Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
"The State of Our Union is a State of Pollution.
Whether it's communities, climate, air or water, all aspects of the environment have been under siege since President Trump took office. Cruelest of ironies, they're under attack by those directly charged with protecting our Union's environment -- primarily EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Secretary Zinke epitomized his environmental attacks by slashing the Bears Ears National Monument. Ignoring Native American sacred sites and bypassing the vast majority of the public, who own the land, he eviscerated the Bears Ears to benefit uranium miners and other extractive industries.
Today, before the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, Administrator Pruitt testified that process and the rule of law are his agency's guiding principles. Yet in the service of environmental attacks he has undermined both. His first attempt to put on hold oil and gas methane safeguards was rebuked by a federal judge. And even though EPA promised a federal court they would uphold the Superfund law and protect taxpayers from shouldering the costs of cleaning up after mining companies, Pruitt stunningly refused to make good on that promise.
An administration guts science advisory boards, as Pruitt did, only if one fears that the science will tell you something you don't want to hear. An administration opens all our coasts to offshore drilling except Florida, as Zinke did, only if one cares about rewarding political allies and not the health of our oceans and coasts.
Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. Last week, the Trump Administration proposed a wholesale attack on our bedrock environmental laws in the name of "infrastructure". One does not serve the public by gutting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires public input in decision-making. And Administrator Pruitt has signaled that the Trump Administration intends another giveaway to the mining industry in the form of new Clean Water Act and Superfund loopholes that would allow companies to profit from the polluting abandoned mines the industry created in the first place.
Our environment is more important to the public and to future generations than the Trump administration's blatant cronyism and corporate giveaways. Trump, Pruitt and Zinke are turning us into the United States of the oil, gas and mining industries."
"Over 100,000 of our loved ones being lost to avoidable overdoses a year is not because of a lack of enforcement, it's a direct result of it," the director of the Drug Policy Alliance argued.
U.S. drug policy reform advocates condemned President Joe Biden's commitment to "accelerating the crackdown on fentanyl trafficking" as part of his administration's strategy for tackling the opioid crisis, a policy the White House announced in a preview of Tuesday night's State of the Union address.
Although the SOTU preview says the administration will be "expanding access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery," the document says Biden will "work with Congress to make permanent tough penalties on suppliers of fentanyl," fentanyl analogs, and fentanyl-related substances (FRS).
The outline states that Biden "looks forward to working with Congress on its comprehensive proposal to permanently schedule all illicitly produced FRS into Schedule I," the most severe Drug Enforcement Administration classification.
"The push to place all fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I is unfortunate and misguided. Schedule I is supposed to be for substances that we know to be harmful and not helpful."
"Traffickers of these deadly substances must face the penalties they deserve, no matter how they adjust their drugs," the preview asserts.
In response to the SOTU preview, Maritza Perez Medina, director of the office of federal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement that "we are glad to see President Biden continue to call for increased access to evidence-based treatment, harm reduction, and recovery services."
"But, his support for harsher penalties for fentanyl-related substances—which will result in broader application of mandatory minimum sentencing and disproportionately harm Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities—in the same breath is incredibly counterproductive and fails to recognize how we got to this place to begin with," she asserted. "Over 100,000 of our loved ones being lost to avoidable overdoses a year is not because of a lack of enforcement, it's a direct result of it."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BREAKING\ud83d\udea8 @POTUS' State of the Union Comments on Fentanyl-Related Substances Run Counter to Commitments on Public Health and Criminal Justice Reform \ud83d\udce2 FULL QUOTE from @DrugPolicyOrg @DPA_OFA Director @MariPerMed IN THREAD \ud83d\udc47 https://t.co/kGYX8kQ1tx\u201d— Matt Sutton (@Matt Sutton) 1675810566
Gregory Dudley, who chairs the chemistry department at West Virginia University, argued that "the push to place all fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I is unfortunate and misguided. Schedule I is supposed to be for substances that we know to be harmful and not helpful."
"We don't know which of these substances would be harmful or helpful, and how could we without testing them?" Dudley asked. "Some of these substances could be lifesaving opioid antagonists like naloxone, or better. This proposal prioritizes criminalization over healthcare."
Susan Ousterman, who lost her son Tyler to an accidental overdose in 2020 and subsequently founded the Vilomah Memorial Foundation, said that "it's incredibly disheartening to see the president co-opting the grief of mothers like me in an attempt to increase penalties, rather than prioritizing the health measures that are desperately needed to save lives."
"Increased penalties for people who use or sell drugs, including fentanyl-related substances, would not have kept my son alive or the countless children of other mothers I have met," Ousterman stressed. "In fact, it's policies such as these that created the increased stigma and fear that kept our children from accessing help, and it's what has led to the increasingly dangerous drug supply that resulted in their deaths."
"It's time for the president and other policymakers to prioritize the lives of all humans by embracing a health approach rather than engaging in politics that only perpetuate this disastrous war on drugs," she added. "As a person who understands the profound impact both substance use and child loss have on families, I expected more."
Biden was one of the architects of the 1980s escalation of the War on Drugs. He coined the term "drug czar" while advocating the establishment of the cabinet-level position and was a key supporter of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, legislation that accelerated U.S. mass incarceration.
