deciding to exit. In the past, internal US politics had influenced other climate pacts as well, such as the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997. The Clinton administration couldn’t secure Senate backing for it.

No country was allowed to leave the climate agreement before three years had passed from the date of ratification (after at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions had ratified it). This happened on 4 November 2016. Still, member states had to serve a 12-month notice period on the United Nations prior to exiting.

“Being out formally obviously hurts the US reputation,” Andrew Light, a former climate change official in the Obama administration, told BBC. “This will be the second time that the US has been the primary force behind negotiating a new climate deal – with the Kyoto Protocol we never ratified it, in the case of the Paris Agreement, we left it.”

Although this has been long in the making, there’s still a sense of disappointment among climate diplomats and environmental activists, who believe that climate change is the biggest global challenge we’re facing and that the US should be leading the fight against it. The US now represents around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The decision to leave the Paris agreement was wrong when it was announced and it is still wrong today,” Helen Mountford from the World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental organization, told BBC. “Simply put the US should stay with the other 189 parties to the agreement, not go out alone.”

President Trump had made leaving the Paris Agreement a key part of his election platform in 2016. He included it into a vision of a revitalized US with booming energy production, especially coal and oil. His understanding was that the climate deal was unfair to the US, allowing developing countries like India to continue using fossil fuels. As Trump announced the decision to leave the Paris Agreement in 2017, a number of states and businesses have pledged to continue cutting carbon and to try and make up for Trump’s decision. They presented America’s Pledge program, through which states and cities would help cut US emissions by 19% compared to 2005 levels by 2025.

Now, climate activists and delegates are worried that the US withdrawal will see other countries adopt a go-slow attitude, at a time when scientists are saying that climate efforts should be speeded up. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia have shown a willingness to side with US efforts to push back on climate science.

“They are biding their time, they are saying that if the US is not in then we don’t need to rush to do anything at this time’,” Carlos Fuller, lead negotiator from the Alliance of Small Island States, told BBC. “I think they are hedging their bets to see what kind of a better deal they can get out of it, and not actually withdraw.”

But the US involvement in the Paris Agreement isn’t necessarily over. The country could choose to return, and Democratic candidate Joe Biden has promised to do just that “on day one” if he wins the election. If he were to do so, the US could officially resume its leadership role under the Paris Agreement in mid-February.

What the US vote means for the world’s climate

How the US elections go will likely play a critical role in how much hotter the world gets in the coming years, climate experts agree. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have opposite views on climate change. No matter which one of them gets elected, they will have a big hand to play in shaping the world’s climate.

Credit White House

President Trump notified the United Nations a year ago that the US would be renouncing the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the US will formally leave the agreement just one day after the presidential election. Due to the clauses in the international pact, November 4th is the earliest a that the US can withdraw (one year after the decision was officially announced).

This means the US, the world’s second-largest climate polluter, will be the first country to exit the agreement, which forces countries to pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The world has already warmed by 1ºC compared to pre-industrial levels and is on track to reach warming between 3ºC and 4ºC.

Democrat candidate Joe Biden has pledged to put the country immediately back in the Paris agreement. This doesn’t require congressional approval and would take three months, from November to the January inauguration. If the US pulls back into the agreement, other countries will be less likely to back out too.

In the last debate, Biden vowed to set a goal of zero net carbon emissions for the US by 2050. This means the country would not put more greenhouse gases into the air than it takes out. More than a dozen countries, including top polluting such as China, have already made similar pledges and more are expected to come.

“Losing most of the world’s coral reefs is something that would be hard to avoid if the U.S. remains out of the Paris process,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, told Associated Press. “At the margins, we would see a world of more extreme heatwaves.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week in a visit to the Maldives that the Trump administration has done its “fair share” to reduce carbon emissions. He said the US reduced emissions through “creativity, innovation, and good governance” instead of imposing “state-driven and forced rulesets.”

Carbon emissions from the US dropped by less than 1% a year from 2016 to 2019, until plunging (probably temporarily) during the pandemic, according to the Department of Energy. More than 60 countries cut emissions by higher percentages than the US over that time, according to international data.

