CVIndependent

Sun10252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

SAN FRANCISCO—The walk from the apartment to the doctor’s office and back was so depressing that my husband was ready to pack up and make the 480-mile drive back to Palm Springs that night—even though we’d been in San Francisco for less than 24 hours.

“Most of the things good things about San Francisco are gone,” he said. “And all the bad things, like the homelessness, are far worse.”

Because his work requires a semi-regular presence in the San Francisco-based office when pandemics aren’t raging, my husband has a small—we’re talking 200 square feet, no kitchen, no heating or a/c, no frills at ALL—studio apartment South of Market. We had not set foot in the apartment since Jan. 22, the day after he shattered his kneecap on a rain-soaked sidewalk outside of a grocery store. He came back to Palm Springs to have surgery and recover. Had COVID-19 not showed up, he’d have been back here long before now.

A friend had been picking up his mail every couple of weeks, and did a quick clean on the refrigerator when it became apparent that Garrett’s absence would be lengthier than planned. But still, it was time for us to drive up, check things out, pick up some things, and prepare the apartment for whatever comes next. We drove up Wednesday, arriving around 10 p.m. The next day, we set out—masks on, social distancing maintained—to see what the area looked like, before Garrett’s doctor’s appointment.

What does it look like? While the neighborhoods more on the outskirts seem to be faring slightly better, the word that comes to mind regarding SoMa, Union Square the Financial District is “sad.”

Almost all of the nearby businesses, understandably, are closed. Many of them are closed for good. We went to lunch at Rocco’s, one of our neighborhood favorites. The normally bustling, iconic restaurant had been reduced to two sidewalk tables, plus takeout, open four days a week.

Garrett’s doctor’s office is near Union Square—equidistant, roughly, between the apartment and his currently shuttered office in the Financial District. So many places he knew of, had shopped at and had dined at, along that walk were no more.

The dearth of culture and commerce hit our psyches hard.

We’ve adjusted to the state of things in the Coachella Valley—I won’t say we’ve gotten used to it, because it’s still wrenching to see the pandemic’s toll on life at home. But seeing it here, another place we know and love, took us back to that horror—that pit-in-your-stomach realization that what is happening is unbelievably bad—we all felt back in March and April. Yeah, we knew San Francisco would be devastated, like everywhere else. But there’s a difference between knowing and experiencing.

We didn’t return to Palm Springs that night, but we did decide to cut our visit short. We want to be home in Palm Springs again.

Today’s news links:

• This just in from the Census folks: “An army of census takers will begin fanning out throughout Coachella Valley in Riverside County to make sure that the thousands of area residents who have not yet responded to the 2020 U.S. Census are counted. Just under two-thirds of all California households have responded online, by phone or by mail, but the response rates are significantly lower in many parts of Southern California. On the county level, response rates are only 62.3 percent in Riverside County compared to a 65 percent self-response rate across the state. Because the deadline to respond is Sept. 30, Census Bureau officials are urging households to respond before the census taker comes to your door. You can respond now by completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire you received, by responding online at 2020census.gov, or by phone at (844) 330-2020 for English, and (844) 468-2020 for Spanish. Households can respond in one of 13 languages and find assistance in many more.”

• Our nationwide testing and medical situation is such a steaming mess that it’s delaying potential COVID-19 treatments. Key depressing quote, from The New York Times: Researchers at a dozen clinical trial sites said that testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients were complicating their efforts to test monoclonal antibodies, man-made drugs that mimic the molecular soldiers made by the human immune system. As a result, once-ambitious deadlines are slipping. The drug maker Regeneron, which previously said it could have emergency doses of its antibody cocktail ready by the end of summer, has shifted to talking about how “initial data” could be available by the end of September. And Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer said in June that its antibody treatment might be ready in September, but in an interview this week, he said he now hopes for something before the end of the year.”

• Also in the “national steaming mess” category: that’s what the Trump administration is trying to turn the U.S. Post Office into. Example No. 1. According to CNBC, the USPS has been “warning states that it cannot guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted in the presidential race.” Example No. 2: The post office is removing sorting machines and either removing or moving all sorts of mailboxes

• Let’s keep the “national steaming mess” theme going! Here’s a lede from The Wall Street Journal: “Public release of hospital data about the coronavirus pandemic has slowed to a crawl, one month after the federal government ordered states to report it directly to the Department of Health and Human Services and bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Sigh.

