Fact that one-third of US was hit with extreme weather event this summer is a red flag: Energy Secretary

Fact that one-third of US was hit with extreme weather event this summer is a red flag: Energy Secretary

Akiko Fujita, Anchor/Reporter             September 20, 2021


U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Monday, extreme weather events this summer have elevated the urgency with which the Biden administration tackles the climate crisis.

But, with less than two months to go until the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26), she said the administration has no plans to boost its ambitions to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels, by the end of this decade.

“The fact that one-third of the country has experienced an extreme climate related event this summer, whether it is wildfires, or hurricanes, or droughts or whatever, that is the exclamation point that we hope that the rest of the country sees the urgency of the moment,” said Granholm in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live. “[The plan to slash emissions] is a really hard goal. And it’s going to require a full effort, not just all of government, but all of the economy.”

The continued call for climate action comes on the heels of a summer marked by extreme weather events.

Nearly 1-in-3 Americans have been affected by extreme weather in the last three months, according to a Washington Post analysis. Nearly 400 people have died from hurricanes, floods, and heat waves, based on media reports and government data obtained by the Post.

With less than two months to go until global leaders gather at the COP 26 in Glasgow, Granholm, along with other administration officials, are looking to capitalize on the urgency of the moment, to pressure lawmakers to pass key climate legislation in Congress.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill calls for investments in clean energy, including $7.5 billion to build out a national network for electric vehicle chargers, and $27 billion for essential transmission investments. The Democratic reconciliation bill, with a $3.5 trillion price tag, calls for a $150 billion investment for a clean electricity standard.

“We would get to the number of 100% clean electricity by 2035, if we have the right policy pieces in place,” Granholm said.

The Department of Energy’s proposed Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP, establishes clean energy tax incentives by providing grants or payments to utility companies based on the amount of renewable energy the firm supplies to customers. That, combined with a methane fee would accelerate the shift to clean energy, in line with the timeline set out by the Biden administration, said Granholm.

“There’s both a regulatory side and there’s a market side, and sometimes the market side is even more powerful, because all of these countries as well as other companies have goals to be able to reduce their own carbon dioxide footprints,” Granholm said.

But, recent studies show market-based pressure has done little to change the behavior of U.S. oil and gas majors. A report by financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative points to continued investments in major oil and gas projects are inconsistent with the goals of the Paris Climate agreement. Despite that, Granholm said the administration has no plans to introduce a carbon tax, saying the preference is to incentive action, instead of penalizing inaction.

“We think the most effective tool is the one that we have laid out, which is to incentivize the utilities to purchase the right ingredients to be able to get to that clean electricity goal,” she said. “I understand certainly that a carbon tax is something people have been talking about for a long time. It’s just not this administration’s preferred way of moving.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance.

The 3 U.S. negotiating errors that paved the way for the Taliban’s return to power

The 3 U.S. negotiating errors that paved the way for the Taliban’s return to power

Taliban flags.
Taliban flags. KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images


The Taliban didn’t regain control of Afghanistan overnight, and while their return to power was years in the making, the Trump administration’s agreement with the group last year helped speed up the process, Lisa Curtis, the director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, writes for Foreign Affairs.

Curtis zeroed in on three errors the negotiation team, led by Zalmay Khalilzad, made out of “desperation to conclude a deal” and put an end to the decades-long U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The first, she writes, was believing the Taliban would eventually sit down with the Afghan government to hash out a long-term political settlement. This led Washington to exclude Kabul from their talks with the Taliban in Qatar, which Curtis argues “prematurely conferred legitimacy on the” insurgents.

The next mistake, in Curtis’ opinion, was that the U.S. didn’t “condition the pace of talks on Taliban violence levels.” Negotiations continued even amid escalating violence on the ground in Afghanistan, and ultimately the Taliban only had to “reduce violence for six days before signing the agreement.” Finally, Curtis believes the Trump administration was operating under “wishful thinking” that the Taliban was seriously interested in political negotiations instead of fighting their way back to power. The U.S., therefore, forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners without simultaneously securing a “commensurate concession” from the group.

“The United States would have been far better off negotiating its withdrawal directly with the Afghan government, something that Ghani himself proposed in early 2019,” Curtis writes. “By doing so, the United States would have avoided demoralizing its Afghan partners as Washington pulled back U.S. forces.” Read about how Curtis thinks the Biden administration should deal with the Taliban going forward at Foreign Affairs.

