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How does it make you feel? Wearable system predicts wearer’s mood

Why it matters to you

By predicting moods, AI like this can help ease social interactions for people who find them difficult.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) have developed a wearable they say can predict the mood of its wearer by analyzing speech patterns and physiological signs. The system may someday serve as a social coach for people with anxiety or Asperger’s syndrome.

“Imagine if, at the end of a conversation, you could rewind it and see the moments when the people around you felt the most anxious,” Tuka Alhanai, a CSAIL graduate student who worked on the project, said in a statement. “Our work is a step in this direction, suggesting that we may not be that far away from a world where people can have an AI social coach right in their pocket.”

Using two AI algorithms and a Samsung Simband, the system measures vitals like heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, and skin temperature, while recording audio data related to the wearer’s pitch, tone, and vocabulary. It then attempts to identify the speaker’s mood, from positive to neutral to negative, in five-second increments.

More: Keymochi, the smart mobile keyboard, can judge your mood based on how you type

“As far as we know, this is the first experiment that collects both physical data and speech data in a passive but robust way, even while subjects are having natural, unstructured interactions,” Mohammad Ghassemi, a CSAIL doctoral student who worked on the project, said in a statement. “Our results show that it’s possible to classify the emotional tone of conversations in real time.”

The system is imperfect and not yet ready for real-world applications, but it’s better than current methods. Results showed it could identify moods with an accuracy of about 18 percent above chance and 7.5 percent better than existing technologies. Alhanai and Ghassemi will present their findings at Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) conference in San Francisco next week.


A big solution for small spaces — the Kammerspiel is an all-in-one furniture box

Why it matters to you

Microliving is all the rage these days, and you can bring it to the next level with this large furniture box

The solution for a very small space to live? A very large piece of furniture.

Sure, it might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes when you’re pressed for space, you aggregate all the space you can. That, at least, appears to be the approach taken by designer Nils Holger Moormann, whose latest creation is meant for micro apartment dwellers. Curiously, it’s the largest piece of furniture he’s ever designed, but it’s meant to save space by serving as an all-in-one solution.

“At a time when affordable living space is becoming scarce and the grand opera is not always possible, a Kammerspiel (intimate theatre) can be a fitting alternative,” Moormann wrote on his website. The Kammerspiel is described as a room within a room, “condensing enough features and space to take the airiness of the rest of the apartment into consideration.”

More: To make its furniture stronger and easier to build, Ikea creates wooden wedge dowel

Just about everything you need can be found in this singular unit — sleeping, eating, working, and reading can be done with features built into the exterior of the Kammerspiel, while everyday essentials and a walk-in wardrobe are contained in the interior. There’s even a staircase to be found in this all-in-one contraption (of course, they double as drawers). Have a bike? You can store it in the Kammerspiel, and you can also write yourself messages on the built-in whiteboard.

And don’t worry — just because this piece is all-encompassing doesn’t mean it’s one size fits all. “As personal lifestyle habits differ as much as the occupants themselves, Moormann’s Kammerspiel can always be conceived differently and individually,” the designer added. You can also obtain a range of external module designs that fit your unique needs. There’s also plenty of storage available — you can fit 25 bottles of wine (necessary when you’re living in a small space), a vacuum cleaner, a bracket for a broom (clearly, cleanliness is key, too), shelves for shoes, and more.

So go ahead, city dwellers. Embrace that closet you call home, and fill it up with the only piece of furniture you’ll ever need.


Light up the night! Here are the 10 best headlamps for your outdoor adventures

Think your flashlight does the trick when camping? Try camping with a headlamp just once and the experience will be… illuminating. After all, even simple tasks such as lighting a match and chopping wood require two hands. And while your precious Maglite might moonlight as a weapon against rampant bears, it’s far too cumbersome when you’re trying to cook a backcountry meal under a banner of stars.

More: Do you really want a solar charger? Seasoned hikers share the ins and outs

Alas, not all headlamps are created equal. Like most camping gear, they become more durable and functional with the more money you’re willing to shell out. Never fear, though. We’ve picked out several headlamps that represent the best of what’s available at different price points, whether you’re looking for a low- or high-budget source of light.

