Hawaii Lawmakers Pass Ban on Coral-Damaging Sunscreen

Staff Reports

Lawmakers in Hawaii passed a bill Tuesday prohibiting the sale of sunscreens that are harmful to ocean ecosystems, including coral reefs.

The bill now heads to Governor David Ige for his signature. If signed, Hawaii will ban these sunscreens starting Jan. 1, 2021 and become the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

The measure, introduced by Democratic State Senator Mike Gabbard, bans in Hawaii the sale and distribution of all sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate without a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.

As the text of the bill explains, studies have shown that the two chemicals can cause mortality in developing coral, increase coral bleaching, cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms, induce feminization in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in marine invertebrate species.

“These chemicals have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals,” the text adds.

The Senate approved the bill unanimously. Four members of the House were opposed.

“Amazingly, this is a first-in-the-world law,” Gabbard told the Honolulu Star Advertiser via email. “So, Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens. When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow. This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health.”

Oxybenzone and octinoxate, which filter UV rays, is found in some of the biggest sunscreen brands, including ones sold by Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat and Coppertone. These damaging compounds enter the environment when washed off in the sink or shower or directly from swimmers wearing sunscreen.

Extensive coral bleaching is occurring in Hawaii’s most popular snorkelling spot, Hanauma Bay. While studies have shown than global warming is one factor behind the bleaching, scientists also blame the estimated 412 pounds of sunscreen that leaches into the tourist-heavy bay per day. Even a drop of oxybenzone in 4.3 million gallons of water, or six and a half Olympic sized swimming pools worth, is enough to harm corals.

But this problem is not just happening in Hawaii. Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen bleed into the world’s reefs every year, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

There are many reef-safe sunscreen options available, which contain minerals such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Edgewell Personal Care, makers of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens, also told Outside: “To meet consumer needs, we produce several Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic products that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate.”

Hawaii Becomes First State in the U.S. to Ban the Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

Tuesday Hawaii made history, as it became the first state in the U.S. to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic neurotoxin that causes significant damage to brain development in children. The pesticide’s detrimental health effects led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration to propose banning all of its agricultural uses, but the Pruitt-led EPA under the current administration reversed this pledge. The bill, SB3095, is a significant first step in protecting public health from pesticide harms for the State of Hawaii. In addition to banning chlorpyrifos, SB3095 requires all users of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) to report usage of these pesticides, and mandates minimum 100-foot no-spray zones for RUPs around schools during school hours.

Sylvia Wu, attorney for the public interest group Center for Food Safety, which has consistently championed for regulation of pesticide use in the State of Hawaii, emphasizes that the passage of this bill is a stepping stone towards even stronger legislation: “Today the Hawaii State Legislature finally heard the voice of its people. By banning the toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, Hawaii is taking action that Pruitt’s EPA refused to take,” said Wu, “and by taking the first step towards pesticide policies that will provide for more protection for children as well as more transparency, the Hawai’i State Legislature is acknowledging that it must protect its residents from the harmful effects of agricultural pesticide use.” Earlier iterations of SB3095 had called for only a few pilot schools with no-spray zones, but the final bill put in place mandatory disclosure and no-spray zones around all schools, in response to the outpour of public testimony urging for better protection.

SB 3095 represents a turning point for Hawaii, and marks a new chapter for its residents, who have repeatedly demanded protection against pesticide harms. The world’s largest agrichemical companies, such as Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta, experiment and develop their genetically engineered crops in Hawaii. Because the majority of these crops are engineered to resist herbicides and pesticides, testing and development of these crops result in repeated spraying of dangerous chemicals. Many of their operations are adjacent to schools and residential areas, putting children and public health at risk. Voluntarily reported pesticide use data shows that these companies apply thousands of gallons and pounds of RUPs in Hawaii each year.

“There is much to celebrate,” said Gary Hooser, president of the public interest group Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA). “This was a compromise in which everyone’s voice was heard, and most importantly, the community’s well-founded fears about their health were addressed. Our families have some much-needed protections against chemicals that we know are harming their health.”

