New study calculates climate change’s economic bite will hit about $38 trillion a year by 2049

Associated Press

New study calculates climate change’s economic bite will hit about $38 trillion a year by 2049

Seth Borenstein – April 17, 2024

FILE - People watch the sunset at a park on an unseasonably warm day, Feb. 25, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
People watch the sunset at a park on an unseasonably warm day, Feb. 25, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - A man buys a cool drink from a roadside vendor on a sunny day in Mahawewa, a village north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 29, 2024. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)
A man buys a cool drink from a roadside vendor on a sunny day in Mahawewa, a village north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 29, 2024. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

Climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming, with the poorest areas and those least responsible for heating the atmosphere taking the biggest monetary hit, a new study said.

Climate change’s economic bite in how much people make is already locked in at about $38 trillion a year by 2049, according to Wednesday’s study in the journal Nature by researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. By 2100 the financial cost could hit twice what previous studies estimate.

“Our analysis shows that climate change will cause massive economic damages within the next 25 years in almost all countries around the world, also in highly-developed ones such as Germany and the U.S., with a projected median income reduction of 11% each and France with 13%,” said study co-author Leonie Wenz, a climate scientist and economist.

These damages are compared to a baseline of no climate change and are then applied against overall expected global growth in gross domestic product, said study lead author Max Kotz, a climate scientist. So while it’s 19% globally less than it could have been with no climate change, in most places, income will still grow, just not as much because of warmer temperatures.

For the past dozen years, scientists and others have been focusing on extreme weather such as heat waves, floods, droughts, storms as the having the biggest climate impact. But when it comes to financial hit the researchers found “the overall impacts are still mainly driven by average warming, overall temperature increases,” Kotz said. It harms crops and hinders labor production, he said.

“Those temperature increases drive the most damages in the future because they’re really the most unprecedented compared to what we’ve experienced historically,” Kotz said. Last year, a record-hot year, the global average temperature was 1.35 degrees Celsius (2.43 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial times, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The globe has not had a month cooler than 20th century average since February 1979.

In the United States, the southeastern and southwestern states get economically pinched more than the northern ones with parts of Arizona and New Mexico taking the biggest monetary hit, according to the study. In Europe, southern regions, including parts of Spain and Italy, get hit harder than places like Denmark or northern Germany.

Only Arctic adjacent areas — Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden — benefit, Kotz said.

It also means countries which have historically produced fewer greenhouse gas emissions per person and are least able to financially adapt to warming weather are getting the biggest financial harms too, Kotz said.

The world’s poorest countries will suffer 61% bigger income loss than the richest ones, the study calculated.

“It underlies some of the injustice elements of climate,” Kotz said.

This new study looked deeper than past research, examining 1,600 global areas that are smaller than countries, took several climate factors into account and examined how long climate economic shocks last, Kotz said. The study examined past economic impacts on average global domestic product per person and uses computer simulations to look into the future to come up with their detailed calculations.

The study shows that the economic harms over the next 25 years are locked in with emission cuts producing only small changes in the income reduction. But in the second half of this century that’s when two different possible futures are simulated, showing that cutting carbon emissions now really pays off because of how the heat-trapping gases accumulate, Kotz said.

If the world could curb carbon pollution and get down to a trend that limits warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, which is the upper limit of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, then the financial hit will stay around 20% in global income, Kotz said. But if emissions increase in a worst case scenario, the financial wallop will be closer to 60%, he said.

That shows that the public shouldn’t think it’s a financial “doomsday” and nothing can be done, Kotz said.

Still, it’s worse than a 2015 study that predicted a worst case income hit of about 25% by the end of the century.

Marshall Burke, the Stanford University climate economist who wrote the 2015 study, said this new research’s finding that the economic damage ahead is locked in and large “makes a lot of sense.”

Burke, who wasn’t part of this study, said he has some issues with some of the technical calculations “so I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on their specific numerical estimates, but I think the big picture is basically right.”

The conclusions are on the high end compared to other recent studies, but since climate change goes for a long time and economic damage from higher temperatures keep compounding, they “add up to very large numbers,” said University of California Davis economist and environmental studies professor Frances Moore, who wasn’t part of the study. That’s why fighting climate change clearly passes economists’ tests of costs versus benefits, she said.

‘Miracle’ weight-loss drugs could have reduced health disparities. Instead they got worse

Los Angeles Times

‘Miracle’ weight-loss drugs could have reduced health disparities. Instead they got worse

Karen Kaplan – April 16, 2024

Donna Cooper holds up a dose of Wegovy, a drug used for weight loss.
Wegovy is part of a new generation of weight-loss medications that made some doctors optimistic about reversing longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in obesity. So far, the pricey drugs seem to have made those disparities worse. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Associated Press)

For the record:
9:10 p.m. April 15, 2024An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Dr. Serena Jingchuan Guo of the University of Florida as Jigchuan.

The American Heart Assn. calls them “game changers.”

Oprah Winfrey says they’re “a gift.”

Science magazine anointed them the “2023 Breakthrough of the Year.”

Americans are most familiar with their brand names: Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, Zepbound. They are the medications that have revolutionized weight loss and raised the possibility of reversing the country’s obesity crisis.

Obesity — like so many diseases — disproportionately affects people in racial and ethnic groups that have been marginalized by the U.S. healthcare system. A class of drugs that succeeds where so many others have failed would seem to be a powerful tool for closing the gap.

Instead, doctors who treat obesity, and the serious health risks that come with it, fear the medications are making this health disparity worse.

“These patients have a higher burden of disease, and they’re less likely to get the medicine that can save their lives,” said Dr. Lauren Eberly, a cardiologist and health services researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “I feel like if a group of patients has a disproportionate burden, they should have increased access to these medicines.”

Why don’t they? Experts say there are a multitude of reasons, but the primary one is cost.

The injectable drug Ozempic sparked a revolution in obesity care.
The injectable drug Ozempic sparked a revolution in obesity care. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Ozempic, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help people with Type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar and reduce their risk of serious cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes, has a list price of $968.52 for a 28-day supplyWegovy, a higher dose of the same medicine that’s FDA-approved for weight loss in people with obesity or who are overweight and have a weight-related condition such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, goes for $1,349.02 every four weeks.

Mounjaro is a similar drug approved by the FDA to improve blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes patients, and it comes with a list price of $1,069.08 for 28 days of medicineZepbound, a version of the same drug approved for weight loss, has a slightly lower price tag of $1,059.87 per 28 days. For now, at least, all the new drugs are meant to be taken indefinitely.

Read more: The new beauty regimen: Lose weight with Ozempic, tighten up with cosmetic surgery

Few health insurance programs cover the medications when prescribed to help people reach and maintain a healthy weight. Federal law requires that weight loss drugs be excluded from basic coverage in Medicare Part D plans, and as of early 2023, only 10 states included an antiobesity medication in the formularies for their Medicaid programs.

“If everybody had equal access, then this would be a way to help,” said Dr. Rocio Pereira, chief of endocrinology at Denver Health. “But without equal access — which is what we have now — it’s likely this is going to increase the disparity we see.”

U.S. obesity rates have been rising for decades, and they’re consistently higher for Black and Latino Americans. Among adults 20 and older, 49.9% of Black Americans and 45.6% of Hispanic Americans have a body mass index of 30 or greater, compared with 41.1% of white American adults and 16.1% of Asian American adults, according to age-adjusted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity rates are also associated with income. In 2022, the age-adjusted rate was 38.4% for adults with household incomes between $15,000 and $24,999, compared with 34.1% for those with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

The two are related, said Pereira, who studies health disparities in diseases related to obesity. Black and Latino Americans are more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods, where fast food is usually cheaper and more convenient than grocery stores.

“If you look at a map of the U.S. and plot out the neighborhoods where there’s no grocery store within a mile and there’s a high percentage of people who have no car, those are the areas where there’s the highest rates of obesity,” she said.

There’s also the time factor, she said: “Can you afford to cook your own meals, or do you have to work two jobs?”

An unusual experiment by the Department of Housing and Urban Development demonstrated the degree to which physical surroundings can influence obesity risk, Pereira said. In the 1990s, hundreds of mothers who were living in public housing were offered housing vouchers they could use only in wealthier neighborhoods. Ten to 15 years later, the women randomly assigned to receive the windfall had significantly lower rates of severe obesity (14.4%) than women in a control group who weren’t offered vouchers (17.7%). They were also less likely to have a body mass index of 35 or higher (31.1% vs. 35.5%).

Two obese women talk in New York.
Two women talk in New York. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

The American Medical Assn. recognized obesity as a disease in 2013. People with the chronic condition are at heightened risk of cardiovascular diseaseType 2 diabetes, 13 types of cancer, osteoarthritis, asthma and other health problems. Researchers have pegged the annual medical costs associated with obesity at $174 billion in the U.S. alone.

