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Catherine Kilduff, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 780-8862, ckilduff@biologicaldiversity.
Lindsay Larris, WildEarth Guardians, (310) 923-1465, email@example.com
Rachel Silverstein, Miami Waterkeeper, (305) 905-0856, firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed to protect more than 900 square miles in the western North Atlantic Ocean for the threatened Nassau grouper. The fish's nearshore ocean habitat faces threats from pollution and climate change harms like ocean warming and acidification.
The proposal is the result of a 2020 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Miami Waterkeeper. The Nassau grouper used to be one of the most common groupers in the United States, but overfishing has contributed to a 60% population decline in recent years. In 2016 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed the grouper as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in response to a WildEarth Guardians scientific petition.
"I'm glad Nassau groupers are poised to get the habitat protection they badly need to thrive again," said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These fish are a sign of healthy reefs and ocean ecosystems, and making sure the Nassau grouper can flourish helps secure clean water, living corals and robust seagrass beds. Now we also need to ensure they're protected from climate change's growing threats."
Nassau groupers reproduce only in big groups called spawning aggregations, consisting of hundreds, thousands or -- historically -- tens of thousands of fish that simultaneously return to the same locations for decades. The federal critical habitat proposal protects those marine spawning sites, as well as coral reef systems where the grouper's larvae settle and grow, and areas with rock and old coral structures that young groupers use for protection as they mature.
The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that would destroy or harm a listed species' critical habitat. Species with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to recover as species without it.
"Critical habitat designations offer one of the most effective means of protecting imperiled species and their habitat," said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. "Protecting habitat for the Nassau grouper will be key to ensuring this fish's survival and true recovery in the future."
The Nassau grouper is native to South Florida and the Caribbean, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Poor water quality and increased sedimentation due to land-development practices threaten both coral and macroalgae that are important resources to the grouper throughout its life stages. Coral reefs are also acutely threatened by climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification.
"Nassau groupers, like thousands of other species, are dependent upon a healthy coral reef ecosystem to survive," said Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D., the Miami Waterkeeper. "With coral reef habitat rapidly disappearing, we are very pleased that the agency has taken this step to support this species' recovery."
Areas in Florida proposed for critical habitat include Biscayne Bay and Atlantic waters near Key Largo, Marathon, Big Pine Key to Geiger Key, and Key West. Waters in the Gulf of Mexico near New Ground Shoal, Halfmoon Shoal and certain areas off the Dry Tortugas are included.
The two areas with spawning aggregations are west of Puerto Rico and south of St. Thomas. Nearshore waters around St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Navassa Island are also included. The critical habitat includes nearshore waters on the eastern coast and southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, plus Desecheo Island, Isla de Mona, Vieques Island and Isla De Culebra in Puerto Rico.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.(520) 623-5252
"House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," said a White House spokesperson.
The White House on Saturday condemned a newly introduced Republican bill that would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, a law that includes a number of changes aimed at lowering costs for Medicare recipients.
Unveiled Thursday by freshman Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), the bill has 20 original co-sponsors and is endorsed by several right-wing groups, including the Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity.
The Biden White House argued that rolling back the Inflation Reduction Act, which also contains major climate investments, would represent "one of the biggest Medicare benefit cuts in American history" as well as a "handout to Big Pharma." According to Politico, which first reported the White House's response to the GOP bill, the administration is planning to release "state-by-state data indicating how this would affect constituents in different areas."
"House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement. "Who on earth thinks that welfare for Big Pharma is worth selling out over a million seniors in their home state?”
The Inflation Reduction Act authorized a $35-per-month cap on insulin copayments for Medicare recipients, as well as an annual $2,000 total limit on out-of-pocket drug costs.
The bill will also, among other long-overdue changes, allow Medicare to begin negotiating the prices of a subset of the most expensive prescription drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies, which fiercely opposed the law and are working with Republicans to sabotage it. The newly negotiated prices are set to take effect in 2026.
Ogles, whose two-page bill would eliminate the above reforms, repeatedly attacked Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs and protections during his 2022 campaign for the U.S. House.
