Tag Archives: regulatory affairs

Republicans Just Voted to Let Internet Service Providers Sell Your Browsing History

Mother Jones

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The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives on Tuesday repealed privacy rules that would have required internet service providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable to get consumers’ consent before selling or sharing their web browsing data with advertisers and other companies.

“Consumers should be in control of their own information,” Rep. Jared Polis, (D-Colo.) said in testifying against the bill. “They shouldn’t be forced to sell and give that information to who-knows-who simply for the price of admission for access to the internet.”

The vote overturned rules passed in October by the Federal Communications Commission that tightened limits on what internet service providers (ISPs) could do with their users’ data. The rules, which would have taken effect later this year, required ISPs to notify consumers about the type of information they collect, and obtain their consent, before selling it to third parties. The rules also made ISPs more accountable for preventing data breaches.

The measure was passed on a 215 to 205 vote, with most Republicans in favor of the repeal and most Democrats against. It still needs to be signed by President Donald Trump before it will become law, though that appears to be a given after the White House expressed support for the repeal on Tuesday.

The repeal measure was originally introduced in the US Senate by Jeff Flake, (R-Ariz.), where it passed last week on a party-line vote. Flake has argued that the FCC rules could “limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem.” Ajit Pai, Donald Trump’s FCC chairman, has argued that the rules put ISPs at a disadvantage to internet companies such as Google and Facebook, which are able to harvest and monetize personal information more freely.

But privacy advocates say that stricter rules for ISPs make sense. “Google doesn’t see everything you do on the Internet (neither does Facebook, for that matter, or any other online platform)—they only see the traffic you send to them,” according to an explainer on the rules by Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And you can always choose to use a different website if you want to avoid Google’s tracking. None of that is true about your ISP… That’s why we need the FCC’s privacy rules: ISPs are in a position of power, and they’ve shown they’re willing to abuse that power.”

The acronym “ISP” should now stand for “Information Sold For Profit” and “Invading Subscriber Privacy,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) during last week’s debate over the bill in the Senate. “President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result from the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections.”

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Republicans Just Voted to Let Internet Service Providers Sell Your Browsing History

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Oil Will Start Flowing Through the Dakota Pipeline Any Moment Now

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As of this week, Bakken oil is expected to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This development comes as court proceedings continue over the high-profile battle over the pipeline that drew thousands of protestors to North Dakota last year. As law enforcement officers and Indigenous activists faced off near the construction site, the conflict played out in real time on social media, capturing international attention.

A District of Columbia court has yet to rule on the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ claims that the Army Corps of Engineers violated environmental, historic-preservation and religious-freedom laws in its approval of the pipeline. A ruling is likely still several weeks away. The tribes have tried for temporary restraining orders to stop the flow of oil until the case is decided, but judges have rejected those as well. Dakota Access, LLC, is required to update the court weekly on whether the pipeline operations have begun; on March 20, the company said they expected oil to flow this week.

The fact that the pipeline’s backers, Energy Transfer Partners, appears to be prevailing is not surprising. Although the Obama administration had put DAPL on hold in December and called for further environmental review, then-President-elect Donald Trump vowed to push the project through once he took office. But national attention the protests brought to the flaws of the current consultation process—the federal government’s responsibilities to consult with tribes before approving major infrastructure projects that affect tribal lands—may still bear fruit on future disputes. And recent legal proceedings remind us how difficult it is for tribes to argue for religious freedom in court.

Following Trump’s late-January executive order to allow the pipeline to be finished, the Cheyenne River Sioux, located just south of the Standing Rock Reservation, filed a motion for a restraining order against the pipeline. Unlike the Standing Rock Sioux complaint based more around environmental and historic preservation violations, Cheyenne River’s argument claims the government violated the Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA). “The Lakota people believe that the mere existence of a crude oil pipeline under the waters of Lake Oahe will desecrate those waters and render them unsuitable for use in their religious sacraments,” court documents say.

RFRA has an unreliable track record for tribes in court. Congress created the law in 1993 in part as a response to two cases in which courts sided with the government. In 1988 Lyng vs. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association allowed the Forest Service to construct a logging road in California that would have disrupted an area sacred to several tribes. In 1990 Employment Division vs. Smith allowed two Native Americans in Oregon to be fired for failing a drug test because they had used peyote as an element of religious ceremony. But experts say RFRA’s original intention, to protect tribes from similar infringements, isn’t really bearing out in court. The most recent major failure was the case of the Snowbowl ski resort in Arizona in which reclaimed wastewater was being used to make snow on mountains sacred to several tribes. The tribes argued a violation of RFRA and ultimately lost.

RFRA has, however, worked for corporations such as Hobby Lobby. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled family-owned corporations should not be required to cover employees’ contraception because doing so may infringe on a company’s religious beliefs. Part of the challenge for tribes, says University of Colorado law professor Charles Wilkinson, is one of translation. “Most Americans are not used to the nature of tribal religions, of having ceremonies on particular land areas as being significant to their religion,” Wilkinson says. Court documents show Cheyenne River’s attorneys explaining how the tribe views the pipeline:

“Although there can be no way of knowing when this prophesy emerged into the Lakota worldview, Lakota religious adherents now in their 50s and 60s were warned of the Black Snake by their elders as children. The Black Snake prophecy is a source of terror and existential threat in the Lakota worldview…. Lakota adherents believe that the Black Snake poses an existential threat because it will cause critical imbalance in an essential resource of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe: the natural, ritually pure waters of Lake Oahe.”

“You can kind of get that sense, there’s some question raised in opposing parties arguments of ‘Do they really believe this,'” says Monte Mills, a University of Montana law professor. In court in February, Judge James Boasberg reportedly questioned how a pipeline would desecrate the Missouri River if the oil itself never touched the water.