Some people with obesity are able to lose weight by changing their diets and burning more calories through exercise. But that doesn’t work for people who have developed resistance to leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite.

“If you try to lose weight with diet and exercise, your body is going to fight you,” said Dr. Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Your leptin levels go down, and when leptin goes down, a signal goes to the brain that you don’t have enough fat to survive.” That prompts the release of another hormone, ghrelin, that triggers feelings of hunger.

Read more: Ozempic overdose? Poison control experts explain why thousands OD’d this year

Leptin resistance also makes exercise less worthwhile.

“Your body fights you by decreasing your total energy expenditure,” Apovian said. “When your muscles work, they work more efficiently. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you’re going to get really, really hungry. And you can’t fight that. Your body thinks it’s starving to death.”

The “breakthrough” drugs counteract this by impersonating a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, that’s involved in appetite regulation. Inside cells, the drugs bind with the same receptors as GLP-1, reducing blood sugar and slowing digestion. They also last longer than their natural counterparts.

Oprah Winfrey walks onstage during the 55th NAACP Image Awards in March
Oprah Winfrey credits the new generation of medications for helping her keep her weight under control. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

The first so-called GLP-1 receptor agonist was approved in 2005 to treat diabetes, and early versions had to be injected once or twice a day. Ozempic improved on this by requiring an injection only once a week. After clinical trials showed that the drug helped people with obesity achieve substantial, sustainable weight loss, the FDA approved Wegovy as a weight management drug in 2021.

Mounjaro and Zepbound also mimic GLP-1, along with a related hormone called glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide, or GIP.

Read more: Ozempic rehashed the fierceness of diet culture and body shaming in Latinx culture

Linda Morales credits Ozempic and Mounjaro for helping her lose 100 pounds and drop from a size 22 to a size 14. The 25-year-old instructional aide at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood said she started to become overweight in middle school and carried 293 pounds on her 5-foot, 5-inch frame when she was referred to the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Health at Cedars-Sinai two years ago.

She is no longer breathless when she climbs stairs, has an easier time when she goes bowling and fits comfortably into the seat on the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. Thanks to the medications, she is no longer on a path toward Type 2 diabetes.

Her job with the Los Angeles Unified School District comes with health insurance that covers the pricey drugs and charges her a copay of $30 a month for her Mounjaro prescription. She said she could swing a monthly payment of up to $50, but beyond that she’d have to stop taking the drug and hope the lifestyle changes she’d made would be enough to sustain the weight loss she’s achieved so far.

“It would definitely get hard for me, for sure,” Morales said.

Indeed, even when the drugs are covered by insurance or patients qualify for discounts from pharmaceutical companies, researchers have found that they often remain out of reach.

In one study, Eberly and her colleagues examined insurance claims for nearly 40,000 people who received a prescription for GLP-1 copycats. Patients who had to pay at least $50 a month to fill their prescriptions were 53% less likely to get most of their refills over the course of a year compared to patients whose copayments were less than $10. Even patients whose out-of-pocket costs were between $10 and $50 were 38% less likely to buy the medicine regularly for a full year, the team found.

In another study of insured patients with Type 2 diabetes, those who were Black were 19% less likely to be treated with these drugs than those who were white, while Latino patients were 9% less likely to get them, Eberly and her colleagues reported.

Read more: Forget gym memberships. Employees want Ozempic in their benefits packages

In some parts of the country, Black patients with diabetes are only half as likely as white patients to get GLP-1 drugs, according to research by Dr. Serena Jingchuan Guo at the University of Florida, who studies health disparities in pharmaceutical access. The disparity was greatest in places with the highest overall usage of the medications, including New York, Silicon Valley and south Florida.

“In those places, the drug is actually widening the gap,” she said.

Researchers have spent years documenting racial disparities in the use of effective treatments for obesity, such as bariatric surgery. Newer drugs such as Ozempic simply bring the problem into sharper focus, said Dr. Hamlet Gasoyan, an investigator with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Value-Based Care Research.

“We get excited every time a new, effective treatment becomes available,” Gasoyan said. “But we should be equally concerned that this new and effective treatment reduces disparities between the haves and have-nots.”

Red state coal towns still power the West Coast. We can’t just let them die

Los Angeles Times

Red state coal towns still power the West Coast. We can’t just let them die

Sammy Roth – April 16, 2024

Colstrip, Montana, Monday, December 4, 2024 - The Colstrip Power Plant delivers power to Washington State and faces a possible shutdown or reduction of capacity, putting in doubt the future of a century old community that has thrived on it's existence. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
The Colstrip coal plant lights up the night, generating power mostly for Oregon and Washington. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In the early morning light, it’s easy to mistake the towering gray mounds for an odd-looking mountain range — pale and dull and devoid of life, some pine trees and shrublands in the foreground with lazy blue skies extending up beyond the peaks.

But the mounds aren’t mountains.

They’re enormous piles of dirt, torn from the ground by crane-like machines called draglines to open paths to the rich coal seams beneath. And even though we’re in rural southeastern Montana, more than 800 miles from the Pacific Ocean, West Coast cities are largely to blame for the destruction of this landscape.

Workers at the Rosebud Mine load coal onto a conveyor belt, which carries the planet-wrecking fuel to a power plant in the small town next door. Plant operators in Colstrip burn the coal to produce electricity, much of which is shipped by power line to homes and businesses in the Portland and Seattle areas. It’s been that way for decades.

“The West Coast markets are what created this,” Anne Hedges says, as we watch a dragline move dirt.

An aerial view of the coal mine outside Colstrip that feeds the town's power plant.
An aerial view of the coal mine outside Colstrip that feeds the town’s power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

She sounds frustrated, and with good reason.

Hedges and her fellow Montana environmentalists were happy when Oregon and Washington passed laws requiring 100% clean energy in the next two decades. But they’re furious that electric utilities in those states are planning to stick with coal for as long as the laws allow, and in some cases making deals to give away their Colstrip shares to co-owners who seem determined to keep the plant running long into the future.

“Coal is not dead yet,” Hedges says. “It’s still alive and well.”

That’s an uncomfortable reality for West Coasters critical of red-state environmental policies but not in the habit of urging their politicians to work across state lines to change them — especially when doing so might involve compromise with Republicans.

One example: California lawmakers have refused to pass bills that would make it easier to share clean electricity across the West, passing up the chance to spur renewable energy development in windy red states such as Montana and Wyoming — and to show them it’s possible to create construction jobs and tax revenues with renewable energy, not just fossil fuels.

Instead, California has prioritized in-state wind and solar farms, bowing to the will of labor unions that want those jobs.

It’s hard to blame Golden State politicians, and voters, for taking the easy path.

But global warming is a global problem — and whether we like it or not, the electric grid is a giant, interconnected machine. Coal plants in conservative states help fuel the ever-deadlier heat waves, fires and storms battering California and other progressive bastions. The electrons generated by those plants flow into a network of wires that keep the lights on across the American West.

Also important: Montana and other sparsely populated conservative states control two U.S. Senate seats each, and at least three electoral votes apiece in presidential elections. Additional federal support for clean energy rests partly in their hands.

Those are the practical considerations. Then there are the ethical ones.

For years, the West’s biggest cities exported their emissions, building distant coal generators to fuel their explosive growth. Los Angeles looked to Delta, Utah. Phoenix turned to the Navajo Nation. Albuquerque turned to the Four Corners region.

That wave of coal plants — some still standing, some demolished — created well-paying jobs, lots of tax payments and a thriving way of life for rural towns and Native American tribes. All are now struggling to map out a future without fossil fuels.

Mule deer roam through the town of Colstrip, not far from the power plant.
Mule deer roam through the town of Colstrip, not far from the power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

What do big cities owe those towns and tribes for producing our power and living with our air and water pollution? Can we get climate change under control without putting them out of business? What’s their role in the clean energy transition?

If they refuse to join the transition, how should we respond?

A team of Los Angeles Times journalists spent a week in Montana trying to answer those questions.

We explored the town of Colstrip, hearing from residents about how the coal plant and mine have made their prosperous lives possible. We talked with environmental activists who detailed the damage coal has caused, and with a fourth-generation rancher whose father fought in vain to stop the power plant from getting built — and wrote poems about his struggle.

Coal is going to die, sooner or later. For the sake of myself and other young people, I hope it’s sooner.

And for the sake of places like Colstrip, I hope it’s the beginning of a new chapter, not the end of the story.

Coal pays the bills. For now

For a community of 2,000 people, Colstrip doesn’t lack for nice things.

The city is home to 32 public parks and a gorgeous community center, complete with child care, gym, spin classes, tanning booth and water slide. The spacious health clinic employs three nurses and two physical therapists, with a doctor coming to visit once a week. There’s an artificial lake filled with Yellowstone River water and circled by a three-mile walking and biking trail.