Using a “Climate Deregulation Tracker,” researchers at Columbia University in New York have tracked more than 160 significant rollbacks of environmental regulations over the past three years of the Trump administration. These cover everything from car fuel standards, to methane emissions, to light bulbs.

“Other countries around the world are obsessed with the Paris Climate Accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told AP in a statement. “President Trump understands economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict.”

Trevor Houser, a climate modeler for the independent Rhodium Group, compared a continuation of the Trump administration’s current emission trends to what would happen if Biden worked toward net-zero emissions. He found that in the next 10 years, the US under a Trump scenario would emit 6 billion tons more greenhouse gases than under Biden.

Trump administration appoints climate skeptic for a leading post at NOAA

The Trump administration has hired David Legates, an academic who doesn’t believe that human activity is causing climate change, to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — the agency that produces much of the climate research funded by the government.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

NOAA had struggled to escape the political influence from the government, although it succeeded in carrying out its weather forecasting and climate research without much intervention. This contrasted with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other science agencies in which the government has sidelined climate scientists. But now, things might change.

Legates was hired as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction, reporting directly to Neil Jacobs, the agency’s acting head. The move has raised concerns in the scientific community that this could be a move by the White House to influence the scientific reports of the agency.

“He’s not just in left field — he’s not even near the ballpark,” Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University and head of NOAA under President Barack Obama, told NPR. He said contrarians in science are welcomed but only when their claims can be scientifically defended.

Legates has a long track of using his position as an academic to cast doubt on climate science. The appointment comes at a time the US is directly dealing with the effects of climate change, with a record wildfire season in California, influenced by a strong heatwave, to an active hurricane season in the South and the East.

Back in 2007, Legates co-authored a controversial paper that questioned the role of climate change in destroying the habitat of polar bears. The study was partially funded by fossil fuel companies, InsideClimate News showed, adding even more concerns about the study’s objectivity. At the time, Legates was working as a state climatologist for Delaware and the governor sent him a letter asking him to stop casting doubt on climate science. He later resigned in 2011.

But that’s not it. He appeared in a video in 2011 supporting the idea that the sun’s natural cycles were the reason behind global warming, instead of human action. He reiterated the same argument when speaking at the Senate, dismissing the findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body that groups climate researchers. Legates is also affiliated with the Heartland Institute, a think tank that spends millions of dollars every year to question the scientific evidence of climate change, including the research produced by NOAA, his new employer.

Heartland has had a leading role in shaping the views on climate change by the Trump administration. Reacting to Legates’ appointment, Vice President Jim Lakely published a column in which he congratulated Legates and questioned the criticism by “corrupt media” against him.

“The question that The Heartland Institute raises — via the hundreds of scientists we worth with across the globe — is that human activity is not the main driver of climate change. That is what the data shows, including NOAA’s. They just don’t like to admit it. Legates, hopefully, will not let them get away with more alarmism via hiding the pea,” Lakely wrote.

Trump approves plan to open oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic refuge

Raising widespread criticism from environmental groups, the Trump administration has officially approved a plan to open an Arctic wildlife refuge in Alaska for oil and natural gas drilling. The idea has been in the works since 2017, with the first leases to drill expected to be granted by the end of the year.

Credit Frank Camp Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The news was confirmed to the Wall Street Journal by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose department will be in charge of the auctions. The fact that they will take place this year might make it difficult for Democrats to reverse the decision if presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the election in November.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the area to be auctioned off, is considered a wellspring for wildlife, housing polar bears, foxes, and migratory birds, among many other species. Of the 19 million acres of the refuge, 1.6 million will be available to be leased to fossil fuel companies.

Although many of them have long wanted access to the ANWR, it remains to be seen how many of them are willing to take a risk on an unexplored stretch of land where little data on its oil and gas resources is available. Bernhardt expects strong interest despite the lack of such vital data.

Companies have actually been leaving Alaska due to the high costs of drilling and shipping the oil and gas compared to the cheaper options in other states that already have pipelines installed. British oil giant BP was the last one to leave the area, selling its operations to Hilcorp.

Environmental groups reacted with anger to the news, and are likely to sue to stop the move. Once the drilling rights are allocated, it will be harder for a future president to reverse course, they argued. Oil operations in the area would severely threaten the pristine landscape, they added.