The CDC recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. However, as CNN points out, this might not be true for everyone. It’s also true that most recoverees might have immunity for much longer. But nobody knows for sure. Got all that?

You know who’s not struggling during this pandemic? Health insurers! In fact, they’re raking in massive, record profits.

• A new study out of USC shows that in many COVID-19 patients, the symptoms show up in a specific ordera discovery that could help lead to earlier detection of the disease

• MedPage Today reports that concerns over myocarditis—a potentially serious heart condition that is related to COVID-19—was one of the driving factors in some conferences delaying or cancelling the college football season. Key quote: “At a Thursday telebriefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) chief medical officer said he was aware of 12 recent myocarditis cases affecting NCAA athletes.

• OK, let’s switch to better news for a bit: You can probably stop worrying about getting the coronavirus from food or food packaging, according to the World Health Organization.

• Two related stories: First, The Conversation explains how rapid COVID-19 tests—with results given in minutes—could help us solve this damn thing, even if the tests aren’t as accurate. Second, Reuters offers details on a saliva test being developed at an Israeli hospital that would do just that.

• The pandemic’s consequences have affected the way people cope with other diseases. A professor at North Carolina State University, writing for The Conversation, details how it’s affected her battle with bulimia.

The Atlantic did a fascinating story examining the various Wikipedia edits that were made, or were attempted, on Kamala Harris’ page regarding her race. Ugh.

• I was NOT a guest on this week’s episode of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr. But Nino Eilets, Dr. Laura Rush and writer/director Del Shores were. Check it out.

• The U.S. 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s ban on high-capacity gun magazines is unconstitutional. Wait, isn’t the 9th Circuit supposed to be relentlessly leftist?

• Finally, CNN looks at yet another casualty of the pandemic (and the cheapness of some of the country’s biggest newspaper companies): The newsroom is going the way of the dodo.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Enjoy life. And please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means and like what we do. Have a great weekend; the Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Let’s jump right into today’s news, because there sure is a lot of it:

Our partners at CalMatters look at Sen. Kamala Harris—soon to be the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, as you may have heard—and her distinctively Californian roots. Key quote: “Born and bused to school in Berkeley, tested by San Francisco’s cut-throat municipal politics and propelled onto the national stage as the state’s top law enforcement officer and then its first female senator of color, Harris’ approach to politics and policymaking were honed here.”

• MedPage Today explains the hopes doctors have for something called a vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) called RLF-100 as a coronavirus treatment. The VIP was first developed 50 years ago—and this could be its shining moment.

• More encouraging news, this time out of USCF: Scientists there are touting the results of a study of a nasal spray that apparently blocks SARS-CoV-2. Once manufactured, it could be sold in stores—and offer serious protection from the virus.

Is it possible previous immunizations are protecting some people from COVID-19? While that figurative jury remains out, it’s indeed possible, according to researchers interviewed by CNN.

We’ll just leave this MedPage Today study headline and subheadline right here: ‘Widespread COVID-19 Outbreak at Georgia Camp Raises Concerns About Reopening Schools; 76% SARS-CoV-2 positivity rate suggests kids are ‘efficient transmitters.’

• According to the Los Angeles Times, proper state stockpiles of masks and other personal protective equipment could have saved at least 15,800 essential workers from getting COVID-19and could have saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment claims, per a study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

An epidemiologist, writing for The Conversation, got sick with COVID-19 back in March, and is still dealing with symptoms more than four months later. She discusses the research being done on people like her—who call themselves “long-haulers.”

COVID-19 case rates have been steadily declining in the U.S. for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, so has the volume of testing—meaning we don’t know for sure whether progress is actually being made. Sigh.

The Washington Post reports on a Duke University study on the effectiveness of masks. Key takeaways: The more layers, the better—and neck gaiters may actually make matters worse.

Russia became the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine—even though scientists are skeptical, because the vaccine has not gone through all the proper clinical trials and tests. CNBC explains the Russians’ justification for the early registry: They were working on the vaccine long before this particular coronavirus came along.

• Sort-of related: The feds have announced yet another deal for 100 million vaccine doses, from yet another manufacturer, for yet more billions of dollars.