The most lasting impact of the Dakota Access battle might be greater federal attention to the process through which the U.S. government is supposed to consult tribal governments about proposed infrastructure projects that might impact those nations, says Wilkinson. “(Tribes) see consultation as almost a four-letter word,” Wilkinson says. “It’s so often just checking a box.” A 38-page memo from former Obama administration Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins in December described in detail the ways in which the government failed to consult tribes that may be affected by the pipeline. At one point, Tompkins notes that a draft Environmental Assessment for DAPL “failed to even identify the reservation on its maps and incorrectly said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had no issue with the project.” (The Trump administration suspended the memo and removed it from the Interior website in February.)

Similarly, a 73-page report released in January by the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior about consultation—not limited to DAPL—highlighted flaws in the process, after seeking comment from 59 tribes across the country. The report includes problems with the way the federal government “tends to look at (infrastructure) projects in a segmented way…For example, in the Dakota Access Pipeline review, four different states, three separate districts of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Fish and Wildlife Service each looked at different parts of the project, but did not coordinate the impacts to Tribes.” That report requested further action from several federal agencies by April 2017, in establishing better consultation processes.

“Many federal statutes require consultations with states, counties and tribes,” Wilkinson says. “Maybe one way or another Standing Rock could be valuable as raising that issue.”

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Oil Will Start Flowing Through the Dakota Pipeline Any Moment Now

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Here’s What a Zinke-Led Interior Department Will Look Like

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Amid the flurry of Trump administration appointments in recent months, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke was one of the less controversial. The former Montana congressman says climate change is not a “hoax” and federal lands should not be transferred to states en masse. His January Senate confirmation hearing went fairly smoothly, with none of the major gaffes or arguments that have plagued other appointees’ hearings. So far, his stated priorities for Interior have been vague but unsurprising: rebuilding trust between the public and the department, increasing public lands access for sportsmen, and improving outdated infrastructure at national parks. But considering the controversial issues embedded in those priorities he’ll soon have to wrangle, the ride won’t stay smooth for long.

Perhaps the biggest questions around Zinke’s Interior are how he will balance a mining and drilling-friendly agenda with habitat conservation and access to public lands, as well as how he will achieve his priorities if President Donald Trump follows through with major budget cuts.

On March 2, his first day in office, Zinke signed two secretarial orders that swiftly reaffirmed his allegiance to the sportsmen community. One order aims to create more access to public lands for hunters and anglers. Sportsmen’s groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have lauded the gesture at a time when an increasing amount of public land blocked off by private landowners who control access points. “Sportsmen access is a huge issue,” says TRCP President Whit Fosburgh, who adds that one of the biggest reasons hunters quit the activity is loss of access.

One way Zinke could increase public land access is to push for more money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund — a repository created by Congress in 1964 to use royalties from offshore oil and gas to protect land and water. “It’s the number one access tool we have in this country,” says Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Director Land Tawney. “Ninety percent of its funds are used on access.” Though Zinke supported permanently reauthorizing the LWCF as a congressman, Congress has kept it chronically underfunded for years.

Zinke’s secretarial order also calls for more emphasis on wildlife conservation, though details were slim. While the hook-and-bullet crowd is pleased with the attention to preserving habitat, another one of Zinke’s priorities may counteract it: energy development. Zinke has supported oil and gas drilling and mineral extraction on public lands. In his confirmation hearing, he said, “President-elect Trump has declared energy dominance to be a strategic economic and foreign policy goal of the United States and that he intends to unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves.” Zinke has already opened 73 million offshore acres in the Gulf of Mexico for leasing. In the rural West, accelerated energy development could do irreparable harm to wildlife migration corridors and habitat. “That’s what makes us nervous,” Tawney says.

Whether Zinke is able to encourage wildlife conservation will also depend on Interior’s new budget. The Trump administration reportedly wants to cut 10 percent of Interior’s budget for fiscal year 2018. That would mean potentially fewer funds for habitat projects such as restoring streams or clearing invasive species. And at a time when an enormous amount of resources must be dedicated to fighting wildfires, such a budget cut would be devastating. “It’s crazy to think you can keep cutting budgets and be good stewards of the land and be the next Theodore Roosevelt,” Fosburgh says.

Another priority in Zinke’s Interior will be to address the $12.5 billion backlog of needed infrastructure repairs at national parks. The secretary has said he hopes to seek funding through Trump’s anticipated federal jobs and infrastructure bill.

One of Zinke’s top priorities may be one of the most slippery: restoring trust in the Department of Interior among an angry set of Westerners who have deep-seated distrust in federal government. To a large crowd of Interior staffers in DC earlier this month, Zinke portrayed the distrust of his department as a result of managers and rangers lacking the proper tools or authority to make decisions in the field — a problem he vowed to help fix. During his confirmation hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked Zinke how he will protect agency employees “in an era where hostility toward federal lands and federal officials is rampant, particularly in rural areas.” Zinke responded: “As someone who has led soldiers in combat, I am committed to the safety of the Department’s employees. I am also committed to restoring trust by freeing up our employees to make decisions and to collaborate with local law enforcement if things get difficult.”

Other issues the new Interior secretary has commented on in recent weeks include Native American rights. Zinke told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last week that “one thing is very clear: sovereignty should mean something.” The National Congress of American Indians has commended his attention to Native American issues thus far. The secretary also signed an order reversing an Obama administration ban on lead bullets meant to protect California condors, eagles and other scavengers that can be poisoned by such ammunition.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about what a Zinke-led Interior will look like. He has been quiet on how he will combat climate change as the head manager of a fifth of the nation’s landmass, in contrast to his two predecessors, who created climate research centers and pushed renewable energy. Zinke has also said he will conduct a “bold” restructuring of the Interior Department, though details on that are so far nil.