Everybody knows where the good fortune comes from.

The high school pays homage to the source of Colstrip’s wealth with the hashtag #MTCOAL emblazoned on the basketball court’s sparkling floor. A sign over the entrance to campus celebrates the town’s 2023 centennial: “100 Years of Colstrip. Powered by Coal, Strengthened by People.”

“We have nothing to hide,” Jim Atchison tells me. “We just hope that you give us a fair shake.”

Jim Atchison steps out of his office in Colstrip.
Jim Atchison steps out of his office in Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide than Atchison, who for 22 years has lived in Colstrip and led the Southeast Montana Economic Development Corp. He’s soft-spoken and meticulous, with a detailed itinerary for our day and a less ironclad allegiance to coal than many of the locals we’ll meet.

They include Bill Neumiller, a former environmental engineer at the power plant. We start our day with him, watching the sun rise over the smokestacks across the lake. He moved to Colstrip 40 years ago, when the coal plant was being built. He enjoys fishing in the well-stocked lake and teaching kids about its history, in his role as president of the parks district.

The plant, he says, pays the vast majority of the city’s property taxes.

“It’s been a great place to raise a family,” he says.

So many people have similar stories — the general manager of a local electrical contractor, the administrator of the health clinic. I especially enjoy chatting with Amber and Gary Ramsey, who have run a Subway sandwich shop here for 30 years.

“It takes us two to three hours to get through the grocery store, because you know everybody,” Gary says.

He didn’t plan to spend his life here. Sitting at a table at Subway, he tells us he grew up in South Dakota and went to college in North Dakota before taking a job teaching math and coaching wrestling in Colstrip. He planned to stay for a year or two.

Then he met Amber, who was working part-time as a bartender and doing payroll at the coal plant.

“Forty years later, I’m still here,” he says. “We raised our kids here.”

The power plant's smokestacks are visible from miles away in the town of Colstrip.
The power plant’s smokestacks are visible from miles away in the town of Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

John Williams was one of the first Montana Power Co. employees to move to Colstrip, as planning for the plant’s construction got started. Today he’s the mayor. He’s well-versed in local history, from the first coal mining in the 1920s — which supplied railroads that later switched to diesel — to the economic revitalization when the Portland and Seattle areas came calling.

Unlike many of the other Colstrip lifers who share their stories, several of Williams’ kids have left town. But one of his sons lives in a part of Washington where some of the electricity comes from Colstrip. Same for another son who lives in Idaho.

It’s hard for Williams to imagine a viable future for his home without the power plant.

“I believe they are intimately tied together,” he says.

And what about climate change, I ask?

Nearly everyone in Colstrip has a version of the same answer: Even if it’s real, it’s not nearly as bad as liberals claim. And without coal power, blackouts will reign. West Coast city-dwellers don’t understand how badly they need us here in Montana.

Atchison is an exception.

Yes, he’s dubious about climate science. And yes, he wants to save the mine and power plant. His office is plastered with pro-coal messages — a sign that says, “Coal Pays the Bills,” a magnet reading, “Prove you’re against coal mining: Turn off your electricity.”

But he knows the market for coal is shrinking as the nation’s most populous cities and most profitable companies increasingly demand climate-friendly energy. So he’s preparing for a future in which Colstrip has no choice but to start providing it.

“We have one horse in the barn now,” Atchison says. “We need to add two or three more horses to the barn.”

A conveyor belts carries coal from the Rosebud Mine to the Colstrip power plant.
A conveyor belts carries coal from the Rosebud Mine to the Colstrip power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Ever since President Obama started trying to tighten regulations on coal power, Atchison has been developing and implementing an economic diversification strategy for Colstrip. It involves expanding broadband capacity, building a business innovation center and broadening the local energy economy beyond coal. The transmission lines connecting Colstrip with the Pacific Northwest are an especially valuable asset, capable of sending huge amounts of clean electricity to the Pacific coast.

“Colstrip is evolving from a coal community into an energy community,” Atchison says. “We’re changing. We’re not closing.”

Already, Montana’s biggest wind farm is shipping electricity west via the Colstrip lines. A Houston company is planning another power line that would run from Colstrip to North Dakota. Federal researchers are studying whether Colstrip’s coal units could be replaced with advanced nuclear reactors, or with a gas-fired power plant capable of capturing and storing its climate pollution.

West Coast voters and politicians could speed up the evolution, for Colstrip and other coal towns. Instead of just congratulating themselves for getting out of coal, they could fund training programs and invest in clean energy projects in those towns.

They’ll never fully replace the ample jobs, salaries and tax revenues currently provided by coal. But nothing lasts forever. One hundred years is a pretty good run.

Some inconvenient truths

“Great God, how we’re doin’! We’re rolling in dough,

As they tear and they ravage The Earth.

And nobody knows…or nobody cares…

About things of intrinsic worth.”

—Wally McRae, “Things of Intrinsic Worth” (1989)

Growing up outside Colstrip in the 1970s could lead to strange moments for Clint McRae, the son of a cowboy poet.

He was a teenager then, and Montana Power Co. was working to build public support for Units 3 and 4 of the coal plant. One day his eighth-grade teacher instructed everyone who supported the new coal-fired generators to stand on one side of the classroom. Everyone opposed should stand on the other side.

McRae was the only student opposed.

“And then [the teacher] gave a lecture about how important the construction of these plants was and handed out bumper stickers that said, ‘Support Colstrip Units 3 and 4,'” McRae tells me, shaking his head. “It was terribly uncomfortable.”

Rancher Clint McRae was raised outside Colstrip and has followed in his father's footsteps.
Rancher Clint McRae was raised outside Colstrip and has followed in his father’s footsteps. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Later, his mom was doing laundry and found a pro-coal bumper sticker in his pants pocket. She showed it to his cattle rancher father, Wally, “and I guess he went over there [to the school] and kicked ass and took names,” McRae says with a laugh.

Fifty years later, he’s carrying on his dad’s legacy.

We spend a morning in the Colstrip area on McRae’s sprawling ranch, admiring sandstone rock formations and herds of black angus cows. The scenery is harsh but elegant, rolling hills and pale green grasses and pink-streaked horizon lines.

“This country has a sharp edge to it,” McRae says, quoting a photographer who visited the property years ago.

The land has been in his family since the 1880s, when his great-grandfather immigrated from Scotland. He hopes his youngest daughter — who recently moved back home with her husband — will be the fifth generation to raise cattle here.

“And we just had a grandchild seven months ago, and she’s the sixth,” he says.

Rancher Clint McRae contemplates the environmental threats facing his family's land.
Rancher Clint McRae contemplates the environmental threats facing his family’s land. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

McRae wears a cowboy hat and drives a pickup truck. He tells me right away that he’s “not the kind of person who participates in government programs unless I absolutely have to.” He’s certainly got no qualms about making a living selling beef.

But McRae and his forebears defy stereotypes.

His father, Wally, not only raised cows but was also a celebrated poet, appointed by President Clinton to the National Council on the Arts. In the 1970s, he joined with other ranchers to help found Northern Plains Resource Council, an advocacy group. They were moved to act by a utility industry plan for nearly two dozen coal plants between Colstrip and Gillette, Wyo.

“I and others like me will not allow our land to be destroyed merely because it is convenient for the coal company to tear it up,” Wally McRae said, as quoted in a 50th-anniversary book published by Northern Plains.

Now in his late 80s and retired from the ranch, Wally’s got every reason to be proud of his son.

Clint has fought to limit pollution from the coal plant his dad couldn’t stop — and to ensure the cleanup of dangerous chemicals already emitted by the plant and mine. He’s written articles calling for stronger regulation of coal waste, and slamming laws that critics say would let coal companies pollute water with impunity. Like his father, he’s a member of Northern Plains.

McRae wants me to know that even though he and his dad “damn sure have a difference of opinion” with many of the people who live in town, “it was never personal.” The coal-plant employees are friends of his. He doesn’t want them to lose their jobs.

“Our kids went to school together, played sports together,” he says.

Rancher Clint McRae opens a gate on his family's land outside Colstrip.
Rancher Clint McRae opens a gate on his family’s land outside Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But even though McRae believes “we can have it both ways” — coal generation coupled with environmental protection — he’s not optimistic. And history suggests he’s right to be skeptical. Various analyses have found rampant groundwater contamination from coal plants, including Colstrip. Air pollution is another deadly concern. A peer-reviewed study last year estimated that fine-particle emissions from coal plants killed 460,000 Americans between 1999 and 2020.

Then there’s the climate crisis.

McRae doesn’t want to talk about global warming — “that’s not my bag,” he says. But he’s seen firsthand what it can look like.

In August 2021, the Richard Spring fire tore across 171,000 acres, devastating much of his ranch and nearly torching both of his family’s houses. He was on the front lines of the fast-moving blaze as part of the local volunteer firefighting crew. Temperatures topped 100 degrees, adding to the strain of dry conditions and fierce winds. McRae had never seen anything like it.

