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The U.S. forced Bikini Islanders to deal with nuclear tests and climate change. Now, it’s walking away.

Anderson Jibas, the mayor of Bikini Atoll, has for years wanted to assert his nation’s financial independence from the United States. And late last year, he found an unlikely ally in his battle: the Trump administration.

At the end of last year, the Department of the Interior released $59 million to the Bikini government to spend on whatever it wants, whenever it wants. The decision ended almost three decades of what Jibas has branded a colonialist system.

Bikini Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands, a widespread chain of more than 1,000 islands. In 1946, the U.S. evacuated its 167 residents and spent the next 12 years testing nuclear bombs in the area. To this day, Bikini is uninhabitable, and its natives’ descendants remain in exile — mainly on the previously uninhabited Kili and Ejit islands, roughly 500 miles to the southeast.

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Today, Kili and Ejit, as well as the entire Marshall Islands, face a grave threat from sea-level rise spurred by climate change. In fact, a new report funded by the U.S. military, which appeared in the journal Science Advances, argues that previous estimates of many tropical atolls being uninhabitable by the 22nd century were too conservative. The recent research suggests that rather than the sea swallowing these islands, titanic waves crashing over them will ruin freshwater supplies for residents closer to 2050.

The U.S. set up a trust fund to help the Bikinians settle on these unfamiliar islands, doling out a yearly allowance to local officials. The Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund, as it is known, has become the subject of an acrimonious battle and ideological debate over the future of Bikini. For the Kili-Bikini-Ejit (KBE) government, Interior’s decision to hand over control of the fund represents a move towards self-determination. It sees control over the funds as crucial to being able to fortify Kili and Ejit from climate change-related hazards. But others — including Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Senator from Alaska, which also faces threats due to a warming world — wonder if the U.S. has essentially washed its hands of the islanders, leaving atoll officials to face the future without any support.

In December 2017, Murkowski introduced legislation to re-establish U.S. oversight of the Bikini trust fund. In February, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss the bill.

“We need the opportunity to move ahead and not just sit back and get slapped in the face with old colonialist and paternalistic systems that demean our honor and our integrity and treat us like children who do not know what they are doing,” Mayor Jibas said during his testimony.

According to his government, its limited annual budgets are almost depleted by funding food, fuel, housing, and education on Kili Island, leaving little for climate mitigation. With the newly released money, the council is making plans to place riprap along most of the seashore, plant vegetation that will prevent sea water from pouring inland, replace the current housing stock with buildings three to four feet above ground, and install solar-powered pumps to redirect rising water.

If all this fails, the spectre of another relocation looms, and Bikinians will likely require a bail out from the world’s richer nations.

Jack Niedenthal is skeptical of the council’s sudden windfall. An American citizen who lives on the islands and managed the Resettlement Trust Fund for 30 years, he — like Murkowski — believes the U.S. is simply abdicating its responsibility to the islanders.

“Think about it: Here’s this embarrassing event that’s been a thorn in your side for decades; and now, in a congressional hearing, you have a Bikinian saying ‘We’re never coming back to the U.S. again for anything,’” Niedenthal says. “If I’m the U.S., I’m doing cartwheels.”

Gordon Benjamin, the Marshallese lawyer representing the Bikini government in its negotiations with Interior, says he’s pleased at the faith Department officials are placing in the council. “I don’t like Trump, I’ll say that right now,” he explains, before noting that the move is “very Republican: Basically, they love to see communities taking charge of themselves.”

The decision to hand the KBE government control over the nearly $60 million fund is a substantial change to an arrangement where Interior would essentially set a yearly allowance for the council, which would then decide how to spend these funds. Interior officials would occasionally inquire about proposed expenditures, but they largely approved whatever the islanders wanted.

But on August 2017, the KBE government passed a motion rejecting U.S. oversight of the fund. The trust was not supposed to last forever, it argued, and the current annual allowance was too meager to allow the islanders to make long-term investments. To the Bikini council’s surprise, the U.S. didn’t push back. In a letter sent this past November, Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas at Interior, told Jibas that the department would no longer ration the fund.

Lisa Murkowski, the U.S. senator from Alaska who has a history of standing against the Trump administration, argues the decision runs counter to a U.S vow made in 1946, which stated that, “No matter where the Bikinian people found themselves, even if they were adrift on a raft at sea or on a sandbar, they would be taken care of as if they were American’s children.” She has suggested that Interior is abandoning its responsibility to the people of Bikini.

