State Water Board unveils aggressive plan to issue investigative orders for PFAS

■Allen Matkins - March 18

On March 6, the California State Water Resources Control Board announced it will soon issue orders to owners and operators of facilities in California requiring environmental investigation and sampling for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known by the acronym PFAS. PFAS are a class of chemicals widely used for decades in many consumer products for their grease- and stain-resistant properties, including nonstick products, carpeting, furniture, and makeup, and they were also used in the formulation of aqueous firefighting foams. In Phase I of its investigation plan, the State Board will issue orders to 31 airports it believes to have used PFAS-containing aqueous firefighting foam, and 252 landfills it believes to have accepted materials that contain PFAS. Phases II and III, to be implemented later this year, will include refineries, bulk terminals, fire training facilities, wildfire areas, manufacturers, wastewater plants, and domestic wells. Altogether, the State Board estimates that more than a thousand facilities may receive such orders under this initiative.

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Interior Department action on sage grouse protections potentially opens millions of acres to extractive industries

■Washington Post - March 15

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, last Friday announced a final decision to lift protections for the greater sage grouse on nearly 9 million acres, thereby providing new leasing opportunities to the oil, gas, and mining industries. Scientists consider sage grouse, which exist only in the United States, an indicator species because their status reflects the overall well-being of many animals in the sagebrush sea, which encompasses about 160 million acres across 11 states. Sixty-seven million of those acres were designated for protection under a 2015 federal plan designed to avoid listing the bird as an endangered species. The Bureau's decision eliminates or weakens protections on 75 percent of the area in the original plan.

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Court nullifies Obama-era leases of federal land for failure to consider climate change impact of oil and gas drilling

■New York Times - March 20

The Obama administration violated federal law by failing to adequately take into account the climate change impact of leasing public land for oil gas drilling in Wyoming, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled Tuesday. The court’s ruling, which applied specifically to an Obama-era plan by BLM to lease several thousand acres of land for drilling in Wyoming, also concluded that the agency was legally required to consider the climate impact of all such lease sales for fossil fuel development. The decision could present a legal threat to the current administration's plan to quickly expand oil and gas drilling and coal mining across the nation’s public lands and waters.

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California legislators consider banning all cosmetics with cancer-causing chemicals

■The Hill - March 19

California legislators introduced a bill this Tuesday that would ban the sale of all cosmetics in the state that contain 20 chemicals known to cause cancer and other health effects, including asbestos, mercury, lead, formaldehyde, and PFAS. The products addressed by the bill would be classified as “adulterated cosmetics,” and their sale in California would be prohibited.

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Second U.S. jury finds Roundup weed killer caused cancer

■ABC News - March 20

A federal jury in California on Tuesday found that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weed killer, was a "substantial factor" in the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by a Sonoma resident. The trial is now in its second phase, in which the jury will decide if the company is liable and possibly award damages, with a third phase focusing on whether the company hid the product's alleged risks. In August 2018, another California jury awarded a groundskeeper $289 million after finding that Roundup caused his cancer. The award was later reduced to $78 million and the company is appealing the decision. The company is facing similar lawsuits by approximately 11,200 plaintiffs, according to its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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