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Here’s What a Zinke-Led Interior Department Will Look Like

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California’s Fight Over Condoms in Porn Is About to Climax

Mother Jones

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Among California’s long list of ballot initiatives up for grabs in November is Proposition 60, an initiative that would allow the state’s pornography viewers to sue adult-film producers—and, potentially, performers—if they can’t spot a condom in their latest download. And as it turns out, there’s at least one thing that California’s Democrats and Republicans can agree upon this election season: bareback porn.

Prop. 60 aims to fight the spread of sexually transmitted infections by adding the Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act to state law. While California has required porn stars to wear condoms since 1992, the proposition ramps up enforcement by permitting state residents to file a complaint about performers not wearing condoms with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Cal-OSHA would then have three weeks to respond before those residents could sue anyone with a financial interest in the production and, if the court rules against the pornographers, collect a quarter of the penalties. The proposition also requires producers to obtain a state health licenses, register shoots with the state, and pay for performers’ STI testing.

The list of Prop. 60 opponents is formidable. Democrats don’t like it because of the potential for lawsuits that could compromise worker privacy. Republicans don’t like the cost: around $1 million in state expenses to license and regulate film production, and an additional several million dollars in lost taxes if the industry flees California, according to a state analysis. AIDS Project Los Angeles slammed the measure for its condoms-only approach, which “completely ignores recent developments in HIV biomedical prevention,” such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—a position taken by multiple AIDS groups. Newspaper editorial boards think it’s poorly written. And the porn industry has spoken out loudly against Prop. 60, claiming that its lawsuits would leave workers vulnerable to harassment from overzealous fans, anti-porn crusaders, and stalkers, to whom actors are especially vulnerable.

On the other side is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest AIDS NGO, a 630,000-patient, 36-country behemoth with a $1.3 billion budget. Over the past decade, AHF’s president, Michael Weinstein, has become a gadfly to adult-film insiders due to his repeated attempts to impose safe-sex regulations on the industry. Now, after drafting a condoms-in-porn state bill that died in committee and failing to convince a Cal-OSHA supervisory board to adopt regulations over the objections of workers, AHF is appealing to the popular vote.

It’s a strategy that’s worked well in the past for Weinstein, who sees a larger public health significance to the condom question. “Many young people get their sex education from performers,” Weinstein said in an August interview with Mother Jones. “They get the message that the only kind of sex is unsafe.”

Weinstein said his interest in promoting condoms in porn started after an HIV outbreak struck the adult film industry in 2004. AHF began taking note of performers who came into its California clinics with HIV and other infections. Documented cases of HIV transmission on California adult-film sets have been virtually nonexistent since the 2004 outbreak, but gonorrhea and chlamydia are common among actors. And unlike PrEP, condoms can reduce their likelihood of transmission.

AHF has filed multiple OSHA complaints that have led to fines for some the most powerful porn producers. Still, by 2012, Weinstein was frustrated by a lack of enforcement. “For too long, elected officials have dodged this workplace safety issue, punting the issue from city to county to state,” he said in a statement. That year, Weinstein took the issue first to the Los Angeles City Council and then to the voters of Los Angeles County, home to the San Fernando Valley, the hub of mainstream US porn production. AHF’s county initiative, known as Measure B, passed, requiring pornographers to obtain health permits from the county before shooting and post signs notifying performers that they were required to use condoms.

Still, most of the industry refused to adopt condoms. Over the next year, filming permits for adult-film shoots plummeted 95 percent in Los Angeles County, and producers sought only 11 of the newly required health permits the whole year. According to a lawyer for the porn company Vivid Entertainment, which sued to block Measure B on First Amendment grounds, producers were leaving the county “in droves,” moving to Las Vegas or other parts of California.

Now, four years after Measure B, AHF is presenting a similar—and stricter—proposal to the rest of the state. As of September 24, the foundation has shelled out about $4.4 million to promote Prop 60 (for comparison, opponents have raised around $433,000). This isn’t AHF’s only fight on the ballot—the group is also staring down the pharmaceutical industry with a proposition to tie Medi-Cal drug spending to Veterans Administration prices—but it’s a lonely one, with no other group contributing a cent to the “Yes on Prop 60” PAC.

Lonely, except for support among 55 percent of registered California voters, according to a University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll last month.

“I’m just worried that voters are blindly going to say, ‘Oh, condoms are good, so let’s save the poor porn stars who are being abused, and are full of STIs,'” says Jiz Lee, a genderqueer, condoms-only performer and producer and a staunch opponent to Proposition 60. Lee, who also works behind the scenes for queer porn outfit Pink and White Productions, is especially worried about the extra spending Prop. 60 would mean for small operators. The expenses would less of a problem for the big studios, Lee says, than for the growing number of producers/performers who are dealing with the proliferation of free porn online by producing their own clips, “camming,” and distributing exclusive content to paying viewers. Nowadays, most performers are producers, according to the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee—a group that claims to represent about 500 performers.

“I don’t know a single active performer who is for this,” Lee says. And while Lee adds that some performers are genuinely concerned about harassment and stalking, the main issue for others is comfort—and chafing. Once, while shooting a scene, Lee’s male costar got an abrasion and began to bleed. That’s what comes from having porn-duration sex with a condom—and according to Lee, it gets worse when actors shoot several scenes a week. “There’s a lot of things that the proponents didn’t consider in terms of what it’s really like to do the work right now,” Lee said. “If you’re an individual performer, you have to have a lot of video.”

