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Setting a High Bar on Clean Energy

A bold move on electric power: California lawmakers have passed a bill pledging to make 100 percent of the state’s electricity carbon-free by 2045. That could solidify California’s status as a world leader on clean energy and send a message that it is serious about facing the realities of more intense wildfires, drought and sea level rise caused by climate change. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it, Marianne Lavelle of InsideClimate News reports. About 29 percent of California’s power now comes from renewable sources, roughly half of that from hydropower. Hawaii has already pledged carbon-free electricity by 2045, but California’s commitment is significant because the state represents the world’s fifth-largest economy and the proposal comes as President Trump aims to roll back greenhouse gas reductions at power plants. A New York Times editorial highlighted the California plan, saying, “We stand with California.”

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Global plague of gun deaths concentrated in a few countries: Half of these deaths occur in six countries that together represent about 10 percent of the world’s population, according to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Just two countries – the U.S. and Brazil – account for nearly a third of all firearm deaths. The study found that guns killed an estimated 251,000 people around the globe in 2016, up from 161,000 in 1990, though the rate of those deaths per 100,000 people decreased. Daniel Nass of The Trace noted this about the analysis: The U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, has more than one-third of gun suicides. Access to firearms is one component in the suicide rates, but it doesn’t completely explain variation between countries, the study authors write. Social norms around the acceptability of suicide by firearms could be a factor.

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‘Dark money’ for lead paint: Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin inserted a few arcane words into a state budget bill that managed to block lawsuits filed by the families of about 170 children poisoned by lead paint. In return, the lawmakers benefited from $750,000 donated by NL Industries (formerly National Lead), which used to make lead paint. The money went to an “independent” political group during recall elections, reports Pawan Naidu of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Reporting. Clean election advocates Naidu spoke with said the contributions highlight how Wisconsin is the “darkest of dark money states” and show that “legalized bribery is rampant these days.”

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Cancer-ridden community: Topic has released a short documentary directed by Rosie Haber on Braddock, Pa., a town with a steel factory at its heart, its glory days behind it and a community grappling with this reality. The description in the introduction: “The city and its surrounding area have one of the highest cancer rates in the country, and a history of health outcomes split along color lines.”

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Lego to let go of plastic?: Each day, the automated Lego factory in Billund, Denmark, produces about 100 million plastic bricks and other shapes familiar to schoolchildren around the world. By 2030, it could produce something completely new yet entirely familiar: Lego pieces without the petroleum-based plastic. The company intends to eliminate plastic, instead making the building system with plant-based or recycled materials, without losing their durability or that familiar click when they snap together, Stanley Reed of The New York Times reports. As the purge on single-use plastics prompts businesses to eliminate plastic bags and plastic straws, Lego faces a different kind of challenge, Reed writes, because “for this Danish company, plastics are not the packaging, they are the product.”

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Mixed messages from ExxonMobil?: ExxonMobil last year gave $1.5 million to organizations that reject climate science, according to Elliott Negin, a senior writer for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Those donations – to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council – are nothing new. The oil and gas giant has given such groups millions through the years. But, Negin says, the donations are in direct opposition to ExxonMobil’s recently reaffirmed commitment to the Paris climate agreement, a carbon tax policy and other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil last week pledged to reduce emissions from its Canadian oil sands operations, and a New York judge ordered the company to turn over more records as that state’s attorney general completes an investigation into whether ExxonMobil misled investors about the impact of climate change on its business.

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Suspect solutions to a mental health crisis: Alternative treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder are gaining favor among some people making decisions about how the Department of Veterans Affairs should spend money on care. But some advocates worry that “snake-oil salesmen or pill peddlers” are taking advantage of the Trump administration’s interest in privatization and a mental health crisis in which as many as 20 former service members kill themselves each day, Jasper Craven and Suzanne Gordon write for Reveal. An example: Several studies, including one by the Department of Defense and the VA, have debunked the use of hyperbaric treatment for PTSD. Yet beer mogul and White House veterans affairs advisor Jake Leinenkugel has advocated for the treatment, in which patients are placed in pressurized tubes that deliver high levels of oxygen to the body. Groups lobbying for hyperbaric treatment “are gaining resonance on the Hill and also in states,” Leinenkugel said in July. “So whether or not we think that treatment works or has any evidence base to it at this point in time, it is not relevant to me. I think it needs to be explored.”

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Bear hunts blocked: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year removed endangered species protections from grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, calling the species recovery “one of America’s great conservation successes, the culmination of decades of hard work.” Now Wyoming and Idaho want to allow for up to 23 bears to be killed in the first grizzly hunt in the lower 48 states since 1991. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked those hunts while he hears arguments challenging the removal of the federal protections for the animals.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.