Bend or break: Coca-Cola has cut formal ties with the Plastics Industry Association, a lobbying group that represents plastics manufacturers and has been criticized for its ties to an organization that works to block plastic bag bans, Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN Business reports. The association took positions that “were not fully consistent with our commitments and goals,” Coca-Cola said in a press release. PepsiCo said it plans to end its membership in the same group at the end of the year. The decisions come as the two companies, which produce millions of tons of plastic waste each year, double down on their commitments to develop more sustainable packaging amid public pressure to reduce single-use plastics.
- Also: San Francisco International Airport plans to ban sales of water (sparkling or still) in plastic bottles, starting later this month, The Hill reports. –– A plan to spend $10 billion on a massive underground storage facility to contain byproducts from plastics manufacturing has support among West Virginia leaders eager to create jobs and has gotten a boost from the White House, eager to secure Appalachian votes, Keith Schneider reports for ProPublica and the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
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Coal ash conundrum: The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rule changes that would allow utilities to dispose of toxic coal ash by using it as fill in nearly unlimited quantities at certain construction sites, James Bruggers of InsideClimate News reports. Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, called the plan “sensible.” His own agency has previously documented 22 cases of coal ash at construction sites causing serious pollution, including nine instances in which the dumping contaminated drinking water, Bruggers reports. Now, under Obama-era rules, when a company wants to deposit large amounts of coal ash at a construction site, it must demonstrate that it won’t cause environmental harm. Under the proposal, such proof would only be required when the property is unstable, such as its location in a wetland area or floodplain.
- Also: George Power Company wants to cap unlined ponds at five sites for long-term storage of coal ash and to have oversight of those facilities handed from federal officials to the state, Georgia Public Broadcasting reports. The Southern Environmental Law Center says that plan would put toxins in contact with groundwater for the foreseeable future, including in flood zones and populated areas. –– The owner of Brunner Island Generating Station in Pennsylvania has agreed to excavate one leaking coal ash landfill, fix leaks at seven other sites and pay a $1 million fine to the state to settle a lawsuit filed by environmental groups who accused the company of allowing arsenic, lithium, chlorine and other toxins to leak into the Susquehanna River and two tributaries for years, Ad Crable of the Bay Journal reports.
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Problem pork: When dozens of people were sickened by salmonella in Washington state in 2015, health officials saw an opportunity. Matt Richtel of The New York Times explains that the particular drug-resistant strain involved was relatively new to the region, and investigators had connected much of the pork that had infected people to one slaughterhouse. That gave them a chance to try to track the spread of the disease and collect information that could help stop future outbreaks. The investigators wanted to visit farms in Montana that had supplied the pigs to the slaughterhouse, but the farmers denied them access. And groups representing the pork industry in Montana and nationally intervened. Time and again, in a pattern that seemed to protect pork farmers’ livelihood over public health information, the investigators were blocked, Richtel writes.
Population bust: The global population is expected to peak within the next century, and with that comes a host of complicated demographic shifts: an older populace, changing family structures, new and growing economic and environmental pressures. The trend could cause countries to work together to address those challenges. But Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic writes that the future isn’t quite so simple. “Just looking at the average global picture is a statistical simplification, because the world is really, really diverse in terms of the [fertility] rates that we have now,” Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, a development-sociology professor at Cornell University told Pinsker. Each country facing these challenges on its own timeline may make any kind of consensus unlikely.
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CBD action: Cannabidiol, or CBD, really is everywhere these days, as former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes in an op-ed for The Washington Post. Marketed as a remedy for anxiety, skin problems, chronic pain and more, the cannabis derivative is in the aisles at the grocery store, in pet food, and likely in a cabinet in your bathroom or your kitchen. Maybe it was even in your morning cereal. Its ubiquity has Gottlieb concerned. Many of CBD’s “expansive benefits are fanciful, and in fact, the sale of much of the product is illegal under current law,” he writes. “The Food and Drug Administration must act to make sure commercial interests don’t strip away any legitimate value that the compound might have.” He argues that much of the CBD on the market today is sold illegally, based on a misconception that the 2018 farm bill cleared the way for its sale as a food additive when the law actually preserved the FDA’s authority for vetting such products. Gottlieb urged the agency to approve some CBD products on a limited basis while, at the same time, pushing manufacturers to study their value and go through a more standard regulatory process. The proposal sounds much like the approach taken on e-cigarettes, when sales were allowed to continue and manufacturers given years to submit their products for review. Those products fueled an epidemic of youth tobacco use and posed more documented harm than is evident, so far, from CBD.
- Also: Meanwhile, local officials are grappling with a booming CBD industry. Massachusetts officials issued guidance this summer banning certain CBD products, including food made with the additive, that has riled some shop owners who have seen a dramatic increase in demand in recent months, WBUR reports. South Carolina legalized hemp in 2017, but regulatory confusion has caused ongoing problems for the CBD industry, the Associated Press reports. Briana Adhikusuma of The Virginian-Pilot explains how the lack of regulation can make it more difficult for consumers to know what they’re getting. New York state is poised to become one of the largest producers of hemp, even as the industry faces similar regulatory hurdles there, The Wall Street Journal reports.
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Accounting for climate: One of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies is making the climate crisis a more common factor in its risk assessments, saying investors want to know how sea level rise, extreme heat or intensifying storm systems will affect a project’s future. Moody’s Corporation has bought a major stake in Four Twenty Seven, a data firm that specializes in evaluating climate risks for corporations and governments, Kristoffer Tigue reports for InsideClimate News. Analysts noted that agencies like Moody’s have been slow to add global heating to the equation but changes like this one could provide a more complete picture of the toll it could take. “Before, they were only looking at balance sheets,” Carmen Nuzzo of the international group Principles for Responsible Investment told Tigue. “They still do, but they’re also asking questions about how climate change can affect cash flow, costs, revenues, profits.”
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Here again: There is so much to digest, and to struggle to comprehend, after the back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend. There are the stories of lives lost in El Paso and Dayton that seem now to be tragically familiar. The analysis of the drivers of extremism, in the White House and online. The assessment, once again, of gun laws and political will. Among all of it, this data story from a team at The Washington Post struck me as especially powerful. It looks at the nature and toll of 165 mass shootings since 1966 in which four or more people were killed by a shooter (or sometimes two), excluding domestic violence and gang-related crime or robberies. It is a conservative tally, yet the timeline tracking deaths and injuries grows in intensity through the decades and then surges dramatically in recent years.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.