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Nearly two dozen attorneys general sue Trump administration over controversial fuel standard

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The Trump administration was sued by attorneys general from 23 states and the District of Columbia over the controversial rolling back of Obama-era fuel standards. A coalition of environmental and health groups also filed suit today over the rollback. It’s the latest legal battle in President Donald Trump’s efforts to undo Obama-era plans to cut back on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In March, Trump finalized a rule that would require car manufacturers to make their new fleets 1.5 percent more fuel efficient each year, setting a goal of reaching an average of about 40 miles per gallon by 2026. That’s a much lower bar than what was set during the Obama administration, which would have pushed automakers to ramp up fuel efficiency by 5 percent each year in order to reach an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

The lawsuit alleges the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration used a flawed analysis to justify their rollback. The agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Trump administration has argued that the Obama-era standards would have made cars more expensive, forcing people to stick with older, less-safe models. But the attorneys general point to evidence that the weaker rules could result in an estimated thousands of premature deaths because of increased tailpipe emissions.

“What makes [Trump’s] rule so offensive is [that the Obama-era standard] is not a rule where people can say it was a disconnect. No, this was a smooth path,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said on a press call. “This was a promising path. This was a future that we need. But nonetheless, we’re seeing this happening.”

The Obama-era standards had already saved vehicle owners $86 billion at the gas pump and reduced planet-heating carbon dioxide by half a billion metric tons, according to the EPA. The new standards, on the other hand, could add up to an additional 2 billion barrels of oil and nearly an additional 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s about as much as 257 coal-fired power plants would put out over a year.

“Just read the text of the rule and you will discover that it is a job-killer and public health hazard,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families.” The battle over cleaner cars and air is playing out as COVID-19 strikes people with respiratory diseases especially hard, the attorneys general pointed out in today’s call.

Car companies are split over what fuel efficiency standards should be. Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, and BMW last year committed to year-over-year gains in fuel economy that exceed Trump’s weakened standards. General Motors, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler, on the other hand, have backed Trump’s bid to revoke California’s ability to set state vehicle emissions standards higher than the federal mandate.

Ford said today that it is neither joining the suit nor defending the Trump administration’s new rule. “We have chosen a different path in support of a voluntary framework in California,” it said in a statement. “The voluntary framework gives more regulatory certainty which protects the long-term interests of the industry, affordability, consumers, and the environment.”

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SpaceX delays first historic crewed launch to space due to weather

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After getting down to just 17 minutes until launch, SpaceX had to postpone its first crewed flight to space on Wednesday afternoon due to bad weather over the launch site in Florida. Now, the two passengers on board SpaceX’s capsule — NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — will disembark the vehicle and try again on Saturday, May 30th.

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Human activity threatens 50 billion years of evolution, say scientists

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The punk-haired Mary River turtle is under threat of extinction (Credits: Chris Van-Wyk / ZSL / SWNS.COM)

Our ‘human footprint’ is destroying more than 50 billion years of unique evolutionary history, warns a new study.

Research led by the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College found that many regions home to the greatest amount of unique evolutionary history are facing unprecedented levels of human pressure.

These include the Caribbean, the Western Ghats of India, and large parts of Southeast Asia.

The team mapped the evolutionary history of the world’s terrestrial vertebrates including amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles.

They explored how areas with large concentrations of evolutionarily distinct and threatened species are being impacted by our ever-increasing ‘human footprint’.

Biodiversity is under massive threat from the human footprint (Credits: PA)

Lead author Dr Rikki Gumbs, of Imperial College London, said: ‘Our analyses reveal the incomprehensible scale of the losses we face if we don’t work harder to save global biodiversity.

‘To put some of the numbers into perspective, reptiles alone stand to lose at least 13 billion years of unique evolutionary history, roughly the same number of years as have passed since the beginning of the entire universe.’

Using extinction risk data for around 25,000 species, the researchers also calculated the amount of evolutionary history – branches on the tree of life – currently threatened with extinction.

They found at least 50 billion years of evolutionary heritage is under threat, as well as a large number of species.

The Shoebill stork that lives in Africa is under threat too (Credits: Claudia Gray / ZSL / SWNS.COM)

The greatest losses of evolutionary history will be driven by the extinction of entire groups of closely-related species that share long branches of the tree of life, such as pangolins and tapirs.

We could also lose highly evolutionarily distinct species that sit alone at the ends of extremely long branches, such as the ancient Chinese crocodile lizards, the Shoebill a gigantic bird that stalks the wetlands of Africa and the iconic Aye-aye, a nocturnal lemur with large yellow eyes and long spindly fingers.