However, there are a few things to consider when deciding which is best for you. Depending on what you intend to use your headlamp for, factors such as weight, comfort, durability, beam distance and regularity can all play a major part in your decision. Although manufacturing specs tend to exaggerate when it comes to said categories — ahem, lumen output — the headlamps below rarely disappoint.

The Best

Petzl Ultra Rush Headlamp ($283)


The Petzl Ultra Rush is our favorite headlamp on the market, however, it is also one of the pricier models out there. The powerful beam dishes out 760 lumens up to 560 feet. Unlike most headlamps, the Ultra Rush utilizes a “constant lighting” feature, meaning the beam doesn’t progressively fade towards the end of the battery life.

In fact, as the battery is nearly depleted, the Ultra Rush will automatically switch to reserve lighting to maximize the remaining energy. The mixed beam has four power options to choose from, allowing greater flexibility for an array of tasks. Situationally, the full power 760 beams may be rather unnecessary, therefore switching to a lower setting will use a more ideal beam for the task at hand and also extend the battery life. The rechargeable battery is ergonomically mounted on the back of the headband.

The entire unit is IP67 graded, meaning the Ultra Rush is capable of being submerged in up to one meter of water for 30 minutes without damage. At nearly 300 dollars, the Petzl Ultra Rush is certainly not for everyone, and at 1.6 pounds it is on the bulkier side, however, if you’re in the market for an intuitive, rugged, and versatile headlamp, the Ultra Rush is hard to top.

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The Rest

Petzl NAO ($135+)

petzl nao

The Petzl NAO is one of the pricier options on our roundup, and for good reason. The headlamp has an array of handy features and a maximum brightness of up to 575 lumens. The company’s reactive technology and the built-in light sensor allow the brightness and beam pattern to automatically adjust based on your environment, thus affording the headlamp longer burn times and reducing your involvement. The Petzl NAO also has a lock function to prevent the headlamp from unintentionally turning on while stowed, along with two power options — Max and Max Autonomy — which result in brighter output and work to extend battery life. When the beam does go out, however, you can recharge it via the integrated USB connector on the back of the device. Now, if only the battery would last more than five hours at time.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Backcountry

Black Diamond ReVolt ($60)

Black Diamond ReVolt Thumbs

This rechargeable headlamp packs in a good deal of functionality for the price. Its maximum beam distance isn’t as robust as others on our list, but it is bright enough to suit most needs, especially when it comes time to find the trail. The beam is also even — which is less tiring on your eyes — and adjustable, meaning you can easily dim the the light to whatever strength you prefer. The ReVolt supports a whopping nine hours of battery life when left on high-beam mode, too, capitalizing on either AAA batteries or a lithium alternative you can charge in your car or from a solar charger. A convenient red light option even comes standard — rendering it great for hunting, or reading in a tent — along with a strobe setting that allows you to be seen from greater distances.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Backcountry

Petzl Tikka RXP ($80+)

tikka 2

Headlamp tech is on the rise. Petzl, for instance, now outfits some of its high-end headlamps with a responsive technology that auto-adjusts the brightness of your headlamp based on what you’re looking at. This is particularly convenient in when you’d like to leave your headlamp on high for prolonged periods and look at close-range things that may not require as much light, such as a map or nearby sign. The feature help saves your battery life, too, and can be turned off in situations where other sources of light — i.e. a campfire or reflective snow — might hinder its performance.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Backcountry

Black Diamond Icon ($90+)

Black Diamond Icon

The recently-updated Black Diamond Icon provides 320 lumens of light, which is 200 more than the previous model. That said, if you’re looking for a more versatile headlamp, look no further than the Icon. It represents the perfect combination of form and function, providing you with a long-distance beam, fantastic optics, and excellent battery life. Like the ReVolt, it offers variable dimming and a red light that flashes when in need of a signal. You can also submerge it up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It’s a little heavier and bulkier, so ultralight backpackers might decide to pass, but it’s the headlamp we’d buy if we had just over $50 to spend.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Backcountry

Princeton Tec Sync ($29+)