A Texas restaurant owner threw out a family wearing masks who were trying to protect their immuno-compromised son

A Texas restaurant owner threw out a family wearing masks who were trying to protect their immuno-compromised son

Texas governor greg abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott removing his mask before speaking at a news conference about migrant children detentions. L.M. Otero/AP 

  • A Texas restaurant owner kicked a family out of his shop for wearing face masks.
  • The family said they were wearing masks because their son is immuno-compromised.
  • The owner said he didn’t know about the child’s status, but he’d continue to enforce the mask ban.

A Texas restaurant owner booted a family wearing masks to protect their immuno-compromised son, saying it was “political,” CBS DFW reported.

Natalie Wester and her husband brought their 4-month-old son to Hang Time, a restaurant and bar in Rowlett, Texas, just northeast of Dallas. Wester told CBS DFW that her son is immuno-compromised, leading the couple to don masks inside the venue out of precaution.

Hang Time’s owner didn’t approve.

Wester said their waitress approached the family at the behest of the restaurant owner and said, “This is political, and I need you to take your mask off.”

“I feel the overall reaction with masks is ridiculous in the United States right now,” Hang Time’s owner said.

The owner told CBS DFW that going maskless was part of the restaurant’s dress code, and that he had the right to refuse to serve customers breaking his rules.

But Hang Times’ anti-masking dress code wasn’t posted outside of the restaurant, CBS DFW reported.

The restaurant owner told CBS DFW that he didn’t know the Westers’ son was immuno-compromised but said he’d continue to enforce Hang Time’s no-masking policy.

Sea-level rise becoming a hazard for suburban South Florida neighborhoods far from ocean

Sea-level rise becoming a hazard for suburban South Florida neighborhoods far from ocean


Sea-level rise may appear to be a problem only for coastal residents, a hazard that comes with the awesome views and easy access to the beach.

But neighborhoods 20 miles inland are starting to feel the impact, as the Atlantic Ocean’s higher elevation makes it harder for drainage canals to keep them dry. The problem showed up last year in Tropical Storm Eta, when floodwater remained in southwest Broward neighborhoods for days, partly because the elevated ocean blocked canals from draining the region.

“It was pretty scary,” said Barb Besteni, who lives in far west Miramar. “I stepped out of house into ankle-deep water. It came three-fourths up the driveway. I’d never seen the water that high. It was scary because I didn’t know if it was going to continue to rise.”

Although her house in the Sunset Lakes community stands at the edge of the Everglades, the Atlantic’s higher elevation prevented it from draining as efficiently as in the past.

“It took a very, very long time to recede,” she said. “Two or three weeks to recede to normal levels.”

The Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale flooded from overnight storms from Tropical Storm Eta, on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.
The Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale flooded from overnight storms from Tropical Storm Eta, on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.

The South Florida Water Management District, which operates the big canals that sweep water into the ocean, submitted a funding request to the state this week for fixing the system, with the preliminary list of projects carrying a price tag of more than $1.5 billion. Although expensive, the pumps and other improvements would help restore the efficiency of a system built after World War II that has become more difficult to operate at a time of rising sea levels.

“When ocean water is higher, we cannot discharge, so we close the gates to avoid ocean water coming inside,” said Carolina Maran, district resiliency officer for the South Florida Water Management District. “During Eta, it was much higher than normal. And that means again that we cannot discharge to the ocean and that diminished our capacity to prevent and address flooding.”

A tropical storm overwhelms flood-control systems

Although there’s never a great time to endure 15-plus inches of rain, Tropical Storm Eta struck South Florida at a particularly challenging period.

The ground already had been saturated by previous storms. And coastal waters were undergoing a king tide, a phenomenon that occurs when the positions of sun and moon combine to produce the highest tides of the year. As sea levels rise, king tides get higher.

The wide canals that run through Broward and Miami-Dade counties, carrying rainwater to the ocean, depend partly on gravity. When rainwater raises the level of the canal on the inland side, water managers lift the gate dividing it from the ocean side of the canal and the water flows away, eventually reaching the Atlantic.

But when the Atlantic side is high, there may be no difference in elevations between each side of the gate, so when it’s lifted, the water doesn’t move. Or worse, the Atlantic side could be higher, so lifting the gate would allow ocean water to pour inland.

This is a view of the S-199 pump station for the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, which is part of the South Florida Water Management. The project will provide ecosystem restoration of freshwater wetlands, tidal wetlands and near-shore habitat as well as flood protection maintenance and recreational opportunities.

During Tropical Storm Eta, staffers at the South Broward Drainage District found themselves consulting tide charts to determine when they could open the gates and discharge water.

“We had to close our gate because the downstream gets equal to our upstream,” said Kevin Hart, district director of the South Broward Drainage District, which operates the canal system that feeds into the larger canals that drain into the ocean. “We don’t want to drain in, we want to drain out. We’ve got to close our gate.