This is an Aye-Aye (Credits: ZSL / SWNS.COM)

This new study highlights priority species for conservation, based on their evolutionary uniqueness and the intense human pressure across the environments where they are thought to exist.

Many of these species are also a priority for ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme, which works to conserve the world’s most evolutionarily distinct and threatened species from extinction – including the punk-haired Mary River turtle and the Purple frog.

We don’t want to lose a species as great looking as this (Credits: Chris Van-Wyk / ZSL / SWNS.COM)

Dr Gumbs said: ‘These are some of the most incredible and overlooked animals on Planet Earth.

‘From legless lizards and tiny blind snakes to pink worm-like amphibians called caecilians, we know precious little about these fascinating creatures, many of which may be sliding silently toward extinction.’

A baby Pangolin (Credits: Yingboon Chongsomchai /ZSL / SWN)

Co-author Dr James Rosindell, from Imperial College London, added: ‘Our findings highlight the importance of acting urgently to conserve these extraordinary species and the remaining habitat that they occupy – in the face of intense human pressures.’

The findings are published in Nature Communications.

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How SpaceX and NASA are launching astronauts into space during a pandemic

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Ahead of this week’s launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, NASA is working to keep the enduring threat of COVID-19 at bay during the historic launch. To protect its astronauts, ground crew, and potential visitors, NASA has adjusted their approach to this highly anticipated event. If successful, the launch will not only break the US’s nine-year drought of crewed launches to the ISS, but it will also make history as the first time a private spacecraft has carried people into orbit.

“We’re taking extra precautions,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a press call this month. On the ground, the agency is introducing temperature checks and physical distancing at Mission Control.

A successful launch requires dozens of people who usually work in close quarters in closed rooms at Mission Control. For this launch, NASA is spreading them out between different rooms. “We need to make sure we are separating people as much as possible,” he said. They’ll disinfect rooms regularly and put up Plexiglas between different work stations. “We’re looking at all the things where we can practice the guidelines for social distancing, and at the same time, launch this very important mission to the International Space Station,” he said.

Those measures are important to protect both this launch and the next set of NASA missions. “We have other missions that need to go forward. We don’t want to risk the health of the people who work at Kennedy,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on a press call in May. The Mars Perseverance Rover launches in July.

Extreme caution is already being taken with the Crew Dragon’s astronauts. Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been in quarantine since May 13th. That’s a normal part of the preparations for a mission — crews heading to space always quarantine for a period of time before a launch to minimize the chance that they’re taking an infectious disease of any kind into space. As an extra step, both Behnken and Hurley will be tested for the novel coronavirus twice before they leave for the ISS. Anyone interacting with the astronauts before the launch will wear masks and gloves and have their temperature taken.

“We don’t anticipate that between now and the day of launch that there’s really going to be an opportunity for them to contract any virus or harmful bacteria,” Bridenstine said.

In addition to protecting the astronauts and ground crew, NASA is also limiting the number of visitors who can come to the space center to watch the launch, Bridenstine said. The VIP list for this particular event is very short. They’re not closing dignitaries out entirely — some members of Congress and of the National Space Council will be in attendance. They won’t be able to bring along staffers, though. “We’re really trying to whittle it down to what is important,” he said.

Sadly, the cheering crowds that were a feature of past missions didn’t make the cut. In 2011, the last time astronauts launched into space from US soil, nearly 1 million people packed close together on bridges and beaches in Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch. NASA hopes that won’t happen this time. “We’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center,” Bridenstine said. “We think it’s in the best interest of the agency and in the best interest of the nation if people join us by watching from home.”

“It is a shame — NASA and SpaceX have worked so hard to get to the day, and the American public has come along this long journey with us,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, on a press call this month. “But it’s the right thing to do.”

NASA can only control what people do on its own property, though. It’s up to the state of Florida to regulate roads and beaches — and the county sheriff is encouraging people to come watch the launch, despite the risks of large gatherings.

“We are not going to keep the great Americans that want to come watch that from coming here,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey in a press conference. “If NASA is telling people to not come here and watch the launch, that’s on them. I’m telling people what I believe as an American. And so NASA has got their guidelines, and I got mine.”

Ahead of the launch, businesses and restaurants are opening across the state of Florida, where nearly 50,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified. Despite the relaxation of stay-at-home orders in Florida and other nearby states, public health experts still recommend people avoid large groups and crowded spaces, where the disease spreads easily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that traveling by air, car, or bus increases someone’s chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Even with the change in audience and spectacle, the nuts and bolts of the launch will continue as planned. Stich says teams at NASA have run simulations that include all of the extra COVID-19 precautions, and they’ve gone smoothly. “We don’t really see any impact how we’re gonna operate on launch day,” he says.

Loren Grush contributed to this report.

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