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The following is a statement from Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works, in response to this morning's White House fact sheet on drug pricing and President Biden's upcoming speech:
"Today, President Biden is giving Congress a mandate to lower drug prices for everyone in America. Now, Democrats need to stand united and pass drug pricing reform into law as part of the Build Back Better package.
Any Democrat who tries to block or water down drug pricing reform is betraying President Biden and his agenda. Worse, they are betraying the American people."
Social Security Works' mission is to: Protect and improve the economic security of disadvantaged and at-risk populations; Safeguard the economic security of those dependent, now or in the future, on Social Security; and Maintain Social Security as a vehicle of social justice.
"One thing is clear," observed U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "this is another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine."
With a renewed call for peace, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is warning that the destruction of a huge dam in a Russian-controlled area of southern Ukraine "will have grave and far-reaching consequences" for people in the region, as officials Wednesday took stock of the incredible damage.
Speaking from New York Tuesday, Guterres said the U.N. could not independently verify how the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam in Kherson was destroyed in what the world body called "the most significant incident of damage to civilian infrastructure since the start of the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine" in February 2022.
"But one thing is clear," the U.N. chief asserted, "this is another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine."
\u201cMy statement on the destruction in the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam in Ukraine today.\u201d— Ant\u00f3nio Guterres (@Ant\u00f3nio Guterres) 1686089949
Noting that at least 16,000 people have already lost their homes due to the dam's destruction, Guterres called the disaster "yet another example of the horrific price of war on people."
"The floodgates of suffering have been overflowing for more than a year, and that must stop," he said, adding that "above all, I appeal for a just peace, in line with the U.N. Charter, international law, and the resolutions of the General Assembly."
Also speaking Tuesday, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that the dam's destruction "will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine," while noting that "Ukrainian authorities have reported that at least 40 settlements in Kherson are already flooded or partially flooded, a number which is expected to rise."
\u201cThe #Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine lost a vital source of cooling water when the Kakhovka dam was breached on Tuesday. Though reactors are offline, safety concerns persist.\n\nLearn more in @NucSafetyUCS\u2019s recent paper in @BulletinAtomic\u27a1\ufe0fhttps://t.co/XLj3IKCX9e\u201d— Union of Concerned Scientists (@Union of Concerned Scientists) 1686081272
The International Atomic Energy Agency—the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog—warned Tuesday that the dam's destruction has already caused a "significant' drop in water levels in the reservoir that supplies the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. ZNPP—Europe's largest nuclear power plant—was shelled by Russian forces in March 2022 during fighting for control of the facility, located in the eastern town of Enerhodar.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi further warned that the "absence of cooling water in the essential cooling water systems for an extended period of time would cause fuel melt and inoperability of the plant's emergency diesel generators," although he added that there is no "immediate" safety risk.
Human rights groups echoed many of the U.N.'s concerns. Marie Struthers, Amnesty International's regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement that "the human and environmental cost of the destruction of the Kakhovka dam is a huge humanitarian disaster, and the international community must unite to bring those responsible to justice."
\u201cThe destruction of Kakhovka dam is posing a catastrophic risk to many civilians in Ukraine.\u201d— Amnesty International USA (@Amnesty International USA) 1686146460
"The rules of international humanitarian law specifically protect dams, due to the dangers their destruction poses to civilians," Struthers added. "The destruction of the Kakhovka dam is a catastrophe that endangers the life, safety, and well-being of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people living within range of the flood waters. It is literally an open floodgate for catastrophic human and environmental disaster."
Robert Wood, the U.S. alternate representative for special political affairs at the U.N., on Tuesday called the dam's destruction "yet another casualty in Russia's brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine."
"I want to make absolutely clear: It was Russia that started this war, it was Russia that occupied this area of Ukraine, and it was Russian forces that took over the dam illegally last year and have been occupying ever since," Wood continued.
