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California voters are more concerned about the drought than any other major issue and an overwhelming majority favor strategies to stretch local water supplies, including recycling, rainwater harvesting and efficiency measures, as the top solution to California's water woes, according to a new poll conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
"Californians are united in their desire for concrete long-term solutions to our water needs," said Ann Notthoff, NRDC California Advocacy Director. "It's time to embrace and implement water-smart strategies that ensure we make the most of every drop."
By a margin of 74 percent to 17 percent, Californians think the best way to deal with the drought is to develop local supplies of water rather than expand water imports. Furthermore, 77 percent of voters would be willing to pay more on their water bill in order to increase sustainable local water supplies.
Californians overwhelmingly agree that the crisis is urgent and all water users need to play a part:
"The public is ready to support workable measures to tap sustainable local water supplies and use all water more efficiently," said Steve Fleischli, NRDC Water Program Director. "The current drought is but a preview of conditions that will become increasingly common with a changing climate. Californians expect action and view local supplies and greater water efficiency as the top priorities."
The poll also found that a very strong majority of Californians support - and are willing to pay for - a range of local water resiliency efforts:
Additionally, California voters were polled on the potential scenarios for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and 85 percent of voters preferred diversified approaches that include water efficiency, conservation and water recycling efforts. Only ten percent favor a tunnel-only approach.
FM3 conducted the survey from February 1-9, 2014. It included 1,000 telephone interviews with California voters likely to cast ballots in November 2014. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/- 3.1%.
FM3's memo on drought findings can found here: https://docs.nrdc.org/water/wat_14022501.asp
NRDC works to safeguard the earth--its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.(212) 727-2700
"Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers."
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry's aggressive and often unlawful efforts to prevent competition and keep drug prices elevated cost American patients, insurers, and federal health programs more than $40 billion in 2019 alone, according to a report released Tuesday.
The new report—put out by the American Economic Liberties Project and the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK)—focuses specifically on pharmaceutical companies' antitrust law violations, which the groups say are a key reason why U.S. drug prices are astonishingly high compared to those of other rich nations.
Examining the 100 top-selling drug products in Medicare Part D—which covers prescription medicines—and Medicaid, the report estimates that Big Pharma's antitrust violations "increased Part D gross spending by 14.15%, or $14.82 billion, and increased Medicaid gross drug spending by 9.05%, or $3.15 billion, in 2019 for the top 100 drugs in each."
Assuming that pharmaceutical companies' antitrust violations similarly affected retail brand drug spending, the report estimates that "U.S. patients and payers spent an additional $40.07 billion on pharmaceuticals in 2019."
“American families are paying far too much for prescription drugs, in large part due to rampant corporate lawlessness," said Erik Peinert, research manager and editor at the American Economic Liberties Project.
The report highlights 10 illegal anticompetitive schemes that U.S. pharmaceutical companies deploy to juice their profits and keep prices high, including horizontal collusion, patent fraud, no-generics agreements, and sham citizen petitions aimed at convincing regulators to delay approval of potential competitor drugs.
"This report documents the many ways Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers," said Peinert. "The Federal Trade Commission has begun fighting back, but it needs more assistance from Congress and other agencies to crack down on these illegal practices and deliver for patients."
Shortly following the new report's release, the FTC sued to stop the biopharmaceutical giant Amgen from acquiring Horizon Therapeutics, warning that "rampant consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry has given powerful companies a pass to exorbitantly hike prescription drug prices."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BIG: Our new report with @IMAKglobal finds Big Pharma\u2019s antitrust violations cost Americans a whopping $40 BILLION on branded pharmaceuticals in 2019.\n\nYou can read the report below, but here\u2019s some additional context and policy solutions.\ud83d\udc47\ud83e\uddf5\nhttps://t.co/FfsRoYm4QM\u201d— American Economic Liberties Project (@American Economic Liberties Project) 1684244370
The researchers behind the report offer several specific examples of how large pharmaceutical companies have used their power and dominance of certain markets to push up prices.
The nation's insulin market, they argue, "has been distorted by multiple overlapping anticompetitive schemes in recent years," including the "illegal listing" of products and "collusion" among top manufacturers in violation of RICO law, as well as "exclusionary rebates to drive patients toward brand products and away from substantially cheaper authorized generic versions."
The groups estimate that Medicare Part D and Medicaid "would have spent approximately 50% less on three of the four major insulin brands (Levemir, Novolog, Lantus) in 2019 but for the anticompetitive strategies used by the major insulin manufacturers."
