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National Nurses United today welcomed President Obama's veto of the Congressional legislative efforts to force the construction of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from the forests of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
"With this veto the President has made an important statement on a project that poses a significant threat to public health and the climate crisis," said NNU Co-President Karen Higgins. "That's the leadership we need from the Administration. Now we urge the President to take the next step and further announce the U.S. will formally reject approval of the pipeline itself."
"The miniscule number of jobs it would create are far outweighed by the enormous damage that this project creates to our health and in accelerating the climate crisis," said Higgins.
While some contend that transporting the dirty tar sands oil by pipeline is safer than shipping it by rail or tanker, there have been five pipeline explosions across the country since January. Moreover, NNU has always said the totality of the damage from the mining, refining, and transport of tar sands are all reasons for the pipeline to be rejected.
Tar sands mining pollutants have been linked to cancer, leukemia, genetic damage, and birth defects. Tar sands pipeline spills have beset local residents with cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, and respiratory impacts, as well as persistent coughs, headaches, nausea, eye and skin problems.
Tar sands refining has been linked to ailments of the nervous and respiratory systems. Dust storms in Chicago and Detroit off piles of petcoke, the byproduct of tar sands refining, have coated homes and areas where children play and raised concerns about heart attacks, decreased lung function, asthma, already at epidemic levels in America, and premature death.
"Transporting 860,000 barrels of carcinogenic, flammable tar sands might be good for the Koch brothers," Higgins said, "but it is certainly bad for the rest of us."
National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.(240) 235-2000
"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.
"This is what happens when a petrostate and an oil executive lead global climate talks," said one critic.
With six months to go until the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, is set to take place in Dubai, comments by the designated president of the summit about his approach to mitigating the climate crisis are already setting off alarm bells with critics including former United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres.
As The Guardian reported Tuesday, Figueres addressed in a recent episode of her podcast, "Outrage and Optimism," a speech given earlier this month by Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), whose appointment as president of COP28 sparked outrage among climate campaigners in January.
In comments Figueres described as "very worrisome," al-Jaber said at the Petersburg Climate Dialogue in Berlin that policymakers should focus on drawing down "fossil fuel emissions"—but not the extraction of fossil fuels themselves.
"We must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up viable, affordable zero carbon alternatives," said al-Jaber, adding that "smart government regulation to... make carbon capture commercially viable" is needed.
Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said al-Jaber was suggesting COP28 will support carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology—an unproven method of removing carbon emissions from smokestacks at power plants, which has failed in at least two high-profile projects in the United States and which climate campaigners say only serves as a distraction from genuine solutions to the climate emergency–eliminating the extraction of fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy.
"He is trying to say: 'Look, those of us who are producers of fossil fuels will be responsible for our emissions through enhanced carbon capture and storage. And we, or the COP presidency, will also support the zero carbon alternatives,'" said Figueres.
She added that dozens of countries have pushed for far-reaching commitments at previous global climate summits, with small island nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis joined by several countries in the Global North at last year's COP27 in unsuccessfully pushing for an agreement that called for a "phase-out" of fossil fuels instead of a "phase-down."
Al-Jaber's endorsement of a position embraced by fossil fuel companies like the one he heads is "very dangerous," said Figueres. "I just don't see most countries, and certainly not the vulnerable countries, being willing to support the COP president on this because it is a direct threat to their survival."
Instead of investing in CCS—which companies have poured billions of dollars into over the last several years with no success stories to show for it, as U.S. watchdog Food & Water Watchsaid this week—scientists have warned that policymakers must slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 in order to limit global heating to 1.5°C.
"We do not have CCS commercially available and viable over the next five to seven years," Figueres said. "It's just not going to happen."
While CCS costs an estimated $50 to $200 per tonne of carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, energy experts agreed in a U.N. report released in 2021 that investing in renewable energy sources would save $55 billion in a year.
As one European official toldClimate Home News this month, CCS is currently a "luxury technology" that is currently being promoted mainly by "fossil exporting countries," while renewable energy sources "are the most affordable and readily available mitigation technologies."
Al-Jaber has been joined by United Arab Emirates Environment Minister Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiriin attempting to tamp down expectations that COP28 will yield far-reaching action to draw down the use of fossil fuels, as scientists have demanded.
In February, Almheiri said at the Munich Security Conference that "we need the oil and gas sector to be with us," while saying the industry should "phase out oil and gas in a just way."
Journalist Khaled Diab said after al-Jaber's comments this month that "this is what happens when a petrostate and an oil executive lead global climate talks."
