Washington, Jun 15 (AP/UNB) — Once a skeptic about climate change, Jim Bridenstine came around to the prevailing view of scientists before he took over as NASA administrator. That evolution did not sit well with a Trump environmental adviser, nor a think-tank analyst he was consulting, according to newly disclosed emails that illustrate how skepticism of global warming has found a beachhead in the Trump White House.
"Puzzling," says the May 2018 exchange between William Happer, now a member of President Donald Trump's National Security Council, and Thomas Wysmuller of the Heartland Institute, which disavows manmade climate change. Their exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change "part of the nonsense" and urges the NASA head — who was copied in — to "systematically sidestep it."
It cannot be discerned whether it was Happer or Wysmuller who put that pressure on the new NASA chief. Their exchange is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press.
But the emails show that Happer, who was then advising Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, kept up the pressure after he joined the National Security Council late last year.
In February, he emailed NASA deputy administrator James Morhard, relaying a complaint about NASA's websites from an unidentified rejecter of man-made climate change. "I'm concerned that many children are being indoctrinated by this bad science," said the email that Happer relayed. (Happer's own message was redacted from the records obtained by the environmental group.)
NASA does not appear to have buckled under such heat. Specific statements targeted in the email still appear on the space agency's website.
A NASA spokesman on Thursday upheld the space agency's public statements on climate change.
"We provide the data that informs policymakers around the world," spokesman Bob Jacobs said. "Our science information continues to be published publicly as it always has."
Heartland Institute spokesman Jim Lakely said in an email that NASA's public characterization of climate change as man-made and a global threat "is a disservice to taxpayers and science that it is still pushed by NASA."
The institute is one of the most vocal challengers of mainstream scientific findings that emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are damaging the Earth's atmosphere.
Since joining the National Security Council, Happer tapped two analysts with the institute to help him frame challenges to widely accepted scientific findings on global warming, the emails show.
In a March 3 email exchange, Happer and Hal Doiron, another policy adviser to Heartland, discuss Happer's scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down the contributions of fossil fuel emissions in climate disruption, as well as ideas to make the work "more useful to a wider readership." Happer writes he had already discussed the work with another Heartland adviser, Wysmuller.
Academic experts denounced the administration official's continued involvement with groups and scientists who reject what numerous federal agencies say is the fact of man-made climate change.
"These people are endangering all of us by promoting anti-science in service of fossil fuel interests over the American interests," said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.
"It's the equivalent to formulating anti-terrorism policy by consulting with groups that deny terrorism exists," said Northeastern University's Matthew Nisbet, a professor of environmental communication and public policy.
The National Security Council declined to make Happer available to discuss the emails.
The AP and others reported this year that Happer was coordinating a proposed White House panel to challenge the findings from scientists in and out of government that carbon emissions are altering the Earth's atmosphere and climate.
Trump in November rejected the warnings of a national climate change assessment by more than a dozen government agencies.
"I don't believe it," he said.
Happer, a physicist who previously taught at Princeton University, has claimed that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like "the poor Jews under Hitler."
The emails show Happer expressing surprise that Bridenstine, a former Oklahoma congressman, had put his skepticism of global-warming science behind him before becoming NASA chief in April 2018.
Bridenstine a year ago told reporters that after reading Defense Department briefings on global warming, he became convinced it is a serious national security problem: "We're defending territory in the Arctic that we never had to defend. The Russians are doing things in the Arctic that they never used to be able to do."
He said no other agency has NASA's credibility when it comes to studying climate change and helping policymakers form decisions about it.
Two major U.S. science organizations took issue with Happer's emails.
"We have concerns that there appear to be attempts by a member of the National Security Council to influence and interfere with the ability of NASA, a federal science agency, to communicate accurately about research findings on climate science," said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advance of Science, the world's largest general scientific society.
Hundreds of scientific assessments by leading researchers and institutions the last few decades have looked at all the evidence and been "extremely credible and routinely withstand intense scrutiny," said Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society.