Princeton Tec Sync

Of all the low-range options out there for headlamps — and there are a lot — our favorite is the Tec Sync from Princeton. You can always buy a penlight for a mere $15, sure, but if you’re willing to spend a little bit more, you can actually get a very functional headlamp. The lightweight, flexible Tec Sync sports both red and white LEDs, along with mid-range distance and five different brightness levels that are comprised of both spot and flood settings. It should go without saying that few headlamps offer better bang for your buck.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Backcountry

Fenix HP25 ($74)

fenix hp25

The HP25 is, by and large, the brightest light on our list. Although the light isn’t the most uniform, it does shed light as far as 157 meters, and touts an aluminum chasis that’s as durable as it is sleek. The brighter light does equate to shorter battery life, however, so you’ll likely drain the headlamp within a couple hours if you leave it on high. The aforementioned, uniform lighting might make it somewhat tricky and tiresome when navigating the trail, but being able to see more than 500 feet ahead when biking is convenient to say the least.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Fenix

Black Diamond Spot ($30+)

black diamond spot

The 130 lumens afforded by the Black Diamond Spot may not hold a candle to other headlamps on our list, sure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy alternative for those working on a budget. The headlamp’s unique, Power Tap technology makes switching between full and dimmed brightness quick and convenient.  The side of the Black Diamond Spot’s housing is also touch-sensitive, meaning you can adjust the brightness with a single tap of a finger. The headlamp runs on three AAA batteries, and a built-in meter displays the remaining battery life for three seconds once the headlamp has been activated. The headlamp is IPX4-rated, too, so it can withstand the occasional splash even if it can’t be submerged. A pair of red LEDs and various strobe settings help round out the basic set features.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Backcountry

Black Diamond Sprinter ($80)


While the simple single strap headlamp design is fine for many outings, the two band models are ideal for more physical activity. When running, cycling, or mountain-biking, the single band designs can slide out of place and over-tightening them to compensate can make them all the more uncomfortable. The Black Diamond Sprinter is one of the sleeker two band designs on the market.

The TriplePower LED dishes out an ample 200 lumens. This is more than enough for the trailhead or an early morning run. For added safety in urban areas, the unit also has a strobing red taillight, making the Sprinter ideal for runners and cyclists. This taillight can be switched on or off to help maximize battery life. Even when you do eventually drain the battery, the Sprinter is rechargeable via USB with about a five hour total charge time. While some headlamps can weigh well over a pound, at just seven ounces this unit won’t bog you down.

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Coast HL3 60 Lumen LED ($12)


Not all situations call for the most technologically advanced headlamp. If you need a headlamp for basic camping purposes or nighttime tasks around the house, a budget model will do just fine. The Coast HL3 is capable of producing 60 lumens which is more than enough for most low-light/nocturnal tasks. The Max Beam Multi-Reflector system projects light up to 141 feet in ideal conditions.

The model is also impact and water resistant for added durability. Similarly, this headlamp is backed by Coast’s lifetime guarantee. The HL3 runs on three AAA batteries, with an expected battery life of about 12 hours. Rechargeable options are preferential for economic reasons, however, if you’re looking for a headlamp to throw on every now and then without breaking the bank, the Coast HL3 is certainly one to consider.

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T-Mobile begins limited rollout of RCS texing with Google Messenger app

Why it matters to you

RCS messaging is better than SMS/MMS, and the sooner carriers support Google’s open-source platform, the easier it will be for third-party apps to adopt it.

T-Mobile is joining the ranks of carriers like Sprint and Rogers by rolling out support for Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging, an evolution of SMS and MMS. While the company has offered RCS since 2015, the new rollout utilizes Google’s Universal RCS platform.

RCS is the next-generation of text messaging — you can send messages longer than 160 characters, have improved group chats, read receipts, high-resolution photo sharing, typing indicators, and more. It’s essentially modernizing text-messaging to be on par with Internet Protocol-based messaging, such as apps like iMessage and Facebook Messenger.

More: Google rolls out RCS support for Rogers customers in Canada

Google acquired Jibe in 2015, and promised a standardized RCS text-messaging platform that would work with non-Android devices. Unlike IP-based messaging systems, RCS requires carrier implementation — which explains the slow adoption rate.