Meanwhile, the porn industry’s campaign against Prop. 60 has focused on on the issue of worker harassment. Ela Darling, the president of the APAC and founder of a virtual-reality porn company Cam4VR, says violent harassment is common. “I get people who threaten to rape me, people who threaten to kill me. I’ve had someone threaten to slit my throat. People threaten to kill my dog,” she says. But the most intrusive harassment began after the legal names of porn performers leaked in 2011, she says. One harasser was able to find her family. “He figured out my mothers work phone number, and he would call my mother and harass her, saying I’m a lesbian whore and that I’m bringing shame to the family. This is something people have done just with access to my legal name.”

As for Weinstein, Prop. 60 may be his final play to get more porn actors to wear condoms. “When this passes, from my point of view, this will complete the vast majority of our work on this subject,” he said. Will AHF use the proposition to file suits against porn companies, if it passes? “I don’t anticipate that,” Weinstein said. “I believe that either OSHA or the performers would take care of the issue.”

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California’s Fight Over Condoms in Porn Is About to Climax

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San Francisco Just Passed the Nation’s Toughest Ban on Styrofoam

Mother Jones

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San Franciscans, bid adieu to Styrofoam. On Tuesday, the city unanimously passed an ordinance banning the sale of any product made from polystyrene, the petroleum-based compound that’s molded into disposable dishware, packing materials, and beach toys—among other things. Even though it’s commonly known as Styrofoam, that’s just a name-brand owned by the Dow Chemical Company.

It’s not SF’s first such restriction. In 2007, the city prohibited the use of polystyrene use in all to-go food containers. More than 100 cities, along with Washington, DC, now have similar laws in place. (The first Styrofoam ban was passed in 1988 by the city of Berkeley.) But San Francisco’s new ordinance, part of the city’s goal of “zero waste” by 2020, is the broadest yet. As of January 1, 2017, it will be unlawful to sell polystyrene packing materials (those infuriating foam peanuts, for instance), day-use coolers, trays used in meat and fish packaging, and even foam dock floats and mooring buoys.

Polystyrene’s story begins in the first half of the 20th century, but it didn’t become a staple of our everyday lives until the second half, when world production of plastic resins increased 25 fold. Before long, polystyrene was synonymous with take-out food, barbeque plates, and disposable coffee cups—Americans today still use an estimated 25 billion foam cups each year.

This week’s ban is a victory for environmentalists, who since the late 1970s have been up in arms over polystyrene’s impacts on marine life and waterways. (Recent evidence suggests the resins may be problematic for human health.) Polystyrene breaks down into tiny pieces, easily blown into the sea, where birds and fish often mistake them for food. The nonprofit Agalita Marine Research and Education found that about 44 percent of seabirds have ingested plastic, and 267 species of marine life are affected in various ways by plastic trash. (Witness photographer Chris Jordan’s devastating bird photos.)

While polystyrene is said to never completely break down in landfills, it actually can decompose in the oceans. The stuff eventually sinks, which makes it difficult to know how much of it exists. And polystyrene contributes to the horrifying notion that by 2050, we may have more plastics in the ocean than fish.

Critics of the new ban are quick to point out that polystyrene is recyclable—a judge actually overturned New York City’s ban on to-go containers last year, ruling that the city could make big money recycling the stuff. But while San Francisco residents can bring large pieces of polystyrene to a transfer station free of charge, it rarely gets recycled. The problem, says Robert Reed, a local project manager for Recology, a company that helps cities manage solid waste, is that few people bother to bring in their Styrofoam, and when they do, it’s usually not in good enough condition to be repurposed. (It can be melted down and used as trim or molding for building construction.) “The few buyers who exist demand that the material be very clean,” Reed says in an email. “They don’t even want dust on it.”

The American Chemistry Council, the trade group for chemical makers, opposed the city’s ban, arguing that polystyrene’s light weight results in less carbon emissions when products are transported. The group urged the city to consider the environmental costs of all packaging materials, as polystyrene will likely be replaced with compostable foams. “All packaging leaves an environmental footprint,” Tim Shestek, the council’s senior director, said in a statement.

“Compostables are not the silver bullet,” concedes Samantha Sommer, a project manager with Clean Water Action California, which aims to curb single-use products. Even compostable products, she says, “come from resources; it takes resources to produce, it produces energy and water emissions throughout its life cycle, and then becomes difficult to manage.”

But Styrofoam all the more so.

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San Francisco Just Passed the Nation’s Toughest Ban on Styrofoam

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Small-Town America Has a Serious Drinking-Water Problem

Mother Jones

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On a sweltering day last July, a team of scientists stood before a crowded room of people from the tiny town of Sanders, Arizona, and showed them a photo of a dilapidated wooden shack covered by hole-filled tarps. This, the scientists explained, was the town’s water source.

Tonya Baloo, a longtime resident and mother of two, did a double take. “It looked like a Third World country,” she says. “I was like, ‘Is this Africa?'”

The well serving Sanders residents Chris Shuey

The researchers’ next image—a chart with a flat red line cutting through yellow bars—was even more worrisome. Tommy Rock, a Ph.D. candidate studying water contamination at Northern Arizona University, explained that the red line was the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for uranium allowed in public water systems: 30 micrograms per liter. The yellow bars represented uranium levels in Sanders’ water supply dating back to 2003. They hovered around 50 micrograms per liter.

For more than a decade, the chart showed, people in Sanders had been drinking contaminated water.