The move represents an awkward deviation from her usual ideology, as she herself acknowledged during February’s hearing. “I need you all to know that I am very sensitive to the notion that Washington, D.C., should not dictate local government decisions,” she said. “Alaskans have dealt with that mentality since we were a territory.”

But Murkowski has always had a reputation as an independent-minded politician — she won her 2010 Senate election as a write-in candidate — and has a history of engaging closely with issues relating to the Marshall Islands. She visited the country in person in April, meeting with ministers and chiefs. As an Alaskan, she also sees common ground with the Marshallese. Amchitka Island, part of the Aleutian Island chain in western Alaska, was the site of three underground nuclear detonations between 1965 and 1971. She found that, there too, residents weren’t given the continuous support they needed to recover in the aftermath of the bombing.

But this debate could all be moot if Murkowski’s bill dies before it reaches the Senate, as Jack Niedenthal thinks it might. Recalling the hearing in February, he says that there was only one senator left in the room by the time the Bikinians had finished testifying.

As the legislation languishes in Congress, the KBE government is making big plans for its newfound millions. In addition to its climate-adaptation plans, it intends to lease an airplane, revive its diving industry, and develop an informational tour around the atoll, which UNESCO listed as a World Heritage site in 2010.

“These are things we wanted to explore,” Benjamin says. “And we couldn’t do that with $2.5 million a year.”

Niedenthal, however, is unconvinced of the council’s claims it will put significant amounts of the added money toward climate change. He fears the islanders could be left destitute, without money to run their power plant, make housing repairs, pay for health insurance, fund scholarships, or even hold council meetings. And, once the Trump administration is out of office, it could be a challenge to hold the U.S. accountable, even as the descendants of the people it once bombed sink into poverty.

“If they had put together a proposal, for example, and said, ‘Look, we need extra money out of the trust fund to spend on these walls,’ I think [Interior] would have said yes, if it was specifically going to be spent on climate change activities,” he explains. “I think what’s happening now is you use whatever excuses, and it’s just spending money.

“They can talk about investments,” Niedenthal adds. “But I don’t see any investing yet.”

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The U.S. forced Bikini Islanders to deal with nuclear tests and climate change. Now, it’s walking away.

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Chicago drinking fountains have been running nonstop for months.

Trump’s ire fell on Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who on Tuesday voted “no” to moving a health care repeal bill to the Senate floor for debate. After the vote, Trump tweeted (of course) that Murkowski had let the country and her party down. Then, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly called Murkowski and the state’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to inform them Murkowski’s move would not be forgotten.

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Sullivan said the call sent a “troubling message.” Murkowski didn’t comment, but Sullivan appeared unnerved by the conversation. “I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” Sullivan said.

At a rally on Tuesday night, Trump implied there would be repercussions: “Any senator who votes against repeal and replace is telling America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict they’ll have a lot of problems.”

The Interior Department has input over several issues important to Sullivan and Murkowski, like energy exploration and drilling in parts of Alaska. Murkowski, as chair of two committees related to the Interior, has say in several issues important to the department, like its budget.

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Chicago drinking fountains have been running nonstop for months.

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Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation As Education Secretary Is in Trouble

Mother Jones

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Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) told colleagues Wednesday that they will not vote for GOP billionaire megadonor Betsy DeVos for education secretary, throwing her nomination in doubt just a day after a committee voted to advance DeVos’ bid to the full Senate.

With the GOP-Democrat split in the Senate at 52-48, “no” votes from Collins and Murkowski—and a party-line vote from Democrats—would tie the count at 50, leaving Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote. With one more dissenting Republican, however, Democrats would have officially defeated a Cabinet nominee for the first time since defense secretary nominee John Tower was voted down in 1989.

The two senators’ statements came as somewhat of a surprise given that both had voted in committee Tuesday to move DeVos’ nomination to the full Senate. But each had expressed reservations about DeVos’ support for school choice and voucher programs and her commitment to public education. “I have serious concerns about a nominee who has been so involved in one side of the equation,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor Wednesday, adding that her office had received thousands of calls from constituents concerned about DeVos.

DeVos has been the subject of criticism from teachers’ unions, Senate Democrats, and others for her defense of expanding charter schools and voucher programs, her inexperience in public education, and questions about her commitment to upholding federal civil rights laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. As my colleague Kristina Rizga recently pointed out in an in-depth investigation, DeVos and her family have donated millions of dollars to right-wing causes and conservative Christian groups.