The bill, which goes into effect in July 2018, will ban chlorpyrifos by January 2019. Any user that wishes to continue using chlorpyrifos may do so only by applying for an exemption with the State. No exemption will be granted after 2022. The mandatory reporting and no-spray zone provisions are effectively immediately with no exemptions.

Zinke and Alexander: Pillaging National Parks for Fossil Fuels Is How We’ll Protect Them

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to argue that the best way to fix the national parks is by pillaging public lands for fossil fuels.

Their CNN op-ed published Wednesday focuses on the $11.6 billion repair backlog the parks face—“our parks are being loved to death,” they write. They say revenue to address the infrastructure repairs can come through their proposed legislation, the National Park Restoration Act (S.2509). Lamar is the sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, which he introduced at the behest of Zinke, and as the Interior Department noted in a press release, it “follows the blueprint laid out in Secretary Zinke and President Trump’s budget proposal, the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund.”

E.P.A. Emails Show an Effort to Shield Pruitt From Public Scrutiny

By Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman

May 7, 2018

WASHINGTON — It was supposed to be a town hall meeting where Iowa ranchers could ask questions directly of Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But when the agency learned that anyone would be free to ask anything, they decided to script the questions themselves.

“My sincere apologies,” an E.P.A. official wrote to the rancher who would be moderating the event. “We cannot do open q&a from the crowd.” She then proposed several simple questions for him to ask Mr. Pruitt, including: “What has it been like to work with President Trump?”

Details about the December event, and dozens of other official appearances from Mr. Pruitt’s scandal-plagued first year at the E.P.A., have until now been hidden from public view as a result of an extraordinary effort by Mr. Pruitt and his staff to maintain strict secrecy about the bulk of his daily schedule.

But a new cache of emails offer a detailed look inside the agency’s aggressive efforts to conceal his activities as a public servant. The more than 10,000 documents, made public as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Sierra Club, show that the agency’s close control of Mr. Pruitt’s events is driven more by a desire to avoid tough questions from the public than by concerns about security, contradicting Mr. Pruitt’s longstanding defense of his secretiveness.

Time and again, the files show, decisions turn on limiting advance public knowledge of Mr. Pruitt’s appearances in order to control the message. The emails, many of which are communications with Mr. Pruitt’s schedulers, show an agency that divides people into “friendly and “unfriendly” camps and that, on one occasion — involving a secret visit to a Toyota plant last year — became so focused on not disclosing information that Mr. Pruitt’s corporate hosts expressed confusion about the trip.

“The security aspect is smoke and mirrors,” said Kevin Chmielewski, Mr. Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations, who is one of several former E.P.A. officials who have said that they were fired or sidelined for disagreeing with Mr. Pruitt’s management practices. “He didn’t want anybody to question anything,” Mr. Chmielewski said, adding that Mr. Pruitt “just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a public figure.”

Mr. Pruitt testified before Congress last month that Mr. Chmielewski had resigned.

Three other current and former agency officials, who asked not to be identified because they still work for the government, expressed similar views.

The E.P.A. did not respond to requests for comment about the documents, which detail Mr. Pruitt’s plans for travel and appearances nationwide. In the past, E.P.A. officials have said that Mr. Pruitt has faced an unprecedented number of death threats, which account for the size of his security force and the agency’s refusal to make public his daily schedule.

All politicians are attuned to image-building, of course, and employ staffs whose job is to control the environments in which they appear. Mr. Pruitt, though, has carried the practice to an extreme.

Breaking with all of his predecessors at the E.P.A. for the last 25 years, as well as other members of President Trump’s cabinet, he does not release a list of public speaking events and he discloses most official trips only after they are over. Mr. Pruitt doesn’t hold news conferences, and in one episode, journalists who learned of an event were ejected from the premises after an E.P.A. official threatened to call the police.

The E.P.A. also declined to make public Mr. Pruitt’s detailed calendar until the agency was sued by The New York Times and other organizations.