• Horrifically, the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison has become a real-time test of the achievability of herd immunityand, as the Los Angeles Times points out, so far, the results are not good.

• During normal economic downturns, people tend to spend less on their pets. However, the exact opposite has happened this year: Veterinarians’ business is booming, according to The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/10/upshot/pets-health-boom-coronavirus.html

• Even though there is a residential eviction moratorium in the state, people are still being evicted from their homes—including many here in Riverside County. From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “More than 1,600 California households … have been evicted since Newsom declared a statewide state of emergency on March 4, according to data CalMatters obtained via public record requests from more than 40 California sheriffs’ departments. Nearly a third of those evictions took place after Newsom’s March 19 shelter-in-place order, and more than 400 since Newsom issued a self-described March 27 “eviction moratorium.” 

• Medical experts are justifiably worried about the potential double-whammy of influenza and COVID-19 during the upcoming flu season. However, SFGate points out that the flu season has been mercifully light in the Southern Hemisphere, thanks to mask usage and more people getting flu shots.

What are the odds of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane flight? According to a preliminary study by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they’re pretty darned low.

• The New York Times reports that “bars and restaurants have become a focal point for clusters of COVID infections.” Fortunately, the story is mostly talking about indoor dining—not outdoor, as is allowed here. Key quote: “’As of recently, we still hadn’t traced a major U.S. outbreak of any sort to an outdoor exposure,’ Lindsey Leininger, a health policy researcher and a clinical professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, said.

The Wall Street Journal examines the supply-chain shortages that continue to keep supermarket shelves emptier than normal.

• Meanwhile, in Florida, a sheriff has prohibited his deputies and visitors to his department from wearing masks. Correct, he will not ALLOW people to wear masks. It would be irresponsible for me to engage in speculation regarding what inadequacies Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods’ may be overcompensating for here to make such an overwrought move.

After losing a critical court case over whether its drivers should be classified as employees or independent contractors, Uber’s CEO said today that the company may need to temporarily suspend operations in California.

• The New York Times examines the current state-by-state status of voting by mail. The good news: people in 42 states, representing 76 percent of voters, can vote by mail without an excuse. The bad … well, there’s that other 24 percent.

• Every summer, the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce holds its Taste of Summer Rancho Mirage fundraiser. It works like this: You buy a wristband for $10 from a charity that gets to keep that $10; that wristband gets you deals at participating Rancho Mirage restaurants. This year’s fundraiser was delayed a bit because of, well, you know, but the revamped “Take Out” Taste of Summer starts Aug. 17. Get the details here.

At more than 20 links, that’s enough news for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. If you’re able, please consider throwing a few bucks our way to the Independent can keep doing what we do, and making it free to everyone. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's Sharpie-ink-stained weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles finds a way to make female presidential candidates more palatable to sexists; This Modern World ponders what would happen today if an asteroid came sorta-close-but-not-really to Earth; Jen Sorensen looks at the threat to Western Civilization posed by yoga pants; Red Meat checks in on a frightened child; and Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy blather about all of the crazy news of the week.

Published in Comics

Lobbyists in slick pinstriped suits and burly veterans with tattooed arms crowded into a Capitol hearing room earlier this month as lawmakers considered a bill to make it easier for Californians to buy legal marijuana. One supporter said people need more access to the “beautiful sacred plant.” But at its core, this was a business dispute—a question of whether legislators would allow cannabis companies to reach more customers, and make more money.

The committee passed Senate Bill 1302—to stop cities from banning delivery services that sell pot to customers at their doorsteps—despite objections from cities and counties that favor local control. And the standing-room-only crowd that showed up to push for it revealed the new reality in California, where cannabis interests have become a formidable lobbying force.

As marijuana companies seek laws more favorable to their industry, they are using the traditional tools of politics: hiring well-heeled lobbyists and donating money to politicians. Cannabis is big business in California, with sales expected to hit $3.7 billion by the end of the year, according to BDS Analytics. The industry’s spending on California politics soared in 2016, when voters made it legal for adults to use the drug.

“They want to be treated like every other business, and part of that is making campaign contributions so they can get access to politicians and have their voice heard,” said Jim Sutton, an attorney who represents cannabis businesses organizing political campaigns.