He said efforts to dismiss or discredit such assessments are "an incredible disservice to the public."
Washington, Jun 15 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Friday blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but he also held out hope that implicit U.S. threats to use force will yield talks with the Islamic Republic as the Pentagon considers beefing up defenses in the Persian Gulf area.
A day after explosions blew holes in two oil tankers just outside Iran's territorial waters, rattling international oil markets, the administration seemed caught between pressure to punish Iran and reassure Washington's Gulf Arab allies without drawing the U.S. closer to war.
"Iran did it," Trump said on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends." He didn't offer evidence, but the U.S. military released video it said showed Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting Tehran wanted to cover its tracks.
By pointing the finger at Iran, Trump was keeping a public spotlight on an adversary he accuses of terrorism but also has invited to negotiate. The approach is similar to his diplomacy with North Korea, which has quieted talk of war but not yet achieved his goal of nuclear disarmament. Iran has shown little sign of backing down, creating uncertainty about how far the Trump administration can go with its campaign of increasing pressure through sanctions.
Iran denied any involvement in the attacks and accused Washington of waging an "Iranophobic campaign" of economic warfare.
A U.S. Navy team on Friday was aboard one of the tankers, the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, collecting forensic evidence, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive operation.
Apparently alluding to the U.S. video, Trump said Iran's culpability had been "exposed." He did not say what he intended to do about it but suggested "very tough" U.S. sanctions, including efforts to strangle Iranian oil revenues, would have the desired effect.
"They've been told in very strong terms we want to get them back to the table," Trump said. Just a day earlier, the president took the opposite view, tweeting that it was "too soon to even think about making a deal" with Iran's leaders. "They are not ready, and neither are we!"
Trump last year withdrew the United States from an international agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program that was signed in 2015 under his predecessor, President Barack Obama. He has since then re-instated economic sanctions aimed at compelling the Iranians to return to the negotiating table. Just last month the U.S. ended waivers that allowed some countries to continue buying Iranian oil, a move that is starving Iran of oil income and that coincided with what U.S. officials called a surge in intelligence pointing to Iranian preparations for attacks against U.S. forces and interests in the Gulf region.
In response to those intelligence warnings, the U.S. on May 5 announced it was accelerating the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf region. It also sent four nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to Qatar and has beefed up its defenses in the region by deploying more Patriot air defense systems.
Officials said that Pentagon deliberations about possibly sending more military resources to the region, including more Patriot missile batteries, could be accelerated by Thursday's dramatic attack on the oil tankers.
At the Pentagon, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Iran is not just a U.S. problem. He said the U.S. goal is to "build international consensus to this international problem," and to ensure that U.S. military commanders in the region get the resources and support they need.
In remarks to reporters later, Shanahan noted the commercial and strategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes about 20 percent of the world's oil.
"So, we obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate," he said.
Other administration officials said the U.S. is re-evaluating its presence in the region and will discuss the matter with allies before making decisions. The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Thursday the U.S. is looking at all options to ensure that maritime traffic in the region is safe and that international commerce, particularly through the Strait of Hormuz, is not disrupted. One option, they said, is for U.S. and allied ships to accompany vessels through the strait, noting that this tactic has been used in the past. They said there is no timeline for any decisions.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said that providing naval escorts through the Strait of Hormuz is an option, but, "I don't think it's a sustainable option because of the amount of traffic." She said tanker warfare in the Persian Gulf has historically been a problem, and she wouldn't be opposed to the U.S. having a more visible presence in the region.
Slotkin, a former senior policy adviser at the Pentagon, said she is concerned that the Trump administration does not have a clear strategy on Iran. She said it's difficult to deter Iran without provoking additional violence, adding, "I don't believe this administration is capable of walking such a deft, fine line."
