DAMAGED JOSHUA TREE SPARKS OUTRAGE AS SHUTDOWN DRAGS ON: A photo of a protected Joshua tree chopped down at its base by vandals went viral Thursday as the partial government shutdown entered its 20th day, leaving national parks unstaffed and vulnerable to damage.
The photo of the felled tree, taken by the National Park Service (NPS) in Joshua Tree National Park and later shared online, intensified calls for the parks to be closed until the government reopens.
NPS officials said the tree was an example of many cut down by vandals who sought to drive their vehicles off the designated paths.
"While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure," an NPS Tuesday press release read.
Twitter users reacted with shock and dismay to the image.
Rangers at the park reported seeing visitors stringing Christmas lights from the trees, as well as heavy off-roading. Both actions are against park rules.
Joshua Tree was one of many national parks that has experienced high levels of trash, overflowing bathrooms and habitat damage during the ongoing shutdown. While most park rangers at all national parks were sent home under the shutdown, visitor access remained.
The impacts on the 790,636-acre southern California park appear to be some of the worst for the national parks.
And in other Joshua Tree news…
Park will remain open during maintenance: Joshua Tree National Park will remain open during the government shutdown after officials moved to use park fees to avert the planned closure. The park was set to completely shutter on Thursday for several days to allow officials to address damages that have occurred during the shutdown.
But the National Parks Service (NPS) said in a statement Wednesday that officials have been able to avoid the closure.
"National Park Service officials have determined that by using Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to immediately bring back park maintenance crews to address sanitation issues, the park will be able to maintain some visitor services, including reopening the campgrounds," the statement read. "The park will also bring on additional staff to ensure the protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred during the lapse of appropriations."
The statement also thanked "local volunteers" for providing "basic sanitation at campgrounds and other closed areas" through the partial government shutdown.
Happy Thursday! The government shutdown clock is at 20 days. Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS PRESSURE CONGRESS TO BACK GREEN NEW DEAL: Hundreds of environmental organizations signed a letter Thursday backing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in the United States.
The groups, led by organizations like Friends of the Earth and the Climate Justice Alliance, told members of the House in the open letter that lawmakers should pursue the Green New Deal, a climate change-fighting concept that calls for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and the decarbonization of other major industries.
"As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned, if we are to keep global warming below 1.5°C, we must act aggressively and quickly," the groups wrote.
Their specific asks include an end to all new fossil fuel leasing on federal land; transitioning the power sector completely to renewable energy; phasing out fossil fuel-powered cars; and helping workers transition out of the fossil fuel sector.
"As the United States shifts away from fossil fuels, we must simultaneously ramp up energy efficiency and transition to clean, renewable energy to power the nation's economy where, in addition to excluding fossil fuels, any definition of renewable energy must also exclude all combustion-based power generation, nuclear, biomass energy, large scale hydro and waste-to-energy technologies," they wrote.
FIAT CHRYSLER TO PAY NEARLY $500M TO SETTLE EMISSIONS CHEATING CLAIMS:
Fiat Chrysler will pay almost $500 million to settle claims that the auto giant used integrated vehicle software to cheat on emissions tests, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Thursday.
As part of the settlement with the DOJ, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of California, more than 100,000 noncompliant diesel vehicles sold or leased in the United States will be recalled and repaired. The agreement includes a civil penalty of $305 million and a $19 million penalty paid to the state of California, totaling nearly half a billion dollars in penalties, according to officials.
Under the settlement the company will not plead guilty and the EPA will not submit a finding of wrongdoing.
The administration hailed Thursday's announcement as proof that the federal government will go after bad actors who aim to get a leg-up in the market by cheating on emissions standards.
"Fiat Chrysler deceived consumers and the federal government by installing defeat devices on these vehicles that undermined important clean air protections," EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement Thursday. "Today's settlement sends a clear and strong signal to manufacturers and consumers that EPA will vigorously enforce the nation's laws designed to protect the environment and public health."
The DOJ sued Fiat Chrysler over the cheating software in May 2017. The EPA in the last days of the Obama administration recommended the case to the Justice Department.
DOJ spokespeople said the effort to enforce the law under the Clean Air Act was equal under both administrations.
"Regardless of the administration, when EPA and DOJ find violations of the Clean Air Act and environmental laws the message should be that we're going to go after that," an official told reporters on a call Thursday.
FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:
Frank Wolak, a professor of economics at Stanford University, wonders if a carbon tax could be used to pay for the border wall.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Check out Thursday's stories ...
-Damaged Joshua tree sparks outrage as shutdown drags on
-Joshua Tree to remain open during shutdown after all
-Oceans heating up faster than previously thought, scientists say
-Hundreds of environmental groups pressure Congress by backing Green New Deal
-Fiat Chrysler to pay nearly $500M to settle claims of emissions cheating