Cannabis companies, entrepreneurs and advocates spent at least $1.8 million to help pass the legalization measure in 2016. Since then, the industry has donated more than $600,000 to California political campaigns—more than four times as much as it spent on politics in the state during the 2013-14 election campaigns. Cannabis money is flowing to both Democrats and Republicans running for re-election to the Legislature, as well as to Democratic candidates hoping to be elected governor and attorney general. With the money comes a mainstream political presence for an industry quickly shedding its counterculture image.

At the California Democratic Party convention in February, the roster of receptions for delegates included one sponsored by Eaze, a company whose website allows people to order home delivery of marijuana. It was one of three marijuana companies that donated to the state party for the first time this year, for a total of $45,000.

“I’m sure we will (continue) soliciting from the cannabis industry,” said party chairman Eric Bauman. “It’s a legal industry in California. It’s not one that hurts the environment; it’s not undermining our society. So we welcome their dollars.”

Interestingly, the party prohibits donations from tobacco and oil companies.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in the race for governor, has raised more money from cannabis interests than any other California politician: at least $495,000 as of April. Newsom championed the legalization ballot measure and now talks about California rejecting the “war on marijuana” as part of his gubernatorial campaign.

One of his opponents, state Treasurer John Chiang, is also touting his cannabis cred. A Democrat who has received at least $10,100 from marijuana interests, Chiang has highlighted his interest in creating a state bank that could serve cannabis businesses. He visited a San Francisco dispensary on April 20, then issued a press release calling the date “National Weed Day.” It included a photo of him examining a cannabis chocolate bar and a jar of buds.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra has taken at least $21,000 from cannabis interests in his campaign to be retained. It’s a marked difference from the last election for that office—in 2014, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris reported no donations from marijuana businesses. She made a deliberate decision, an adviser said, to avoid contributions that could raise questions about her role as the state’s top law-enforcement officer. 

Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, attempts to ban contributions from the cannabis sector have been unsuccessful. The state of Illinois prohibited political contributions from weed businesses when it approved its medical marijuana law in 2013, but the ban was thrown out last year by a federal judge who ruled it unconstitutional.

Cannabis businesses in California now have several trade associations and a political action committee for raising money to dole out to politicians.

“It’s just one tool folks in cannabis-policy reform are using to move the conversation in a positive direction,” said Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, referring to campaign contributions. That PAC has raised more than $290,000 since launching in 2014.

“The goal we’re striving for is for cannabis businesses to be regulated and treated like any other business, taxed fairly and able to thrive in the market. … The political giving piece is important,” she said.

That point was illustrated back in the hearing room, where lawmakers were considering the bill to expand marijuana delivery services, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens who has taken at least $18,900 from cannabis interests and is now running for Insurance Commissioner.

Marijuana businesses that want to get ahead have to play politics, said Hilary Bricken, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in cannabis law—and that generally means throwing some money around.

“Cannabis has learned from Big Pharma, Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco that they have to step up in this way,” she said. “They would be stupid to not do what’s worked for the industries that came before them.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

As California’s Democrats wrapped up their party’s annual convention Sunday, they left San Diego as they arrived: a party still fraying at the seams after the 2016 election, held together by one strong bond—a unifying dislike of President Donald Trump.

Split between their traditional moderate-to-liberal faction and lefter-leaning progressives, the delegates refused to endorse in key races and snubbed a few of their own incumbents, notably longtime U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Their emotional differences over hot issues such as single-payer health care and rent control were on display. Yet through it all, dissing Trump was a reliable applause line.

“Let us find what unites us at this convention,” said Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, who’s been discussed as a Democratic presidential prospect, on the opening evening. “Republicans and Internet trolls and Vladimir Putin (are) laughing every time we’re fighting with each other and not fighting against the Republicans.”

Billionaire progressive activist Tom Steyer used his keynote speech as an opportunity to reinforce his public campaign calling for impeachment. “Does anyone in this room believe that Donald Trump is fit to be president of the United States?” If anyone in the convention hall thought so, it was impossible to hear them over the jeering.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles got some of the biggest cheers of the weekend by building on that theme. Her speech questioned the president’s loyalty and mental health, finishing with a rousing chant of “Impeach 45!”

For a party still smarting from a vicious 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—one that had escalated into a contentious party leadership battle last year—it’s nice to find something that everyone can agree on.

“Obviously we have a variety of different views. That’s what parties are about,” said state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento. “We have differences about how we look at things, but we’ve got to protect our country.”