In ticking off a list of Iranian acts of "unprovoked aggression," including Thursday's oil tanker attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added a surprise accusation. He asserted on Thursday that a late May car bombing of a U.S. convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was among a series of threats or attacks by Iran and its proxies against American and allies interests. At the time, the Taliban claimed credit for the attack, with no public word of Iranian involvement.
Pompeo's inclusion of the Afghanistan attack in his list of six Iranian incidents has raised eyebrows in Congress, where he and other U.S. officials have suggested that the administration would be legally justified in taking military action against Iran under the 2001 Authorization of Military Force, or AUMF. In that law, Congress gave then-President George W. Bush authority to retaliate against al-Qaida and the Taliban for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It has subsequently been used to allow military force against extremists elsewhere, from the Philippines to Syria.
As the world awaited Washington's next move, analysts said it was difficult to sort out the conflicting claims.
"There are few actors in the world that have less credibility than Donald Trump and the Iranian regime, so even U.S. allies at the moment are confused about what happened," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said the "tremendous mistrust" of both Trump and Iran has made "the biggest priority for most countries to simply avoid conflict or further escalation."
At the same time, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in a difficult position, Sadjadpour said. "If he didn't respond to Trump's provocations, he would risk looking like a paper tiger and projecting weakness. But if he responds overly aggressive to Trump he potentially destabilizes his own rule and his own regime. That's why we've seen Iran calibrate its escalation."
Aguas Verdes, Jun 15 (AP/UNB)— Tired and thirsty, Betania Ramírez crossed into Peru on Friday with her 1-year-old girl in her arms and her 8-year-old boy beside her.
Ramírez has no friends or relatives in Peru, and some of her luggage was stolen as she crossed two countries in cargo trucks and on foot from her home in western Venezuela. But as she finished the latest leg of her 1,500-mile (2,414-kilometer) journey, she was grateful she had made it to her destination on time - just hours before Peru started imposing stricter entry requirements on Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
"We are now in God's hands," Ramirez said, after passing through a border post in the region of Tumbes. "We walked down country roads, we slept on the streets, we got robbed, but thankfully I did not get sexually assaulted."
With its relatively stable economy and flexible immigration laws, Peru has become a main destination for millions of Venezuelans escaping hyperinflation, medical shortages and political repression at home. But on Saturday, the South American nation will begin demanding passports and visas from Venezuelan migrants — requirements that many will not be able to meet.
The new demands have prompted thousands of poor migrants like Ramírez to make a desperate dash for the Peruvian border, where they can still enter before the weekend begins by presenting national ID cards.
On Thursday, the U.N.'s refugee agency said 5,400 Venezuelans entered Peru through the Tumbes crossing — almost three times the daily average.
The agency was "supporting and complementing the efforts of Peruvian authorities as we face the largest number of Venezuelan people coming to Peru so far," said UNHCR Information Officer Regina de la Portilla.
But at daybreak on Friday, hundreds were already standing in new lines outside the border post or sleeping on the sidewalk as they waited for immigration officials to check their IDs.
"My daughter came to Peru a year ago, and she sent for me," said Leyda Murillo, an elderly migrant who was waiting in the queue. "You can't find medicines in Venezuela, and people are dying, that's why I decided to leave my country."
Many more migrants were still on their way to the Peruvian border, making one last push through Colombia and Ecuador to arrive before the requirements were implemented.
Marianni Luzardo, a mother of two, was in the Ecuadorean city of Tulcan on Thursday, which is some 500 miles (805 kilometers) away from Peru's northern border. She said it took her 16 hours to cross the Colombian-Ecuador border due to the large numbers of Venezuelans heading south.
"In Venezuela it is almost impossible to get a passport," Luzardo said. "We need to get to Peru soon."
According to Peruvian authorities, more than 820,000 Venezuelans have settled in Peru since 2016 of which 270,000 have sought refugee status.
Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra has said that the new entry requirements will make immigration "safer and more orderly" and that the large influx of Venezuelan immigrants was making it harder for Peruvians to find jobs.