Two and a half years later, he’s still building back up his cattle numbers and letting the grass regrow.

“It burned all of our hay. It was awful,” he says.

McRae has a strong sense of history. As we drive toward the Tongue River, which forms a boundary of his ranch, he points out where members of the Arapaho, Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribes camped before the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, a few years ahead of his great-grandfather’s arrival in Montana. A few minutes later he stops to show off a series of tipi rings — artifacts of Indigenous life that he’s promised local tribes he’ll protect.

McRae is acutely aware that this wasn’t always ranchland — and that it probably won’t be forever.

“It’s gonna change,” he says. “Whether we embrace it or not.”

The wind and the water

Sturgeon. Bubbles. Salamander. Jimmy Neutron.

Those are “call signs” for some of the 13 employees at the Clearwater wind farm, where 131 turbines are spread across 94 square miles of Montana ranchland a few hours north of Colstrip. The nicknames are scrawled on a whiteboard in the trailer office.

Raptor. Goose. Sandman.

Clearly, they have fun here. And it’s an industry where you can make good money.

Turbines spin at sundown at NextEra Energy's Clearwater wind farm, which sends power from Montana to Oregon and Washington.
Turbines spin at sundown at NextEra Energy’s Clearwater wind farm, which sends power from Montana to Oregon and Washington. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Clearwater’s operator, Florida-based NextEra Energy, won’t disclose a salary range. But as of 2022, the median annual wage for a U.S. wind turbine technician working in electric power was $59,890, compared with $46,310 for all occupations nationally.

“If someone wants to stay close to home and still have a good career, we provide them that opportunity,” Alex Vineyard says.

Vineyard lives in nearby Miles City and manages Clearwater for NextEra, America’s largest renewable energy company. Clad in a hard hat, sweater vest and orange work gloves, he drives to a nearby turbine and walks up a staircase to show us the machinery inside. The tower is 374 feet high, meaning the tips of the blades reach 582 feet into the air.

Not far from here, hundreds of construction laborers are finishing the next two phases of the Clearwater project.

Alex Vineyard manages the Clearwater wind farm for NextEra, America's largest renewable energy company.
Alex Vineyard manages the Clearwater wind farm for NextEra, America’s largest renewable energy company. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“You can see where we build wind sites. It’s not downtown L.A.,” Vineyard says, the sunset casting a brilliant orange glow behind him. “Generally it’s rural areas — and there are limited opportunities for kids in those areas. Not a lot of great careers.”

Wind will never replace coal. The construction jobs are temporary, the permanent jobs far fewer.

But they’re better than nothing. A lot better.

As much as West Coast megacities owe it to coal towns like Colstrip to bring them along for the clean energy ride, coal towns like Colstrip owe it to themselves to take what they can get — and not let stubbornness or politics condemn them to oblivion.

Fortunately, they’ve got the power grid on their side.

In today’s highly regulated, thoroughly litigated world, long-distance power lines are incredibly hard to build. They can take years if not decades to secure all the necessary approvals — if they can get those approvals at all. As a result, wind and solar developers prize existing transmission lines, like those built to carry power from Colstrip and other coal plants to big cities.

The Clearwater wind farm offers a telling case study.

Two of Colstrip’s four coal units shut down in 2020 due to poor economics, opening up precious space on the plant’s power lines. That open space made it easier for NextEra to sign contracts to sell hundreds of megawatts of wind power to two of Colstrip’s co-owners, Portland General Electric and Puget Sound Energy — and thus get Clearwater built.

An electrical substation flanks the Colstrip power plant.
An electrical substation flanks the Colstrip power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Montana wind is especially useful for Oregon and Washington because it blows strongest during winter, when those states need lots of energy to stay warm. On that front, Clearwater has been a huge success. During its first winter, it had a capacity factor of 60%, meaning it produced 60% of all the power it could possibly produce, if there were enough wind 24/7.

Sixty percent is a lot — “like a home run,” Puget Sound Energy executive Ron Roberts says.

He and his colleagues want more. Puget Sound plans to build more Montana wind turbines to serve its Washington customers — again taking advantage of the Colstrip power lines.

West Coast states need to keep investing in exactly this type of project if they hope to persuade their conservative neighbors to stop fighting to save coal. The more they can bring the benefits of wind and solar power to the rest of the West, the better.

And what about those low-wind, cloudy days when wind turbines and solar panels aren’t enough to avoid blackouts?

Carl Borgquist has a plan for that.

I meet up with him near Gordon Butte — a flat-topped landmass that juts up 1,025 feet from the floor of Montana’s Musselshell River valley, four hours west of Colstrip but just over five miles from the coal plant’s power lines. There are already wind turbines atop the butte, built by the landowning Galt family with Borgquist’s help.

Borgquist assures me as we drive to the top that I’ll soon understand why this steep butte is perfect for energy storage.

“It will intuitively make sense, the elegance and simplicity of gravity as a storage medium,” he says.

Carl Borgquist admires the views from atop Gordon Butte, where he's got plans for a pumped storage project.
Carl Borgquist admires the views from atop Gordon Butte, where he’s got plans for a pumped storage project to augment Montana wind power. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

There will be two reservoirs — one up on the butte, another 1,000 feet below. They’ll be filled with water from a nearby creek.

During times of day when there’s extra power on the Western electric grid — maybe temperatures are moderate in Portland and Seattle, but Montana winds are blowing strong — the Gordon Butte project will use that extra juice to pump water uphill, from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. During times of day when the grid needs more power — maybe there’s a record heat wave, and not enough wind to go around — Gordon Butte will let water flow downhill, generating electricity.

It’s called pumped storage, and it’s not a new concept. But compared with other proposals across the parched West, this one is almost miraculously noncontroversial. No environmentalists making hay over water use. No nearby residents crying foul.

Borgquist still needs to sign up a utility customer, or he would have already flipped Gordon Butte to a developer better suited to build the $1.5-billion project, which will employ 300 to 500 people during construction. But Borgquist is confident that before too long, one or two of the Pacific Northwest electric utilities preparing to ditch Colstrip will see the light.

“I’ve been waiting for the market to catch up to me,” he says.

Let’s hope it catches up soon. Because even though pumped storage won’t keep us heated and cooled and well-lit every hour of every day, neither will wind, or solar, or batteries, or anything else. No one technology will solve all our climate problems.

The sooner we learn that lesson, the sooner we can move on to the hard part.

The Colstrip power lines run near Gordon Butte.
The Colstrip power lines run near Gordon Butte, carrying coal-fired electricity — and increasingly wind energy — from Montana to Oregon and Washington. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The art of the deal

I find myself wandering the halls of the state Capitol in Helena. Christmas is a few weeks away, and there’s a spectacular tree beneath the massive dome, flanked by murals of white settlers and Indigenous Americans.

On a whim, I step into Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office and ask if he’s in. Gianforte has fought to keep the Colstrip plant open, and I want to ask him about it. I’m also curious to meet a man who easily won election despite having assaulted a journalist.

One of his representatives takes down my contact info. I never get an interview.

Despite the state’s deep-red turn in recent years, Montanans have a history of environmental consciousness, owing to their love of fishing, hunting and the great outdoors (as seen in the film “A River Runs Through It”). They approved a new state constitution in 1972 that enshrined the right to a “clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

To the frustration of Gianforte and his supporters, that right may include a stable climate.

This time last year, a Montana judge revoked the permit for a gas-fired power plant being built by the state’s largest electric utility, NorthWestern Energy, along the banks of the Yellowstone River. The judge ruled that the state agency charged with approving the gas plant had failed to consider how the facility’s heat-trapping carbon emissions would contribute to the climate crisis.

NorthWestern Energy says this gas-fired power plant on the Yellowstone River is needed to help keep the lights on.
NorthWestern Energy says this gas-fired power plant on the Yellowstone River is needed to help keep the lights on for homes and businesses. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Legislators responded by rushing to pass a law that barred state agencies from considering climate impacts.

The Yellowstone River gas plant moved forward, but the law didn’t last long. A few months after it passed, another judge ruled in favor of 16 young people suing the state over global warming, agreeing that the legislation violated their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

“This is such a solvable problem,” says Hedges, the Montana environmentalist critical of coal mining. “It’s just that nobody wants to solve it.”

Hedges is a leader of the Montana Environmental Information Center, where she’s spent three decades battling for clean air, clean water and a healthy climate. It was her advocacy group, along with the Sierra Club, that sued Montana over the state’s approval of the Yellowstone River gas plant, setting off the chain of increasingly consequential court rulings.

But as mad as she is at Gianforte — and at the local utility company executives who insist they need coal to keep the lights on in Montana — Hedges is at her most caustic when discussing the Pacific Northwest environmentalists who, in her view, have failed to do everything they can to get the Colstrip power plant shut down.

