A future of deadly infernos?: The Camp Fire in Northern California has become the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, with at least 42 people dead, dozens more missing and thousands of buildings destroyed. And it’s still burning, along with other major fires that have claimed at least two more lives in Southern California. Reporters with the Los Angeles Times look at how the town of Paradise’s history and development boom hindered the fire response. President Trump on Saturday blamed the fire on state mismanagement of the forests and threatened to cut federal payments, eliciting outrage from people like Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, who called the president’s comments “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.” He also noted that 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, CBS News reported. “It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California,” Rice said. On Monday, Trump issued a major disaster declaration for the state at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown to expedite relief funding. Meanwhile, the Woolsey fire had burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and killed two people as of this morning and was about one-third contained, the L.A. Times reported.
- Also: Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic examines evidence that the California wildfires are getting worse and insurers are adjusting for the damage to be much bigger in years to come.
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Thumbs down on climate measures: Even as climate science points to an ever-more-urgent need for action, voters across the country shot down bills that could have reshaped the energy infrastructure in their states. In Washington, voters said no to a fee on carbon emissions. In Colorado, they turned down a plan to sharply limit oil and gas drilling. And in Arizona, voters rejected aggressive targets for increasing renewable energy in the coming years. Brady Dennis and Dino Grandino of The Washington Post look at the significance of those ballot measures and just how much money industry opponents spent on the races (a lot). On the other hand, Elliott D. Woods writes for Outside magazine about how the protection of public lands played as a bipartisan issue this election cycle, with some Republicans pledging to oppose Trump administration development plans. “It’s one of the last big issues that really speaks to folks in both parties,” Aaron Weiss of the Center for Western Priorities told Woods. According to a tally by the journal Nature, at least 11 newly elected members of Congress have a background in science, potentially bolstering the House’s ability to act on climate change or to challenge the rollback of climate-related regulations. That’s especially true now that the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology no longer will be helmed by Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who said climate change projections amounted to little more than “alarmist theories.”
Whose lane?: Doctors responded with indignation last week when the NRA suggested, by tweet, that they should “stay in their lane” and stop pushing for gun control. Trauma surgeons, forensic pathologists and others posted photos of blood-soaked scrubs, the “quiet room” where they inform families of a patient death, and the bloodied floor of an emergency room after failing to save a gun-shot victim, all with the same message: #thisisourlane. “Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f****** highway,” wrote Dr. Judy Melinek. Doctors’ role in distributing gun safety messages and advocating for gun control has been hotly debated for decades. The NRA tweet was prompted by a new position paper published by the American College of Physicians. A few hours after it was posted, a gunman killed 12 people at a California country music bar and, according to USA Today, wrote comments on social media during the rampage including one that mocked people who offer the too-common “thoughts and prayers” after such tragedies. “Every time,” he reportedly wrote, “and wonder why these keep happening… –(two smiley face emojis).”
- Also: California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and a low number of guns per capita compared with other states, but after the shooting in Thousand Oaks activists are looking at how they could tighten restrictions to prevent future gun violence, The New York Times reports. –– Dozens of Democrats who specifically campaigned on gun control are headed to the House. Asma Khalid of NPR asks, what will it mean?
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Big changes coming for Big Tobacco: Rates of cigarette smoking among adults in the U.S. have dropped dramatically in the past half century or so, from 67 percent in 1965 to a historic low in 2017 of 14 percent. But the number using all types of tobacco products, including cigars, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, has been stubbornly immovable at about 19 percent in recent years, despite massive public health campaigns. The Food and Drug Administration is set to take two major steps targeting that figure. It plans to ban menthol cigarettes, a change that anti-smoking advocates say is long overdue but that likely will face legal challenges from the tobacco industry. And FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is expected to announce a ban on most flavored e-cigarette liquids in retail stores and stricter age verification for online sales, changes aimed at stopping the widespread use among children and teens. As The New York Times reports, Juul, the largest player in the U.S. e-cigarette market and one that has been under pressure from the FDA because of its huge sales to teens, today announced that it would stop selling most of its flavored e-cigarette pods in retail stores and discontinue its social media promotions..
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Flush with possibilities: Computer technology that Bill Gates helped create has changed the world. Now he’s working to change the toilet. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $200 million researching sanitation and last week he presented 20 new models of toilets, some of which can translate human waste into clean water and fertilizer, during the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing. Jason Gale of Bloomberg writes that Gates told the crowd that better, cost-effective management of human waste could prevent a half-million infant deaths from disease each year and save $233 billion in health costs.
Big price, small fine: Christopher Anderson of Mississippi was killed in May while working on a gas line in Alabama when he opened the door on a container where welding gas was improperly stored and it exploded. “He was one of the kindest guys you’ll ever meet,” his brother told Alabama Media Group soon after Anderson’s death. “He loved his family and his family loved him.” Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company he was working for, Legend Directional Services, for improper storage of compressed gases. The company faces proposed penalties of $28,455, which includes the maximum fine allowed for the fatality. “This tragedy could have been avoided if the employer had followed required procedures for storing dangerous gases,” OSHA’s Birmingham Area Office Director Ramona Morris said in a press release.
- Also: The U.S. Postal Service faces proposed penalties of $129,336 for failing to protect mail carriers in Las Vegas from extreme heat, after at least four employees from the Silverado Station branch this year were treated for heat exposure, including one who was hospitalized. –– The Department of Labor has proposed penalties of $320,261 after inspections found that Sabel Steel Service of Alabama exposed workers to amputation, fall and other hazards at four locations.
Keystone XL halted: In a major win for environmentalists and indigenous rights groups, a federal judge has blocked further construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry Canadian tar sands oil to U.S. markets, Phil McKenna of InsideClimate News reports. The government “simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal,” Judge Brian Morris of the United States District Court in Montana wrote. President Trump called the decision a political move and “a disgrace.”
- Also: An Indiana utility is planning to eliminate its coal power plants by 2028, replacing them with a portfolio of solar and wind power with storage technology, the trade publication Utility Dive reports. The utility projects that doing that, plus managing power demand, could save ratepayers $4 billion over 30 years.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com