Eco-activist Tim DeChristopher, famous for crashing a federal land auction in 2008 to block oil and gas drilling near national parks, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000 on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The U.S. Interior Department later nixed most sales from the auction due to concerns about how the Bush administration handled them — concerns shared by DeChristopher — but U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson says the problem was DeChristopher's medium, not his message.
"I'm not saying there isn't a place for civil disobedience," Benson tells the Times. "But it can't be the order of the day." Benson had refused to let DeChristopher or his lawyers mention his motivations for attending the December 2008 auction — where he bid $1.8 million he didn't have to buy drilling rights on 22,000 acres of land in Utah's red rocks country — saying at one point that "We're not here about why he did it. We're here about whether he did it." Although DeChristopher could have faced up to 10 years in prison, his supporters say the two-year prison sentence is still too harsh for a victimless crime that has since been rendered moot by the Interior Department. "There's been a serious abuse of justice," says defense attorney Pat Shea, vowing to appeal. About 100 protestors gathered outside the courtroom Tuesday, including folk singer Peter Yarrow, with 26 eventually arrested by Salt Lake City police.
Yarrow has called DeChristopher a "hero," and celebrities such as Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah and Bill McKibben have also rallied to his cause. His actions have been compared to famous civil disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and Rosa Parks, and the Huffington Post's Tom Zeller Jr. writes that "it has been a feature of many social movements, when legal avenues have been tried and exhausted ... that individuals and groups, dedicated to a cause, decide it's time to start peaceably breaking some rules." The 29-year-old DeChristopher, while admitting his anxiety about going to prison, told the judge Tuesday that it won't silence him. "You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine," he said. "I'll continue to confront the system that threatens our future."
A lone male mountain lion spent the last few years walking 1,500 miles from the Great Plains to the East Coast, wildlife officials say, roughly double the distance ever recorded for its species. This specific cat (not pictured) had been reported around Greenwich, Conn., for weeks, raising hackles in an area where cougars haven't lived since the 1800s. But after it was killed by an SUV in June, state officials used DNA to piece together its "incredible journey," which took it from the Black Hills of South Dakota, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, and finally to suburban Connecticut.
"The journey of this mountain lion is a testament to the wonders of nature and the tenacity and adaptability of this species," Daniel Esty, head of Connecticut's environmental protection agency, said in a statement. "This mountain lion traveled a distance of more than 1,500 miles from its original home in South Dakota — representing one of the longest movements ever recorded for a land mammal." Officials first suspected the cougar had escaped from a zoo or was a lost pet, since wild cougars were eliminated from Connecticut a century ago. But after conducting genetic tests, they realized its DNA matched the genetic structure of a mountain lion population living in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Upon further inspection, they then discovered it also matched DNA samples from a cat spotted around Minnesota and Wisconsin between late 2009 and early 2010.
Male mountain lions normally wander long distances in search of territory and mates, but rarely more than 100 miles, the New York Times reports. And while this cat's journey hints at how large mammals can repopulate the East from the wilder West — as coyotes have been doing for decades — officials say there's no sign that cougars are recolonizing Connecticut. "This is the first evidence of a mountain lion making its way to Connecticut from western states, and there is still no evidence indicating that there is a native population of mountain lions in Connecticut," Etsy tells the Times.
The EPA is delaying its plans to update U.S. health standards for ozone pollution, the Hill reports, even though the new standards are expected to save up to 12,000 lives and prevent 58,000 asthma attacks per year. While some industry groups have pushed the EPA to leave Bush-era ozone limits in place, arguing that tougher rules would cost jobs, public health advocates accuse the EPA of abdicating its responsibility.
"This untenable delay means more will get sick and more will die," American Lung Association President Charles Connor said in a statement. "There is no possible acceptable excuse for this decision." Earthjustice attorney David Baron is blaming President Obama for allowing Republicans and industry groups to delay the update, saying the White House "needs to stop stalling and start protecting people's lungs as the law requires." Critics of controlling ozone pollution, however, welcomed the delay but reiterated their desire to block the updated rules entirely. "EPA's new ozone standard is projected to be the most expensive regulation in American history," Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., tells the Tulsa World. "EPA is neither compelled by law nor science to revise the standard. In fact, the way in which the agency is going about the reconsideration may itself be illegal."
The issue of updating U.S. ozone laws has been debated for more than a decade, with scientists arguing the standard should be reduced to between 60 and 70 parts per billion to protect public health. And as Elizabeth Marin Perera of the Union of Concerned Scientists tells the Huffington Post, ozone pollution gets worse as temperatures rise — meaning global warming could make ground-level ozone even more dangerous. "Ozone is heavily dependent on temperatures," says Perera, who recently co-authored a study on the subject. "For every 1 degree of warming, there's a 1.2 parts per billion increase in ozone." The EPA hasn't said when it will reach a final decision on the issue, saying only that it expects to do so "shortly" and will "use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy."
While the EPA is at least temporarily backing down from plans to update U.S. ozone standards, it's ratcheting up the pressure on bisphenol-A, a common ingredient in plastics that may cause a variety of health problems. As Science News reports, the agency is considering whether to demand new toxicity testing and environmental sampling of bisphenol-A, aka BPA, which mimics the female hormone estrogen and has been linked to breast cancer, asthma, reproductive disease and other maladies.
"A number of concerns have been raised about the potential human health and environmental effects of BPA," says Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Data from the proposed new tests, he tells Science News, "would help EPA better understand and address the potential environmental impacts of BPA." Previous toxicity tests have suggested levels of BPA in humans and the environment don't pose a significant danger, but the EPA explains that "results of some recent studies using novel low-dose approaches and examining different endpoints describe subtle effects in laboratory animals at very low concentrations." Some experiments involving low-dose exposure, the agency adds, "are potentially of concern."
The EPA hasn't specified which studies it's referring to, but Science News highlights several scientific papers that have revived concerns about low doses of BPA. Recent research showed that early exposure to BPA disrupted later gender-specific behavior in adult mice, for example, with males becoming "feminized" and being rejected by females more often. A human study also recently linked BPA exposure in the womb to behavioral changes in childhood, with girls acting more aggressive than normal and boys seeming more anxious and withdrawn. More than 1 million pounds of BPA are released into the environment every year, UPI reports, and in addition to being found in plastics, the chemical has also turned up in retail receipts, paper money and even floating in the atmosphere.
Grasshoppers overwhelm U.S. Midwest, BP CEO Tony Hayward bows out, and more.
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Photo (Tim DeChristopher): Linh Do/Flickr
Photo (mountain lion): Jupiter Images
Photo (smog over L.A.): Steven Buss/Flickr
Photo (BPA-free bottle): David McNew/Getty Images