Residents listened, dumbfounded. Sanders sits on the edge of the Navajo Nation; uranium mines, relics of the Cold War, have long dotted tribal lands across the West. Long-term exposure to the heavy metal can cause kidney disease and cancer. But locals had never been notified of the contamination. Nor were they aware of the nearly 200 drinking-water violations that the local utility had amassed over the previous decade, ranging from uranium and bacterial contamination to failure to test the water.

“The initial betrayal,” Baloo says. “It was shocking.”

The meeting happened two months before researchers in Flint, Michigan, revealed that their city’s water was laced with lead. In both cases, curious scientists exposed years of drinking-water violations that affected predominantly poor, minority communities. (Most Sanders residents are Navajo and live on less than $20,000 per year.) But unlike urban Flint, Sanders is home to just 630 people and consists of a cluster of single-family homes, a gas station, a dollar store, two churches, and a trading post—all surrounded by miles of red rock and sage brush.

An aerial view of Sanders, Arizona Doc Searls/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

The town is one of thousands of rural communities across the country where water quality has quietly evaded federal health standards for years. Many small utilities simply cannot afford advanced water treatment technology, says Jeff Griffiths, the former head of the EPA’s drinking-water division. (An inspection of the Sanders well in 2012, for example, found that “the owner pours an unapproved bleach product down the casing vent daily as the method of disinfection.”) According to EPA data, roughly 6 million Americans use one of 2,300 public water systems that qualify as “serious violators”—defined as having multiple, continuous, or serious health or reporting problems. Ninety-nine percent of those utilities serve fewer than 50,000 people. Together, they serve a population 25 times the size of Flint.

A week after Rock’s presentation, Sanders residents received a notice in the mail from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) informing them of the high uranium levels in the local water supply—a first since the contamination was reported to the state in 2003. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of kidney disease and cancer, it said, but the situation wasn’t an emergency. “You do NOT need to seek an alternate (for example, bottled or hauled) water supply,” it read. “The water remains safe to use until treatment is put into place.”

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Many residents, wary of the state’s assurances, avoided the water. Baloo brought her kids an hour away to her mom’s house for baths. Genevieve Lee, a 73-year-old retired teacher, resorted to eating canned food and taking sponge baths out of a bucket. She made 40-minute treks to Gallup, New Mexico, for water and often found herself wondering about the uranium’s impact. Did it contribute to her breast cancer in 2008? To her neighbor’s kidney disease?

Lee, Baloo, and others formed a water task force, petitioning for the town to connect to a nearby, well-maintained utility in the Navajo Nation. “All we think about is water,” Baloo told me this spring.

The hubbub led Sanders school system superintendent Dan Hute to test the schools’ water supply, which comes from a private well unaffiliated with Sanders’ water system; the water in Sanders elementary and middle schools was also contaminated. Hute tapped into school budgets to provide bottled water to roughly 500 students and 150 teachers. “I’ve gotten no help from anybody,” Hute told me earlier this spring. According to Rock, no local, state, or federal agency provided the town with bottled water or filters.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, utilities are required to notify their customers if water has contaminant levels above the EPA’s threshold. If they fail to do so, the law calls for the “primacy agency”—in Sanders’ case, the state—to intervene. After 30 days, the EPA steps in.

Though the policy sounds simple enough, the reality is far murkier. Dr. Bruce Macler, an EPA toxicologist who helped decide to tell Sanders residents that their water was safe, explains that when it comes to uranium, the feds have a standard in place. “It’s no joke,” he says. “That’s why we go after them if they exceed it. But it isn’t terribly worrisome if they’re a little over the level.” If the contaminant were an “acute toxicant”—say, giardia—being over the standard wouldn’t be tolerated, he explains. But “when you’re looking at something that takes a lifetime of exposure” to produce health effects and the benchmark is already conservative, Macler says, it doesn’t make sense to tell residents to use other water sources: “The stuff isn’t that risky.”

Many disagree. “It’s unbelievable to me that they would have such a cavalier, unconcerned attitude,” says Chris Shuey, a researcher at the Southwest Research and Information Center who studied Sanders’ water with Rock. “These people have been drinking this for years. It’s not a short-term exposure,” says Doug Brugge, a biologist at Tufts University who studies the impact of uranium. “I’m a little baffled by their lack of concern.” (An EPA spokeswoman says the agency was concerned about the contamination of Sanders’ water and was working on establishing an alternative source.)

State records show that over the past two decades, environmental regulators repeatedly approached the local utility’s owners, an elderly couple named Pat and Lillie Paulsell, about the poor water quality. (Pat maintained the well until his death in 2014, when Lillie took over the utility, Arizona Windsong Water Company. Lillie Paulsell declined to be interviewed for this article.) An inspection in 1995 found that Windsong wasn’t testing for bacterial or lead contamination. By 2002, the utility had risen to the top of the EPA’s “Significant Noncompliance” list due to a host of reporting and health problems. Yet, according to an ADEQ representative’s notes from that year, Pat Paulsell “continued to make no effort to comply other than to send me a package of analytical results, which I have not yet received.” In 2012, a state-commissioned water quality report noted live wiring on the floor of the well. Uranium contamination continued to be a “major problem.” In 2014, the utility paid a $1,000 penalty to the EPA for its violations—but the uranium levels continued to exceed federal standards.

The records also show that the Paulsells were struggling financially and unable to keep up with the growing number of required tests and treatment plans. “I don’t know what you mean by emergency operations plan. Also a microbiological sample plan,” Pat wrote to the ADEQ in 2001. “I have tried very hard to keep all samples done that are supposed to be done.” When an ADEQ representative asked if he had a copy of the rules for water utilities, Pat replied, “You people are always changing them!” In 2002, an inspector found that the couple’s “current health is poor.” Pat, 69, was using a wheelchair. In 2009, he faxed a handwritten letter along with water sample results. “It costs between $35 and $45 each month to send this water sample. The power bills have more than tripled in the last 3 years. I have worn out a ¾ ton new pickup just on the water co…I can’t continue to operate this co with this small income.”