DeVos’ vote before the full Senate has not yet been scheduled, though there was speculation Wednesday afternoon that the GOP would move quickly. Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters he had “100 percent confidence” that DeVos would be confirmed, adding, “I think that the games being played with Betsy DeVos are sad.”

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Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation As Education Secretary Is in Trouble

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Republicans and Democrats agree on at least one thing: Wildfires are a major threat

Republicans and Democrats agree on at least one thing: Wildfires are a major threat

By on May 30, 2016 6:06 amShare

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is teaming up to do away with preordained spending caps on emergency fire recovery efforts as the American West braces for another wildfire season. Drier conditions, likely driven by climate change, have turned vast swaths of the continent into veritable tinderboxes; last summer, for example, five million acres of Alaska and 1.7 million acres across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho burned.

“We need to call mega-fires what they are — disasters,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), in a press release. On Thursday, Crapo and Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), introduced a draft bill that would reform how the government pays for fighting wildfires on federal land.

The bill would effectively put wildfires in the same camp as other natural disasters by allowing government agencies — in this case, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forestry Service — to adjust limits on their firefighting budgets during a mega-fire emergency. Currently, those departments have to borrow from other programs when they max out their annual firefighting budget — a practice commonly known as “fire borrowing.”

Wildfire spending has become a critical issue in recent years as costly and devastating mega-fires throughout the West have become more frequent. In 2015, the Forest Service spent 50 percent of its annual appropriations fighting fires, compared to 16 percent in 1995. And the more of that budget that’s spent on emergency firefighting, the less resources are available for preventative measures that would minimize the impact of a crisis.

The draft legislation also proposes allocating an additional $500 million over the next seven years for communities at risk of wildfire damage, and includes funding for studying and executing better forest management practices.

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Republicans and Democrats agree on at least one thing: Wildfires are a major threat

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Watch a US Senator Cite the Bible to Prove That Humans Aren’t Causing Global Warming

Mother Jones

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To understand the craziness that just went down on the floor of the US Senate, you first have to understand the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. It’s pretty simple, actually: The planet is getting warmer, largely because humans are releasing heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Or, as the world’s leading climate scientists put it in a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and it’s “extremely likely”—that is, at least 95 percent certain—”that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

These are well established scientific facts, but congressional Republicans have had a hard time accepting them. So on Wednesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), sought to put his colleagues on record by having them vote on a simple measure declaring it the sense of the Senate that “climate change is real and not a hoax.”

When Whitehouse first introduced this amendment a couple days ago, he made clear that by “climate change,” he was referring to “what our carbon pollution…is doing to our atmosphere and what it is doing to our oceans.” But the amendment didn’t literally say that, and the Senate’s most outspoken climate science denier saw this as an opportunity. James Inhofe—an Oklahoma Republican who has previously pointed to the Bible as evidence that human-caused global warming is a hoax—urged his fellow senators to support the amendment.

Addressing his Senate colleagues before the vote, Inhofe once again cited the Bible to argue that the climate does indeed change but that humans aren’t the cause. “Climate is changing, and climate has always changed,” said Inhofe, who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. “There’s archeological evidence of that. There’s biblical evidence of that. There’s historic evidence of that.” He continued: “The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful, they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.” You can watch the back-and-forth above.

And with that, every Republican except Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), voted “aye.” The amendment passed 98-1, and the Senate was on record agreeing to the obvious fact that climate change sometimes occurs.

But they weren’t done. Next, Republicans brought up their own climate amendment, which stated that climate change is indeed “real” and that human activity “contributes” to it. This amendment got 59 votes (one short of the 60-vote threshold for passage), but just 15 of the chamber’s 54 Republicans supported it.

And of course, the scientific consensus isn’t merely that human activity “contributes” to climate change. Rather, scientists say that humans are the “dominant cause” of the recent warming. That was the subject of a third amendment, from Democrat Brian Schatz (Hawaii), which stated that human activity “significantly contributes” to climate change. That was too much for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who objected specifically to the word “significantly.” Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, urged her colleagues to vote no. In the end, Schatz’s amendment received just 50 votes, and only five of those came from Republicans.

On Thursday morning, the Senate began discussing yet another amendment, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). This one declares that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it’s already causing significant problems, and that it is “imperative” that we actually do something about it—specifically, that we transition our economy away from fossil fuels. We’ll see how many GOP votes that one gets.

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Watch a US Senator Cite the Bible to Prove That Humans Aren’t Causing Global Warming

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