That includes the Sierra Club, which, Hedges says, has shifted its focus too quickly from shutting down coal plants to blocking the construction of new gas plants — even in places such as Montana, where coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, isn’t dead yet.

Hedges’ frustration also includes the Washington state lawmakers who passed a much-lauded bill, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, requiring electric utilities to stop buying coal power by 2025 — only to sit idly by as some of those utilities then made arrangements to give away their shares in the Colstrip plant to coal-friendly co-owners rather than negotiate agreements to shut the coal units.

“So they’re not actually decreasing carbon dioxide emissions even a little tiny bit. They are allowing this plant to continue, instead of using their vote to close this source of pollution. It’s maddening,” Hedges says.

A lone tumbleweed blows through piles of coal at the Rosebud Mine outside Colstrip, a few miles from the power plant.
A lone tumbleweed blows through piles of coal at the Rosebud Mine outside Colstrip, a few miles from the power plant. Coal is prepped for transport at the mine. Coal is transferred to a truck at the mine. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Washington officials say they tried to get Colstrip shut down but were stymied by the plant’s complicated six-company ownership structure, and by the Montana Legislature’s staunch support for coal. Sierra Club activists, meanwhile, say they’re still pushing for Colstrip’s closure, and for coal shutdowns across the country — even as they also oppose the construction of gas plants.

“From a climate perspective, gas is just as bad as coal,” says Laurie Williams, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

To avoid a future of ever-more-dangerous fires, floods and heat, we need to ditch both fossil fuels — fast.

This is the hard part. This is the part that will require compromise — for conservatives who believe anything smacking of climate change is woke liberal propaganda, and for liberals who want nothing to do with conservatives spouting that belief.

So how do we do it? How do we stop clashing and start cooperating?

First off, West Coasters need to engage in good faith with the people who have supplied their power for decades — and strike deals that might persuade those red staters to move on from coal. Deals like building more wind farms in Montana and not as many back home, even if that means fewer union jobs and lower tax revenues for California, Oregon and Washington.

It’s great that the coastal states are targeting 100% clean energy, but it’s not enough. They must bring the rest of the West along for the ride, or it won’t matter. Every solar farm in California is undermined by every ton of coal burned at Colstrip.

The lesson for folks who live in Colstrip and other Western coal towns, might be even more difficult to swallow.

L.A. and Phoenix and Portland have funded your comfortable lifestyles a long time. Now they want something different.

If Colstrip wants to stick around, it needs to start offering something different.

Climate activist Anne Hedges stands in a public park near the Colstrip power plant.
Climate activist Anne Hedges stands in a public park near the Colstrip power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It’s easy to see why that’s a scary prospect. After we finish exploring the coal mine with Hedges, we drive into town and stop at one of the immaculately maintained public parks. The power plant’s two active smokestacks aren’t far, looming 692 feet over a swing set and red-and-blue bench with the letters “USA” carved into the backing.

“The climate doesn’t care who owns the power plant,” Hedges says, as steam and carbon and soot spew from the stacks.

The climate won’t care any more when Houston-based Talen Energy — which operates the plant, and which didn’t respond to requests for a tour or interview — becomes the facility’s largest owner next year, acquiring Puget Sound Energy’s shares.

Our ability to solve this problem doesn’t depend on which company is profiting off all that coal.

What it does depend on is our willingness to make hard choices, ranchers and miners and activists setting aside their differences and writing the West’s next chapter together, rather than fighting so long and so hard that the tale ends badly for everyone.

Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Cowboy poet Wally McRae learned that the hard way.

Maybe 50 years from now, his great-grandchildren will wax poetic about the beauty of Colstrip without coal.

The early-morning sky glows red over the town of Colstrip.
The early-morning sky glows red over the town of Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Former GOP insider: Trump has “reprogrammed a generation” to fight against democracy


Former GOP insider: Trump has “reprogrammed a generation” to fight against democracy

Chauncey DeVega – April 16, 2024

Capitol Riot; Trump Supporters Nathan Howard/Getty Images
Capitol Riot; Trump Supporters Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The first of Donald Trump’s four criminal trials is finally underway in Manhattan. This trial, on campaign-finance charges related to Trump’s alleged “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels, is truly historic, marking the first time in American history that a current or former president has been tried for criminal offenses.

A guilty verdict in combination with the outcomes of his three other pending trials in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., will clearly have an impact on how many Americans vote in the upcoming presidential election. The potential consequences should not be underestimated, given that current polls show a statistical dead heat between Trump and President Biden.

In an evocative preview published by the Economist, the “hush money” trial is described as a “meld of genres”:

The solemnity of the first prosecution of a former president, who also happens to be running again, will nod to tragedy. Really, though, this is a seedy burlesque, with a bit of farce. The case is about sex, money and blackmail. Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, who will testify against him, once described the conduct at issue as the “filth and muck of politics”…. Every trial is part theatre. This one, slated to run for six to eight weeks (beginning with jury selection), will be a sell-out.

Trump’s criminal trials are historic in other ways as well: They seem to echo the lessons of one of the most dreadful chapters in modern history. In 1923, Adolf Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for an attempted coup (known as the Beer Hall Putsch) against the state government of Bavaria. He served less than one year, using the time to write the first volume of “Mein Kampf.” After his release, of course, Hitler continued his rise to power, becoming the de facto dictator of Germany less than 10 years later.

Donald Trump has already attempted one coup, and the American people were fortunate that it failed. He has never disavowed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and, not unlike Hitler, continues to threaten violence (including imprisonment and execution for “treason”) against anyone and everyone who oppose him and the MAGA movement.

If Trump is actually sent to prison, the MAGA movement will likely be blunted, if not broken. American democracy and the might then be able to avoid the fate that befell Germany 90 or so years ago.

Miles Taylor served as chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security during Trump’s first term. He spoke out early about Trump’s unfitness for office, as author of the 2018 New York Times “Anonymous” editorial. Since then, Taylor has written two books, “A Warning” and “Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from Trump’s Revenge.” His new paperback edition of “Blowback” has just been published, incorporating an argument that Trump’s second administration will be far more competent and formidable in its assault on American democracy and the rule of law than the first one was.

In the second half of our conversation, Taylor cautions that the existential danger to American democracy posed by Trump, the MAGA movement, and today’s Republican Party will continue well past Election Day 2024. The American people still have the power and agency to defeat those forces, Taylor says, but only if they shake off complacency and apathy and act to defend democracy and freedom — not just at the ballot box but throughout our society.

This is the second installment of a two-part conversation.

How do you assess Donald Trump and his MAGA movement’s danger to the safety and future of the country and our pluralistic democracy?

Look, I’m still a conservative. This isn’t about a Republican coming to the White House. I don’t even think Trump is a real Republican. It’s about a man who’s said he wants to use government as a tool of revenge — and to advance his own self-interest. That sort of intent — sitting atop the spy agencies and military apparatus of the government — writes its own horror story.

How do we locate Donald Trump and the American authoritarian movement as part of a larger global movement to end democracy, which also includes Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, and other malign actors?

They are one and the same — reactions to populism. This is where I’ll say that the culprits here aren’t actually the autocrats themselves. It’s us. We’re choosing to empower these people. We can choose not to. The choice we make will define us.

Why do you think the news media and political elites haven’t made the global dimension of this threat to our democracy much clearer?

Attacks on Western democracy from within were not on my bingo card post-9/11. I fear the wayward ex-president will get his way eventually in trying to chip away at the community of democracies. He needn’t win back the White House to execute his vision. Trump has done something more insidious. By co-opting the Republican Party, he has reprogrammed a generation of devotees with his anti-constitutional and anti-democratic views. Copycats will try to fulfill his unfinished plans well beyond his lifespan, an undertaking made possible because GOP leaders have anesthetized their consciences and normalized Trump-like conduct for a decade.

If Trump is defeated this November, will the danger of right-wing political violence decrease? Many experts are concerned that a defeat on Election Day will only amplify the danger from Trump and his followers.

I’ll put it simply. Whether Trump wins or loses, the risk of political violence is high. If he loses, it will likely be far worse than Jan. 6. If he wins, I fear there will be a violent reaction around the country from the far left — a reaction that Trump will use to “justify” a crackdown. Thus, the spiral will begin. There’s no magic wand that can prevent this. We just need to show restraint, urge our neighbors to do the same and condemn political extremism.

Looking back, do you have any regrets about your time in the administration and how you chose to speak out? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Six years ago, I sounded an alarm that the sitting president was acting in a way that was “amoral” and “reckless” behind the scenes and that his own staff thought he posed a grave threat to the country. Many people dismissed me and believed Trump’s accusation that I was being disloyal.

Five years ago, I wrote a book about the deeper extent of instability inside the White House and why re-electing Trump could be catastrophic. Many people dismissed me and believed Trump’s claim that it was a “make-believe book” of “deep state” lies.

