February 26, 2021

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National Security

Syria, Iran, Russia

The White House Press Secretary stated yesterday’s strike against Iranian backed militias in Syria was an “unambiguous message … to protect Americans.” Reportedly, the U.S. followed deconfliction protocols to inform Russia of this operation. Russia’s Foreign Minister objected stating, through the news media, they were only given a few minutes notice prior to the strike. In the past, Russia appears to have been given more time to react to U.S. military strikes on Syrian territory. Comment: Russia, at least in the short term, will need to adjust operational security and force protection conditions for its personnel in Syria. (Sources: White House, DOD)

Iran

The Biden Administration will work in partnership with allies that negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Europeans are waiting to formally hear back on whether Iran is open to a nuclear diplomatic conversation. Iran stated this week they will begin limiting nuclear inspectors in order to obtain U.S. imposed sanctions relief. National Security Advisor Sullivan stated Sunday the U.S. intends to also begin direct hostage discussions with Iran.  Comment: Hostage negotiations have historically been an important first step to begin dialog prior to exploring other interests. Iran will use its hostages in an attempt to negotiate for U.S. sanction concessions prior to any formal JCPOA discussions. (Sources: NSA, White House)

Taiwan Strait/South China Sea

On 24 February,the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur conducted its second, in less than a month, Taiwan Strait freedom of navigation transit. In a similar operation, the USS Russell asserted navigational rights in the Spratly Islands. Operating, without prior notification, the USS Russell challenged unlawful restrictions on innocent passage being imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan in the Spratly Islands. (Source: U.S. Navy and U.S. Pacific Fleet)

Quadrilateral (“Quad”) Cooperation

On 18 February, Secretary of State Blinken spoke with the Australian Foreign Minister, Indian Minister of External, and Japanese Foreign Minister. The Ministers discussed Quad cooperation and committed to work together to address global challenges such as countering disinformation, counterterrorism, maritime security, and the urgent need to restore the democratically elected government in Burma. Discussions also included support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity. Comment: This is another of a series of actions the U.S. and its allies are taking to oppose expansionist diplomatic and military activities in the Indo-Pacific region. (Source: SECSTATE)

Environment

Renewable Fuels (Ethanol)

The EPA announced it supports the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals interpretation of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) for small refinery provisions. Late last year, the 10th Circuit Court vacated and remanded three EPA decisions granting small refinery exemption petitions, issued in 2017 and 2018. The Court stated a small refinery’s petition can be granted only if the refinery demonstrates an existing exemption and a disproportionate economic hardship caused by the RFS. Comment: This EPA decision will result in immediate (2021) increases in ethanol production in Midwest corn producing states. The decision is also in accordance with the intent of Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector, and reduce reliance on imported oil. (Source: EPA, 10th U.S. Circuit Court)

Grazing Fees

Fees on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service grazing lands for 2021 is $1.35. This legally lowest possible fee has remained constant for 12 of the past 16 years, and is generally lower than fees charged on state and private lands. Because of a 2006 legal injunction, the BLM has managed all grazing activities under 1995-era regulations. In 2017, the BLM began an initiative of “Outcome Based Grazing Authorizations … to provide greater flexibility for adjusting grazing use…” To date, no evaluation of the merits of this multi-state initiative have been published. In January 2020, the BLM began preliminary preparations for an Environmental Impact Statement to update grazing regulations and to meet 2014 Congressional changes to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Comment:  Ranching, environmental, wild horses, recreation, and other special interests have and will continue to challenge the BLM in making meaningful, and legally survivable, changes to grazing regulations. Moreover, an emerging Western U.S. megadrought combined with diminishing fresh water resources will complicate future grazing regulations. (Sources: BLM, EPA)

The Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19 and Animals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture assess domesticated dogs and cats do not transfer COVID-19 to humans, but humans can transfer it to them. Pets mostly exhibit mild to no symptoms from COVID-19. This month the CDC conducted laboratory tests and determined that cats, ferrets, fruit bats, hamsters, and other animals can transfer the virus to animals of the same species. Data suggests dogs can get infected but might not spread the virus to other dogs as easily as cats. They also determined most wildlife do not spread the virus to humans or animals outside their own species. Of note, the CDC has identified mink as an animal that can transfer the disease between animal species. Comment: To protect pets from COVID-19, isolate the animal from infected persons, and have another family member in the household care for the pet; do not allow pets to interact with people outside the household; keep cats indoors; and avoid public places. (Sources: CDC, USDA)

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