“This plan will not only harm caribou, polar bears, and other wildlife, it is foolish in the face of rapidly advancing climate change,” said, Jennifer Rokala the Executive Director of the Centre for Western Priorities in a statement.

“Oil companies will have to harden their infrastructure to withstand melting permafrost and rising seas, leading to an even greater impact.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation, including Republicans Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Don Young, celebrated the news, thanking President Trump and Bernhardt for what they said will be a boost for their state’s economy. It’s a “capstone moment,” Murkowski said, in their decades-long push for “responsible” oil extraction in the area.

A significant number of major global banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs have already said they will not provide financing for drilling in the area. Environmental activists have also said that the reputational risks to companies operating in the ANWR would be severe.

The US government authorized drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge in December 2017 when Congress added a stipulation to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The law states that the Interior Department has to make “at least two lease sales” within 10 years, with each lease containing “at least 400,000 acres.”

Most Americans agree the government should do more on climate change

A large majority of Americans (65%) agree the federal government isn’t doing enough to reduce the impacts of climate change, with 63% claiming that they already see the effects of a warmer world in their own communities, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg looks at US President Donald Trump. Credit Flickr

The survey was carried out from April 29 to May with almost 11,000 adults in the United States, showing a broad majority agreed on initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, such as planting trees (90%), giving tax credits for businesses that capture emissions (84%) and implementing fuel efficiency standards (71%).

Nevertheless, the same level of agreement is difficult to find when looking at political affiliations.

While most Democrats (72%) believe human activity largely contributes to climate change, only 22% of the Republicans agree with that statement. A similar gap is seen on whether the government is doing too little on climate (89% to 35%) and on whether effects are visible in local communities (83% to 37%).

Alec Tyson, Associate Director of Research on Pew’s Science and Society research team, told Newsweek: “The public has grown much more concerned about the threat posed by climate change over the last decade. This shift is being driven by changing attitudes among Democrats—there’s hardly been any change in views among Republicans.”

The survey found some bipartisan support for some policy options to reduce the effects of climate change. Large shares of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (92%) and Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (88%) favor planting about a trillion trees, for example.

But partisan divides were larger on other policy options, such as implementing restrictions on power plant emissions, taxing companies according to their level of carbon emissions and implementing tougher standards on fuel efficiency for cars and trucks. Still, about half of Republicans say they would favor each of these policies.

The survey also found differences inside the party coalitions. Republicans that describe themselves as moderate or liberal are much more likely than conservative Republicans to acknowledge the impacts of climate change, support actions to address its effects and claim that the federal government is doing too little on the environment.

Michael E. Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told Newsweek the poll findings show climate change will play a role in the forthcoming election, scheduled for November 3rd this year.

“This is a make-or-break election on climate, and climate action is on the ballot this Fall. If voters turn out and vote on climate, at the top of the ticket and all the way down, there is very real opportunity to make progress,” said Mann.

The survey also showed that most of the Americans (79%) believe that one of the priorities for the country has to be developing alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, instead of expanding production of fossil fuel energy. This applies to both Democrats (91%) and Republicans (65%).

While there’s large support in the country to develop more solar panel farms (90%) and more wind turbine farms (83%), there’s less backing to expand fossil fuel sources. Most oppose expanding coal mining (65%), fracking (60%), and offshore oil and gas drilling (58%).

Trump continues to weaken environmental regulations in the United States

In a joint action to limit environmental regulations in the US, the Trump administration decided to temporarily accelerate the construction of infrastructure projects, weakening the authority of the government to issue a strong climate and clean air policies.

Agencies can now waive some of the required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects to be built during the pandemic, according to an executive order signed by Trump. This adds to a proposed new rule by the Environmental Protection Agency that could limit the strength of air pollution controls.

The move is just the latest in a long list of decisions made by Trump to weaken environmental regulations. The list includes greenlighting the Dakota and Keystone pipelines, appointing a climate change denier as head of the EPA (Scott Pruitt), and reconsidering fuel efficiency standards.

“In light of this and other developments, I have determined that, without intervention, the United States faces the likelihood of a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistent high unemployment,” Trump’s executive order said, allowing agencies to bypass environmental rules to approve new infrastructure projects.