“There are Sanders equivalents all over the country,” says Macler, the EPA toxicologist. “Small little communities that have limited ownership, no money, no resources.” Many, adds Griffiths, the former EPA drinking-water head, are unwilling to cooperate with state and federal regulators, which don’t have the financial capacity to force the matter. “We have a foolish system for how we deal with this stuff,” he says.

In early April, eight months after the state distributed a water advisory and more than a decade after the first reported uranium, Sanders residents got some good news: Arizona and the Navajo Nation agreed to let Sanders switch water sources to the nearby Navajo utility. Within the month, water from a new source was flowing through the old pipes, which will be replaced this summer.

“From my standpoint, this is more of a success than a failure,” Macler says. “Could it have been sooner? Yeah. Are we glad that it’s done? Yeah.”

“It’s a really big sigh of relief,” says Tonya Baloo, who’s now watering the trees in the yard and letting her kids bathe at home every once in a while. Her family still drinks from jugs of water she buys from Walmart. Maybe after the pipes are fixed, she says, they’ll once again start drinking from the taps.

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Small-Town America Has a Serious Drinking-Water Problem

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Elizabeth Warren Slams Donald Trump’s "Huge Conflicts of Interest"

Mother Jones

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Earlier this week, Mother Jones reported that Donald Trump’s loans from the German-based Deutsche Bank—totaling at least $100 million and possibly much more—would pose a significant conflict of interest, should Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee, become president. After all, the bank was recently caught manipulating markets around the world (and had to pay $2.5 billion in fines), and it has has tried to evade US laws aimed at curtailing risky financial shenanigans and has attempted to influence the US government via lobbying.

Richard Painter, an attorney who teaches at the University of Minnesota and who was the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, noted that Trump’s relationship with the overseas financial giant was disturbing: “having a president who owes a lot of money to banks, particularly when it’s on negotiable terms—it puts them at the mercy of the banks and the banks are at the mercy of regulators.” He added, “that is a potentially very troublesome business model for someone in public office.”

In response to the article, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says that Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank—and his connections with other major financial institutions—could indeed pose trouble, were he to win the White House. In a statement to Mother Jones, the senator slammed Trump’s relationship with the bank:

The job of the President is to enforce the law fairly. If a serial lawbreaker like Deutsche Bank is caught manipulating markets again, how would Trump hold it accountable knowing that the bank had the power to pull the plug on his own businesses? That’s a question that should worry every American. These financial entanglements—along with many of his other ongoing business concerns and arrangements—present huge conflicts of interest.

In recent months, Warren has repeatedly challenged Trump. In a string of tweets in March, she listed all the ways Trump has been a “loser” (Trump University, bankruptcies, attacks on women, narcissism, bullying). On Stephen Colbert’s show, she declared, “The truth is that Trump inherited a fortune from his father, he kept it going by cheating and defrauding people, and then he takes his creditors through Chapter 11.” In a speech two weeks ago, she denounced the mogul for having said he was delighted to have made money off the 2008 economic crash: “Let’s face it: Donald Trump cares about exactly one thing—Donald Trump. It’s time for some accountability because these statements disqualify Donald Trump from ever becoming president. The free ride is over.” Trump has retorted by calling Warren “Pocahontas” and deriding her as “a woman that’s been very ineffective other than she’s got a big mouth.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for a comment regarding Warren’s remarks about his Deutsche Bank loans—or what Trump would do about his financial relationships if elected president.


Elizabeth Warren Slams Donald Trump’s "Huge Conflicts of Interest"

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Dangerous Work for “Crap Money”—The Dark Side of Recycling

Mother Jones

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Darkness had enveloped the Newell Recycling yard by the time Erik Hilario climbed into a front-end loader on a cold evening in January 2011. Hilario, a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, earned $8 an hour at the industrial park in East Point, Georgia, working amid jagged piles of scrap metal eventually bound for the smelter.

On this day, Hilario was driving a loader in a paved section of the nine-acre yard known as the defueler or car-processing area. Here, according to witness testimony, gasoline was drained from junked cars through a crude process employing a 30-foot crane and an 11-foot-tall structure topped with a spike known as The Puncher. A claw attached to the crane would pick up cars and smash them, gas tank first, onto the spike, spilling gasoline into a trough. The crane then would swing the cars onto a pile, dripping gas along the way.

As Hilario used the loader to slowly push metal scraps, a spark ignited the gasoline on the ground. An intense fire suddenly engulfed him. “Help me!” he screamed, his coworkers later testified.

When the fire was finally extinguished, Hilario’s severely burned body was found 10 feet from the charred loader. A doctor reviewing Hilario’s autopsy later determined that he was probably conscious for as long as five minutes before he died.

Recycling may be good for the environment, but working conditions in the industry can be woeful. The recycling economy encompasses a wide range of businesses, from tiny drop-off centers in strip malls to sprawling scrap yards and cavernous sorting plants. The industry also includes collection services, composting plants, and e-waste and oil recovery centers. Some of the jobs at these facilities are among the most dangerous in America. Others offer meager pay, and wage violations are widespread. Experts say much of the work is carried out by immigrants or temporary workers who are poorly trained and unaware of their rights.

“These are not good jobs,” says Jackie Cornejo, former director of Don’t Waste LA, a campaign to improve working conditions for waste and recycling workers Los Angeles. “People only hear about the feel-good aspects of recycling and zero waste, and rarely do they hear about the other side.”