\u201cSix + years ago, a U.S. Special Operations unit struck a dam in Syria...\n\nWorth revisiting this reporting today:\u201d— Azmat Khan (@Azmat Khan) 1686079958
"To be clear: Deliberate attacks on civilian objects are prohibited by the law of war," added the American, whose country's military has deliberately attacked countless civilian targets during wartime, including the Tabqa dam in Syria in 2017.
Ukraine and Russia blame each other for blowing up the Kakhovka dam, with Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian U.N. ambassador, accusing Moscow of committing "a terrorist act against Ukrainian critical infrastructure" and Vassiliy Nebenzia, his Russian counterpart, charging Kyiv with perpetrating "an unthinkable crime."
The smoke has drifted south from "unprecedented" wildfires in Canada sparked by record spring temperatures.
Smoke from Canadian wildfires fueled by the climate crisis continued to smother eastern regions of the United States on Wednesday, with 13 states issuing air quality alerts affecting millions of people.
New York City had the worst air quality of any major city Tuesday night, and the third worst as of 11:38 am ET Wednesday, behind only Delhi and Dhaka. Both New York and Washington, D.C. have issued Code Red Air Quality Alerts and canceled outdoor activities at public schools.
\u201cNew York City now with the worst air quality in the world among major cities:\u201d— Capital Weather Gang (@Capital Weather Gang) 1686099512
"In the capital city of the United States of America it is medically unsafe to inhale air," the group Climate Defiance wrote on Twitter. "Fossil-fueled climate change has parched Canada, where 6,600,000 acres of forest just burst into flames. Those majestic woodlands are now ash. And we are inhaling the soot."
\u201cBREAKING: in the capital city of the United States of America it is medically unsafe to inhale air.\n\nFossil-fueled climate change has parched Canada, where 6,600,000 acres of forest just burst into flames. Those majestic woodlands are now ash. And we are inhaling the soot.\u201d— Climate Defiance (@Climate Defiance) 1686140401
Millions of people in the U.S. and Canada are breathing unhealthy air for the second day in a row Wednesday, with more than 55 million under air quality alerts in the Eastern U.S. and the Canadian capital of Ottawa also hard hit, CNN reported.
"The smoke—making the Eastern U.S. look like California at the peak of fire season—is not normal," The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang tweeted. "The air is compromised from Minneapolis to D.C. to Boston, and the worst from western NY to around Ottawa."
\u201cThe smoke -- making the Eastern U.S. look like California at the peak of fire season -- is not normal.\nThe air is compromised from Minneapolis to DC to Boston, and the worst from western NY to arround Ottawa. A thread... 1/\u201d— Capital Weather Gang (@Capital Weather Gang) 1686072533
New York Mayor Eric Adams advised vulnerable residents to stay inside until the smoke cleared.
"This is not the day to train for a marathon," he said, as The New York Times reported.
AccuWeather assessed that the smoke was the worst the Northeast had experienced in more than two decades.
"Unlike other wildfire smoke episodes in the Northeast, where the smoke was primarily present well above the ground, only resulting in hazy skies and more vivid sunrises and sunsets, the smoke in recent days has also been at ground level resulting in poor air quality, low visibility, and serious health risks to people, especially those outdoors," the outlet wrote in a media advisory.
Wildfire smoke is a cause of particulate matter air pollution, which has been linked to a growing number of health hazards from heart and lung disease to poor mental health and cognitive decline. In the U.S. West, regular smoke from climate-fueled wildfires has begun to reverse policy-driven improvements in air quality, and now the East is beginning to see similar impacts.
New York City's air quality on Wednesday was its worst since the 1960s, New York City health commissioner Ashwin Vasan said, according toThe New York Times. AccuWeather, meanwhile, likened spending hours breathing the air in the hardest-hit Northeast cities to smoking five to 10 cigarettes.