“We were looking at tide charts — Low tides going to be at 2 o’clock and at 5 or 6 we can see the levels dropping and open our gate again.”

South Florida’s aging flood-control system confronts sea-level rise

Constructed largely in the 1940s and 1950s, South Florida’s drainage system has been an efficient — some would say too efficient — system for keeping a once-swampy part of Florida dry.

The system contributed to the decline of the Everglades, at times flooding the area, at other times drying it out. But it accomplished what it was supposed to do, keeping the land dry for cities such as Pembroke Pines and Miramar by swiftly moving rainwater through a system of canals to the ocean.

But now that movement of water isn’t that swift and doesn’t always happen. As a result, people in cities without ocean views are finding that the water level of the Atlantic Ocean can affect their homes.

Although cities are installing pumps and other flood-control devices, they need capacity in the canals to get rid of the water.

“No matter what we do, if they don’t lower those canals so our water can escape, there’s nothing to be done,” said Angelo Castillo, a Pembroke Pines commissioner. “We can spend as much money as we want on drainage but if they can’t access the canals because the canals won’t take that capacity, nothing that we do in terms of conveying water faster to those canals will work.”

A flooded parking lot can be seen near T.J. Maxx in Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. Tropical Storm Eta made its way past South Florida Sunday night, leaving roads and neighborhoods flooded.

Sea levels have been rising at an accelerating rate, largely due to climate change caused by pollution from cars, power plants and other sources of heat-trapping gases. A NOAA study says global sea levels have gone up 3.4 inches from 1993 to 2019.

In South Florida, estimates from the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which represents local governments, call for sea levels to rise 10-17 inches above 2000 levels by 2040.

Hoping to revamp the system for an age of rising sea levels, the water management district has proposed improvements at 23 drainage structures in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. They range from southern Miami-Dade County to the Hillsboro Canal, which separates Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The major projects would be the addition of powerful pumps to allow water to be moved to the ocean side of the canal when the ocean is too high to move water by gravity. But these projects are expensive.

The improvements, assuming they go through, could help homeowners with their flood insurance bills. A better drainage system could hold down rates and reduce the number of properties required to get flood insurance.

The water management district is seeking federal and state money for the work. As soon as the first funding comes through, the district plans to start designing the new pumps and other improvement for water-control structures on the canal that drains southern Broward and the one that drains northeast Miami-Dade.

Jennifer Jurado, who oversees climate-change planning for Broward County, said the improvements will help prevent neighborhoods from flooding in future storms, but the region needs to come up with ways to keep as much water as possible rather than just pumping it away.

“It’s trying to ensure the system works at least as well as it was intended,” she said. “It’s a huge part of the fix. Our system can’t just pump it out. We have to be able to store as much of it as we can because the rain that falls is the rain we use for our water supply. We need to capture and store that water, in addition to providing flood relief.

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.

Cleanup of abandoned mines could get boost, relieving rivers

Cleanup of abandoned mines could get boost, relieving rivers


This March 7, 2016 photo provided by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality shows a polluted Belt Creek in Montana. The state plans to build a plant to treat acid mine drainage from an old coal mine that is polluting Belt Creek, sometimes causing it to turn a rusty color and harming the trout fishery. (Tom Henderson/Montana Department of Environmental Quality via AP)
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Thousands of abandoned coal mines in the U.S. have been polluting rivers and streams for decades, in some cases harming fish and contaminating drinking water. Now efforts to finally clean up the sites could soon get a big boost.


Tucked into the Senate-passed infrastructure bill is $11.3 billion for the cleanup of defunct coal mines to be distributed over 15 years — money experts say would go a long way toward rehabilitating the sites that date back to before 1977. Cleanup efforts are currently funded by fees from coal mining companies, but that money has fallen far short of what’s needed to fix the problems.

“The next 15 years — if this passes — is literally a historic advancement in mine reclamation,” said Eric Dixon, a research fellow at the Ohio River Valley Institute.

In the past 40 years, only about a quarter of the damage has been cleaned up, he said.

Abandoned coal mines are concentrated along the Appalachian Mountains, with clusters also dotting the Midwest and Rocky Mountains. The sites can clog rivers with debris or pollute streams with harmful discharges caused by minerals exposed from mining, reducing fish populations and turning water brick red. Safety is another issue since people can topple into mineshafts and debris can fall from the mine’s high walls.

Fees from companies to clean up the sites are collected under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977, which sought to remedy the history of unregulated coal production that left abandoned mines around the country. Companies are now regulated so that sites are cleaned up once mining stops.