The order essentially overrides normal procedures under laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Environmental organizations harshly questioned the move, saying it will affect the poor, indigenous groups and people of color the most.

“A public health crisis is not an excuse to drill, mine and pave our public lands, and the American people won’t fall for it,” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director of the Center for Western Priorities, told The New York Times. “This order will almost certainly increase environmental injustice across America..”

The Transportation Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Defense Department and the Army Corps of Engineers will have to “use all relevant emergency and other authorities” to expedite infrastructure projects, the order reads. They must report back to the White House within 30 days with a list of all projects that have been fast-tracked.

Alongside Trump’s order, the current EPA chief Andrew Wheeler (who replaced Pruitt) proposed a new set of guidelines for how the agency weighs the costs that regulation places on an industry and its customers versus the health benefits it provides to the public. The proposal applies to rules under the Clean Air Act.

When working on a new regulation, the EPA now takes into account all its benefits, even when they are unintentional. For example, a rule that targets mercury from coal plants also reduces particle pollution as well as carbon dioxide. The agency groups all the benefits and compares them against the costs of the industry.

But this is set to change. Once the proposal is accepted, EPA will still calculate and consider those co-benefits from regulation but will not use them to justify it. “Co-benefits would not be used to justify the rule,” Wheeler explained in a telephone call with a group of reporters.

What this essentially means is that the EPA can justify weakening clean air and climate change regulations with economic arguments. And this is just the beginning. Similar proposals will be issued in the next three years for land, water, and chemical rules, Wheeler anticipated.

Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local air regulators, questioned EPA’s decision. “The rule cuts out the most important factor to consider when the agency is trying to decide whether an action protecting public health is worth it, which is public health.”

Nevertheless, the proposal still has to be approved, a process that could take a full year, and its future will depend on the outcome of the US presidential elections in November. If Biden defeats Trump and is inaugurated before the rule is made final, he could simply discard it.

WHO starts global response project for COVID-19. But the US doesn’t want to participate

If there’s one thing that’s needed to deal with a pandemic, that’s global cooperation to create a medical response. But that doesn’t seem to be on the plans of the United States government.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Credit WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is starting an international project involving countries, industry groups, and non-governmental organizations to develop and produce drugs, vaccines, and tests for COVID19 — without the participation of the US.

“There will be no U.S. official participation”, a spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva told Reuters. “We look forward to learning more about this initiative in support of international cooperation to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible.”

The WHO is the UN agency responsible for global public health. It has 194 member states, and aims to “promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.” It is involved in vaccination campaigns, health emergencies, and supporting countries.

The initiative headed by the WHO, so far being called Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, will seek to ensure global access to the medical products, making them available to both rich and poor populations alike.

The coronavirus pandemic has so far infected more than 2.7 million people across the globe and claimed approximately 191,000 lives. In the US, a total 986,000 cases have been so far reported as well as 55,000 deaths.

“The world needs these tools, and it needs them fast,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the presentation of the initiative. “Past experience has taught us that even when tools are available, they have been not been equally available to all. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Nevertheless, the project is in its early stages. Countries and organizations have been encouraged to start making pledges, hoping to get initial funding worth $8 billion. When that happens, other milestones will be announced, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

The aim of the project is to develop a voluntary pool to collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other types of information that could be helpful to develop drugs, vaccines and tests. But it’s not clear yet how will this be instrumented among the members of the initiative.

Many have so far said yes to the project, such as the UK, France, South Africa, the World Bank, the UN, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.

The decision of the US not to participate in the initiative follows a similar move by the government to stop funding the WHO. The agency has “failed in its basic duty” in response to the coronavirus outbreak, US President Donald Trump said last week.

The health agency warned last week that the “worst is yet ahead of us” in the coronavirus outbreak, as some European and Asian countries started to relax the lockdown measures. Trump has repeatedly said the economy should be reopened as soon as possible.

Despite an increasing need, school meals are getting less healthy in the US

With classes canceled in up to 40 states, schools in the United States are still fulfilling an important need amid the coronavirus lockdown. Many families visit schools every day to get food as they can no longer afford it.

Credit Flickr.

