The Guardian reports on the “single largest loss of clean water protections that America has ever seen,” rolling back Clean Water Act protections. “It may be hard to remember these days, but the nation that led the world on to the stage of modern environmental protection was the United States. Starting in the early 70s, the US Congress enacted bold bipartisan laws to protect America’s wildlife, air and water. America’s skies cleared. Waterfronts across the nation went from blighted dumping grounds into vital civic hearts. And, in this journey from smog to light, America’s economy thrived. Our environment improved even as our economy grew. Both Republican and Democratic administrations upheld this commitment to a clean environment, and it endured for decades. Following the 2016 election, polluting-industry veterans commandeered the country’s environmental agencies with one central aim: make pollution free again. The assaults have been fast, furious and many. But the latest one stands out above, or below, the others. Administration officials have now targeted the Clean Water Act, perhaps the most fundamental environmental law ever enacted by the US Congress. The law’s main mechanism is simple: before discharging waste into the nation’s waters, polluters must first try to clean it up. So how did the former lobbyists running the agencies sabotage the act? By radically shrinking it. By its terms, the act only protects waters “of the United States”. But according to this administration, waters “of” the United States does not mean waters in the United States. In their view, the Clean Water Act only applies to a subset of waters, and the rest are unprotected. The scope of the contraction is staggering. In some states out west, 80% of stream miles would lose their protection. Drinking water sources for millions of Americans would be at risk from pollution. The administration’s redefinition would leave millions of acres open for destruction – wetlands that buffer communities from storms, serve as homes for wildlife and nurseries for fish and shellfish, and act as natural water filters.”
The California State Legislature twice voted down Senate Bill 50, which would have overridden local zoning policies to allow mid-rise housing developments near transit hubs. The New York Times reports, “The bill was voted down Wednesday — only to be brought back for another unsuccessful vote on Thursday. In the end, after failing to muster a majority, Toni Atkins, the Senate president pro tem, gave a speech in which she declared that even though the bill is now gone, something like it will pass this year and called on senators to “step up” and hash out a compromise. The final vote capped one of the most dramatic Senate sessions in recent years. During a two-hour debate on Wednesday, lawmakers alternated between statements about the gravity of California’s housing crisis and a reluctance to upend the state’s governance and low-density roots.”
The Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Homeland Security can move forward with a "public charge" rule to make it harder for immigrants who seek public assistance to gain legal status, while legal challenges to public charge continue. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that they will begin implementing the "public charge" rule on February 24 (with an exception for the state of Illinois, where the rule change remains blocked by federal court).
The US Supreme Court declined to hear a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act ahead of the 2020 election. Politico reports that a “coalition of blue states and the House of Representatives, which are defending the Affordable Care Act in the lawsuit, had pressed the high court to intervene after a federal appeals court last month refused to rule on the law’s constitutionality and sent the case back to a federal judge in Texas who had earlier issued a ruling knocking out the entire law.”
NPR reports that, “for the first time since 2014, death rates in the U.S. declined and life expectancy showed a modest uptick, according to new data released in two reports Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life expectancy at birth in 2018 was 78.7 years, 0.1 year longer than the previous year. It may seem like a small increase, but for a population of around 350 million, the shift represents improvements in the lives of many people, says the CDC's Bob Anderson, the chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, who oversaw the new reports… The recent improvement was driven by decreases in death rates from six of the 10 leading causes of death, including a 2.2% decrease in cancer deaths (part of an ongoing downward trend since the 1990s) and a 2.8% fall in deaths from unintentional injuries, which include drug overdoses. The new numbers show that in 2018, there were 4.1% fewer drug overdose deaths than in 2017, mostly in deaths involving natural and semi-synthetic opioids. That "includes drugs like oxycodone, which are commonly available by prescription," says Anderson. "We [also] saw declines in deaths involving methadone and even ... heroin." … "We have to move away from this understanding that we're just going to treat it as a supply-side phenomena," Ciccarone says. "As 'let's stop the opioid pills, let's stop the excess prescribing.' "Instead, we also have to address what's driving the demand for these drugs in communities, he says. "There's a large amount of social, economic, spiritual despair in this country," says Ciccarone. "And because we've underappreciated that phenomena, we've under-appreciated that there's a demand side to problematic drug consumption." Addressing that despair, he says, will be key to preventing more people from turning to drugs in the first place.”