The last comprehensive analysis of the American recycling industry, commissioned in 2001 by the National Recycling Coalition, estimated that it employed more than 1 million people. Private scrap yards alone generated more than an estimated $80 billion in revenue in 2015. The nation’s largest trash haulers, Waste Management and Republic Services, are also the largest recycling firms. In 2014, recycling generated a combined $1.7 billion in revenue for the two corporations, or about 7.5 percent of total sales.

But many of the companies that do this work are small and may lack the knowledge and resources to establish effective safety procedures. Recycling workers, by virtue of their immigration status or status as temps, often hesitate to speak up when they see hazards on the job or are victimized by the outright illegal behavior of their supervisors.

One of the largest sectors in recycling, scrap yards, has long had high fatality and injury rates. In 2014 its fatality rate was 20.8 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers, more than 9 times higher than manufacturing workers overall. The same year, garbage and recycling collectors had the fifth-highest fatality rate among the dozens of occupations analyzed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No one tracks how many workers die across all recycling sectors. But at scrap yards and sorting facilities, at least 313 recycling workers were killed on the job from 2003 to 2014, according to the BLS.

A FairWarning analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records found that inspections conducted from 2005 to 2014 resulted in scrap yards and sorting facilities receiving about 80 percent more citations per inspection than the average inspected worksite did.

Christopher Webb with his daughter in May 2012, two months before he was killed at a recycling plant in North Carolina. Allison Hildebrand

Recycling is dirty, labor-intensive work. It involves heavy machinery, including conveyor belts, shredders, and grinders that can pose a serious risk of injury or death, especially if they’re not properly serviced or lack basic safety features. Unlike many industrial processes, recycling cannot be completely systematized because it deals with an ever-changing flow of materials in all manner of shapes and sizes. Workers may have to personally handle most of the scrap passing through recycling facilities, potentially exposing them to sharp objects, toxics, carcinogens, or explosives.

“I did not realize the danger,” recalls Alice Pulliam of Reidsville, North Carolina, whose 32-year-old son, Christopher Webb, was killed at the Southern Investments plastic recycling plant in July 2012. It purchased loads of milk jugs, detergent bottles, and other recyclable plastics and ground them into bits for re-sale to businesses that would further process the material.

One day, just a couple of months after joining the 13-employee company, Webb was feeding giant bales of compacted bottles and jugs into an auger with 14 spinning blades. More than a foot long and sharpened to a point, these blades broke up the bales before they were ground into finer pieces. Following the plant’s standard procedure, Webb used a forklift to place the roughly three-foot high bales on an elevated platform next to the mouth of the auger, according to a report by the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. While the blades spun below him, Webb climbed onto the bales to cut the wires holding them together. Then he used the forklift to push the bales into the auger.

Webb was on top of a bale when he fell into the spinning blades below, crushing his head. A subsequent investigation by the state department of labor found that plant employees weren’t instructed to shut down the auger while climbing on the bales, and that the machine did not have the proper guarding to prevent the blades from hitting workers.

The state cited Southern Investments with 35 safety violations, including 16 “willful violations,” and fined the company the unusually high sum of $441,000. The plant’s owner, Donald Southern, said he could not pay and agreed to close Southern Investments and not manage another plastic recycling business in North Carolina. He declined to comment for this story.

Generally, the hazards at scrap yards and sorting facilities are typical of any major industrial operation Safety measures to make these workplaces less dangerous are well known and widely implemented in other industries. “This is not rocket science,” says Susan Eppes, a Houston-based safety consultant to the recycling industry.

Although OSHA says that 5 of its 10 regions have special enforcement programs covering sectors of the recycling industry, safety advocates say that isn’t enough. “Systematically, across the country, they haven’t given the industry the attention it’s due,” says Eric Frumin, the health and safety director for Change to Win, a partnership of four national unions. Advocates are lobbying the agency to create a national program aimed at sorting plants, where metal, paper, and plastic are separated. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade association, recently announced that it is partnering with OSHA to try to reduce injury and fatality rates.

Yet basic safety procedures are often ignored in recycling plants, experts say. Consider the case of Robert Santos, a 46-year-old line supervisor at a Republic Services plant in North Las Vegas, where he helped dump mounds of recyclables onto a conveyor belt. Using radios, workers would direct front-end loaders to push paper from a holding bay onto the belt, which rolled towards a baler. State safety inspectors later learned that it was common for employees to stand on the moving belt to pull material from the holding bay, or to sweep up material along its sides.

“he was dead working for crap money”
The recycling industry tends to attract the desperate and the downtrodden. “It’s a low end of the economy,” says Eric Frumin of Change to Win. “We’ve shipped all the factory jobs to China, so what is the modern-day equivalent of dirty, dangerous factory jobs? Warehouses and recycling plants.”

Take the case of 51-year-old David Lightfritz, who was killed in a 2011 accident at Marietta Industrial Enterprises in Ohio when he tried unjamming a large machine used to separate glass from paper and plastics. Lightfritz got into the recycling business after his previous employer learned he was a registered sex offender. “He didn’t have anything else,” says his older brother, Willard Lightfritz. “He wasn’t out of prison long and he was dead working for crap money”—around $7 an hour.

Recycling drop-off centers have become a priority target of wage theft investigations in California by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Ruben Rosalez, the division’s western regional administrator, says these small businesses are among the “worst that we have to deal with,” and are as exploitative as sweatshops or the agricultural industry.