Four years ago, during the 2020 campaign, I said that if Trump lost, he would try to stay in office, a situation that could end “tragically.” Many people dismissed me and believed the claims of Trump’s acolytes that he’d do the right thing when the time came.

Three years ago, I assembled GOP dissenters to warn that Trumpism maintained a “viselike grip” on the party and that the anti-constitutional wing would overtake it completely if preventive action wasn’t taken. Many people dismissed me and said the GOP would move on from Trump.

Two years ago, I predicted that Trump would run again for the presidency and would likely lead the GOP field. Many people dismissed me and said Trump would be taken out by the courts first.

Last year, I released this book to explain in precise detail what would happen if Trump or another MAGA figure retook the White House, including the specific ways they would weaponize American government against their foes.

My goal here isn’t to prove that I’m prescient. Nor do I think I should be applauded because predictions about a dangerous man and his mob-like movement keep coming to fruition. What I’ve been saying for years about deeper threats to the American experiment should have been painfully obvious to almost anyone who’s paying attention. Yet far too many Americans are imperiling the future once more by ignoring the clanging and rattling truth that could cause the entire country to come undone.

What do you think will happen next? Where are we in the story of the Trumpocene?

First, I say in the book that America’s survival as the United States is not inevitable, but its demise will become a certainty if we continue down our current path. No free system of government can survive the willful ignorance of its people. But I’m not a fatalist; if I were, I wouldn’t have written this book or spent my life trying to protect our country. In fact, I am an optimist about the trajectory of free societies like our own. A democracy is a living thing. Like most living things, it will fight for its survival by exhausting all available possibilities for persistence, though a spirited effort might not be visible until it’s in mortal danger. That hour will be upon us soon.

Second, I note that America can survive the century if we renegotiate our social contract. By that I mean we should examine the underpinnings of our polity together — from the actual ways we vote and mechanisms for spurring political competition to the very Constitution that binds us. Although it may seem impracticable, a renegotiation will look more appealing in the decades ahead of us, more so, I suspect, in the face of genuine hardship. A people so divided cannot continue forward without addressing their divisions openly; otherwise, they should peaceably separate, or spiral toward a violent end.

Thankfully, we are blessed by nature with a say in the matter. Destiny is manifested by decision. So what happens next will depend on our collective willpower as a country and our resolve to eschew the dread of indecision. On that point I feel hopeful, because every guiding milestone we’ve placed on humankind’s trail has been put there by choice. And we can do so once again at a moment of our choosing.

What can the American people do to stop the bureaucrats, advisers and others who will try to orchestrate the Trump dictatorship if he wins this election?

The choice is ours, as it has always been. The founders saw America as an experiment, dependent entirely on our conscious efforts to sustain it and not on preordainment. Some readers will lament these grim forecasts while they loiter in the shadows, contorting logic to justify to themselves why their silence is an exception to the need for all Americans to admit the seriousness of our situation. To those readers I say: I don’t judge you. I’ve been you. I’ve made excuses for staying quiet. But companionship won’t save you from the consequences.

Fewer citizens will make the harder choice. Those who do will start defying their political tribes by calling for civility; they will resist intimidation and reject the moral equivalency crawling into our political discourse; they will put country over party by advocating for system-wide reforms to make our democracy more representative of all views and less prone to upheaval; and they will openly evangelize — through trial and error — the small rituals of civic faith that can restore a democracy. If this is you, then I believe you are America’s last, best hope.

2 foods Michael Pollan always buys organic to reduce his exposure to harmful chemicals


2 foods Michael Pollan always buys organic to reduce his exposure to harmful chemicals

Hilary Brueck – April 15, 2024

  • Michael Pollan has been investigating how US farmers grow plants and raise livestock for 17 years.
  • As a result of what he’s seen, he has changed his diet in a few key ways.
  • When he shops for wheat, bread, and strawberries, he tries to find organic versions.

When Michael Pollan is shopping for his family, he tries to buy organic food.

But he knows that’s not always realistic — and that the word “organic” is not a synonym for healthy or pure. It is mired in agro-politics.

Though organically grown foods tend to be slightly more nutritious and better for the health of the planet, they aren’t always. Organic farming techniques generally also lead to lower yields, meaning farms produce less food, and it’s more expensive to buy.

Still, there are a couple of items Pollan will avoid if organic options aren’t available. That’s largely because the non-organic versions are often so laden with toxic chemicals, he told Business Insider, ahead of the release of his new documentary, “Food, Inc. 2,” which came out April 12.

“I just think it’s a good idea to keep synthetic pesticides out of your diet to the extent you can,” Pollan said. “There are practices in American agriculture that if people really knew about them, they would be outraged.”

strawberry picking
Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

After roughly 17 years of studying the food industry, Pollan can’t stomach non-organic strawberries anymore. They “are usually grown with some pretty nasty chemicals, soil fumigants and things like that,” he said.

Strawberries, with their delicate, permeable, soft skins have been a staple on the Environmental Working Group’s controversial “Dirty Dozen” list for years because the non-organic versions tend to have some of the highest surface pesticide levels of any fresh fruit or vegetable on the market.

As a result, demand for more organic strawberries has surged in recent years; organic strawberry acreage in California tripled between 2008 and 2019. (But nutrition experts stress there are still plenty of health benefits to eating regular strawberries, and giving a conventional berry a quick rinse in the sink can help reduce your pesticide exposure).

Organic strawberries aren’t grown that differently from conventionals — except when it comes to the fertilizers and weed killers farmers use. Typically, organic strawberries in the US are cultivated without soil fumigants or herbicides.

“In general, organic soils, they don’t get their fertility from chemicals, they get their fertility from compost and manure and things like that,” Pollan said. “Not in every case, but in many cases, they have more nutrients.”

wheat in field
Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pollan said he also buys organic flour and bread.

Conventional wheat hasn’t gotten the same bad reputation that strawberries have. It’s not listed on the Dirty Dozen list, in part because it’s not really considered fresh produce, and we don’t tend to eat it raw.

But studies suggest that conventional grains tend to harbor higher levels of cadmium, a toxic metal found in soil, than organic versions. Pollan worries, in particular, about the level of glyphosate that’s in conventional wheat at harvest.

“Wheat farmers have taken to spraying glyphosate on their crops to kill it — it’s a weed killer and plant killer,” he said. “We’re carrying body levels of glyphosate that are much higher than they used to be.”

Scientists are still arguing about whether this trend is worrisome, and some big grainmakers in the US are already phasing out their use of pre-harvest glyphosate, but Pollan is not waiting around.

“They’re taking this toxic pesticide, which has been linked to lymphoma and is banned in many countries, and they’re spraying it on our food right before harvest, very close to the time we’re going to eat it, he said. “It’s a very good argument for buying organic wheat and organic bread.”

Ukraine army chief says Russia making significant ‘gains’ in east of country

BBC News

Ukraine army chief says Russia making significant ‘gains’ in east of country

Thomas Mackintosh – BBC News – April 13, 2024

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky with Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi at a position near the eastern front line, Donetsk region, Ukraine, 26 June 2023
Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi (L) was appointed as commander of Ukraine’s military by President Zelensky last year [Reuters]

The head of Ukraine’s military has warned the battlefield situation in the east of the country has “significantly worsened” in recent days.

Fierce battles are ongoing in a several villages in the eastern Donbas region.

Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia was benefitting from warm weather – making terrain more accessible to its tanks – and making tactical gains.

It comes as Germany said it will give Ukraine an extra Patriot missile defence system to fend off air attacks.

In his update posted to social media on Saturday, Gen Syrskyi explained the situation on the eastern front had deteriorated as Russia intensified its armoured assaults.

Battles have raged for control of Bohdanivka – a village west of the devastated city of Bakhmut, he said.

The settlement lies a few kilometres northeast of the town of Chasiv Yar, a Kyiv-controlled stronghold which Russia has been trying to reach after seizing the town of Avdiivka in February to the south.

Ukrainian officials say a slowdown in military assistance from the West – especially the US – has left it more exposed to aerial attacks and heavily outgunned on the battlefield.

Despite repeated assurances that he is dedicated to Ukraine’s defence, US House Speaker Mike Johnson has failed to advance a new military aid bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed fresh funding in February which included $60bn in aid for Kyiv, but conservative Republicans in the House objected to the bill as it did not include funds for border security.

Gen Syrskyi said without fresh aid and sophisticated weapons Kyiv would be unable “to seize the strategic initiative” from the numerically superior Russian forces.

Separately on Saturday, Germany vowed to give Ukraine an additional air defence system. Ukraine has made increasingly desperate appeals for supplies of air defence missiles in recent weeks.

On Friday, a major power plant near Kyiv was completely destroyed by Russian strikes. Trypillya power plant was the largest electricity provider for three regions, including Kyiv, officials said.

