More Trump Appointments, the Dylann Roof Trial and Giraffes Face Extinction

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Science News

Donald Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt as the head of the EPA. Pruitt is currently the attorney general in Oklahoma and, in a strange touch of irony, has spent a large portion of his career fighting the Environmental Protection Agency. The decision is a huge turn away from the prior climate change and environmental standards set by the Obama administration. Pruitt is only one of the very controversial nominees Trump has picked from among his supporters. Trump is stated as saying, “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn.” He goes on to say that Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

Trump made another nomination this week, naming Andre Puzder as his labor secretary. Puzder is currently the CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. During Trump’s campaign, Puzder served as an economic adviser and has been called a “pragmatic centrist” and “negotiator.” In the past, Puzder is noted as vehemently opposing minimum wage increases, saying that it’s a “job-killer.”

Following the tragic wildfires in Tennessee’s major tourist towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge this month, two juveniles are being charged with arson for starting the fire that resulted in at least 14 deaths. More arrests are expected, and the juveniles may be tried as adults. The fires were started Nov. 23 by the minors, before it made its way to Gatlinburg five days later, causing more than 14,000 people to be evacuated. The blaze resulted in more than 2,400 buildings being destroyed. While recent rains in the area have helped to quell the fires, it still smolders in certain areas, and is requiring hundreds of personnel to fight potential further disaster. In the meantime, Gatlinburg residents are able to return to their homes this week.

During the ongoing case against Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine churchgoers last year, a request for a mistrial has been submitted by defense attorneys. Previously, Roof had decided to represent himself, but now his attorneys are back on the job. On Wednesday, a witness, shooting survivor Felicia Sanders, took the stand and reportedly said Roof was “evil, evil, evil” and belonged in “the pit of hell.” The defense said that religious statements such as this were not appropriate within the courtroom and that a mistrial was needed. If a mistrial was not granted, they at least said that prosecutors should not be allowed to mention the testimony. However, yesterday, the federal judge on the case denied the request for a mistrial, though he did say that the testimony should not affect the sentence, as it was a religious comment.

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit California yesterday. About 100 miles off the coast, near the Oregon-California border, the quake occurred around 6:50 a.m. There were no immediate injuries or deaths reported, despite the quake’s strength, and no tsunami warnings have been issued. Effects of the quake could be felt from southern Oregon, all the way down to San Francisco, and inland as far as Sacramento. Small aftershocks are expected.

NASA’s Cassini probe finally began exploring Saturn’s rings this week. It’s the first time a probe has ever reached Saturn’s outermost ring. It’s expected that the probe will make 19 ring orbits, mapping and studying the planet’s rings for four months. The probe is 20 years old and is expected to end its life soon, by crashing into the planet. Its crash will end the most important study of Saturn ever. “It’s taken years of planning, but now that we’re finally here, the whole Cassini team is excited to begin studying the data that comes from these ring-grazing orbits. This is a remarkable time in what’s already been a thrilling journey,” said Linda Spilker, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The giraffe is now listed as at-risk for extinction. The animals are dying at what is considered an alarming rate. In the last 30 years, the population worldwide declined by up to 40 percent. “The growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction. Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, three have increasing populations, whilst five have decreasing populations and one is stable,” said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

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