The application that will make use of RCS features on Android is Google Messenger — an app that’s preinstalled on many Android smartphones. When Sprint announced support for Google’s RCS platform, the carrier also said it would preinstall Google Messenger onto every Android phone it sells starting in 2017. T-Mobile hasn’t made any announcements yet, but customers are reporting that T-Mobile is starting a limited rollout. It’s unclear when we’ll see a full rollout — we have reached out to T-Mobile and will update this article when we learn more.

Other texting apps, like Textra, have announced plans to also support the platform — so you’ll have more options rather than only having to use Google’s app.

More: From 5G and bezel-free phones to Android 2.0, these mobile trends will define 2017

We don’t know yet what Verizon’s plans are for RCS, even though it is a signatory for the GSMA Universal Profile. AT&T, on the other hand, offers RCS messaging in its own texting app, but it’s not compatible with Google’s Jibe platform.


GoPro begins selling its Karma drone again following simple battery fix

Why it matters to you

A redesigned battery latch will ensure the Karma won’t lose power mid-flight and fall on anyone’s head.

GoPro’s first attempt at a drone is back in the skies. On Wednesday, GoPro announced the Karma drone is now on sale — again.

After the Karma’s initial launch, the drone was well received for its portability and ease of use but then GoPro noticed a problem. Some of the Karmas were losing power mid-flight, causing them to drop out of the air. GoPro initiated a recall of the quadcopter in November — after less than a month on the market — though there wasn’t a legal obligation to start the recall and no injuries were reported from the glitch.

More: GoPro quietly creates a cheaper way to replace crashed Karmas 

The problem? The movement from the drone was causing the battery to pop out of place. The newly relaunched Karma has a redesigned battery latch, ensuring that the battery stays in place during the flight.

“Safety is our biggest priority, so this decision came after we learned that a small number of Karma units were experiencing power loss mid-flight. We knew we had to move quickly. Really, it was an easy decision but difficult news to share,” the company said in a blog post.

With the re-release, GoPro is reiterating the drone’s use not just for aerial shots but as a “versatile stabilization solution” thanks to the Karma stabilizer grip included with the drone as well as sold individually.

The Karma drone was already delayed a year before the official launch last fall — industry experts say the recall and delay will likely have a significant effect on the drone’s sales — particularly since the DJI Mavic Pro launched only a week later with a similar compact size but additional features including obstacle avoidance. It’s unclear whether the company’s move to recall the drone without a legal reason to do so will gain the company some much-needed karma (pun intended) after laying off staff shortly after the recall.

Still, even before the recall, early users said the drone was easy to use for aerial videography newbies, with a video game-like controller and four auto-follow modes. GoPro is calling the relaunched Karma “Hollywood in a backpack” because of the drone’s folding design and removable stabilizer.

The Karma, with the redesigned battery latch, will sell for the same $800 (or $1,100 with the Hero5 camera) price as the first launch. GoPro says it is also planning to release a kit without the Karma grip, for users that purchased only the stabilizer during the drone’s recall.


Google makes Chrome for iOS open source

Why it matters to you

Google’s decision to open-source Chrome for iOS is a boon for third-party mobile development.

Google’s Chrome browser on desktop has been open source almost since its inception — in 2008, the Mountain View, California-based company released a large portion of Chrome’s underlying code as an open-source project called Chromium, which it permitted third-party developers to study and use as they saw fit.

But that wasn’t the case for Chrome for iOS, which Google kept separate from the rest of the Chromium project due to “the additional complexity required for the platform.” On Tuesday, though, Google announced that the Chrome for iOS’s underlying code will be rejoining Chromium and will move into the open-source repository.

The challenge, apparently, involved working around the limitations of Apple’s iOS operating system. “Due to constraints of the iOS platform, all browsers must be built on top of the WebKit rendering engine,” Google’s Rohit Rao wrote. “For Chromium, this means supporting both WebKit as well as Blink, Chrome’s rendering engine for other platforms. That created some extra complexities which we wanted to avoid placing in the Chromium code base.”

