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Business for DemocracyThe U.S. House of Representatives is in recess until September, but the U.S. Senate is still here, and will remain in town next week. Right now the schedule looks pretty light. One key attack on the public interest will be on Wednesday, when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to mark up the signature Senate assault on the Clean Power Plan, S. 1324, introduced by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

The Clean Power Plan, which is expected to be released by the Obama administration as soon as Monday, is a rule designed to curb climate change-inducing pollution from existing power plants. This rule will curb asthma and other health problems caused by climate change and save consumers money in the long run by encouraging the use of more energy efficiency measures.

But the fossil fuel industry is a powerful lobbying force, and many in the Corporate Congress are in its thrall. Capito’s bill would let states opt out of the Clean Power Plan altogether. As David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program said recently, the bill is “a shameful giveaway to the dying coal industry.”

It is worth noting that in Capito’s home state, the Clean Power Plan will lower consumers’ electricity bills $160 annually by 2030, according to a Public Citizen analysis.

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Amelia_PC Gala.med

Andrew Gibson, Amanda Whiting and Even Ottenfeld

By: Amelia Whiting

Hi, Amelia Whiting. Nice to meet you!

                (Hi, I am so and so. What do you do?)

I am an intern at Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program. I assisted with the analysis of consumer energy impacts under the Clean Power Plan, researched a variety of environmental and energy issues, and attended hearings on Capitol Hill. What about you?

                (That is so cool/interesting.)

Many meetings and introductions I experienced this summer followed the theme from above. My internship was “cool” and “interesting” because it granted me the opportunity to apply principles from the classroom – framing and economic theories – and to expand my knowledge of different environmental and energy issues – especially on nuclear energy.

This summer, I assisted with Public Citizen’s state-specific reports regarding electricity bill savings for consumers under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. This work emphasized the close link between environmental policy and economics. I found that to truly account for all the costs and benefits of a policy, it is important to look at the long-term impacts of a policy or rule.

For me, the Clean Power Plan is a step in the right direction. Climate change is a complex problem that impacts people around the country and the world differently, and finding a solution to agree on can be difficult. Allowing states to choose how the best ways to implement reductions in emissions and energy uses is necessary as each state has unique constraints that will impact how the reductions are made. Actions made to mitigate the impacts of climate change must include both bottom-up and top-down approaches. It is essential that individuals, companies and the government work toward making changes to leave a healthy planet for people decades from now and future generations – not to mention my generation, which is inheriting this crisis.

While working on the Clean Power Plan helped to combine knowledge across environmental, economic and political disciplines, the research and reading I did taught me about public opinions, facts and current debates around environmental issues. I began each morning by reading news blurbs about energy and the environment. The short bits of news provided me with an awareness of the varying environmental and energy issues that are affecting states, the country and the world. Besides getting a brief overview of the many distinct issues, I often read full articles on the blurbs that I found most interesting. Through these readings, I learned in detail about topics such as the growth in the use of community solar power and the continuing debate over the Clean Power Plan. I enjoyed starting my day this way as I always learned something new every day.

In addition to the research, attending hearings was an informative experience. Listening to the testimony of the witnesses showed the varying perspectives of Congress and the public. It reaffirmed how important framing can be to the legislative process since how people/societies perceive and communicate their reality can be vastly different among political ideologies and regions. Framing explains why congressional members from West Virginia are concerned about the impacts of regulations on coal mining and why Californians are concerned about the drought. I found that although some of the topics from class were relevant, the discussions in class did not fully encapsulate what happens in congressional hearings.

My time at Public Citizen has allowed me to bridge the gap from classroom to workplace. I was able to apply concepts I learned in the classroom – framing and economic concepts – to my work. I also expanded my understanding of environmental issues. The learning and growth did not stop at the end of the work day or during lunch; the conversations I shared with other interns and staff – ranging from why there is an ever-growing population of presidential candidates to the Iran nuclear deal – pushed me to better understand the differing viewpoints on political issues in our country and how attempting to assimilate the ideas will allow for effective solutions to these problems.

HOUSTON – Public Citizen, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, the Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Healthy Port Communities Coalition co-hosted a neighborhood meeting in Houston’s East End on June 27 to discuss the dangers posed by oil trains passing through the community and call for stronger safeguards.

Between two and six million gallons of highly volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale pass through the Houston metropolitan area every week in fundamentally unsafe rail cars. A U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) report found than an oil train explosion in a major population center like Houston could cost billions of dollars in property damage and injure or kill thousands of people.

About 30 people attended the June 27 meeting including Texas state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, state Rep. Maria Delgado, a representative from state Rep. Carol Alvorado’s office and several public affairs representatives from the rail industry. The meeting was held at the Immaculate Conception Church on Harrisburg Street.