Still, those differences could be important come June. In a number of toss-up congressional races, a surplus of left-of-center candidates threaten to split the primary vote, allowing two Republicans to progress to the November ballot. Shutting Democrats out of contention in those races could jeopardize party plans to re-take control of the U.S. House.

Though the party had hoped to winnow some of the field this weekend by making endorsements in some of those seats, in the races to replace Southern California GOP Reps. Steve Knight, Darrell Issa and Ed Royce, there was no such luck. Under party bylaws, the delegates were too divided to make an official choice.

Failing at those official channels, party Chair Eric Bauman resorted to old-fashioned guilt from the convention hall stage on Sunday in an attempt to thin the herd.

“We have an overpopulation problem,” he said. And then to some of those surplus candidates: “Isn’t there some other way to express your public service? … The voters in those districts want to elect a Democrat, (and) they’re tired of the right-wing hateful agenda of Donald Trump.”

Indeed, both party organizers and aspiring Democrats candidates aim to bring national news scandals to the local level.

“In 2016, Russians and Republicans were very good at sewing discord within our party, so I think we learned a lesson from that election,” said Andrew Janz, who is running to replace GOP Rep. Devin Nunes in his San Joaquin Valley district.

The lesson: Stick together, and focus on the common political enemy.

Outside the room where Janz’s endorsement by the party was to be voted on, one delegate, social activist Emily Cameron, complained about the candidate’s single-minded focus on his opponent. “If you look at his Twitter, it’s like every tweet is about Devin Nunes,” she said, arguing that the candidate should focus more on the economic interests of the Central Valley and less on the Russia investigation and the ties between Nunes and Trump. “It’s not what people care about!”

But evidently, enough delegates did: Janz won the endorsement.

In a state where only a quarter of adults approve of the president’s job performance, emphasizing Trump above all else isn’t a bad strategy. Katharine Marrs, the party’s state field director for 2018, said opposition to Trump has been a “gateway” cause for bringing political neophytes into the world of left-of-center party politics.

“Sometimes we ask people what their top issue is at the door, and instead of giving us healthcare or the economy, sometimes their top issue is Trump,” she said. But can party unity built around opposition to a single candidate last past a single election?

“What we’ve seen is that it’s sustainable for now,” said Marrs. Finding areas of common agreement is a “slower process.”

And for now, the party base appears to be tacking left.

When the nearly 3,000 delegates voted to endorse the statewide races, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won the top vote share in the gubernatorial contest. Together with the former state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin, both of whom support a state-funded single-payer health-insurance program, the progressive bloc captured 59 percent of the delegate vote.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is skeptical of the state’s ability to implement or fund a single-payer system, and who has taken positions opposed by many organized labor groups, came in at 9 percent. That followed a tough weekend for the former mayor of Los Angeles, who was repeatedly heckled by party activists.

In the U.S. Senate race, state Senate leader Kevin de León received a majority of delegate votes over Feinstein, whom many delegates considered too hawkish on foreign policy, and too dovish on President Trump.

The fact that de León didn’t clear the 60 percent threshold means that the party didn’t officially offer an endorsement—but the body as a whole clearly had a preference. Between de León and progressive dark-horse candidate Pat Harris, just more than 59 percent of the delegates cast their votes to the left.

“Resistance doesn’t just mean saying no. You have to move on a parallel track with a positive proactive agenda,” said de León, suggesting progressive policies like a higher minimum wage and stronger environmental protections were needed. But he also warned against trying to “cajole” or “negotiate” with President Trump, whom he compared to the scorpion in the fable of the scorpion and the frog—a malevolent force unable to control its own destructive impulses.

Rather than write him off, last year Feinstein expressed hope that Trump could learn to become “a good president,” to the chagrin of many on the California left. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, she has voted in line with the president’s preferred legislation 28 percent of the time, placing her roughly in the middle of all Democratic and independent senators. California’s junior senator, Kamala Harris, who also spoke at the convention and has been mentioned as a presidential contender, voted with the president just 15 percent of the time.

De León was careful to specify that he was not comparing his opponent in the Senate race to a frog. But he did say that his unrelenting opposition to the administration made for a meaningful difference between the two of them.