More recently, the agency moved to require that any documents related to Mr. Pruitt that are gathered as a result of Freedom of Information requests be provided to his political aides 48 hours in advance for an “awareness review” before they are made public, “to insure that leadership is aware of public disclosures,” a June email said.

Mr. Pruitt currently faces 11 investigations into his spending and management at the E.P.A., many of which stem from the appetite for secrecy. He is under investigation for first-class travel at taxpayer expense, his elaborate security detail and the installation at a cost of $43,000 of a soundproof booth for making telephone calls.

Separately, a New York Times investigation found that, in 2003 when he served as a legislator in Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt bought a home in a transaction that involved two lobbyists with business before the state, and disguised the purchase by using a shell company.

The emails document Mr. Pruitt’s top aides taking steps to block the public from his appearances.

For example, at the Nevada, Iowa, event for ranchers, organizers of the event informed the E.P.A. that they had already announced that it would be open. The gathering, to celebrate Mr. Pruitt’s plans to repeal an Obama-era water regulation that many ranchers dislike, “has been sold as a town hall meeting” — meaning anyone could ask questions — wrote Bill Couser, an Iowa cattle farmer who was helping to organize the event, in an email to the E.P.A.

In Washington, E.P.A. officials objected.

“With a crowd of 300 people plus open press, we have to stick with the questions we currently have,” Millan Hupp, Mr. Pruitt’s scheduling director, replied.

The agency prevailed. Mr. Pruitt answered questions presented to him by Mr. Couser that were written by E.P.A. officials, according to the emails and a video recording of the event.

Efforts like these to prevent reporters from attending events were not a part of the playbook for past E.P.A. administrators, according to spokeswomen for Christine Todd Whitman, who served in the George W. Bush administration, and Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy, who served under President Barack Obama. “They didn’t selectively inform the press or take any steps to keep things secret,” Heather Grizzle, a spokeswoman for Ms. Whitman, said.

Mr. Pruitt takes a different approach. The emails show agency officials defining prospective guests at events as friendly or unfriendly, and reorganizing events at the last minute if there were concerns that people who are considered unfriendly might show up.

“Sixteen friendly Industry leaders will be invited to attend they will arrive at 8:30 with the Administrator expected to arrive at 9:00 a.m.,” said one memo, shared among top E.P.A. officials last September, in advance of a visit by Mr. Pruitt to Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was scheduled to speak to the National Association of Homebuilders. The event was closed to the public and not announced publicly ahead of time.

Gerald M. Howard, the organization’s top executive, “will moderate Q&A on Industry issues set forth in advance and possibly from the audience — who are all industry friendly and supportive of Mr. Pruitt and his efforts,” the description said.

In another instance, after a Missouri news outlet discovered, and tweeted, that Mr. Pruitt was planning to speak to about 150 representatives of electric cooperatives and power-plant owners last April, E.P.A. staff went into damage-control mode.

The meeting had not been publicly disclosed. Tate Bennett — who, as associate administrator at the E.P.A., is in charge of environmental education — asked Barry Hart of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives if the news organization, Missouri Network Television, was “the friendly outlet.”

Mr. Hart replied, “It is, but since it’s a public tweet you have to assume the world now knows including all news media … even unfriendly.”

Shaun Kober, founder of Missouri Network Television, said “we just try to lay out the facts.”

A public relations consultant for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, in consultation with the E.P.A., had already discussed a strategy to counteract any negative comments that appeared on social media.

“Our plan will be to promote the feel-good activity and news from the event,” Gus Wagner, a public relations executive working with organizers, wrote in one email shared with the E.P.A. “Comments that are positive will be liked and possibly shared,” he wrote. “Comments that are derogatory and/or abusive will be hidden from public view. Commenter receives no notification this hiding has happened.”

Sometimes the E.P.A.’s approach to public relations — issuing announcements only after events were over — confused its hosts. Among them was Stephen Ciccone, a vice president for government affairs at Toyota Motor North America, which organized a visit by Mr. Pruitt to its Texas auto plant in August.

“I thought you all did not want any press coverage?” Mr. Ciccone wrote, unsure as to why the E.P.A. would issue a news release at all.