To gain deeper insight into the problems oil and chemical trains pose to East End residents, Public Citizen interviewed Bridgette Murray, a local resident who attended the meeting.

PC: Start by telling us a little about yourself and your community.

BM: I am a registered nurse, spending my adult life taking care of other individuals, and I am now the primary caretaker for my elderly mother.

My family has had a presence in the Pleasantville area since 1957. I returned to the community 20 years ago because I felt safe returning to the neighborhood surrounded by individuals that were like my family in many regards. I chose to live in a community that contributed to my upbringing and support, and I remain active in my community to ensure a better quality of life.

Pleasantville continues to be a community with 78 percent occupancy by actual home owners. In spite of the industrial build up on our periphery, we have easy access to both I-10 and 610 freeways. This is a landlocked community with three rail line entrances (two of them Union Pacific).

PC: Why are you worried about trains in your neighborhood? How do these trains put your community at risk?

BM: The trains have been with us from the beginning. But we recently experienced an incident of a Union Pacific train that blocked all three entrance and exit points to the community for nearly one hour, and the other exit was under construction. If we encounter a train derailment in our community, over 3,000 individuals will not be able to safely evacuate.

In addition, a significant percentage of our community is within one mile of the blast zone. My own home is within half a mile. Not only are we concerned about the oil trains, but the use of rail for other hazardous materials left unattended on the rail line without notification is a growing concern.

PC: What changes would you like to see to fix these problems?

BM: Let’s start with improved safety. How often are rail lines inspected and serviced? I am aware that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending changes to the cars used for transporting oil, but this is after the fact. In the agency’s own words, “Accidents demonstrate that the DOT-111 tank cars moving these flammable liquids are not up to the task.”

It is my understanding from prior events, allowing the trains to burn out is the standard approach. In our community that will mean death for many. Implementation of NTSB’s recommended preventative measures should be considered critical.

The community successfully petitioned and partnered with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston for another entrance without rail to improve access for emergency vehicles. But much more needs to be done.

Again, in NTSB’s own words: “Preventing tragedies similar to Lac-Mégantic and Cherry Valley will require a systems approach that keeps trains from derailing, especially in sensitive areas, and preserves tank car integrity if a derailment occurs. Adequate emergency preparedness is also crucial. One of the first steps industry can take is to appropriately plan and select routes to minimize the amount of hazardous materials that travel through highly populated areas.”

PC: If you could send a message to the train, oil and chemical companies, what would you tell them?

BM: Safety always seems to follow the profit margin. Lives do matter and residents living near rail lines should be protected. The increase in oil trains should also come with increased safety in how, where and when oil is transported. There should be more community outreach to high-risk areas regarding emergency evacuation training and education.

Living near the Port of Houston, I accept the risk that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security speaks of regarding terrorist threats, but I do not accept as reasonable a sanctioned domestic threat of oil train cars when there is something that can be done to improve the situation. My only request is that industry demonstrates some respect for middle and lower income America.

PC: Thank you for sharing your story.

BM: Thank you for keeping the public informed about this major issue.

By Emma Stockton

Last week, CVS Health did the right thing and cut ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This announcement came in the wake of a series of New York Times articles revealing the Chamber’s role in a global lobbying effort to combat anti-smoking policies. CVS Health’s decision to leave the Chamber follows its 2014 decision to end sales of all tobacco products. CVS senior vice president David Palombi has explained, “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”

The NYT series also highlighted a common misconception, that the Chamber of Commerce is part of the U.S. government. This confusion is not unfounded: U.S. government officials often affiliate with international divisions of the Chamber. For example, in Estonia, the U.S. ambassador serves as the honorary president of AmCham Estonia.

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fda approved smallNo one can dispute that multidrug-resistant “superbugs” are a key public health concern for the 21st century. Better, safe and effective cures are needed. But the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation that will be voted on this week in the House, is not the solution to this problem.

Over 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths. New antibiotics have been slow in coming: No antibiotic with a truly novel mechanism of action has been discovered since the late 1980s. Yet this drought is not the fault of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has long been under tremendous pressure to approve new antibiotics quickly. This pressure was increased even further by a 2012 law that accelerated review for qualifying antibiotics.

Thanks to the current review process for antibiotics, clinical development for these drugs is already quick by industry standards. A new antibiotic takes only seven years to get to market, compared with nine years for cancer drugs.

Quick approval is not without costs. Many of the antibiotics approved over the past decade have suffered from safety and effectiveness problems. For example, tigecycline (Tygacil), an antibiotic that received special accelerated FDA approval in 2005, was slapped with a black-box warning in 2013 stating that the drug increases the risk of death.

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