Wage and Hour investigators in Los Angeles have found that these businesses were often paying their employees as little as $55 or $65 a day, regardless of the hours they worked. Some employers were found to not even keep payroll records, and some failed to provide bathrooms for workers.

On the morning of June 8, 2012, work at the sorting facility was delayed two hours because a mass of paper had clogged the holding bay. Once the jam was cleared, Santos stood on the conveyor belt, yanking paper from the bay, when two to three tons of paper suddenly collapsed on top of him. A coworker would later remember him shouting “Stop the belt! Stop the belt!” before he was enveloped in a pile of paper eight feet high.

After the paper was lifted off of him, Santos was found to have minimal brain activity. He was taken off life support six days later and died. The Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Republic Services $5,390 for the incident. Asked to justify such a small fine for a fatal accident, Nevada OSHA’s chief administrative officer said it was in line with agency policy, and that investigators did not find “clear indifference to employee safety and health.” Republic Services did not respond to requests for comment.

After his fatal accident, Erik Hilario’s family moved quickly to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Newell Recycling of Atlanta and the Hilario family declined to comment for this story.

Last September, a jury in Fulton County, Georgia, awarded $29.2 million to the Hilario family. Newell and the family subsequently settled out of court. But the pain of a life cut short lingers Hilario’s family, who were described by their lawyer as still reeling from Erik’s death five years later. “He wanted to be somebody,” Erik’s older brother, Efrain, recalled in his tearful testimony during the trial. “He had many dreams.”

Bridget Huber contributed to this report. The Courtroom View Network provided access to its archive of video trial testimony.

FairWarning, which reported this story, is a nonprofit news organization that focuses on public health, safety, and environmental issues. A longer version of the story appears at fairwarning.org.

Continued – 

Dangerous Work for “Crap Money”—The Dark Side of Recycling

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Huzzah! San Francisco Just Made It Illegal for Teens to Buy Cigarettes

Mother Jones

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to raise the legal age to buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21. The city joins more than 120 others, including New York City and Boston, that have enacted similar legislation.

Supervisor Scott Weiner, who cosponsored the legislation, argues that restricting access to cigarettes helps reduce the likelihood of getting hooked in the first place. A 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine, for example, found that 90 percent of daily smokers started before 19.

But Tom Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (that’s right, NATO), notes that California law not only stipulates that the smoking age is 18, but specifies that state law preempts local legislation: “No city, county, or city and county shall adopt any ordinance or regulation inconsistent with this section,” it reads. A measure to raise the smoking age 21 across the state stalled in the state assembly last year.

Two other California cities that passed similar legislation have veered in different directions: Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, suspended enforcement of the raised age limit after threats of litigation from NATO. Meanwhile, Santa Clara continues to enforce its age limit of 21.

Wiener is unfazed by potential challenges, reports KQED: “Our city has a history of taking on major industries in the name of public health, in the name of consumers, and winning. And we will do so here.”

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Huzzah! San Francisco Just Made It Illegal for Teens to Buy Cigarettes

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A Food Giant Wanted to Squash Eggless Mayo. It Just Lost.

Mother Jones

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In the great mayo wars of 2015, there is finally a winner.

For those who haven’t been following the scandal-filled sandwich spread controversy, a bit of background: It all began in 2013, when the egg-alternative food startup company Hampton Creek launched a vegan mayonnaise-like product called Just Mayo, which soon became Whole Foods’ most popular mayonnaise.

Read our past coverage of the hackers trying to make fake eggs better. Ross MacDonald

So popular was Just Mayo, in fact, that in November 2014, Unilever, parent company of market leader Hellmann’s, sued Hampton Creek for false advertising and unfair competition. The food giant argued that Just Mayo, because it contained no eggs, “damages the entire product category, which has strived for decades for a consistent definition of ‘mayonnaise’ that fits with consumer expectations.” Unilever dropped the lawsuit about a month later “as consumers heaped scorn on the company for what they viewed as a frivolous lawsuit,” the food industry news site Food Dive reported.

Nevertheless, in August of this year the FDA ruled that Hampton Creek couldn’t call its product mayonnaise. “The use of the term ‘mayo’ in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise,” the FDA said in a statement.

Then, in September, internal emails from the American Egg Board surfaced. They showed that the industry group had tried to stop Whole Foods from selling Just Mayo—and that Egg Board members were really worked up over Hampton Creek. From the Guardian:

More than one member of the AEB made joking threats of violence against Hampton Creek’s founder, Josh Tetrick. “Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?” asked Mike Sencer, executive vice-president of AEB member organization Hidden Villa Ranch. Mitch Kanter, executive vice-president of the AEB, jokingly offered “to contact some of my old buddies in Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit.”

Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy retired early in the wake of the episode.

While all that was going on, Hampton Creek was working with the FDA on a compromise, and today, the company announced that it will be allowed to keep the name Just Mayo, as long as it makes its eggless-ness even clearer on the product label. The AP’s Candice Choi reports:

The changes include making the words ‘egg-free’ larger and adding ‘Spread & Dressing.’ An image of an egg with a pea shoot inside will also be smaller.

Now, all this hoopla over a “spread and dressing” and its picture of a pea-shoot-bearing egg might seem ridiculous, but keep in mind that this business played out against the backdrop of a devastating avian flu outbreak that hobbled the egg industry. What’s more, in April two former egg industry executives were sentenced to jail time for their connection with a 2010 salmonella outbreak that is thought to have sickened as many as 56,000 people.

All those egg woes aside, there’s another reason behind egg purveyors’ massive freak-out: At least according to writer Rowan Jacobsen, unlike most other eggless mayonnaise products, Just Mayo actually tastes good.

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A Food Giant Wanted to Squash Eggless Mayo. It Just Lost.

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