Methane debate: Fresh off a spat with car makers, the Trump administration seems to be walking into another fight with a big industry over whether deregulation is going too far. The Environmental Protection Agency has laid out a plan to roll back regulation of methane gas, saying it will save the oil and gas industry up to $19 million annually, in large part by deferring the costs of technology upgrades to contain leaks, The New York Times reported. But natural gas producers have made great strides in persuading the public that their product offers a cleaner alternative to coal and oil, casting themselves as an ally against climate change. Some see Trump’s rollback as a threat to that image, writes Clifford Krauss of the Times. How can natural gas be clean if it routinely leaks massive quantities of wasted gas whose heat trapping power is 80 times that of carbon dioxide? “If natural gas is going to replace coal, we need to show the climate benefit,” Mark Boling, former executive vice president of Southwestern Energy and a consultant to oil companies, told Krauss. After the EPA’s announcement, Shell and BP reiterated their commitment to containing methane. The Wall Street Journal editorial board sees the central issue as one about competition. It contends that the Obama-era rules do little to actually address climate change while imposing prohibitive costs on smaller gas producers. “Large producers are trying to burnish their green image by criticizing the Trump EPA for loosening climate regulation,” the editorial reads. “But they’d also no doubt be relieved if their small competitors, which have continued to increase production, had to fold due to the regulatory onus.”
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National action on plastics: India is preparing a comprehensive ban on certain single-use plastic products, prohibiting their manufacture, use and importation starting next month, Reuters reports. The ban will cover plastic bags, cups, plates, straws, and certain bottles and sachets. It is expected to reduce India’s plastic consumption by up to 10 percent. In the United States, such bans are happening piecemeal, with municipalities and states taking up the issue on their own and typically addressing one product at a time. The European Union also has pledged to ban certain single-use plastics by 2021.
- Also: In a story from Knowable Magazine, republished by The Week, Marcus Woo asks whether biodegradable plastics are any better.–– Nepal is trying to stop waste being left behind on Mount Everest by banning most single-use plastic in the region.
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How much for a life, or many?: Perhaps no one has done more than the Sackler family to fuel the epidemic of opioid addiction that has killed tens of thousands of people each year over the past two decades. Now the family behind Purdue Pharma, the company that makes and has aggressively marketed OxyContin, is in negotiations to settle thousands of lawsuits filed by state and local governments seeking payments to mitigate the cost of the epidemic. In settlement negotiations, the Sacklers are offering $4.5 billion, but part of that payment would be contingent on the family being permitted to continue to sell OxyContin internationally through its company Mundipharma and to eventually sell that company to offset the costs of settlement, The New York Times reports. That’s riled some state attorneys general. It’s an audacious proposition: Fund the cost of pushing a deadly drug on unsuspecting patients by selling more of it. The settlement would leave the family, whose worth has been estimated at $13 billion but may be much higher, with substantial wealth, The Times team writes. “No one is going to be happy after this,” Adam J. Levitin, a Georgetown Law School professor who specializes in bankruptcy told The Washington Post. “People are going to be mad that the Sacklers aren’t going to jail, that they will have money left.”
- Also: A spike in HIV linked to opioid use in a West Virginia county has public health experts worried that cases may be increasing elsewhere, too. “This is the nightmare everyone is worried about,” one told Dan Goldberg of Politico.
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Impaired M.D.: Federal prosecutors have charged former Veterans Affairs pathologist Robert Morris Levy with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three veterans and for trying to cover up years of drug and alcohol use that impaired his work. But the agency has identified at least 15 people who died after errors in diagnosis by Levy and another 15 who have been harmed, Lisa Rein of The Washington Post writes. She looks closely at how the VA allowed Levy to continue working despite years of complaints from staff that he seemed impaired. In 2016, he was found to have a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit while on the job. He entered a treatment program paid for by taxpayers and later returned to work with regular testing required, she writes. Last year, after more reports from staff members and a documented instance of erratic behavior, Levy was removed from his job. Federal officials now believe he made more than 3,000 errors or misdiagnosis since 2005.
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Ablaze: You’ve heard that the Amazon is burning. But what about the savanna of central Africa, or the Siberian Arctic? The world seems to be burning, and Kendra Pierre-Louis of The New York Times explains how these large-scale events are elevating concern that the climate crisis is creating a fire crisis. We know that the size and intensity of wildfires in the American West are fueled by climate change. Similarly, the potential for “large, uncontainable fires globally” is likely to grow if warming continues, John Abatzoglou, a climate researcher in geography at the University of Idaho, told her. Those fires and the resulting destruction of ecosystems further exacerbate the problem.
- Also: Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post explains how demand for beef is driving the destruction of the Amazon, including by intentionally set fires.
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Slow-motion tragedy: The incredible damage wrought by Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas was made worse by the storm virtually stalling over the archipelago where it was responsible for at least five death and severe damage to thousands of homes. Bob Berwyn of InsideClimate News explains how North Atlantic storms are slowing, which means more extreme rainfall for locations hit by those storms. That change of pace seems to be linked to a slowdown in atmospheric circulation, or global winds, Berwyn writes. And scientists think that may be at least partly caused by rapid warming in the Arctic. Meanwhile, warmer oceans are giving storms fuel, making them bigger and more intense.
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A pop-up problem?: The Washington Post reports that the case count of severe lung disease linked to e-cigarettes has reached 354 people in 29 states, and officials are narrowing their investigation of the cause to adulterants in both nicotine vaping products and in those purporting to contain THC, the component of marijuana that creates a high. One person, in Illinois, has died. Products that are sold from unlicensed “pop-up” shops or as components for “home brews” are of particular focus, write Lena H. Sun and Laurie McGinley. Leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration issued a joint alert last week suggesting that anyone concerned about the potential risk of vaping as the investigation continues should consider abstaining from e-cigarette use. “Anyone who uses e-cigarette products should not buy these products off the street (e.g., e-cigarette products with THC or other cannabinoids) and should not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer,” they said.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.