The report also accuses AbbVie and Allergan—which the former acquired in 2020—of engaging in a "sustained, consistent pattern of illegally blocking generic and biosimilar competition in violation of the antitrust laws."
In the case of Bystolic, a blood pressure medicine, "Allergan entered illegal pay-for-delay agreements to prevent and delay generic competition" for the drug before 2019.
The groups estimate that Part D and Medicaid would have spent 90% less on Bystolic and its generic equivalents in 2019 had Allergan not entered the pay-for-delay agreement, which the FTC says cost U.S. consumers and taxpayers $3.5 billion a year in the form of higher drug prices.
The report also points to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Janssen Pharmaceuticals—which is owned by Johnson & Johnson—committed patent fraud to prolong its monopoly on Zytiga, a prostate cancer drug.
"The patent system is at the root of enabling many of the antitrust violations we identified and which are leading to higher drug prices," said Tahir Amin, an executive director of I-MAK.
To combat the pharmaceutical industry's abuses and lower costs for patients, the American Economic Liberties Project and I-MAK recommended that lawmakers and regulators act to completely ban pay-for-delay agreements, modify patent laws to "ensure that drug companies cannot use bad-faith patent strategies to perpetually extend monopolies," and ramp up penalties for antitrust violations, among other changes.
"Until Congress and the United States Patent and Trademark Office ensure stricter standards that would prevent the granting of many of the types of patents that are leading to these violations in the first place," Amin said, "Americans can expect to see their drug prices continue to rise."
"The technology will create legions of opportunities to deceive and defraud voters in ways that extend well beyond any First Amendment protections for political expression, opinion, or satire," warned Public Citizen president Robert Weissman.
The head of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen on Tuesday called on the two major U.S. political parties and their presidential candidates to pledge not to use generative artificial intelligence or deepfake technology "to mislead or defraud" voters during the 2024 electoral cycle.
Noting that "political operatives now have the means to produce ads with highly realistic computer-generated images, audio, and video of opponents that appear genuine, but are completely fabricated," Public Citizen warned of the prospect of an "October Surprise" deepfake video that could go viral "with no ability for voters to determine that it's fake, no time for a candidate to deny it, and no way to demonstrate convincingly that it's fake."
The watchdog offered recent examples of deepfake creations, including an audio clip of President Joe Biden discussing the 2011 film We Bought a Zoo.
"Generative AI now poses a significant threat to truth and democracy as we know it."
"Generative AI now poses a significant threat to truth and democracy as we know it," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement. "The technology will create legions of opportunities to deceive and defraud voters in ways that extend well beyond any First Amendment protections for political expression, opinion, or satire."
As Thor Benson recently noted in Wired:
There are plenty of ways to generate AI images from text, such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. It's easy to generate a clone of someone's voice with an AI program like the one offered by ElevenLabs. Convincing deepfake videos are still difficult to produce, but... that might not be the case within a year or so.
"I don't think there's a website where you can say, 'Create me a video of Joe Biden saying X.' That doesn't exist, but it will," Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, told Wired. "It's just a matter of time. People are already working on text-to-video."
In a petition sent Tuesday to Federal Election Commission acting General Counsel Lisa J. Stevenson, Weissman and Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman asked the agency to "clarify when and how 5 USC §30124 ('Fraudulent misrepresentation of campaign authority') applies to deliberately deceptive AI campaign ads."
"Federal law proscribes candidates for federal office or their employees or agents from fraudulently misrepresenting themselves as speaking or acting for or on behalf of another candidate or political party on a matter damaging to the other candidate or party," Weissman and Holman noted.
"In view of the novelty of deepfake technology and the speed with which it is improving, Public Citizen encourages the commission to specify in regulation or guidance that if candidates or their agents fraudulently misrepresent other candidates or political parties through deliberately false AI-generated content in campaign ads, that the restrictions and penalties of 52 USC §30124 are applicable," the pair added.
"If we follow this roadmap, including in negotiations on the plastic pollution deal, we can deliver major economic, social, and environmental wins," said the director of the U.N. Environment Program.
Global plastic pollution can be reduced by 80% by 2040 if countries and companies make far-reaching changes using existing technologies, according to a report published Tuesday by the United Nations Environment Program.
Turning Off the Tap: How the World Can End Plastic Pollution and Create a Circular Economy comes less than two weeks before the start of a second round of negotiations in Paris on a legally binding global plastics treaty. While the required shifts outlined in the report are significant, UNEP stresses that they are practical, relatively inexpensive, and would yield benefits valued at more than $4.5 trillion.