\u201c"We must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions,\u201d said COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber.\n\nBut carbon capture and storage cannot phase out emissions.\n\nThis is what happens when a petrostate and an oil executive lead global climate talks.\nhttps://t.co/bgY93ujxHO\u201d— Khaled Diab (@Khaled Diab) 1683194129
"When you are the president of the COP," said Figueres, "you cannot put forward the position of the country that you're coming from."
Sen. John Fetterman also denounced the Republican attempt to impose more punitive work requirements on SNAP recipients, saying he "didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids."
The leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said Monday that the GOP's push to impose even harsher work requirements on recipients of federal food aid is "an absolutely terrible idea" that President Joe Biden must reject as a high-stakes standoff over the debt ceiling continues.
Piling more work requirements onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—which already has work mandates—is "a nonstarter for many of us across the Democratic caucus," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) toldPolitico after Biden suggested he is open to additional work requirements for federal assistance programs other than Medicaid, noting that he supported such measures as a senator—remarks that Republicans quickly seized on.
But Jayapal responded that "we did not elect Joe Biden of 1986."
"We elected Joe Biden of 2020," she added.
In exchange for any agreement to lift the debt ceiling and avert a catastrophic default, House Republicans are demanding stricter work requirements for SNAP, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which supplanted the more generous Aid to Families With Dependent Children program under the Clinton-era welfare reform law that Biden voted for.
Citing two unnamed Republicans and two Republicans and three other people familiar with the fluid talks, Politicoreported Monday that Democrats "are floating a rough proposal within their ranks that includes potential new restrictions" on TANF.
"But House Republicans, who are aware of the movement, are still demanding further concessions on work requirements for food assistance and believe they have the leverage to force them, possibly before Biden leaves for the G-7 meeting in Japan Wednesday," the outlet added.
Research has consistently shown that work requirements are effective at kicking struggling individuals and families off federal aid programs and leaving people poorer, but not at boosting employment.
As the Center for Public Integrity's Alexia Fernández Campbell wrote earlier this month, "A major study published in February from researchers at the University of Rochester, the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard, and the University of Maryland found that SNAP work requirements did not boost employment or income in Virginia."
"On the contrary," Campbell wrote, "they led more than half of adults in the program to lose food aid."
In a letter to Biden late last week, members of the House Democratic Caucus Poverty Task Force stressed that "decades of research and real-world experience show that taking basic assistance away from people who do not meet rigid work-reporting requirements does not improve employment."
"These GOP proposals would have devastating impacts in our communities," the lawmakers wrote.
"I didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids, and that's exactly what this proposal would do."
Prominent Democratic senators have also spoken out against any agreement that weakens safety net programs and harms vulnerable families, adding to the outrage that House Democrats and progressive advocates have expressed over the GOP's work requirement proposals and the White House's apparent willingness to entertain them.
"I didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids, and that's exactly what this proposal would do; a proposal that would make Scrooge blush," Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said in a statement Monday.
"I've never met a SNAP recipient who aspires to stay on SNAP for life," Fetterman added. "Let's end the games, pay our bills, and get on with the important work people sent us here to do."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for her part, said Monday that she is "very concerned about any efforts to just tangle aid recipients in red tape in the hope that they will be choked to death rather than get the help they need."
\u201cRepublicans are holding the U.S. economy hostage and demanding a tornado of red tape that would strip away health care and other critical assistance from millions of families. They should stop playing games and join Democrats so the U.S. doesn't default on our bills.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1684196639
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that House Republicans' work requirement proposals could slash federal nutrition assistance for millions of children, compounding the nation's worsening hunger crisis. In recent weeks, food banks across the U.S. have seen a surge in demand following the recent expiration of pandemic relief.
With Biden set to meet congressional leaders at the White House again on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journalreported that recent staff-level talks have "centered on several subjects on which Democrats and Republicans may be able to find agreement," a list that apparently includes "clawing back unspent Covid-19 funds, speeding up the permitting process for energy projects, capping spending, and imposing stricter work requirements on some government programs."
According toThe Washington Post, the White House "recently gave Republican congressional leadership a list of proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes"—proposals that Republican negotiators rejected.
"If the White House's position on the budget is that closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and corporations is preferable to kicking a bunch of families in the teeth with work requirements, sure seems like now would be a great time to let the public know that," Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, wrote in response to the Post's story.
On Monday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he "doesn't see any real movement on anything" and reiterated that work requirements for key federal aid programs must be part of any debt ceiling deal.
Progressives are urging Biden to stick to his earlier pledge to only accept a clean debt ceiling increase, arguing that any spending concessions would reward House Republicans for taking the global economy hostage.
"I don't think we should normalize such destructive tactics," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) toldAxios on Monday, adding that Biden can "expect pushback on nearly any significant concession."
"It's profoundly destructive and it also threatens to weaken the president," the New York Democrat added.