Among the states that need significant funding for mine cleanups are Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, according to the Interior Department.

Pennsylvania — which needs the most funding in the country — has 5,500 miles of streams with impaired water quality due to runoff from abandoned mines, according to state officials.

The problem has persisted for so long that some Pennsylvania residents are surprised when red streams in their backyard are finally cleaned up and change color, said John Stefanko of the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations in Pennsylvania.

“These are streams that you wouldn’t want to walk through,” he said, noting that the sediment from the mine runoff can come off on people.

Another worry is property damage. In 2019, for example, a collapsed tunnel entrance blocked water from escaping an abandoned mine in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County. State officials worried a rupture and deluge could threaten the houses downstream. Workers were able to fix the blocked tunnel.

The federal program that funds cleanups categorizes sites by priority, and those that pose a safety hazard to humans are bumped to the top of the list. Priority rankings can also rise if drinking water is affected. A site may be a lower priority if it only poses an environmental threat.

The infrastructure bill directs cleanup funds toward several priority groups.

Elizabeth Klein, senior counselor to the Interior Secretary, said clean water is essential for the economic growth that many Appalachian communities are pursuing.

“It’s really hard to convince people to stay in a community where they don’t think they’ll have access to clean drinking water,” she said.

Some environmentalists want the bill’s language changed to ensure money will also be available for the maintenance costs that are sometimes required for cleanup projects that address water quality.

A single abandoned mine site can pose multiple problems; U.S. officials estimate $10.6 billion in construction costs would be needed to fix the more than 20,000 problems nationwide. Dixon of the Ohio River Valley Institute puts the price tag at nearly $21 billion when factoring in inflation, project planning costs and other expenses.

Dixon also noted that the federal inventory is incomplete, since states do not have to document all abandoned sites that do not pose a health or safety risk to people, even if they’re environmentally damaging.

The infrastructure bill’s fate is tied to Congressional negotiations over a $3.5 trillion spending plan. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has praised the impact the funds could have on mine cleanups, but cast doubt on the size of the spending plan, complicating negotiations over the package.

The bill would also extend the fees coal companies pay into the fund until 2034, though at a reduced rate.

Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, said coal company executives “have never paid enough” to clean up the problems and that their fees alone are not enough to fix the sites.

Ashley Burke of the National Mining Association said bigger fees would harm coal companies and make them less competitive, but that the industry supports the extension of a reduced fee.

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit

We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

Supreme Court
  • The reputation of the Supreme Court is sinking.
  • After decisions like the Texas abortion case, the impartiality of the Court is in doubt.
  • The hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett admitted that the Supreme Court is crumbling as an institution.

Earlier this month, the newest justice gave a speech lamenting how the Court is viewed as partisan and warning that her fellow justices must be “hyper vigilant to make sure they’re not letting personal biases creep into their decisions.” She must know something we don’t.

These remarks may seem like a surprise. After all, Barrett was confirmed to the Court in a hyper-partisan process and gave the aforementioned speech at an event celebrating Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the architect of the judicial system’s rightward turn. Despite the hypocrisy, or perhaps because of it, the comments struck a chord.

In an age of Republicans challenging legitimate election results because they lose or might lose, the credibility of the Court is the next hammer to fall in our democracy, the last bastion of hope for nonpartisan decision making.

But now the Court is rightfully losing public support as the veneer of impartiality slips, and the hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.

Partisan justice

Even as recently as a few years ago, the Supreme Court wasn’t as partisan as it is now. Support certainly started eroding when McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to seat President Obama’s final nominee, current Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But there have been recent decisions that were, for lack of a better term, bipartisan. Justice Gorsuch joined four liberal justices to support Native American land claims in Oklahoma. In a 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court kept the Affordable Care Act intact.

As recently as a few months ago, Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts helped keep the eviction moratorium in place in a 5-4 ruling (though this was overturned a few months later in a separate case). Roberts, the Chief Justice who many believe is trying to keep the court as nonpartisan as possible, has often found himself siding with the liberal justices.

But, on issues important to many Americans, this facade of bipartisanship seems to be disappearing. First, the Supreme Court threw out the eviction moratorium they had so recently upheld, throwing millions of struggling Americans into uncertainty.

Then the death knell came a few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court blatantly signaled a willingness to overturn Roe vs. Wade by allowing a strict Texas anti-abortion law to go into effect. Though Roberts voted with the liberals in this decision, the other Republican-appointed justices essentially overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent.

Given the 6-3 Republican majority, it’s safe to assume we will see more decisions like this in the coming years. Though Roberts can play nonpartisan as much as he wants, the conservatives have a five-justice majority even without him and can rule on cases as they wish.