As on any other school day, all schools are providing meals to families that have to meet the federal nutrition standards. But, instead of working to ensure that the meals remain nutritious, the Trump administration is rolling back healthier standards, health organizations claim.

Back in January, the federal government proposed new rules to allow more pizza, meat, and potatoes in schools instead of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This means replacing standards that have been put in place by Michelle Obama.

The new rules mean schoolchildren could consume an additional eight cups per week of hash browns, french fries, or other potatoes instead of fruit in breakfast and other vegetables in lunch. Trump’s initiative has already been rejected by nearly 60 health organizations.

“These rollbacks fail to put children’s health first, which is the clear goal of school nutrition programs under the statute. If finalized, this rule would jeopardize the progress schools are making to provide healthier food to vulnerable children and [will] decrease the overall healthfulness of school meals,” the Center for Science in the Public (CSPI) said.

A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program found that these proposed changes would adversely affect student’s health and academic performance and that students from low-income families attending schools are most likely to be impacted.

Virtually all schools participating in breakfast and lunch programs have made and are making great progress toward serving healthier meals for participating children with less sodium; more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and fewer sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks.

The current proposed rule undermines such efforts to improve the quality and nutritional value of foods served in schools. The USDA purports that the proposed changes are “customer-focused”; however, the data show that parents and students are in favor of healthier standards.

“Continually weakening the standards does not provide more stability and consistency for schools or industry. On the contrary, it continuously changes the goalposts for school efforts and industry reformulation,” Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for CSPI, said.

This is hardly the Trump administration’s first attempt to weaken school nutrition. It previously rolled back requirements for whole grains and sodium in kids’ meals — moves that are now the subject of two ongoing lawsuits by CSPI and partners and by a group of state attorneys general.

US has to increase testing before opening up the economy, Harvard argues

President Donald Trump is eager to open up the US economy as soon as possible. That has been his goal since the coronavirus outbreak started. He first hoped to relax restrictions by Easter but was then forced to backtrack due to expert warnings.

Credit White House

Lifting social distancing measures across the country will actually require to ramp up coronavirus testing, reaching five million tests a day by early June, according to a white paper by Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

But that’s not all. The number will need to increase over time, ideally by late July, to 20 million a day to fully remobilize the economy, the authors argue. Even that number may not be high enough to protect public health, they added.

“In that considerably less likely eventuality, we will need to scale-up testing much further. By the time we know, if we need to do that, we should be in a better position to know how to do it. In any situation, achieving these numbers depends on testing innovation,” the authors argued.

Widespread testing would need to be combined with contact tracing and isolation for those who have the virus, the Harvard experts explain. The federal government should set up a Pandemic Testing Board to secure testing supply, as well as setting up guidelines for testing programs, they added. Ramping up testing, according to the white paper, will prevent cycles of opening up and shutting down the economy. It allows to steadily reopen the parts of the economy that have been shut down, protect workers, and contain the virus to levels where it can be effectively managed and treated.

While there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19, that doesn’t mean testing is pointless; in fact, early testing is crucial to curbing the spread of infection. When a person is diagnosed with a contagious disease, they can be placed under quarantine, thus avoiding infecting other people.

Nationwide testing capacity steadily increased for weeks but has appeared to hit a wall around 145,000 tests a day. Several factors are holding it back such as supply shortages for key test ingredients, poor coordination between labs, and contradicting rules in states between who should get tested.

As part of a newly formed business council, industry leaders recently reiterated to President Trump that there would need to be guarantees of ramped-up coronavirus testing before people return to work — despite his willingness to lift restrictions as soon as possible.

Many of Trump’s conservative allies have encouraged him to listen to advice from business leaders, hoping their recommendations on reopening parts of the country will counterbalance the advice of public health experts, who convinced Trump to extend social distancing guidelines by another month.

Don’t bail out fossil fuel companies, Democrat lawmakers insist

The US already agreed to use US$2 trillion to support those economic sectors and workers most affected by the coronavirus lockdown. But how should that money be used? Not on fossil fuels, at least according to these Democrats.

Credit Flickr

A group of more than 40 Democratic lawmakers argue that fossil fuel companies should not be able to receive any assistance from the aid package recently passed by Congress. The aid is intended to support “struggling families, workers, businesses, states, and municipalities.”