In response, Berlin has agreed to give Kyiv an additional Patriot missile system. It is capable of intercepting Russia’s most advanced munitions, including Kinzal hypersonic missiles.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Russian strikes against Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure were causing untold suffering.

President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Germany for the decision, calling it “a true manifestation of support for Ukraine”.

Since President Vladimir Putin won his stage managed election last month, Moscow has stepped up air attacks on Ukraine.

Russia has, in recent days, unleashed three massive aerial strikes on its energy system, pounding power plants and substations.

Elsewhere, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it has foiled an assassination attempt on the governor of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin. Officials said two men attempted to strike Mr Prokudin’s car with a Russian-manufactured drone.

“This was not the first attempt, and probably not the last one,” Mr Prokudin said a message posted to Telegram.

SBU officials also said they had detained 11 networks of Russian operatives since the start of 2024. SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk said in another Telegram post that this was in addition to 47 last year.


Ukraine’s military chief warns of ‘significantly’ worsening battlefield situation in the east

Associated Press

Ukraine’s military chief warns of ‘significantly’ worsening battlefield situation in the east

Associated Press – April 13, 2024

In this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Saturday, April 13, 2024, Russian Army soldiers ride their armoured vehicle to take positions and fire toward Ukrainian positions at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military chief on Saturday warned that the battlefield situation in the industrial east has “significantly worsened in recent days,” as warming weather allowed Russian forces to launch a fresh push along several stretches of the more 1,000 km-long (620-mile) front line.

In an update on the Telegram messaging app, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyy said that Moscow had “significantly” ramped up its assaults since President Vladimir Putin extended his nearly quarter-century rule in a preordained election last month that saw anti-war candidates barred from the ballot and independent voices silenced in a Kremlin-backed media blockade.

According to Syrskyy, Russian forces have been “actively attacking” Ukrainian positions in three areas of the eastern Donetsk region, near the cities of Lyman, Bakhmut and Pokrovsk, and beginning to launch tank assaults as drier, warmer spring weather has made it easier for heavy vehicles to move across previously muddy terrain.

“Despite significant losses, the enemy is intensifying its efforts by using new units (equipped with) armored vehicles, thanks to which it periodically achieves tactical success,” Syrskyy said.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman on Saturday confirmed the capture of a village that had been the site of fierce fighting for close to eighteen months. Analysts from Ukraine’s non-governmental Deep State group, which tracks frontline developments, had reported on Russia’s takeover of Pervomaiske, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of Pokrovsk, in the early hours of Thursday.

On Saturday, the group said in a Telegram update that Moscow’s forces had also taken Bohdanivka, another eastern village close to the city of Bakhmut, where the war’s bloodiest battle raged for nine months until it fell to Russia last May. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry shortly afterwards denied that Bohdanivka had been captured, and said “intense fighting” continued there.

With the war in Ukraine entering its third year and a vital U.S. aid package for Kyiv stuck in Congress, Russian troops are ramping up pressure on exhausted Ukrainian forces on the front line to prepare to grab more land this spring and summer.

Russia has relied on its edge in firepower and personnel to step up attacks across eastern Ukraine. It has increasingly used satellite-guided gliding bombs — which allow planes to drop them from a safe distance — to pummel Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.

Also on Saturday, Germany announced that it will deliver an additional Patriot air defense system to Ukraine, days after Russian missiles and drones on Thursday struck infrastructure and power facilities across several regions, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power, in what private energy operator DTEK described as one of the most powerful attacks this year. The German Defense Ministry said it would “begin the handover” of the Patriot system immediately, without providing a precise timeline.

In an update on X, formerly known as Twitter, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had discussed the “massive” Russian air attacks on civilian energy infrastructure with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, and declared that Berlin will “stand unbreakably by Ukraine’s side.”

Putin described the strikes as retribution for Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure, after a slew of Ukrainian drone strikes over the past few months hit oil refineries deep inside Russia.

Starting last month, Moscow renewed its assault on Ukrainian energy facilities. On Thursday it completely knocked out a plant that was the biggest energy supplier for the region around Kyiv, as well as the nearby Cherkasy and Zhytomyr provinces.

At least 10 of the strikes damaged energy infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said more than 200,000 people in the region were without power and Russia “is trying to destroy Kharkiv’s infrastructure and leave the city in darkness.”

Energy facilities were also hit in the Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions.

The volume and accuracy of recent attacks have alarmed the country’s defenders, who say Kremlin forces now have better intelligence and fresh tactics in their campaign to annihilate Ukraine’s electrical grid and bring its economy to a halt.

In the winter of 2022-2023, Russia took aim at Ukraine’s power grid in an effort to deny civilians light and heating and chip away at the country’s appetite for war.

In Ukraine’s Russian-occupied south, a local Kremlin-installed official blamed Kyiv for a shelling attack that killed 10 people, including children, in a town in the southern Zaporizhzhia region the previous day.

The Tokmak municipal administration reported on Telegram that the shelling struck three apartment blocks Friday evening. Five people were pulled alive from the rubble and 13 people were hospitalized, according to the Kremlin-installed regional head Yevhen Balitsky. It was not immediately possible to verify his claims.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately acknowledge or comment on the attack.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, a Russian drone on Saturday dropped explosives on an ambulance that had been called out to a village near the frontline city of Kupiansk, wounding its 58-year-old driver, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported. His claim could not be independently verified.

Iran launched 200 drones and missiles in a retaliatory attack on Israel. How we got here, and what happens next.

Yahoo! News

Iran launched 200 drones and missiles in a retaliatory attack on Israel. How we got here, and what happens next.

Air defense systems intercepted many projectiles; Biden condemns attacks

Caitlin Dickson and Kaitlin Reilly – April 13, 2024

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel April 14, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An anti-missile system operated after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel. (REUTERS / Reuters)

Iran sent 200 drones and missiles hurtling towards Israel Saturday, escalating tensions across an already fraught Middle East and causing the international community to scramble to formulate a response.

The attacks came in retaliation for the April 1 bombing of Iran’s embassy in Syria. Iran said it now considers that matter “concluded,” but also warned Israel and the U.S. against further reprisals. President Biden, meanwhile, condemned the attacks and said he would convene G7 leaders Sunday for “a united diplomatic response.”

It was unclear how much damage the attacks caused. Many of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s air defense system, with assistance from the U.S. and other allies.

U.S. and Israeli officials had been predicting a strike. Biden sought to dissuade Iran Friday with a simple one-word message to Tehran’s leaders: “Don’t.”

That warning went unheeded Saturday. Here’s a look at how we got here, and what could happen next.

What’s happening?

Israel Defense Force spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Iran had launched more than 200 drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles towards Israel Saturday, according to The New York Times. Hagari said one girl had been injured.

The Iranian-run state news agency IRNA said Tehran had fired ballistic missiles at Israeli targets, the Associated Press reported.

President Biden cut his weekend visit to Delaware short, returning to the White House on Saturday to meet with his national security team and later speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a statement, Biden affirmed that the U.S. “commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

Biden also said he had directed U.S. military resources to the region over the past week to support Israel’s defense, and that as a result “we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

The background

Tensions have long simmered and flared between Iran and Israel. Iran has been accused of providing funding and support to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to help facilitate attacks on Israel.

But Saturday’s attack came less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria. The attack killed seven of Iran’s military advisers, including three senior commanders.

Although the attack took place outside Iran, it may as well have been a direct hit on the country. Diplomatic compounds, including embassies and consulates, are generally considered sovereign territory of the country they represent and are afforded certain protections. However, during times of war or conflict, diplomatic compounds may become targets for attacks by opposing forces. These attacks are usually condemned by the international community, and when they do occur in conflict zones, it often leads to diplomatic tensions — and potential repercussions.

Saturday’s attack came amid the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel, although Iran does not take responsibility for aiding Hamas during its attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 Israelis.

On Friday, Biden had said he expected Iran to attack “sooner than later” and urged Tehran against it. The U.S. also took steps in recent days to protect Americans in Israel and prepare U.S. troops and warships in the region to defend Israel.

What Iran has said

Iran had blamed Israel and the U.S. for the April 1 attack and had been threatening retaliation.

On Saturday, Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement it considered these retaliatory attacks to be a conclusion in the matter of the April 1 embassy bombing. The statement, however, warned Israel that any future reprisals would be met by a “considerably more severe” response and that “the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

Prior to the Saturday attack, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard also seized an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz in another apparent sign of aggression by Iran.

What Israel has said

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his war cabinet Saturday night and spoke with President Biden.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently speaking with US President Joe Biden, following the deliberations of the Security Cabinet and the War Cabinet.

— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 14, 2024

Israel has not publicly taken responsibility for the April 1 embassy attack, though it has not denied carrying it out either.

How are other countries responding?