An email back from the E.P.A. explained the plan. The agency welcomed coverage as long as it was on the agency’s terms.

A release would be made “highlighting all the stops Administrator Pruitt makes during his visit to Texas,” the email said. As planned, government-issued photos of a smiling Mr. Pruitt and executives from Toyota were posted on the E.P.A.’s website soon after the event was over, describing it as an “action tour.”

The effort to control the event almost fell apart when one journalist caught wind of the trip.

“We just received an inquiry from a CBS News reporter in Dallas about the visit,” Mr. Ciccone wrote to the E.P.A. on the day of the event. “We won’t reply until the visit is over.”

One of Mr. Pruitt’s early events described in the files, held just a month after he had started his new job as E.P.A. administrator, was an invitation-only breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington before some 250 executives from the nation’s largest electric utilities. Mr. Pruitt had spent the previous six years as Oklahoma’s attorney general attacking E.P.A. regulations in court, often in coordination with energy giants.

“Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too, doesn’t know what to do with cake,” Mr. Pruitt told the energy executives, according to a speech prepared for the March 2017 event.

His remarks, which have not previously been made public, indicated that utilities had gained an ally with his appointment. He intended to expand energy production, he said, while protecting the environment. But, among other things, he described his effort to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was designed to slow climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“The future ain’t what it used to be,” Mr. Pruitt said, invoking a Yogi Berra line that he would return to in speeches.

In another instance not previously made public, Mr. Pruitt last June aided one of his longtime supporters, Richard Smotkin, who at that time was a Comcast lobbyist and who later helped organize Mr. Pruitt’s controversial trip to Morocco. (A month after that December trip, Mr. Smotkin became a $40,000-a-month foreign agent promoting Morocco’s interests abroad.)

Mr. Smotkin’s June request ran into ethics questions within the E.P.A.: He had invited Mr. Pruitt to a fund-raiser for a nonprofit group that Mr. Smotkin helps run, the American Council of Young Political Leaders, which offers foreign-exchange programs for emerging political leaders. At the event, Mr. Pruitt would be presented with an award in the form of a globe engraved with his name.

“The Ethics department is asking me these questions about the event,” wrote Sydney Hupp, a scheduler for Mr. Pruitt who is the sister of Millan Hupp, the scheduling director. (Both are former Pruitt campaign aides.) The questions had to do with the appropriateness of receiving an award at a fund-raising event.

After a series of emails, Millan Hupp wrote back to the staff at the nonprofit group with a solution: Don’t refer to Mr. Pruitt’s job during the presentation.

“Yes, the Administrator may attend the event, and yes, he may receive the globe. But please do ensure that they refer to him as the Honorable (as opposed to the EPA Administrator)” Ms. Hupp wrote. “So, yay! It’s been approved through ethics.”

A version of this article appears in print on May 8, 2018, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Lavish Security To Shield Pruitt From Questions.

2018 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study from JD. Power.

This study, now in its third year, measures satisfaction among residential customers of 88 water utilities, delivering water to a population of at least 400,000 people and is reported in four geographic regions: Midwest, Northeast, South and West. Overall satisfaction is measured by examining 33 attributes within six factors (listed in order of importance): delivery; price; conservation; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

The key finding is that 30% of residential water utility customers indicate they have water quality issues, a rate far higher than what has typically been reported in the EPA’s Consumer Confidence Reports produced by local water authorities. Among the 30% of residential water utility customers who mention a quality problem, 12% cite low pressure; 11% cite bad taste; 8% cite scaling/water hardness; 8% cite discoloration; 6% cite bad smell; and 4% cite high lead/mineral content. There’s also a reported wide variation in water quality across the nation.

Problems with water quality and other issues can cause customer satisfaction to drop, which can be remedied by better and more frequent communication.


Staff Reports

Link: https://www.ecowatch.com/hawaii-coral-reefs-sunscreen-ban-2565189657.html

Link: https://www.ecowatch.com/hawaii-coral-reefs-sunscreen-ban-2565189657.html