President Trump “holds the most powerful position in the world, and therefore, he’s in a position to go out of his way to hurt California,” he said. “So why not be proactive, be preemptive, and position yourself—as opposed to be reactive? Because the onslaught is going to happen.”

In the end, of course, delegates to the convention may or may not accurately represent all Democratic voters statewide—not to mention independents inclined to vote Democratic. Feinstein knows that well, having been booed at her own party’s convention for declaring her support of the death penalty when she was running for governor in 1990. All the while, her campaign was gleefully filming the moment—turning it into a campaign ad to underscore her independence.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

For nearly six hours last week, members of the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee gathered to hear comments about a bill that could overhaul the EPA’s ability to regulate toxic chemicals.

Hailed by a panelist from West Virginia as “the best, perhaps last, chance to reform” the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the new Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) is the first such proposal to have won bipartisan support since the original law passed in 1976—and thus has a chance at becoming law.

However, critics say that, as currently drafted, the CSIA could actually be detrimental to the cause of regulating toxins.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris joined the attorneys general from eight other states to submit a letter on July 31 to the Senate committee, raising concerns that the new bill will make it impossible for states to continue regulating chemicals themselves. They worry that existing regulations could become null and that future EPA designations might not be as strong as individual states might like, if the CSIA is passed.

For instance, Oregon currently limits the presence of certain chemicals in arts-and-crafts supplies. Similarly, Washington has banned plastic bottles and cups that contain BPA and restricts the amount of lead, cadmium and phthalates in children’s products. The states' attorneys general are concerned the CSIA would override those regulations.

Currently, the EPA regulates toxic chemicals under the TSCA, which is, by all accounts, deeply flawed. Though the law is the strongest federal piece of legislation guiding oversight of chemicals, it severely limits the EPA’s ability to test new chemicals on the market or even regulate known toxins. TSCA’s extreme limitations were highlighted in 1991, when an EPA ban on asbestos was overturned by a circuit court. The ruling maintained the EPA’s regulation on new uses of asbestos in the market, but allowed existing uses to remain unregulated.

For years, lawmakers, health advocates and watchdog groups have sought ways to give the EPA more latitude in regulating chemicals in the environment and consumer products. In 2011, the EPA made some headway against the TSCA’s provision that allowed manufacturers to keep chemical formulas private as trade secrets. In the absence of adequate federal regulations, several states have taken the oversight of toxins into their own hands.

In 1986, California determined that its citizens had a right to know about the chemical toxins in the environment around them and in products they brought into their homes. The state enacted a law, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, more commonly known as Proposition 65. The law requires companies to label products containing any of the roughly 800 toxic chemicals listed in the bill. Rather than list, many manufacturers chose to change the formulations of their products to comply with legal limits.

Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), who co-sponsored the CSIA with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) in May, recognized the states’ concern in his opening statements at the hearing. However, he indicated that those were either “misimpressions or willful distortions” of the bill. “In no way did we intent to remove the authority of any state to protect their water, air or citizens,” he said.

Still, he agreed that the wording would be clarified to “make that even more crystal clear.”

There is widespread agreement that the TSCA is desperately in need of reform, but what shape that should take, and how far reform should go, is far from settled. The proposed CSIA does, in fact, move to fix some of TSCA's major failings: giving the EPA more latitude to require testing for new chemicals, providing more public information about potential exposure, and giving the EPA broader abilities to ban chemicals that do not meet safety standards. Proponents say the new bill will shift the burden of proof from the EPA and onto industry, making it far easier for the EPA to require testing.

Still, the bill’s opponents say it does not go far enough. Among the complaints are concerns that it doesn't outline any deadlines for reforms, doesn't include specific language for protecting vulnerable populations, and would be inefficient, tying up the EPA with redundant requirements.

In closing the hearing on July 31, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California looked at Nancy Buermeyer of the Breast Cancer Fund and asked if the fund thought that the CSIA is better than current law. Buermeyer replied frankly, “We think, all told, this bill actually takes us a step back.”

“I can’t ignore that,” Sen. Boxer responded.

While some warn that moving too far from the current proposal could upset the bipartisan support, members of the Senate and the morning’s panelists agreed to continue working to draft suitable language.

“This means we have a lot of work to do,” Sen. Boxer said, “and I am ready to do it.”

Katie Mast is an editorial intern at High Country News, the site from which this was cross-posted. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Published in Environment