\u201cLive view of Lower Manhattan from @Earthcam as dense wildfire smoke settles in close to the surface. Air quality is very poor and visibility has dropped significantly.\u201d— New York Metro Weather (@New York Metro Weather) 1686091573
"If you can see or smell smoke, know that you're being exposed," William Barrett, the national senior director of clean air advocacy with the American Lung Association, told CNN. "And it's important that you do everything you can to remain indoors during those high, high pollution episodes, and it's really important to keep an eye on your health or any development of symptoms."
The smoke is coming from more than 400 fires burning in Canada, as officials in that country said this year could be the worst for fires on record, the Independentreported. In the province of Quebec alone, more than 150 fires were burning as of Tuesday, with more than 110 out of control, forcing thousands to evacuate, The Associated Press reported.
The climate crisis is fueling these fires with record spring heat, and high latitudes are warming faster than the global average, as The Washington Post pointed out. Already in May, Canada saw more than 6.5 million acres burn, far surpassing the average for the month of around 370,000 acres.
"These conditions this early in the season are unprecedented."
"These conditions this early in the season are unprecedented and of course they are deeply concerning to all Canadians," Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair toldCBC News June 1.
Smoke from the Quebec fires is being pushed south over the Great Lakes, Northeast, and Mid Atlantic by a clockwise low pressure system over Nova Scotia, The Washington Post reported further. It has drifted as far south as South Carolina and as far west as Minnesota.
\u201cAs we continue to monitor the widespread smoke from wildfires in Canada, @NOAA's #GOESEast \ud83d\udef0\ufe0f can see some of it being swept up by a large swirling low pressure system. Numerous #AirQuality Alerts are in effect across the central and eastern U.S.\n\nMore: https://t.co/wJGBXDcNu2\u201d— NOAA Satellites (@NOAA Satellites) 1686142437
It's not clear when the smoke will end, though a change in wind direction could improve conditions Friday into Saturday.
"As bad as the smoke and air pollution was on Tuesday, the air quality can be even worse at times across parts of the Northeast on Wednesday and poor air quality is expected to linger in some areas into the weekend," AccuWeather chief meteorologist Jonathan Porter said.
The location of the smoke could also change as the week progresses.
“On Thursday and Friday, the worst smoke and related air quality is expected to shift west across the Great Lakes and parts of Ohio Valley and interior Northeast including the cities of Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Detroit," AccuWeather director of forecasting Operation Dan DePodwin said.
DePodwin warned that a system in the Ohio Valley region in the coming days or next week could turn into something called a "smoke storm," causing the smoke "to wrap westward across the Great Lakes and then southward through the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic."
While millions wait for the smoke to lift, climate activists pointed out that a change in political wind is really what is needed to prevent such extreme weather events.
"Hey @POTUS, about that climate emergency?" Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn tweeted over a picture of a smoke-darkened New York.
Food and Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh also tweeted a smoky D.C. streetscape Wednesday as he headed to Capitol Hill to protest the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile natural gas pipeline that Congress fast-tracked as part of the debt ceiling deal signed into law by President Joe Biden on Saturday.
"The hazy sky over D.C. this morning, from climate change charged wildfires in Canada, is just one more way the fossil fuel industry is killing us in their blind pursuit of profit," Walsh said.
Oil Change International U.S. program co-manager Allie Rosenbluth also called out the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for providing another $2.24 billion in loan guarantees to the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.
"This has to stop if we want to have a livable planet," Rosenbluth said. "While Global South, Indigenous, coastal, and other frontline communities feel effects of the climate crisis first and worst, the inability to breathe clean air for millions who are unaccustomed to climate fires, should be a wake up call."
Rosenbluth urged action as international negotiators meet for the Bonn Climate Change Conference in Germany as part of the lead-up to the UN COP28 climate change conference later in the year.
"We cannot dig our way out of this hole with false solutions that prolong the life of fossil fuels," Rosenbluth said. "The response must be to slash carbon pollution by phasing out fossil fuels. And fast."
"This is an absolute scandal," said one lawmaker. "It is like having a tobacco multinational overseeing the internal work of the World Health Organization."
