Make way for drilling rigs: The Trump administration has cleared the way for a dramatic increase in drilling on federally controlled lands, aided by weakened rules on  how public lands may be used. Eric Lipton and Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times take a deep look at just how big the shift has been. During the fiscal year that ended in September, they write, more than 12.8 million acres of federally controlled oil and gas parcels were offered for lease. That’s three times the average during President Obama’s second term. New wells are altering the landscape in places like Wyoming, where  the number of drilling rigs in operation has doubled since 2016. Wyoming hillsides “now light up like a birthday cake from the flaring at oil and gas production sites, which blaze through the day and night,” Lipton and Tabuchi write.

  • Also: Chevron has agreed to pay a $3 million fine, spend $150 million upgrading refineries and invest $10 million in environmental projects to end investigations in four states where its plants caught fire or released harmful chemicals, the Associated Press reports. — A lawsuit filed by the attorney general of New York accuses Exxon Mobil of hiding the true costs of climate change from its shareholders. — In an unusual move, a federal judge has delayed opening arguments in a high-profile case filed on behalf of children hoping to compel the government to combat climate change, giving time for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to dismiss the case. 

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Rural hospitals on the brink: In states like Maine, Florida and Utah, governor races and ballot questions have re-focused the debate over whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Austin Frakt of The New York Times looks at one real price paid by those states that did not expand: the loss of rural hospitals. The trend toward hospital closures preceded the Affordable Care Act, but uncompensated care, or unpaid patient bills, became less significant for hospitals in states where more poor patients were covered through Medicaid. Rural hospital closures have created what one researcher called “maternity care deserts,” putting moms and babies at risks, and have increased the time needed to travel for trauma care or other urgent health procedures. Dozens of rural hospitals still in operation are at risk of closing, Frakt writes. For some, their fate may be in the hands of voters.

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Lingering lead effects: One in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure and only about half have controlled it using diet, exercise, medication or a combination of those things. Now a team of researchers is highlighting a factor in hypertension that has been largely ignored to date: cumulative lead exposure. They analyzed lead deposits in the leg bones of 475 men treated at a Boston Veterans’ Affairs center  and found that the risk of drug-resistant high blood pressure increased 19 percent for every 15 micrograms of lead per gram in the shin bones, Maggie Fox of NBC News writes. The study authors suggest that hard-to-control hypertension may be the fallout of decades of exposure to lead through paint, household dust, industrial pollution and car emissions.

  • Also: In Syracuse, New York, 11 percent of children tested in 2017 had elevated levels of lead in their blood, Michelle Breidenbach of the Post-Standard reports. –– In Baltimore, more children are being tested for lead, but lead poisonings decreased, Scott Dance of the Baltimore Sun reports. –– Six brands of curry powder have been recalled for high levels of lead. The product sampling for five of those brands was initiated after the Food and Drug Administration received a complaint about elevated lead in a child, though it was not certain the powder was the cause, according to an FDA recall notice.
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The farm lobby: A team of reporters from InsideClimate News is examining the close alliance of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the fossil fuel industry. The reporters are digging into the impact on climate policy and on farmers  struggling with the realities of a warming planet. The powerful farm lobby helped derail U.S. involvement in the Kyoto Protocol, was integral in blocking a national cap-and-trade program, and has vocally opposed the Clean Power Act and Obama administration efforts to clean up vehicle emissions. “They’re like the NRA,” said Andrew Holland, a former staffer for Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. “They get their members ginned up about something and then they call the Hill.”

  • Also: Large grazing animals, such as reindeer and rhinoceros, may reduce the risk of  wildfires and other threats to the landscape associated with global warming. Some researchers have argued in favor of “rewilding” areas to support them, or reintroducing species to a particular area to rebuild a lost ecosystem, Elizabeth Pennisi of Science magazine writes.
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A conversation about guns: Time magazine interviewed 245 people in the U.S. about their views on guns and gun control. The result is a powerful tableau of diverse voices that inspires introspection, if not a clear path forward.

  • Also: Robert Bowers, who is accused of killing 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday and could face the death penalty, legally purchased the AR-15 and handguns he used in the attack, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. –– The mass shooting underscores the reality of guns in America, writes German Lopez of Vox: There are a lot of them, and they are easy to get. –– Owners of millions of Remington firearms have 18 months to get their triggers replaced, after a settlement in a case alleging the guns can fire without the trigger being pulled became final. –– Some lawmakers want to see people convicted of animal abuse, who also may be more likely to hurt other people, barred from gun ownership, Lynne Peeples reports for FairWarning.
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PFAS, still in fashion: The Environmental Protection Agency has been talking tough on a class of toxic industrial chemicals known as PFAS and working with local agencies to create plans for tackling widespread contamination. Meanwhile, even as the serious health consequences of these chemicals have become increasingly clear, the federal government has allowed more than 100 new PFAS compounds in large quantities to come into the U.S. market since 2002, Sharon Lerner of  The Intercept reports. That accounting isn’t even the full picture. Lerner notes that several loopholes allow chemicals to be made or used in the U.S. without a standard safety review.

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A survey on truck safety: A poll conducted for Road Safe America found that a large majority of voters supports requirements that large trucks use speed limiters that set a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour and that they be equipped with automatic emergency braking. “This clarion call for proven safety technology is warranted considering the skyrocketing number of fatal truck crashes on our roads,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a press release. She pointed to federal statistics that show crash fatalities involving large trucks increased 41 percent since 2009 and, in 2017, killed more than 4,700 people.

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Security in hiring: A security services company that contracts with the federal government has agreed to pay $409,947 to settle allegations that it systematically discriminated against women. During a routine compliance review, federal investigators found that Coastal International Security of Virginia had discriminated against 180 women who had applied for jobs in 2013 and 2014, according to a press release. The company did not admit fault but agreed to offer jobs to 16 of those women as positions became available and to provide certification training for at least three more to assist their employment in the industry.

  • Also: Federal investigators found that A’viands Food & Service Management paid 98 female employees less than their male peers and the Minnesota company has agreed to pay $399,000 in back wages and to review its compensation policies. –– Johnson County Industries, a North Carolina company that paid employees with disabilities at reduced rates based on their productivity without first training them properly, has paid $50,303 to 92 workers to meet federal minimum wage requirements. –– Federal investigators required two Louisiana companies, Parking Management Services and Valet Management Services, to pay $329,553 in back wages, damages and fines after once again failing to properly compute overtime for hundreds of employees. The companies were cited for similar violations as recently as 2016.

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