“Giving that money to the fossil fuel industry will do nothing to stop the spread of the deadly virus or provide relief to those in need. It will only artificially inflate the fossil fuel industry’s balance sheets,” lawmakers wrote in a letter.

Global markets have taken a large plunge amid the coronavirus, including the price of oil, reaching record lows. Nevertheless, democrats argued fossil fuel firms shouldn’t receive any assistance. The Trump administration had also tried to secure a US$3 million package just for the sector.

“We call on you to ignore the pleas of big oil lobbyists, put consideration of this corporate bailout aside, and instead focus on supporting the workers and small businesses who truly need assistance due to the coronavirus public health emergency,” they added.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobby group that represents oil companies, replied to the claim by the Democrats, saying they are not interested in the money.

Nevertheless, they rejected the letter, claiming it’s “harmful” to workers and “opportunistic — asking the Trump administration to dismiss the claim.

Back in the 2008 economic crisis, former US President Barack Obama passed a stimulus package with the aim of moving forward with clean energy. Nevertheless, on this new package, renewable energy advocates have struggled to be included.

In a joint letter, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) asked members of Congress to extend their credits so as to “allow our member companies to hire thousands of additional workers and inject billions in the U.S. economy.”

Without further help, SEIA estimates the solar industry could see as much as 50% of residential solar jobs lost this year due to the pandemic. At the same time, AWEA estimates $43 billion dollars of investments and payments, mostly in the rural communities, is at risk.

Environmental and climate activists are asking all governments to focus the COVID-19 economic stimulus in zero-emissions sectors such as renewable energy and electric transportation, which can actually create millions of jobs and help the transition from polluting industries.

New York makes face masks mandatory, but US guidance remains erratic

The United States seems to be shedding its initial reluctancy to impose or at least encourage the use of facemasks, following weeks of mixed signals from the Trump administration.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Credit Flickr

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has just ordered all people to wear a face-covering while in public, giving an initial three-day grace period. The state is moving towards “a new normal,” said Cuomo, as he eyes a gradual reopening of businesses.

“Where we’re going, it’s not reopening in that we’re going to reopen what was. We’re going to a different place,” Cuomo said. “If you are going to be in a situation, in public, where you come into contact with other people [and not] not socially distanced, you must have a mask or a cloth covering nose and mouth.”

As part of that phased reopening, people will now have to wear protective masks, Cuomo said, so far dismissing the use of fines. The order to use masks will be applied to people on public transit and in public spaces, including stores. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a mask — scarfs and bandanas will also be accepted, but some form of facial covering will be mandatory.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has also recently asked grocery stores to insist customers wear masks while shopping.

“I’m asking every store to put up a sign that you’re required to wear a face covering. This is another one of the things we have to do to protect each other,” he said at his daily press briefing.

A few days before New York’s decision, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its national coronavirus guidelines, now recommending wearing facemasks in public places “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain […] especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

The CDC had only suggested medical workers use facemasks first but decided to change its guidelines based on “new evidence” that shows individuals can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms, meaning the virus can spread between those who are interacting close to each other.

In line with the CDC, President Trump also reversed previous guidance that suggested masks were unnecessary for people who weren’t sick and now is recommending to wear “non-medical cloth” face coverings. Nevertheless, the recommendations are only voluntary.

Despite his own government’s recommendations, Trump won’t likely be wearing a mask in the near future. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” he said, adding, “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”

Even the US Surgeon General first explicitly asked people to not wear masks, saying that this could actually increase the spread of coronavirus, and can now be seen sharing videos on his social media accounts on how to make a face mask out of old cloth and two rubber bands.

This is understandably creating confusion among the American citizens. But it’s not just the US. While Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong recommended widespread face masks right away, most health organizations gave completely opposite guidance and are now changing their mind.

Trump halts funding to World Health Organization

The United States will stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) because it has “failed in its basic duty” in response to the coronavirus outbreak, US President Donald Trump said, also announcing a review to cover the WHO’s role in “covering up” the spread of the virus.

Credit White House

Trump’s announcement comes in the middle of the worst global pandemic in decades and while he angrily defends his own handling of the outbreak in the United States. He has sought to deflect persistent criticism that he acted too slowly to stop the virus’s spread by pointing to his decision in late January to place restrictions on travel.