\u201cNEW @Campbell4TN ad in TN-5: \u201cExtreme Andy Ogles in his own words \u2014 a SUPERCUT\u201d\n\nWatch @AndyOgles back a no exceptions abortion ban, cutting Medicare & Medicaid, eliminating Dept of Ed, impeaching Biden, deny the election was legit, etc\u2026 do better, TN-5.\nhttps://t.co/YhCRGXIPsU\u201d— The Tennessee Holler (@The Tennessee Holler) 1667748662
The White House's critique of Ogles' bill comes as Biden is facing pressure from advocates and physicians to cancel a Medicare privatization scheme that his administration inherited from its right-wing predecessor and rebranded.
It also comes as the White House is locked in a standoff with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Republican lawmakers have pushed for deeply unpopular cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other critical federal programs as a necessary condition for any deal to raise the country's borrowing limit and avert a catastrophic default.
"In less than a month, MAGA extremists have threatened to drive the economy into a recession by defaulting on our debt, promised to bring up a bill to impose a 30% national sales tax, and now have introduced legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act," Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Democratic Party-aligned Center for American Progress said in a statement. "This will cut taxes for corporations who earn billions in profit while empowering Big Pharma and Big Oil to continue ripping off the American people."
"It is vital that all Americans understand what is at risk if MAGA extremists succeed in passing their latest dangerous idea: millions of lost jobs, millions more without health insurance, and higher costs for lifesaving insulin, utilities, and more," Gaspard added.
One election expert called the decision an "electoral coup."
Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled earlier this week that a leftist presidential ticket headed by Indigenous human rights defender Thelma Cabrera should be barred from the June ballot, prompting fury and vows of mass protests from Cabrera's supporters.
Thursday's ruling—which Cabrera's young political party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice—stems from Guatemala electoral authorities' refusal to certify the candidacy of Cabrera's running mate, former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas.
Reporting indicates that election officials have justified stonewalling Rodas—a longtime target of Guatemala's right-wing political establishment—by citing supposed "anomalies during the collection of compensation" upon his departure from the ombudsman post last year.
But Cabrera and Rodas contend that the electoral tribunal's decision is a politically motivated attempt to keep a left-wing party—whose base is largely rural—off the ballot, which is set to include the daughter of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator who was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.
Montt's victims were largely Indigenous peasants.
Last month, the same electoral body that deemed Cabrera and Rodas disqualified from the June ballot ruled that Zury Ríos can participate, despite a constitutional provision barring the relatives of coup leaders from serving as Guatemala's president. Ríos was blocked from the 2019 presidential ballot on those grounds.
That year, as Nick Burns of Americas Quarterly recently reported, Cabrera "gave the Guatemalan political establishment a shock" by winning 10% of the vote in the presidential election.
"It was the most successful presidential run by an indigenous person in Guatemala’s modern history—the only other was by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú in 2007, who won 3% of the vote," Burns noted. "Cabrera’s biography is striking. She grew up in a Maya Mam family of poor laborers on a coffee plantation on Guatemala's Pacific coast and was married at 15. She described in a book how she and her sister Vilma went to school through the sixth grade because their mother—who could not read or write—saw education as crucial."
Cabrera's supporters have vowed to "paralyze the country" with large-scale demonstrations if the electoral body's decision isn't reversed.
"If they do not do it, we are going to take over the international airport, the three ports of the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all state institutions," said one MLP supporter. "We are Indigenous, we are Maya, and we can be out here for a month!"
\u201c#EUElecciones2023 Manifestantes amenazan con tomar el Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora, los tres puertos del pa\u00eds y el TSE si no se inscribe al binomio presidencial del MLP | V\u00eda @noel_solis \n\n\ud83d\uddf3\ufe0f\ud83c\uddec\ud83c\uddf9 #Elecciones2023 #EleccionesGT #GUATEVOTA2023\u201d— Emisoras Unidas (@Emisoras Unidas) 1675357690
Daniel Zovatto, a political scientist and expert in Latin American elections, said the tribunal's ruling against the MLP presidential ticket amounts to an "electoral coup" that "vitiates the integrity and credibility" of the upcoming contest.
Rodas, a human rights champion, lamented in response to the decision that "democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back."
"They are afraid of the people and their sovereign decisions," he said.