More: Google’s finally got something to offer iPhone users

Rao didn’t elaborate, but part of the problem likely stemmed from Apple’s restrictive policy regarding third-party browsers. The first iterations of Chrome for iOS were required to use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit JavaScript — Safari’s rendering engine — instead of the Google’s desktop rendering engine. And they were forced to use a slow JavaScript engine while only Safari could use a faster JavaScript engine — Apple’s new Nitro JavaScript engine.

That policy changed mid-2014, though, when Apple began allowing browsers like Chrome to tap the Nitro JavaScript engine. Google quickly took advantage, adding the ability for iOS users to link directly to other iOS app when search queries yield a specific app as a result.

And earlier this year, it introduced a new version of Chrome for iOS with an improved rendering engine that crashes 70 percent less than the previous version and handles JavaScript code just as fast as Safari.

The open-source move is also the result of multi-year changes Google has made to the Chrome development process. “[Developers] can compile the iOS version of Chromium like they can for other versions of Chromium,” Rao wrote. “Development speed is also faster now that all of the tests for Chrome for iOS are available to the entire Chromium community and automatically run any time that code is checked in.”

More: Chrome for iOS update brings tighter integration with Google Apps and more

The open-source code is available on Google Source, an open-source repository.


Samsung catches flak from exploding phones as Apple retakes lead in mobile

Why it matters to you

Getting Android users to switch to iOS, combined with rising App Store revenue, could encourage developers to bring their latest and greatest apps to iOS first.

Apple set the pace for smartphone market share in the fourth quarter of 2016, narrowly edging out its main rival, according to new data from independent research firm Strategy Analytics.

During the final three months of the year, Apple shipped 78.3 million devices, up from 74.8 million during the same period in 2015. Rival Samsung shipped roughly 800,000 less — allowing Apple to seize the lead for the fiscal quarter with 17.8 percent of global market share, compared to Samsung’s 17.7 percent.

More: Apple manages to sell a record 78 million iPhones in the first fiscal quarter

Strategy Analytics notes that Samsung’s fourth-quarter shipments were down 3.8 million year-over-year, which the firm attributed to the Galaxy Note 7 battery controversy. The South Korean company’s 17.7 quarterly share and 20.8 annual share are its lowest since 2011. Despite the slide, Samsung still managed to sell 309 million smartphones in 2016, while Apple moved 215 million.

Strategy Analytics

Insights from Apple’s earnings call on Tuesday support the claim that the company benefited from Samsung’s botched launch. CEO Tim Cook shared that 50 percent of Apple’s sales in China during what it terms the first quarter of 2017 (the fourth quarter of calendar year 2016) went to switchers and first-time buyers, as opposed to existing iPhone users, and that the total install base “continues to grow [in China], in the strong double digits.”

Apple’s boost in market share was mirrored by a strong quarter for the company’s Services segment, which encompasses digital content revenue streams like the App Store and Apple Music. Over the same span, the division earned $7.17 billion — a growth of 18 percent from the $6.05 billion earned the previous year.

Beyond Apple and Samsung, other players in the smartphone industry have seen key gains. Third-place Huawei broke double-digits in market share for the first time ever, reaching 10.2 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 8.1 percent in the closing months of 2015. Oppo followed with its own historic reporting period, doubling its share of the global market year-over-year to 6.7 percent, good for fourth position.

Although the top two companies overall shipped less devices throughout the entirety of last year than they had in 2015, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and others picked up the slack to make 2016 a record year for smartphone sales. Manufacturers shifted 50 million more units in 2016 compared to the previous year, making for a total of 1.49 billion sold globally.


Best Accessories for Amazing Selfies

Taking photos alone? Make them better with these affordable finds.


The front-facing camera is there for one reason and one reason only: to shoot pictures of you! Don’t let people judge you for whipping out a selfie stick, either — how else are you supposed to fit yourself, your family members, and your friends into a photo with a beautiful mountain range as your backdrop?

Smartphone accessories may be a nuisance for some, but as long as you’re using them responsibly, they’re extremely helpful for capturing that one shot. Here’s how to equip yourself if you’re often shooting yourself alone with your smartphone’s capable front-facing camera.