“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump told a news conference. The US channels $400 million to $500 million to the WHO each year.

Founded in 1948 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO is the UN agency responsible for global public health. It has 194 member states, and aims to “promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.” It is involved in vaccination campaigns, health emergencies, and supporting countries in primary care.

Trump’s decision follows the pattern of skepticism leveled at world organizations that began well before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has questioned US funding to the United Nations, withdrawn from global climate agreements, and lambasted the World Trade Organization — claiming all were ripping off the US.

“With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” Trump said. The US has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide, with more than 600,000 cases and 26,000 deaths.

The WHO is yet to directly respond but UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the international community should be uniting in solidarity to stop this virus. “It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19,” he said

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that while the WHO and China “made mistakes,” Trump is also looking to deflect blame from his own administration. There’s “a very coordinated effort amongst the White House and their allies to try to find scapegoats,” he added.

It is not the first time the WHO’s response to the outbreak has come under scrutiny. On 14 January, the organization tweeted that preliminary Chinese investigations had found “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the new virus. Trump and others have used the tweet to attack the WHO for simply believing China.

At the end of January, on the same day it declared a public health emergency, the WHO said that travel restrictions were not needed to stop the spread of Covid-19 — advice that was eventually ignored by most countries, including by the Trump administration the next day.

Fauci: Reopening the US by May 1st is “overly optimistic”

Despite US President Donald Trump’s intentions, reopening the country’s economy and getting back to normal might have to wait a bit longer.

Credit White House

Trump had mentioned the possibility of reopening some areas of the economy by May 1st as part of the idea that 30 days’ isolation being enough to stop the spread of the virus. This has now been dismissed by the country’s top infectious disease expert.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Associated Press that the US does not yet have the testing and contact tracing capacity required to safely reopen its economy.

“We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we’re not there yet,” Fauci said, claiming the May 1st target is “a bit overly optimistic” for much of the country until there’s rapid testing capacity becomes available.

Government projections show that lifting social distancing restrictions after just 30 days will lead to a dramatic infection spike this summer and death tolls that would rival having done nothing since the outbreak began, the New York Times recently reported.

“I’ll guarantee you, once you start pulling back there will be infections. It’s how you deal with the infections that’s going count,” Fauci said, adding that easing existing social distancing rules in much of the U.S. would need to happen on a “rolling” basis rather than all at once.

Much of Fauci’s time outside of the White House briefing room is focused on analyzing progress on blood tests to tell who was exposed to the coronavirus, crucial to determine when people can get back to work. Nevertheless, he said most tests have not yet been proven to work well.

One of the administration’s leading spokespeople on the virus, Fauci also questioned the time demanded by the daily White House briefings, spending hours each week by Trump’s side. “If I had been able to just make a few comments and then go to work, that would have really been much better,” he said.

Looking forward, he said another wave of infections isn’t predetermined. However, “if you mean it goes way down and then come September, October, November, we have another peak, I have to say I would not be surprised,” he said.

“I would hope that if and when that occurs, that we jump all over it in a much, much more effective way than we have in these past few months,” he added.

Trump’s initial doubts over the extent of the pandemic has led to a tense relationship with Fauci over the past few weeks, which might have now reached a peak. Trump retweeted this week a post calling for the doctor’s job, leading to many speculations over his position in the government.

Is Trump preparing to Fire Anthony Fauci?

Unknown by the general audience before the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Anthony Fauci is the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and Allergies, and, as such, he has become the most authoritative voice in the epidemic.

Through his tireless communication sessions and regular press meetings, Fauci has become a trusted and important voice in communicating realities about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump may fire him.

Trump’s initial doubts over the extent of the pandemic has led to a tense relationship with Fauci over the past few weeks, which might have now reached a peak. Trump retweeted a post calling for the doctor’s job, leading to many speculations over his position in the government.

Fauci repeatedly danced a delicate dance, trying to recommend what’s right without criticizing Trump or his administration, even when criticism was warranted.

Recently, Fauci was recently asked about a report by The New York Times, which claimed Trump had underestimated the epidemic and reacted too slow in January. In an interview with the CNN, the doctor was asked about the report and agreed earlier action could have saved more lives.

“Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci replied. “Obviously, no one is going to deny that. … But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

DeAnna Lorraine, a former Republican congressional candidate, said Fauci had told people in February that “there was nothing to worry about” regarding the virus, claiming it was “time to #FireFauci.” Trump used that tweet to claim the Times’ report was “fake news”.

To say that Fauci is an expert is an understatement. The doctor has worked for six US presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Trump, and has vast experience in the health crises. He is considered a global eminence in the fight against AIDS and also played a big role in the SARS pandemic in 2002, in the swine flu in 2009 and in the Ebola outbreak in 2014. However, due to his disagreements with Trump, Fauci has been criticized by right-wing pundits and received death threats that resulted in the need for a security detail.

His first public crossings with Trump raised fears that the president, famous for fraying anyone who contradicts him, could end up firing him.

But Fauci, with a strong network of support between Republicans and Democrats after many years in Washington, ended up winning over the president.

“The president has listened to what I’ve said and to the other people who are on the task force have said,” Fauci said in the past. “When I’ve made recommendations, he has taken them. He has never countered, overwritten me. The idea of just pitting one against the other is not helpful

In early March, during a meeting in the White House, a journalist asked Trump when a vaccine against the new virus could be ready. Trump said he did not know, that he had heard “months.” A few seconds Fauci corrected him and said the vaccine could be ready in at least a year.

Last week, Trump promoted at a news conference a remedy for malaria, chloroquine, as a treatment against COVID-19. But that treatment has yet to complete clinical trials. A day after the conference Fauci dismissed the idea and claimed there was still missing evidence.

The coronavirus outbreak has led Fauci to have a growing presence in all major media outlets across the US, changing the way science is communicated. He explains things in a way that’s easy to understand for a wide audience, from Youtubers and podcasters to major news channels.

It never happened before: All 50 states in the US are simultaneously under disaster declaration

The coronavirus has quickly expanded in the United States over the past few weeks, with more than 530,000 confirmed cases and 20,000 deaths so far, putting the country’s health system and economy under unprecedented strain.

Credit White House

President Donald Trump has already signed a major disaster declaration for all 50 states over the past 22 days – the first time in history this has happened. The declaration was also signed for the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.

The so-called “major disaster declaration” is a tool that a US president can use when an event (in this case, the coronavirus outbreak) goes beyond the joint efforts of state and local governments. It’s not the same as the emergency declaration, which Trump announced a month ago and applied to the whole country.

The disaster declaration has to be requested by a governor before being approved and essentially gives the state access to disaster assistance programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — including emergency repairs, legal assistance and crisis counseling.

Surprisingly enough, there’s actually no mention of a pandemic or a public threat in the text by FEMA, which is more focused on the weather-based disaster. The declaration can be “for any natural event” such as hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake and volcanic eruption, FEMA argues.

The most recent state to ask for a major disaster declaration was Wyoming; whose governor Mark Gordon made the request to Trump via a letter.

“Though Wyoming has not reached the dire situations of some states, this declaration will help us to prepare and mobilize resources when we need them,” Gordon said.

Other states are indeed facing a more difficult situation than Wyoming, with only 200 reported cases. The ones with the highest number of cases include New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Florida.

New York City already has more 100.000 confirmed cases and 6.898 deaths, according to the latest statistics. The city saw 531 deaths in the past 24 hours. Nevertheless, governor Andrew Cuomo said the number of cases is “flattening” across the state but warned rural areas could be soon the most affected.

Meanwhile, over 61,800 cases have been so far reported in New Jersey and 2,350 deaths. On Sunday 3,733 new positive cases and 168 deaths were reported, according to a tweet by governor Phil Murphy. There are still 7,604 people in hospitals across the state.

A total of 25,000 cases has also been registered in Massachusetts, showing on Sunday the largest increase in cases over 24 hours. Governor Charlie Baker said the peak in the state could happen at the end of the month, with around 2,500 new cases per day expected.

For Trump, the next step will be conveying an “Opening our Country Council” this week, a gathering of doctors and business leaders on how to reopen the economy of the country. He said the spread of the virus is slowing and that he wants to open the economy as soon as possible.