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Beverage Industry Talks a Good Game on Recycling, But Thwarts a Proven Remedy

Bottle bill: The beverage industry trumpets its efforts at sustainability. Coca Cola, for example, has set a goal of making a full half of its packaging from recycled material by 2030. Yet, Michael Corkery of The New York Times writes, the industry repeatedly has thwarted a key tool in increasing recycling rates: the bottle bill. Recycling of glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans is significantly higher in states that require consumers to pay a deposit for the packaging that they can get back when they bring the containers to a redemption center. In some of those states, recycling rates are twice as high as those without these laws. Only 10 states have such programs, which are seen as one tool, in a spare toolbox, for holding the beverage industry responsible for its waste. In other states, lawmakers have tried year after year to pass a bottle bill, against industry lobbyists. “I am confident that the industry’s true rationale for opposing deposit laws is that they cost them money and they don’t want the expense,” Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, a research and advocacy group, told Corkery.

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Wage cut: Nearly 350,000 workers in six states have seen their local governments increase the minimum wage–and their paychecks–only to have the state legislature strike it down, Tracy Jan of The Washington Post reports. Half of all states prohibit local governments from adopting their own minimum wage laws. The National Employment Law Project analyzed the effects of such restrictions and found that invalidated local wages increases in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin have cost workers about $1.5 billion a year. Because so many low-wage jobs in cities are held by women and minority workers, such state restrictions on wages perpetuate income inequality, Jan writes. “Preemption has been used as a tool to undermine higher wages, protect corporate profits, and cancel the voices of blacks and Latinos,” Laura Huizar, a senior attorney at the law center and an author of the report told Jan.

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Straight out of ‘1984’: President Trump, in an address from the East Room on Monday, tried to recast his administration’s record on the environment ahead of the 2020 election, saying for example that the United States is doing more on greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the world. “Every single one of the signatories to the Paris climate accord lags behind America,” he said. He took credit, too, for the “cleanest air” and “crystal clean” water. But the reality is that his administration has worked tirelessly to roll back environmental protections, including clean air and water provisions, and has undermined international efforts to address climate change while hastening the predicted pace at which U.S. emissions could rise. “This speech is a true ‘1984’ moment,” David G. Victor, director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times. Justin Worland of Time magazine writes that the president’s misleading claims on carbon emissions seem at least to be an acknowledgement that climate change is a problem that the U.S. should address, rather than a “hoax” or simply a change in the ever-changing weather.

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Finding ‘forever chemicals’: We now know that groundwater contamination by a class of toxic “forever chemicals” referred to as PFAS is a serious and widespread problem, affecting the drinking water of millions, if not tens of millions of Americans. Getting a handle on the exact scale of the problem and holding polluters accountable is a challenge. That’s in part because scientists have reliable tools to test for only just over a dozen PFAS chemicals, out of about 6,000, Bloomberg reports. Alex Ebert and Maya Goldman write about the race to determine a scientific “fingerprint” for different categories of pollutants–those that come from a textile plant versus a paper plant, for example–so that pollution can be more easily tracked back to its source. There are lots of obstacles, but Goldman and Ebert say developing such signatures could be key to answering the question on a lot of peoples’ minds: “Who will pay?”

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Rain in the forecast: Why isn’t the Sunshine State full of solar panels? One reason, as reported by Ivan Penn of The New York Times: obstruction by investor-owned utility companies, who spend big on campaign contributions to state lawmakers and on lobbying. Sometimes, critics told Penn, the utilities take a more direct approach, delaying hookups of residential solar arrays by months. One homeowner said a utility representative tried to dissuade him from going solar by saying he wouldn’t get much benefit because “it rains,” and then requiring him, according to state law, to buy a $200 per month insurance policy to guard against injury to the electric grid. Solar energy accounts for 1 percent of electricity generation in Florida, compared with nearly 11 percent in Massachusetts and Vermont, Penn writes.

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Deep trouble at TNC: Zack Colman of Politico interviewed dozens of current and former employees to detail trouble at The Nature Conservancy, the prominent environmental group, including patterns of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and a rift between leadership that courts corporate support and mission-minded staff. Chief Executive Mark Tercek and President Brian McPeek have stepped down. “Even amid their relief and jubilation at the leaders’ departures, current and former employees express concern that the scandal will drive away key supporters and funders, jeopardizing the world’s most extensive network of land conservation projects,” Colman writes. “Several top donors declined to tell POLITICO whether they still support the Conservancy.”

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Price cut: With drug prices continuing to rise dramatically, President Trump last week promised a fix via executive order that would index the price of drugs bought by Medicare to the lowest price paid by any other nation. “Why should other nations like Canada — why should other nations pay much less than us?” Trump said. “They’ve taken advantage of the system for a long time, pharma.” But Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times writes that it isn’t immediately clear how such a system would work. The idea is under review by the Office of Management and Budget and would only affect a small subset of the drug market. One obstacle is that the Medicare program doesn’t do much drug purchasing itself but delegates that role to private insurers. Meanwhile, Trump tweeted on Sunday that drug prices fell last year, a claim analysts said is misleading, and promised substantial decreases to come.

  • Also: A federal judge has blocked implementation of a Trump administration rule that would require drugmakers to disclose the price of their drugs when advertised on television, if the drug cost more than $35 for a month’s supply or a typical course of therapy, Reuters reports. Drug makers had argued that the rule violated free speech rights.

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