Votes, not words

The Republican strategy over many decades to focus on the court has paid off. They have turned to the court to legitimize gerrymandering and gut the Voting Rights Act, and justices like Barrett and Roberts have supported them.

Both of those justices are right to worry about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. They just need to realize they’re part of the problem of the legitimacy crisis.

Democrats have proposed many solutions to this problem, from expanding the court to adding term limits. But with those ideas stalled, once unthinkable national changes emanating from the Court are very much in play.

The Texas abortion decision is just the beginning. Roe could be overturned in full later this year. Even if Democrats passed many of the landmark bills they are currently debating, there is nothing stopping the conservative court from simply striking them down, declaring them “unconstitutional” under the pretenses of their choice.

Maybe Barrett will join Roberts in making a real effort to strike a more bipartisan tone. If she’s truly worried about the perception of the Court and how some of her colleagues consider matters, she has the opportunity to do something about it. But she needs to follow Roberts with her actions and join him in crossing party lines.

It’s her votes, not her words, that count. I’m not holding my breath.

California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves

California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves


THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — Flames on Sunday reached a grove of sequoia trees in California as firefighters battled to keep fire from driving further into another grove, where the base of the world’s largest tree has been wrapped in protective foil.

Fire officials warned that hot, dry weather and stronger winds were contributing to “critical fire conditions” in the area of the KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked blazes that merged on the western side of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada.

The fire reached Long Meadow Grove, where the Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias is a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas. However, an Associated Press photographer saw active flames burning up a trunk, with the forest floor ablaze below.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Sunday, saying gusts and lower humidity could create conditions for rapid wildfire spread.

The fires forced the evacuation of the park last week, along with parts of Three Rivers, a foothill town of about 2,500 people. Firefighters using bulldozers expanded a line between the fire and the community, fire spokesperson Rebecca Paterson said Sunday.

More than 34 square miles (88 square kilometers) of forest land have been blackened.

The National Park Service said Friday that fire had reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, where it scorched a grouping of sequoias known as the “Four Guardsmen” that mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias.

Since then crews have managed to keep the flames from encroaching further into the area.

“The fire perimeter kind of wraps around the Giant Forest at this point,” Paterson said.

Firefighters swaddled the base of the General Sherman Tree, along with other trees in the Giant Forest, in a type of aluminum that can withstand high heat.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), according to the National Park Service. It towers 275 feet (84 meters) high and has a circumference of 103 feet (31 meters) at ground level.

Firefighters who were wrapping the base of the sequoias in foil and sweeping leaves and needles from the forest floor around the trees had to flee from the danger, fire spokesperson Katy Hooper said Saturday. They returned when conditions improved to continue the work and start a strategic fire along Generals Highway to protect the Giant Forest grove, she said.

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.

“Once you get fire burning inside the tree, that will result in mortality,” said Jon Wallace, the operations section chief for the KNP Complex.

The fires already have burned into several groves containing trees as tall as 200 feet (61 meters) feet tall and 2,000 years old.

To the south, the Windy Fire grew to 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument, where it has burned into the Peyrone grove of sequoias and threatens others.

Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

More than 7,000 wildfires in California this year have damaged or destroyed more than 3,000 homes and other buildings and torched well over 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometers) of land, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

This story has corrected a reference to the General Sherman tree, which is the world’s largest by volume, not tallest.

The largest port in the US hit a new ship-backlog record every day last week, as 65 massive container boats float off the California coast

The largest port in the US hit a new ship-backlog record every day last week, as 65 massive container boats float off the California coast

Port LA backlog
Courtesy of Marine Exchange of Southern California 

  • Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, hit multiple new records every day last week.
  • The queue of ships waiting to unload lengthened by 10 ships last week.
  • The average time it takes to get a package from Asia to the US has increased by 43% since last year.

The Southern California ports that are responsible for almost half of all US imports hit a new record every day last week.

Over the past week, the queue of ships waiting to unload at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach have lengthened by 10 ships. On Friday, the ports had 65 cargo ships stuck at anchor or in drift areas waiting for spots to open up to dock and unload. The ports, which are a primary thoroughfare for key imports between Asia and the US, had 147 ships in the locations, including 95 hulking cargo ships on Friday – both new records.

The average wait time for the vessels is about 8.7 days – about 2.5 days longer than the same time the month before, Los Angeles port data indicated. So far, the ports have handled about 862,000 imports in 2021.

The locations hit new records for the number of ships in the port, as well as the number of container ships waiting to undock every day last week, the Marine Exchange of Southern California said.