  • CamKix Bluetooth Shutter Control
  • Umsky Selfie Ring Light
  • Foneso Extendable Monopod
  • E-PLG Smartphone Attachment for Pet
  • Amir 3-in-1 Lens Camera Kit

CamKix Bluetooth Shutter Control


This is a solid Bluetooth remote. I have several of these floating around in my house and I’ve paired them with various devices so that they’re handy when I need to shoot a scene with just my smartphone.

I’ve never had issues pairing them, either, and they come in several different colors to match your kit. These shutters are also compatible with iOS, in case you’re living that dual-platform lifestyle.

See at Amazon

Umsky Selfie Ring Light


I have several of these floating around, too. Not only do they provide the right kind of light when you’re filming a Snapchat confessional or video-chatting with family across the world, but you can clip then on to anything to shine a bit of light where you might need it.

This selfie rings work with almost every smartphone and tablet and offer three varying levels of brightness.

See at Amazon

Foneso Extendable Monopod


It’s a selfie stick and a self-supporting tripod in one! The metal tripod is seven inches long but can extend up to 32 inches for taking selfies with beautiful backdrops.

The adjustable phone holder fits most phones that are less than three inches in width and features soft padding so it doesn’t scratch up the chassis of your device. The 1/4-inch screw is compatible with other cameras, too, like a GoPro or an Gear 360.

See at Amazon

E-PLG Smartphone Attachment for Pet


This is just a tennis ball that affixes to your smartphone, but it’s the perfect ruse to get your dog to sit still for a second.

Use the ball as bait to get your dog looking forward and then once you snap the selfie, throw the ball to give your dog a well-deserved run around the lawn. Good boy!

See at Amazon

Amir 3-in-1 Lens Camera Kit


Shoot a fun selfie session with these clip-on smartphone camera lenses. This three-in-one kit lets you shoot with the aforementioned fisheye, wide angle, and macro, which can be handy if you’re going close up on your face. You can easily clip the lens on to the rear-facing or front-facing camera and swap them out as you please. The kit comes with a soft carrying case and three lenses.

See at Amazon

Your choices?

What are your best selfie bets? Let us know in the comments!


Barnes & Noble recalls Nook 7 tablet chargers over electrical shock concern

You now have another reason not to buy this tablet.

There are plenty of issues with the Barnes & Noble Nook 7 tablet (not the least of which being its questionable software), but B&N is also now issuing a recall of the Nook 7’s charger. Together with the U.S. CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), Barnes & Noble identified that some chargers were breaking under pressure and exposing internal components, which posed an electrical shock risk.


Chargers with the issue are those shipped with the Nook 7 tablet that have the model number TPA-95A050100UU. If you’re unsure of which Nook you have, these chargers were bundled with the model BNTV450.

To get your charger replaced, head to Barnes & Noble’s recall page and register your product using the serial number from the tablet. You’ll get a replacement charger for your Nook 7, as well as a B&N gift card when you return your recalled charger.

While you wait for a replacement, you can continue to use the included USB cable to charge the Nook 7 with any computer or other charger adapter you may have around.


Republicans poised to roll back environmental protections

With astonishing speed, US Republicans are set to strike down laws or vote on a new bills that eliminate environmental protections for the air, streams and national parks. The measures are being tabled so quickly that it has been difficult for environmentalists and Democrats to muster opposition. Much of the Republican strategy depends on a little used law called the Congressional Review Act, signed into power by Bill Clinton in the ’90s to prevent presidents from creating new laws on their way out of office.

Since Obama put some of the laws in place during the end of his term, the rule will let Congress strike them down without much fuss, and President Trump isn’t likely to veto those actions. “During a presidential transition when we’re transferring from one party to another party, that’s the only time when it really makes a difference,” energy lawyer Scott Segal told the Washington Post last year.

The most contentious is a bill to repeal the National Park Service’s 9B rule updates, a move that paves the way for weaker oil and gas exploration regulations on pristine public land. “If the Park Service’s drilling rules are repealed, national parks across the country would be subjected to poorly regulated oil and gas drilling, threatening parks’ air, water and wildlife,” said National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) head Nicholas Lund.

Forty parks in the US have “split estate” ownership, where the federal government owns the land but cedes below-surface mineral rights to private companies. The rules require detailed planning, but Congress wants to strip out recent protection updates from President Obama and make it harder for future governments to re-introduce them.