"This is just crazy," said the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. "A kid can still lose an arm in a work-based learning program."
Labor advocates on Tuesday decried a business-backed bill introduced by Republican state lawmakers in Iowa that would roll back child labor laws so that teens as young as 14 could work in previously prohibited jobs including mining, logging, and animal slaughtering—a proposal one union president called dangerous and "just crazy."
Senate File 167, introduced by state Sen. Jason Schultz (R-6) would expand job options available to teens—including letting children as young as 14 work in freezers and meat coolers and loading and unloading light tools, under certain conditions.
Teens under 18 would still be generally barred from employment in fields including mining, logging, demolition, and meatpacking, and from operating potentially dangerous machinery and equipment including circular saws, guillotine shears, and punching machines.
However, the Des Moines Registerreports the proposed law contains "an entirely new section" that "would allow the Iowa Workforce Development and state Department of Education heads to make exceptions to any of the prohibited jobs for teens 14-17 'participating in work-based learning or a school or employer-administered, work-related program.'"
\u201cThe new Iowa bill would also completely lift a ban on 14 and 15-year-olds working in freezers and meat coolers, and allow kids as young as 14 1/2 to drive themselves to work. Other dangerous jobs would be allowed with exemptions.\n\nhttps://t.co/t1nEAl4mEo\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1675781655
The proposed bill—which comes amid an ongoing labor shortage in Iowa—also expands the hours teens may work, and shields businesses from liability if a minor employee is sickened, injured, or killed as a result of a company's negligence.
"This is just crazy," Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, told the Des Moines Register. "A kid can still lose an arm in a work-based learning program."
Wishman said the bill will gut more than a century of child labor protections, many of which were enacted in an era when "children were hurt and killed" on the job.
\u201cInstead of raising the minimum wage and paying adults more or funding a social safety net, Iowa would rather bring back child labor.\u201d— Lyz Lenz (@Lyz Lenz) 1675789111
"The idea of putting children into work activities that could be dangerous is something that is not only irresponsible but reprehensible," Wishman added.
Iowa state Sen. Claire Celsi (D-16) called the proposed legislation "another sign that the labor market in Iowa is in big trouble."
"Businesses are so desperate to hire warm bodies that they want politicians to bend child labor laws (and eliminate corporate liability)," she wrote on Twitter.
\u201cIf you squint, you can see the future that the GOP envisions and it looks a lot like the past. Education will be a privilege for those who can afford it. For the rest, there is labor. Just don't get hurt! https://t.co/Ynke4bEKeG\u201d— Jennifer Berkshire (@Jennifer Berkshire) 1675349664
State Sen. Nate Boulton (D-20), an attorney specializing in labor law, described the bill as "offensive."
"Putting children at risk, and creating immunity for that risk, is not acceptable," he told Iowa Starting Line.
"These efforts to roll back child labor laws overlap with the conservative changes to school curriculum," tweeted education podcaster and author Jennifer Berkshire. "The through line is an effort to teach kids that free enterprise rules and that the boss is king."
The proposal treats the PFAS family of chemicals "as the public health menace it is," said one advocate.
The toxic materials that have come to be known as "forever chemicals" because of their ability to build up in the environment, wildlife, and humans could soon be on their way out in the European Union, after officials began consideration of ban on more than 10,000 chemical substances in the PFAS family.
Representatives from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have been collaborating on the proposal, and said in a statement that the ban will "make products and processes safer for humans."
"A ban on PFAS would reduce quantities of PFAS in the environment over the long term," they added.
"You can find PFAS in penguins in the Antarctic, in polar bears in the Arctic, even in rain water in Tibet."
The ban on per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances—used in tens of thousands of everyday products including non-stick pans, raincoats, textiles, and cars—would take effect 18 months after its passage for products for which manufacturers have identified alternatives.
Companies that cannot readily switch to using alternative materials will have up to 12 years to comply with the ban.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) praised the E.U. for its "comprehensive" proposal "to cut PFAS emissions at the source, which is long overdue."
"Now member states have to work together towards a highly protective restriction that is as broad as possible in terms of PFAS coverage and uses," said Natacha Cingotti, health and chemicals program lead at HEAL.
PFAS have been linked to a variety of illnesses including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid issues, and immune problems.
Since the chemicals do not decompose due to strong bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms, they have been detected in human breast milk samples. A study released last month by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group found that eating just one freshwater fish in the U.S. exposes a person to the same amount of PFAS as drinking contaminated water for a month.
"You can find PFAS in penguins in the Antarctic, in polar bears in the Arctic, even in rain water in Tibet," said Audun Heggelund of the Norwegian Environment Agency at a media briefing in Brussels on Tuesday.
Actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo called the proposal "amazing news" and called on U.S. officials to act urgently to eliminate the use of PFAS.
\u201cAmazing news out of Europe. Treating the \u201cforever chemical\u201d family of PFAS as the public health menace it is. We need the US @EPA to stop playing with our people\u2019s health and do the same. \nhttps://t.co/t9hhXT8WjU\u201d— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo) 1675804513