The ports have hit seven new records in less than four weeks as shipping delays continue to surge past early pandemic levels. When the ports hit an all-time high in late August, it was the first time since February, when the onset of pandemic shutdowns and the panic-buying frenzy wreaked havoc on global supply chains.

“The normal number of container ships at anchor is between zero and one,” Kip Louttit, the executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, told Insider in July.

Freightos told Bloomberg that the average time it takes for an ocean freight to go door-to-door has increased 43% over the past year, from 50 days to 71.5 days.

At the same time, shipping costs have skyrocketed. Last week, Judah Levine, the head of research at Freightos, told Insider that the price for transporting a 40-foot container between the US and Asia jumped 500% from this time last year to $20,586.

Ultimately, the ports are facing backlogs as a result of COVID-19 disruptions and a labor shortage paired with spikes in demand.

Executives have warned that rising transportation costs would increase shortages of goods, as well as necessitate more price hikes. Last week, Scott Price, UPS’s president, said the company anticipated that supply-chain snags would continue through 2022.

Meanwhile, many companies have already begun raising their prices to offset the transportation costs.

“When we see these massive increases in transportation costs, it’s clear somebody will have to pay for it,” Douglas Kent, the executive vice president of strategy and alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management, told Insider.

“One more disruption could send it into complete chaos,” he said of the global supply chain.

‘They screwed up our lake’: tar sands pipeline is sucking water from Minnesota watersheds

‘They screwed up our lake’: tar sands pipeline is sucking water from Minnesota watersheds

Low water levels mean rice harvesters can’t paddle their canoes to their traditional harvesting areas.
Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images


Along the eastern boundary of the White Earth Indian Reservation in north-western Minnesota, Indigenous Anishinaabe wild rice harvesters Jerry and Jim Libby set down a row of wooden pallets into the mud just beyond the dock of Upper Wild Rice Lake. It was a clear day, and tight, lush clumps of green rice heads were visible across the lake’s horizon.

In a typical year, the entrance to this – one of a long necklace of wild rice lakes in northern Minnesota to which the region’s Indigenous people flock every year in the late summer – would be covered in at least two feet of water. But now it is composed of suspended sediment as solid as chocolate pudding, through which the Libbys need to create a makeshift ramp simply to carry their canoe out to the waterline.

Minnesota is weathering an historic drought, but there is another problem beyond the weather: Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline has taken a substantial toll on watersheds in the region, including through a permit to pump five billion gallons of water for construction. In the case of Upper Wild Rice Lake, a road construction contractor named Knife River Construction stuck a pump directly in the lake this past June, sucking out an unknown quantity of water, which locals suspect was related to the use of heavy trucks for the pipeline.

“As far as I’m concerned, Enbridge screwed up our lake, and they’re taking money directly away from our families,” Jerry Libby says. “It makes us feel anguished – this is our staple food, you know.”

The Indigenous-led struggle against Line 3, which seeks to move 930,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen daily from Alberta to a shipping and refinery hub in Superior, Wisconsin, has been the biggest environmental and Indigenous land protection campaign in the US this summer. More than 900 people have been arrested opposing the pipeline, including nearly 70 who were kettled in late August during protests outside Minnesota governor Tim Walz’s residence in Minneapolis.

Branded as a “replacement” project, the new pipeline would double the old Line 3’s capacity to carry tar sands bitumen. Enbridge, a Canada-based energy company, has announced it will begin sending oil through the pipeline next month.

The processing and combustion of bitumen for the pipeline would release greenhouse gases equivalent to 50 coal plants, according to analysis by the nonprofit Oil Change International, thereby significantly contributing to the global climate crisis. But one of the pipeline’s most immediate impacts is on wild rice harvesters such as the Libbys, for whom the annual harvesting season began in late August and runs through much of September.

Wild rice – known to many Anishinaabe people as “manoomin,” or “the food that grows on water” – is a dense, nutritional grain that grows naturally in the abundant lakes and rivers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and parts of Canada. Thousands of Anishinaabe people continue to harvest it with the same traditional methods used for generations, by propelling a canoe or small boat through the rice beds with a long pole.

Indigenous people of the region believe they have a sacred covenant to protect manoomin and numerous other nonhuman beings, without which they would cease to exist as distinct peoples, notes longtime Anishinaabe rice harvester Bob Shimek. “During any kind of ceremony we do here, wild rice is involved,” Shimek says. “It’s kind of like the Anishinaabe soul food.”