Many nations quickly came to Israel’s defense.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he condemns the Iranian regime’s “reckless attack” against Israel. “These strikes risk inflaming tensions and destabilizing the region,” he stated. “Iran has once again demonstrated that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard.”

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock also “strongly” condemned the attack, which she said “could plunge an entire region into chaos.” She called for Iran and its proxies to “stop this immediately,” adding that “Israel offers our full solidarity at this time.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that “we are following events in the Middle East with the deepest concern,” adding that the country is in “permanent contact” with their embassies in the region, which will “remain open to support Spaniards in the area.”

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro called the unfolding events “predictable,” declaring it a “prelude to World War III,” when “humanity should rebuild its economy towards the rapid goal of decarbonization.”

What happens next?

International leaders will meet Sunday to coordinate a response.

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting at 4 p.m. E.T.

President Biden also said he would convene a meeting with the leaders of the G7 countries, which include France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, to discuss a unified diplomatic response.

Israel says Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, 99% of which were intercepted

Associated Press

Israel says Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, 99% of which were intercepted

Josef Federman and Jon Gambrell – April 13, 2024

JERUSALEM (AP) — Booms and air raid sirens sounded across Israel early Sunday after Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in an unprecedented revenge mission that pushed the Middle East closer to a regionwide war. A military spokesman said the launches numbered more than 300 but 99% of them were intercepted.

Calling the outcome “a very significant strategic success,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran fired 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles. Of those, several ballistic missiles reached Israeli territory, causing minor damage to an air base.

Rescuers said a 7-year-old girl in a Bedouin Arab town was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a missile strike, though they said police were still investigating the circumstances of her injuries.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said U.S. forces helped Israel down “nearly all” the drones and missiles and pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response.

The Iranian attack, less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria that killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building, marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Condemnation from the United Nations chief and others was swift, with France saying Iran “is risking a potential military escalation,” Britain calling the attack “reckless” and Germany saying Iran and its proxies “must stop it immediately.”

Hagari said the vast majority of the intercepts came outside Israel’s borders, including 10 cruise missiles that were intercepted by warplanes.

“A wide-scale attack by Iran is a major escalation,” he said. Asked whether Israel would respond, Hagari said only that the army “does and will do whatever is required to protect the security of the state of Israel.” He said the incident was not over, and dozens of Israeli warplanes remained in the skies.

Israel’s military said its Arrow system, which shoots down ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, handled most interceptions and noted that “strategic partners” were involved.

“At my direction, to support the defense of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week,” Biden said in a statement. “Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our service members, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement that U.S. forces “intercepted dozens of missiles and UAVs en route to Israel, launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”

Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke early Sunday, Israeli time, their governments said. Biden said in his statement that he reaffirmed “America’s ironclad commitment” to Israel’s security — a departure from his growing criticism of Israel’s conduct in its war on Hamas in Gaza.

Iran had vowed revenge since the April 1 airstrike in Syria, which Tehran accused Israel of being responsible for. Israel hasn’t commented on it.

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s six-month war against Hamas militants in Gaza. The war erupted after Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Almost immediately after the war erupted, Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon, began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

In a statement carried late Saturday by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard acknowledged launching “dozens of drones and missiles towards the occupied territories and positions of the Zionist regime.”

In a later statement, the Revolutionary Guard issued a direct warning to the U.S.: “The terrorist U.S. government is warned any support or participation in harming Iran’s interests will be followed by decisive and regretting response by Iran’s armed forces.”

IRNA also quoted an anonymous official saying ballistic missiles were part of the attack. A ballistic missile moves on an arch trajectory, heading up into space before gravity brings the weapon down at a speed several times faster than the speed of sound.

Israel has a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets. However, in a massive attack involving multiple drones and missiles, the likelihood of a strike making it through is higher.

Iran has a vast arsenal of drones and missiles. Online videos shared by Iranian state television purported to show delta-wing-style drones resembling the Iranian Shahed-136s long used by Russia in its war on Ukraine. The slow-flying drones carry bombs. Ukraine has successfully used both surface-to-air missiles and ground fire to target them.

Some Israelis watched the interceptions light up the night sky.

Air raid sirens were reported in numerous places including northern Israel, southern Israel, the northern West Bank and the Dead Sea near the Jordanian border.

Israel’s army ordered residents in the Golan Heights — near the Syrian and Lebanese borders — as well as the southern towns of Nevatim and Dimona and the Red Sea resort of Eilat into protective spaces. Dimona is home to Israel’s main nuclear facility, and Nevatim has a major air base. Loud booms were heard in Jerusalem and northern and southern Israel.

The army’s Home Front Command canceled school Sunday and limited public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people. Israel and some other countries in the region closed their airspace.

Earlier, Netanyahu warned: “Whoever harms us, we will harm them.”

In Washington, Biden convened a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the attack.

Gen. Erik Kurilla, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, was in Israel over the weekend consulting with Israeli defense officials. The Central Command oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations issued a warning to both Israel and the U.S. “Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” it wrote online. “It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had threatened to “slap” Israel for the Syria strike.

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, witnesses saw long lines at gas stations early Sunday as people appeared worried about what may come next. Dozens of hard-liners demonstrated in support of the attack at Palestine Square.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following Iran’s launch of drones. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it launched “dozens” of Katyusha rockets at an Israeli military site in the Golan Heights early Sunday. It was not immediately clear if there was any damage.

Iranian missiles or drones were intercepted in the sky above the Jordanian capital, Amman. In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, and elsewhere in the country, residents reported seeing missiles in the sky and hearing explosions, likely from interceptions. In Syria, explosions were heard in the capital, Damascus, and elsewhere. Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian air defenses tried to shoot down Israeli attempts to intercept Iranian missiles.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP correspondents Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Michael Balsamo in New York, Krutika Pathi in New Delhi, Stephen Graham in Berlin, Thomas Adamson in Paris, and Zeke Miller and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Biden to close ‘gun-show loophole’ and expand background checks for firearms


Biden to close ‘gun-show loophole’ and expand background checks for firearms

Myah Ward – April 11, 2024

“This single gap in our federal background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on the call. | Alex Wong/Getty Images (Alex Wong via Getty Images)

The Biden administration is moving to expand background checks for gun purchases, fulfilling a key demand of advocates following the deadly shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

The final rule, expected to be submitted Thursday to the Federal Register by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, would eliminate a loophole that has allowed sales of guns without background checks of guns outside of brick-and-mortar stores.

The rule was issued under a provision of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. It requires that anyone who sells guns for profit to have a license and that buyers be subject to a background check, including at firearms shows and flea markets. The administration had been working on the rule since last spring. Once publicized, it will take effect in 30 days.

The so-called gun show loophole has for years allowed unlicensed gun dealers to sell firearms without background checks at gun shows, on the internet and out of their homes. The new rule, the most sweeping expansion of firearms background checks in decades, will apply to more than 20,000 individuals engaged in unlicensed gun dealing and affect “tens and tens of thousands of gun sales” each year, an administration official told reporters during a call previewing the announcement.

“This single gap in our federal background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on the call.

The vice president noted the 25th anniversary next week of the mass shooting at Columbine High School, which was carried out with weapons purchased through the gun-show loophole. She also pointed to the 2019 shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas, where a man killed seven people and wounded dozens of others. A background check stopped the shooter from purchasing a gun at a sporting goods store in 2014, but he later purchased an AR-15 from an unlicensed seller he met online.

“So many communities have been torn apart by acts of violence committed with weapons bought without background checks,” she continued. “So in the memory of all those we have lost today, as the head of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, I am proud to announce that all gun dealers now must conduct background checks no matter where or how they sell their merchandise.”

After Congress passed the gun safety legislation in June 2022 following a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, gun safety groups have pushed the White House to use it to expand background checks by clarifying which entities are considered “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. Doing so would not fulfill the president’s plea for universal background checks, as it would not apply to all sales, including private transfers. But the rule’s publication still marks a step forward in the administration’s more incremental efforts to regulate gun sales through implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“We know this doesn’t get all the way there. And this law can only do so much. And it’s why the president is firm that the Congress needs to finish this job and make sure that we have background checks on all gun sales,” an administration official said.

The final rule comes a year after the president issued an executive order directing Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop and implement a plan to clarify the definition of “engaged in business.” The Department of Justice issued the proposed rule in September. The administration has also made an effort to release previously undisclosed firearms data, offering a fuller picture of the illegal firearms market in the U.S.

An analysis published last week from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found sales by unlicensed dealers were the most frequently used gun trafficking channel. From 2017 to 2021, the ATF traced more than 68,000 of these illegally tracked firearms to unlicensed dealers.

“Today’s Final Rule is about ensuring compliance with an important area of the existing law where we all know, the data show, and we can clearly see that a whole group of folks are openly flouting that law. That leads to not just unfair but, in this case, dangerous consequences,” said ATF director Steven Dettelbach.