Ever since Republican Teddy Roosevelt spurred their expansion over 100 years ago, there was a broad consensus across political lines to protect parks. However, the so-called “anti-parks caucus” has recently angled to unlock more public land for drilling and development.

USA - Energy - North Dakota's Bakken Formation Oil Boom

Oil rig near Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images)

Oil and gas exploration in parks could disrupt wildlife migration routes, cause oil spills that can ruin waterways, strip the land of vegetation, and pollute otherwise crystal-clear air. Moreover, “the visitor experience is impacted by this type of structure [drilling rigs],” Theodore Roosevelt national park superintendent Wendy Ross told the Guardian last year.

In a statement, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said that President Obama “has exceeded the intent of the Antiquities Act more than any other president in the history of this country” by designating 24 new monuments and locking up 4 million acres of land. However, a recent Center for American Progress poll showed that 71 percent of Americans are opposed to oil and gas drilling in parks. It also notes that parks, monuments, forests and wilderness areas generate $646 billion in consumer spending, more than the mining, oil and gas drilling and logging industries combined.

The House will also vote today to eliminate laws that protect streams from coal mining developments. The aim of the rules, developed over years by the Interior Department, was to prevent coal waste from contaminating water sources around mountain-top mines. However, Republicans say the law goes too far and makes coal projects economically unfeasible. “Tomorrow, we’re turning the page on Obama’s war on coal,” said Virginia Republican Rep. Evan Jenkins.

West Virginia's coal country

A mountain top coal mine in West Virginia (Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty Images)

Ironically, stream protection laws were first put in place by Ronald Regan in 1983. The original aim was to prevent sensitive waterways from being buried under coal mining rubble “that can destroy or gravely endanger rivers,” said NPCA director Chad Lord. Other risks to waterways include heavy metal contamination, soil erosion and the lowering of groundwater levels. The Obama administration effectively restored parts of the laws that were stripped out under President George W. Bush.

The proposed Republican rule, environmental groups claim, would eliminate much of the oversight related to coal mining operations. “The attacks on this rule are shortsighted and an insult to the tens of thousands of citizens who spoke up for strong stream protections,” says Appalachian Voices’ Thom Kay.

On Friday, Republicans also hope to chop an Obama administration law that would force oil refiners to get a better handle on methane leaks at oil and gas facilities. It was designed to prevent disasters like the Aliso Canyon methane leak (below), which dumped 107,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, the leak was equivalent to the CO2 emissions from a half million cars.

Scott L/Wikimedia Commons

Experts estimate that there are methane infrastructure leaks everywhere, causing unknown amounts of pollution around the nation. However, the oil and gas industry argued that it is independently solving the issue, so the recent rules were “unnecessary and redundant.”

Another law on the chopping block is a 2011 regulation requiring automakers to achieve an average 54.5 mpg fuel economy rating, a rule that would force them to build more electric cars. Given their age, those rules will be more difficult to undo, as the EPA would need to put a replacement law in place. However, the Trump administration reportedly plans to attack it by going around the EPA and through the Department of Transport.

We’re not surprised at what they’re doing, but maybe a little surprised at how fast and furious it’s all happening. But we were bracing for it and we’re ready.

Opposition groups have accused Republicans of kowtowing to industry, ignoring multiple stakeholder groups that helped the last administration craft the rules. On its website, the Sierra Club criticized proposed Trump EPA chief Scott Pruitt, saying he “led the fight against climate action and the Clean Power Plan, doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry.”

Recent polls have shown that the majority of Americans, including Republicans and Trump supporters, support renewable energy over coal and oppose the rollbacks by Congress. That will no doubt mean more public protests against the rules, and environmental groups say they’re also ready for a fight. However, the Republican-controlled House is killing multiple protection laws nearly simultaneously, making it difficult for environmentalists, the public and industry to react quickly enough.

“We’re not surprised at what they’re doing, but maybe a little surprised at how fast and furious it’s all happening,” Sierra Club Legal Director Pat Gallagher told PBS News Hour. “But we were bracing for it and we’re ready.”

Source: Reuters

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