Line 3 runs across more than 200 bodies of water, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River and some of the region’s most important wild rice waters, streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. The state Department of Natural Resources permitted Enbridge to draw nearly five billion gallons from these water bodies absent public notice or consultation with the White Earth Indian Reservation.

Christy Dolph, a University of Minnesota research scientist focused on the state’s water resources, notes that the pipeline’s impacts on water and the species that depend on it are numerous. In the course of excavating trenches to lay pipe, Enbridge pumps out any groundwater that still seeps into the trench, inevitably leading water to evaporate.

“These activities have a major impact, especially because these wetlands are already under severe stress from the drought,” she says.

Opponents also fear leaks and spills from the tar sands pipeline, particularly since the thick substance is nearly impossible to clean up.

As with other wetland plant species, wild rice is highly sensitive to fluctuations in water levels, which damage its ability both to grow and reseed. For rice harvesters, low water levels mean they are unable to paddle their canoes out to their usual rice grounds, depriving them of a major source of physical and spiritual sustenance, as well as a significant source of income.

During a typical year, the Libby brothers say, they make up to $9,000 from rice harvesting, which they use for basic necessities like home repairs, school supplies for their grandchildren and vehicle maintenance. But since this year’s harvesting season began in late August, many harvesters have had to resort to unorthodox methods such as trekking through the muddy, dried-out lakes in snow shoes with burlap sacks slung around their shoulders, a technique that yields one-third to one-fourth the amount they could harvest with canoes.

Enbridge disputes the notion that they bear any responsibility for the dry conditions in rice beds near the pipeline route or that the pipeline has a detrimental impact on watersheds. “Line 3’s permit conditions protect the environment during construction, and specifically wild rice,” Enbridge spokersperson Juli Kelner wrote via email. “Enbridge pipelines have coexisted with Minnesota’s most sacred and productive wild rice stands for seven decades.”

In response to a request for comment, a Department of Natural Resources spokesperson wrote that “Minnesota DNR has worked consistently to minimize the impacts of the Line 3 replacement project on wild rice and other Minnesota resources. These efforts date back to our original comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regarding project routing, where we strongly advocated for route alternatives that would minimize crossings in or near wild rice waters.”

The effects of Line 3 construction on wild rice are at the center of a first of its kind lawsuit brought by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in which wild rice is itself the plaintiff. Under a series of treaties that Chippewa Anishinaabe people signed with the US government during the mid-19th century, the lawsuit asserts, wild rice “possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery, and preservation.” The suit seeks an injunction against the Department of Natural Resources to void Enbridge’s water permit, though the case may not be decided until after construction is completed.

Beyond the direct effects of the Line 3 pipeline, wild rice faces numerous other threats – including from the climate crisis. According to a 2018 report by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), an intertribal agency that seeks to protect Anishinaabe treaty rights, climate change will wreak devastation on virtually all the plant and animal species on which they rely. Wild rice is the most endangered of these species because of its sensitivity to flooding, drought, and disease outbreaks, the report says.

Stopping Line 3 is imperative to fighting the climate crisis, opponents note, because tar sands are one of the most intensive fossil fuels in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and because the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure locks in emissions for decades to come. For the past several months, activists have called on the Biden administration to stop the pipeline by directing the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the permit it granted the project under the Trump administration.

According to Anishinaabe wild rice harvester Angel Stevens, a member of the anti-pipeline Manoomin Camp, the struggle against Line 3 is still going strong despite the project’s imminent completion. “We’re continuing to do everything we can to stop this pipeline,” she says.

Guess what the three Democrats blocking lower medication prices have in common?

Guess what the three Democrats blocking lower medication prices have in common?

Photograph: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images


The three conservative Democratic lawmakers threatening to kill their party’s drug pricing legislation have raked in roughly $1.6m of campaign cash from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries. One of the lawmakers is the House’s single largest recipient of pharmaceutical industry campaign cash this election cycle, and another lawmaker’s immediate past chief of staff is now lobbying for drugmakers.

The threat from Democratic representatives Kurt Schrader (Oregon), Scott Peters (California) and Kathleen Rice (New York) comes just as the pharmaceutical industry’s top lobbying group announced a seven-figure ad campaign to vilify the Democratic legislation, which aims to lower the cost of medicines for Americans now facing the world’s highest prescription drug prices.

Schrader and Peters are among the two biggest recent Democratic recipients of pharmaceutical industry donations

At issue is House Democrats’ initiative to let Medicare use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. That power – which is used by other industrialized countries to protect their citizens from exorbitant prices – has been promised by Democrats for years, and party leaders have been planning to include it as part of their sprawling $3.5tn infrastructure reconciliation effort.

