Big win for Big Coal: The Trump administration’s plan to rewrite the pollution rules for coal-fired power plants would increase greenhouse gas emissions and cause up to 1,400 more premature deaths each year, Lisa Friedman of The New York Times reports. That analysis comes from the Environmental Protection Agency itself. In hundreds of pages of technical analysis, the agency describes the plan’s “foregone” climate and health benefits – meaning, as Friedman notes, benefits lost. The new approach would replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was blocked by the Supreme Court but was designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions at power plants by 19 percent from what they were expected to be in 2030 in the absence of new regulation. Trump’s proposal reduces expected emissions by up to 1.5 percent, and that is attributed primarily to market pressure, not regulation, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post reports. The EPA offered one major gain from what’s being called the Affordable Clean Energy rule: $400 million a year in reduced compliance costs for the power sector, Eilpern writes.
- Also: The tone of the climate change conversation is changing, as fires rage in California, heat-related deaths are climbing across the globe, and grain production is dropping in some places. “It’s not a wake-up call anymore,” Cynthia Rosenzweig, who leads the climate impacts group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Somini Sengupta of The New York Times. “It’s now absolutely happening to millions of people around the world.”
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States take action on drug prices: State lawmakers are pushing to control prescription drug prices, as a first step in reining in fast-rising health care spending. In 24 states, they have passed bills this year to curb drug costs, although drugmakers have challenged several of the efforts in court, The New York Times reports. In Connecticut, for example, insurers will be required to report on the drugs that cost them the most, and drug companies will have to justify increases of 20 percent or more in one year. In Maryland, an effort to ban “price gouging” was struck down by a federal appeals court. Some states also are going after pharmacy benefit managers, who oversee drug benefits for employers and insurers but also take payments from drugmakers for pushing their products. Ohio recently announced it would end all of its Medicaid contracts with the middlemen and renegotiate because the companies were using a pricing model that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year. The Columbus Dispatch is exploring the topic in an ongoing investigation, called “Side Effects.”
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Gun control on the airwaves: During the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, campaign ads supporting gun rights far outnumbered those touting gun control. This year, that’s changed. A USA Today analysis looked at TV spots that ran in governor, House and Senate races in the first half of the year and that took an explicit position on guns. Fifty-nine percent favored gun control, up from 31 percent in 2016 and 11 percent in 2014, Nicole Gaudiano reports. Democrats are driving the trend, and the issue ads have been especially prominent in Florida, where 17 students and staff members were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School six months ago.
- Also: A day after the Department of Justice filed a brief urging a federal judge to allow online publication of 3D-printed gun blueprints, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the department would “vigorously enforce” laws against undetectable plastic firearms. –– Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify has banned the sales of some semi-automatic weapons and 3D-printed guns. CEO Tobi Lutke said that on the issue of gun control “neutrality is not a possibility.”
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A blooming ocean problem: The deaths of fish, sea turtles, manatees and at least one whale shark along Florida’s gulf coast is part of a natural phenomenon of species die-off caused by algae blooms. But scientists suspect those blooms may be getting more potent and more frequent, fueled by warming waters, coastal development and agricultural run-off, The Washington Post reports. The bloom of Karenia brevis stretching across about 130 miles of the coast also has caused a spike in respiratory distress, including worsening asthma, among people on land. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the region affected and pledged $1.5 million in support.
- Also: The Gulf of Maine is experiencing a different kind of die-off. Hundreds of dead or stranded seals have been found on the shore this year, and at least one scientist faults the lingering effects of polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, though production of the toxin was banned in 1979.
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Court orders action on chemical safety: The Trump administration must implement a chemical safety rule that has been delayed for 20 months, a federal appeals court said. It is the latest ruling to find that the administration has flouted the law by sidelining environmental regulations. Timothy Gardner of Reuters reports that the ruling by two judges said that delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule, which requires industries to take steps to plan for and prevent chemical emergencies, was “arbitrary and capricious.” The rule was implemented by the Obama administration after the 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 15 people. The Union of Concerned Scientists identified at least 58 chemical explosions, releases or accidents in the U.S. since the rule was delayed.
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Baby’s first bites: A pair of recent stories likely made some parents look at common products in their pantry in a new light. Cheerios and Quaker Oats were among 31 of the 45 breakfast foods tested by the Environmental Working Group that contained elevated levels of the herbicide glyphosate. There is considerable debate over the safety of the chemical, developed by Monsanto and used in its Roundup weedkiller, though jurors this month decided that the company owes a California man $289 million for failing to warn that working with the herbicide put him at risk for developing cancer. Separately, Consumer Reports tested 50 nationally distributed baby and toddler foods for cadmium, lead, mercury and inorganic arsenic, and found that more than two-thirds contained worrisome levels of at least one heavy metal. Organic foods fared no better than conventionally grown foods.
Seatback collapse: Jurors in Texas have ordered Toyota to pay $242 million to the family of two children who were injured when the Lexus they were riding in was hit from behind and the front seats collapsed backward onto their carseats. The jury agreed with the plaintiffs that the design was “unreasonably dangerous” and that the carmaker had failed to warn consumers of the risk, Marc Ramirez of The Dallas Morning News reports. FairWarning reported two years ago that automakers and regulators have known for decades about the design flaw – not unique to Toyota – which protects front-seat riders at the risk of backseat riders. Between 2001 and 2014, seat collapses killed an average of 50 children every year, according to data compiled by the Center for Auto Safety. The late Clarence Ditlow, who was the center’s executive director, told FairWarning’s Myron Levin in 2016 that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials “know the seatbacks have been collapsing for years. They know that if you put a kid behind an occupied seat, you’ve got a problem. And they’ve never shared that expertise with the public.”
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Little done for lead-poisoned workers: Workers at dozens of companies in California have been lead-poisoned at levels high enough to cause serious health problems, but state health officials have not referred the companies to regulators responsible for levying fines or mandating changes to improve safety, Joe Rubin reports for Capital & Main. He writes: “Of the eight companies with some of the most persistent problems with lead exposure in California between 2013 and 2016, Cal/OSHA confirmed that it received no referrals … for any of them during the last 10 years, and conducted no lead-related inspections at any of the companies. Many of the workplaces have had lead-poisoned workers for decades.”
- Also: Ohio tool maker ArtiFlex Manufacturing faces $213,411 in proposed penalties after investigators found it failed to install proper guards on a conveyer belt at its Wooster location, where an employee lost part of a finger. The facility was cited for similar violations in 2016.
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Unpaid, unnoticed: Temporary workers who did grueling demolition work in the wake of Hurricane Harvey were shorted pay by the contractors who hired them, and state officials did little to prevent them from being exploited, an investigation by Reveal and The Dallas Morning News found. That’s despite the fact that wage theft has been a well-known problem during disaster relief since at least 2005, when the problem became clear – and was studied – after Hurricane Katrina recovery. Texas officials did no significant outreach to low-wage workers in construction or other high-risk industries, and did not track cases of unpaid wages related to storm recovery, James Barragán writes. And, he reports, the state system of investigating wage theft is fractured, leaving workers who accuse the same employer with similar evidence of theft with different judgments.
- Also: Planet Direct Mail has paid $743,443 in back wages and damages to 73 employees after investigators found the Virginia company misclassified employees as independent contractors and did not pay them overtime as required.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.