Research has shown that plastic pollution is a life-threatening crisis poised to grow worse unless governments intervene to prevent fossil fuel and petrochemical corporations from expanding the production of single-use items.
"The way we produce, use, and dispose of plastics is polluting ecosystems, creating risks for human health, and destabilizing the climate," UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement. "This UNEP report lays out a roadmap to dramatically reduce these risks through adopting a circular approach that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, out of our bodies, and in the economy."
"If we follow this roadmap, including in negotiations on the plastic pollution deal," said Andersen, "we can deliver major economic, social, and environmental wins."
The report proposes a four-fold "systems change" to address "the causes of plastic pollution, rather than just the symptoms." As UNEP summarizes, it consists of the following:
"Even with the measures above, 100 million metric tons of plastics from single-use and short-lived products will still need to be safely dealt with annually by 2040—together with a significant legacy of existing plastic pollution," UNEP explains. "This can be addressed by setting and implementing design and safety standards for disposing of non-recyclable plastic waste, and by making manufacturers responsible for products shedding microplastics, among others."
According to the agency: "Theshift to a circular economy would result in $1.27 trillion in savings, considering costs and recycling revenues. A further $3.25 trillion would be saved from avoided externalities such as health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation-related costs. This shift could also result in a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040, mostly in low-income countries, significantly improving the livelihoods of millions of workers in informal settings."
Although UNEP's recommendations necessitate a substantial investment, it is "below the spending without this systemic change: $65 billion per year as opposed to $113 billion per year," the agency notes. "Much of this can be mobilized by shifting planned investments for new production facilities—no longer needed through reduction in material needs—or a levy on virgin plastic production into the necessary circular infrastructure. Yet time is of the essence: a five-year delay may lead to an increase of 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040."
While many progressive advocacy groups are likely to welcome UNEP's overall message that readily available solutions, backed by strong regulatory instruments, can help bring about a transformation from a "throwaway" society to a "reuse" society, the agency is facing criticism for its promotion of burning plastic waste in cement kilns.
"Burning plastic waste in cement kilns is a 'get out of jail free card' for the plastic industry to keep ramping up plastic production by claiming that the plastic problem can be simply burned away," Neil Tangri, science and policy director at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), said in a statement. "Not only does this pose a grave climate and public health threat, it also undermines the primary goal of the global plastic treaty—putting a cap on plastic production."
Larisa de Orbe of the Mexican environmental justice groups Red de Acción Ecológica and Colectiva Malditos Plásticos echoed Tangri's argument.
"To tackle the plastic crisis, waste should not be burned, but its production should be drastically reduced, and single-use plastics should be banned," said Orbe. "Environmental authorities in Mexico and the [U.N.] Human Rights Rapporteur on Toxic Substances have recognized that the burning of waste in cement kilns has caused environmental disaster and the violation of human rights in the territories and communities near these activities."
Imports of plastic waste into Mexico grew by 121% between 2018 and 2021. As GAIA noted, a large portion of that "is suspected to be burned in cement kilns, which operate with few controls or emissions monitoring systems."
Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, called the U.N.'s promotion of burning of plastic waste in cement kilns "an irresponsible choice that has significant health implications for the communities living nearby."
"Burning plastic waste releases dioxins that stay in the environment forever, and are linked to cancers, reproductive, and developmental impairments," said Birnbaum. "These are the very same chemicals that are threatening the residents of East Palestine, Ohio."
Ahead of the first round of global plastic treaty negotiations in December, civil society organizations, scientists, and other advocates demanded robust rules to confront the full lifecycle impacts of the plastic pollution crisis.
After talks opened, the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) alliance, comprised of more than 100 groups, emphasized the need to limit the ever-growing production and consumption of plastic and hold corporations accountable for the ecological and public health harms caused by manufacturing an endless stream of toxic single-use items.
The coalition launched a petition outlining what it described as the "essential elements" of a multilateral environmental agreement capable of "reversing the tide of plastic pollution and contributing to the end of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution." According to experts associated with BFFP, an effective pact must include:
While the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meetings in December (INC-1) and those scheduled to begin later this month (INC-2) mark the first time that governments have met to develop global regulations to restrict plastic production, the United States and the United Kingdom—the world's biggest per-capita plastic polluters—have so far refused to join a worldwide treaty aimed at curbing the amount of plastic waste destined for landfills and habitats, though both countries are reportedly now open to the idea.