On Wednesday, Schrader, Peters and Rice helped vote the measure down in the powerful energy and commerce committee, blocking the legislation before it could come to the House floor for a vote. Even if the bill were to ultimately make it to the floor through another committee – which remains a possibility – Democrats have only a four-seat majority that allows them to pass legislation, so they can’t afford to lose any more votes.

“I understand that the pharmaceutical industry owns the Republican party and that no Republican voted for this bill, but there is no excuse for every Democrat not supporting it,” said the Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders after the vote.

The trio of Big Pharma Democrats are jeopardizing a plan based on HR 3, the Elijah E Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The Congressional Budget Office has said the drug pricing legislation, named for the late Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, would save the government $456bn and “reduce prices by 57% to 75%, relative to current prices” for various medicines.

The measure would direct federal health regulators to negotiate prices of 25 high-priced drugs in the first year of implementation and 50 drugs in subsequent years, and the new negotiated prices would be available to both Medicare and private insurers.

Polls show that the idea of allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is wildly popular – to the point where swing-state Republicans and swing-district Democrats, and even former President Donald Trump, have expressed support for it.

Schrader and Peters are among the two biggest recent Democratic recipients of pharmaceutical industry donations, according to OpenSecrets. The pharmaceutical and health products industries are collectively the second biggest donor to both lawmakers over the course of their careers, giving them almost $1.5m in total. Peters is the House’s top recipient of pharmaceutical industry donations in the 2022 election cycle.

Related: Big Pharma doesn’t want us to expand Medicare. We have to fight them | Bernie Sanders

Peters and his family were worth an estimated $60m in 2018, making him one of the wealthiest lawmakers in Congress, according to OpenSecrets. His wife is the president and CEO of Cameron Holdings, an investment firm whose portfolio company provides manufacturing and packaging for pharmaceutical companies.

Schrader’s net worth, meanwhile, was pegged at nearly $8m. The Oregonian reported in 2008 that he received “a quite large inheritance” from his grandfather, who was “vice president and director of biochemical research and development at Pfizer” – the drugmaker whose political action committee is now Schrader’s third largest career donor.

The congressmen on Tuesday offered their own drug pricing proposal, which would allow Medicare to negotiate prices only under limited conditions, such as when a company no longer has exclusive marketing rights on an older drug but there are no competitors. That proposal was also backed by the Democratic representative Stephanie Murphy (Florida), the co-chair of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, who is the House’s fifth largest recipient of donations from the pharmaceutical and health products industries.

Earlier this year, Peters’ campaign saw a surge in donations from pharmaceutical company executives after he organized a letter with nine other Democratic lawmakers informing the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, that they opposed HR 3. Schrader and Rice co-signed the letter.

It’s worth noting that Peters, Schrader and Rice all voted in favor of HR 3 in the previous Congress. Politico wrote in May that Peters “said he cast that vote knowing it had no chance of becoming law at the time. He said he supported it only to ‘start a conversation about lowering the cost of prescription drugs’.”

Rice, Schrader and Peters have seats on the House energy and commerce committee, which is writing the party’s prescription drug plan, and they used those positions to help block the measure there on Wednesday, preventing it from moving to the floor.

Last December, House Democrats’ steering committee voted to put Rice on the energy and commerce panel instead of the progressive New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Tuesday, Rice explained that she opposes the drug pricing measure because “I do not support advancing policies that are not fiscally responsible and jeopardize the bill’s final passage.”

Schrader’s longtime top aide, Paul Gage, left the congressman’s office earlier this year, according to Legistorm, and quickly started lobbying for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the powerful Washington drug lobby.

Gage has been lobbying Congress on drug pricing issues and HR 3, according to ethics records. PhRMA raised more than $500m in 2019, and the organization is one of the top lobbying spenders in DC.

On Wednesday, PhRMA announced it is launching an ad campaign against House Democrats’ drug pricing efforts. “Politicians say they want to negotiate medicine prices in Medicare,” one ad warns. “But make no mistake: What politicians mean is they’ll decide which medicines you can and can’t get.”

The Blue Dog Coalition’s political action committee has been making monthly payments to a consulting firm led by the coalition’s former communications director, Kristen Hawn.

Hawn is also a partner at the bipartisan public affairs firm ROKK Solutions, which has worked for PhRMA.

  • David Sirota is a Guardian US columnist and an award-winning investigative journalist. He is an editor-at-large at Jacobin, and the founder of the Daily Poster. He served as Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign speechwriter
  • Andrew Perez is a senior editor at the Daily Poster and a cofounder of the Democratic Policy Center
  • This article was originally published in the Daily Poster, a grassroots-funded investigative news outlet