Unsteady bedrock: The Trump administration on Monday announced major changes to the Endangered Species Act, “significantly weakening the nation’s bedrock conservation law and making it harder to protect wildlife from the multiple threats posed by climate change,” Lisa Friedman of The New York Times writes. The changes to the law, which was signed by President Nixon, will eliminate language prohibiting economic considerations when weighing whether a species warrants protections and will limit the ability to consider climate change as a risk factor, among other things. They also affect hundreds of species listed as “threatened.” The rollback, expected to take effect next month, is being championed by Republican lawmakers and leaders in the oil and gas industry, which stands to benefit from previously protected habitats opened to mining, drilling and pipeline development. Attorneys general in California and Massachusetts said they plan to sue the administration, The Sacramento Bee reports. “We’re ready to fight to preserve this important law,” Xavier Becerra of California said.
# # #
Preventable deaths: Federal worker safety officials have cited AJR Landscaping of New Jersey with serious violations after two workers died from being overwhelmed by carbon monoxide while in an enclosed trailer with a running lawnmower. The Pascack Press reported that it appeared the men were trying to stay warm while working on a lawnmower, on a December day with a low of 28 degrees. Investigators determined that the company had failed to train workers about the danger of the toxic gas, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed penalties of $17,051. “This tragedy was preventable if the employer had adhered to basic safety and health practices,” Lisa Levy, a regional OSHA director said in a press release.
- Also: Wayne Farms of Mississippi faces penalties of $119,341 after investigators found the poultry processor lacked a working alarm system to alert employees to hazardous chemical releases. Twelve workers were taken to the hospital in January when a leak released 2,100 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, exposure to which can cause severe dehydration, breathing problems and death. The leak required evacuation of the plant and some nearby homes, and it closed an interstate for about half an hour, The Laurel Leader-Call reported.
# # #
‘Alexa, what is child labor?’: Your Amazon Echo device may have been made by Chinese teenagers, hundreds of whom have been employed by Amazon supplier Foxconn, Gethin Chamberlain of The Guardian reports. While that’s perfectly legal, requiring them to work at night or overtime is not, under Chinese law. Foxconn admitted that instances of “lax oversight” allowed exactly that to occur and the company has taken “immediate steps to ensure it will not be repeated.”
- Also: The U.S. is considering a ban on cocoa produced by Ivory Coast, where the market relies on forced child labor, and political leaders of that country are pushing back, The Washington Post reports. –– A top cotton-producing region of India, the second-largest cotton-producing country in the world, is partnering with a United Nations labor agency to map the supply chain and identify child labor and slavery, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.
# # #
Movement on guns: Outrage over Dayton and El Paso, upheaval at the NRA and polling that shows growing public support for more comprehensive gun control–all of these things have people like Lanae Erickson, senior vice president of Third Way, which advocates for bipartisan gun control, feeling almost hopeful, USA Today reports. “I’m very optimistic about the direction of the conversation around guns over the next five years. I’m pessimistic that Mitch McConnell passes something in the next five weeks or five months,” she said. “These shifts take time and they’re happening.” Dozens of mayors have called for Congress to act swiftly on guns. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted calls for him to summon senators back from recess but has said that expanding background checks to all gun buyers would be “front and center” when the Senate returns next month, The New York Times reported. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll found that most Republicans and 70 percent of all voters support a ban on assault-style weapons. Meanwhile, four members of the NRA board of directors have resigned within two weeks.
# # #
Hot cars: A 2-year-old boy died after being left in a hot vehicle in Kansas on Sunday, becoming the 32nd child to die in a hot car in the United States this year. In 2018, 53 children died of vehicular heatstroke, the highest number in the 29 years since KidsAndCars.org has been tracking the deaths, and this year’s toll seems likely to surpass the annual average of 38. Extensive efforts have been made to educate the public about the danger of leaving children in a hot car and the risk of drivers doing so when they are distracted, sleep-deprived or acting out of habit. “Public education on hot cars is at an all-time high, and yet children continue to perish,” Cathy Chase, president of the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told Ben Foldy of The Wall Street Journal. Hyundai and Honda this month pledged to install technology in most of their cars by 2022 that reminds drivers to check the back seat, and several other car makers have begun offering it as an option, Foldy reports. But advocates are pushing Congress to make such reminders or rear-seat sensors standard, with separate bills being considered in the House and Senate. A product planning manager for Hyundai told Foldy that making the technology an optional feature isn’t enough, because few car buyers ever anticipate they could make such a tragic mistake. “People are going to say, ‘Who’s going to leave their kid in the back of a hot car?’” he said.
# # #
Feeding the world: There’s a new terror of the climate crisis to consider: multi-breadbasket failure. Climate change could cause dramatic food shortages on multiple continents at once, with far-reaching consequences for migration patterns and human survival. That’s a real concern, according to Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who spoke with Christopher Flavelle of The New York Times about the latest United Nations report on land use, agriculture and climate change, of which Rosenzweig was a lead author. “The potential risk of multi-breadbasket failure is increasing,” she said. “All of these things are happening at the same time.” The report, by more than 100 experts, explains how land degradation linked to agriculture exacerbates climate change and how climate change, in turn, makes growing enough food to support humanity a near impossibility. Somini Sengupta of the Times explains what it will take to address the threat to the world’s food supply, including changing farming practices and reversing deforestation. Also, eating what we have. Food waste accounts for nearly a tenth of global emissions.
- Also: July was the hottest month ever recorded, and The Washington Post explains what that meant for people around the world. “This is not your grandfather’s summer,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told reporters. –– Millions of people around the world face extreme water shortages, exacerbated by global heating, the Times reports. –– Dan McDougall writes for The Guardian about how, in a place where much is made of the ice, the climate crisis is affecting the people of Greenland. –– In “hot spots” across the northeastern and western United States, average temperatures already have increased more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data. –– The climate threat of melting permafrost is big. Really big, Craig Welch of National Geographic writes.
# # #
Fast food: The federal government is set to adopt a rule that would dramatically reduce the number of food safety inspectors at pork-processing plants in the country and speed up the pace of production. Julie Creswell of The New York Times reports that the change would be a financial boon to producers, who could produce more pigs, and to the government, which could save nearly $25 million annually by cutting inspectors. Watchdog groups say it puts workers and public health at risk, and the Office of the Inspector General found in 2013 that a pilot program was poorly managed by the federal government and may have created “higher potential for food safety risks.” This bit from Creswell’s story is especially telling: “Dr. Pat Basu, the chief veterinarian at the Food Safety and Inspection Service from 2016 to 2018, drew a comparison to the decision in the mid-2000s to shift some of the Federal Aviation Administration’s airplane certification duties to manufacturers like Boeing. That move has come under scrutiny after two crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft. (When asked to respond, the service said it was ‘the most ridiculous question we have ever received.’)”
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.