But human rights groups in the country have criticized the move, describing it as an attempt to lessen the numbers of needy people who are entering the country.
In a letter published earlier this week, Miguel Cabrejos, the president of Peru's Catholic Bishops Conference, warned that the requirements "present an imminent danger" to migrants who might be tempted to enter the country illegally. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said they will not be enough to stop desperate people from trying to cross the border, noting that passports were prohibitively expensive and take months to process in Venezuela.
A poll conducted in the Peruvian capital of Lima in April found that two-thirds of residents had a negative perception of Venezuelan migrants.
But that idea has been strongly disputed by Venezuelans, some of whom have opened their own businesses.
"Venezuelans here work very hard," said Jorge Macchia, a street vendor who sells empanadas in the streets of Lima and noted that his family has been affected by new requirements.
"My wife and my two daughters are on their way to Peru," he said. "But I'm not sure if they will make it on time."
Dubai, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — A U.K. maritime safety group warned Thursday of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urged "extreme caution" amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.
Iranian media claimed — without offering any evidence — that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said his command was "aware" of a reported incident in the area. He declined to elaborate.
"We are working on getting details," Frey told The Associated Press.
Benchmark Brent crude rose over 4% in trading, to over $62 a barrel after reports of the incident, according to early market figures Thursday.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified the vessel involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker. The vessel was "on fire and adrift," Dryad added. It did not offer a cause for the incident.
Iranian state television's website, citing the pro-Iran Lebanese satellite news channel Al-Mayadeen, said two oil tankers had been targeted in the Gulf of Oman. It offered no evidence to support the claim.
Emirati officials declined to immediately comment. The coordinates offered for the incident by the U.K. group put it some 45 kilometers (25 miles) off the Iranian coastline.
The maritime alert comes after what the United States has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.
Those apparent attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the critical Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.
The timing was especially sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission. On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned that any "accidental conflict" that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.
His message came just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
Abe was to meet with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a top government spokesman, told reporters that Abe's trip was intended to help de-escalate tensions in the Mideast — but not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington.
His remarks were apparently meant to downplay and lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe's mission.
Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.
Anchorage, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — At least 60 ice seals have been found dead along Alaska's west coast and federal biologists on Wednesday were trying to determine the cause.
Some carcasses had lost hair and NOAA Fisheries will try to determine if that was due to decomposition or abnormal molting.
The agency noted the importance of ice seals to Alaska Native coastal communities. Seals are essential to coastal communities and food safety is a major concern.
Bearded, ringed and spotted seals were reported dead south of Nome and north of the Bering Strait.
A hunter counted 18 carcasses along 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) of shore north of the village of Kotlik and dozens of other dead seals along an island near Stebbins.
Eight young bearded seals were found Monday on St. Lawrence Island.
North of the Bering Strait in the Chukchi Sea, a National Park Service biologist counted six dead seals near Kotzebue's airport. NOAA Fisheries also received accounts of up to 30 dead seals between Kivalina and Point Hope.
Abnormal molting was present during the deaths of ice seals and walruses from 2011 to 2016 and led NOAA Fisheries to investigate after declaring an unusual mortality event in the Bering and Chukchi seas.
A definitive cause for the abnormal molting was not identified.
The agency estimated that 657 seals were affected over those six years. Biologists confirmed 233 dead and stranded ringed, bearded, spotted and ribbon seals and 179 killed by hunters. Another 245 were found with abnormal molting during health assessments.
Ringed seals are the smallest of Alaska's ice seals and get their name from small, light-colored circles on their coats. They are the only seals that thrive in completely ice-covered Arctic waters.
Bearded seals get their name from short snouts covered with thick, long, white whiskers. Bearded seals give birth and rear pups on drifting pack ice.
Spotted seals are medium-size seals with light coats and dark spots. They often are found at the outer margins of shifting ice floes and rarely in areas of dense pack ice, NOAA says.