One of the world's largest fossil fuel corporations has been able to read emails to and from the United Nations climate summit office and was given advice on how to respond to a media inquiry, The Guardianreported Wednesday.
Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the CEO of the United Arab Emirates' state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), is also president-designate of COP28, set to be hosted this fall by the UAE.
"This is an absolute scandal," said Manon Aubry, a European Union lawmaker from France. "An oil and gas company has found its way to the core of the organization in charge of coordinating the phasing out of oil and gas. It is like having a tobacco multinational overseeing the internal work of the World Health Organization."
Aubrey, who co-led a recent letter in which 133 members of the United States Congress and the European Parliament called for al-Jaber to be replaced as chair of the U.N.'s upcoming annual climate conference, added: "The COP28 office has lost all credibility. If we care more about preventing a climate disaster than protecting the profits and influence of fossil fuel companies, we need to react now."
According to The Guardian: "The COP28 office had claimed its email system was 'standalone' and 'separate' from that of ADNOC. But expert technical analysis showed the office shared email servers with ADNOC. After The Guardian's inquiries, the COP28 office switched to a different server on Monday."
"If we care more about preventing a climate disaster than protecting the profits and influence of fossil fuel companies, we need to react now."
Bas Eickhout, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, called the newspaper's findings "explosive."
Eickhout, vice chair of the E.U.'s environment committee, said that "the [UAE presidency of COP28] is a merger of the economic interests of a fossil country with a fundamental transition agenda that should be away from this fossil industry—that will not go well, and [these revelations] already show that it's not going well."
Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory and co-coordinator of Kick Big Polluters Out, noted that the UAE's selection of al-Jaber as COP28 leader in January was "a huge blow to the credibility" of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
"It's completely inappropriate that an oil corporation was consulted and it exposes just how influential it has been in shaping what gets presented to the outside world," said Sabido. "Until world governments accept that fossil fuels need to be left in the ground and their lobbyists are no longer allowed to write the rules of climate action, this will keep happening."
Last year's COP27 gathering was overrun by fossil fuel lobbyists. Like the 26 U.N. climate summits that preceded it, the meeting ended with no binding commitment to phase out the extraction and combustion of coal, oil, and gas, even as evidence mounts that the failure to do so is exacerbating deadly planetary heating.
\u201cOur 'leaders' are not even bothering to keep up pretences. They have handed over the climate crisis agenda, plus all its internal comms, to the oil barons. And public opinion averts its gaze... https://t.co/i595pW0J3O\u201d— Yanis Varoufakis (@Yanis Varoufakis) 1686141626
Soon after the UAE picked al-Jaber to oversee COP28, Kick Big Polluters Out, a global coalition of more than 450 organizations led by Corporate Europe Observatory and Corporate Accountability, warned in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and UNFCCC executive secretary Simon Stiell that this year's climate conference is also destined to end in failure unless action is taken to crack down on the fossil fuel industry's corruption of international negotiations.
That marked the beginning of an ongoing effort to oust al-Jaber from the COP28 presidency and to eliminate fossil fuel industry interference in climate talks more broadly. On Wednesday morning, Kick Polluters Out protested Big Oil's obstruction of progress at the U.N.'s Bonn Climate Change Conference—a crucial precursor to COP28 currently being held in Germany.
The campaign to remove al-Jaber from his COP28 leadership position has gained steam since it was revealed that ADNOC, fresh off of a major profit surge in 2022, plans to expand its drilling operations in 2023 and beyond.
Despite years of warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency that exploiting new oil and gas fields is incompatible with averting the climate emergency's most catastrophic impacts, ADNOC is one of several fossil fuel firms moving to ramp up dirty energy production in the coming years.
Notably, U.S. President Joe Biden's top climate diplomat, John Kerry, has faced criticism for supporting al-Jaber. More than two dozen progressive members of Congress have implored Kerry to advocate for the appointment of a new COP28 president who doesn't have connections to the industry most responsible for fueling the climate crisis.