16 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 15-21, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com ProPublica uncovered the longstanding institutional failure, and identified five main reasons for it: 1. The chemical industry helped write the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). A top EPA official “joked the law was ‘written by industry’ and should have been named after the DuPont executive who went over the text line by line,” ProPublica reported. The law “allowed more than 60,000 chemicals to stay on the market without a review of their health risks,” and required the EPA to always choose the “least burdensome” regulations. 2. Following early failures, the EPA lost its resolve. In 1989, after 10 years of work, the EPA was banning asbestos. But companies that used asbestos sued and won in 1991, and the EPA decided not to try again. 3. Chemicals are considered innocent until proven guilty. For decades, the U.S. and EU used a “risk-based” approach to regulation, requiring the government to prove a chemical poses unreasonable health risks before restricting it—which can take years. In 2007, the EU switched to a “hazard-based” approach, putting the burden on companies when there’s evidence of significant harm. As a result, ProPublica explained, “The EU has successfully banned or restricted more than a thousand chemicals.” A similar approach was proposed in the U.S. in 2005 but was soundly defeated. 4. The EPA mostly regulates chemicals one by one. In 2016, a new law amended the TSCA to cut the “least burdensome” language, and created a schedule “where a small list of high-priority chemicals would be reviewed every few years; in 2016, the first 10 were selected, including asbestos,” ProPublica reported. But six years later, the agency is behind—so far, it has only proposed one ban (on asbestos). Meanwhile, the EU’s new policy framework should lead to bans of another 5,000 chemicals by 2030. 5. The EPA employs industry-friendly scientists as regulators. “The EPA has a long history of hiring scientists and top officials from the companies they are supposed to regulate, allowing industry to sway the agency’s science from the inside,” ProPublica wrote. A prime example is Todd Stedeford, a lawyer and toxicologist who has been hired by the EPA on three separate occasions—and also by corporate employers who use or manufacture chemicals the EPA regulates. 4. Stalkerware could be used to incriminate people violating abortion bans. Up to 200 surveillance apps and services that provide secret access to people’s phones for a monthly fee could become a significant legal threat to people seeking abortions. “Abortion medication is safe. But now that Roe is overturned, your data isn’t,” Rae Hodge wrote for the tech news site CNET just two days after the Dobbs decision. “Already, the digital trails of abortion seekers can become criminal evidence against them.” Writing for Slate, University of Virginia law professor Danielle Keats Citron warned, “Surveillance accomplished by individual privacy invaders will be a gold mine for prosecutors targeting both medical workers and pregnant people seeking abortions.” This category of tools is known as “stalkerware.” “Often marketed as a tool to monitor children’s online safety or as device trackers, stalkerware is technically illegal to sell for the purpose of monitoring adults,” Roth and Macek noted, but that’s hardly a deterrent. “Stalkerware and other forms of electronic surveillance have been closely associated with domestic violence and sexual assault, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence,” Citron noted. Mainstream news outlets have paid some attention to the issues associated with post-Roe digital privacy, but the implications are broader and deeper. 5. Certified rainforest carbon offsets are mostly ‘worthless.’ “The forest carbon offsets approved by the world’s leading certifier and used by Disney, Shell, Gucci, and other big corporations are largely worthless and could make global heating worse, according to a new investigation,” The Guardian reported in 2023. “The analysis raises questions over the credits bought by a number of internationally renowned companies—some of them have labeled their products ‘carbon neutral,’ or have told their consumers they can fly, buy new clothes or eat certain foods without making the climate crisis worse.” The journalists consulted with indigenous communities, industry insiders and scientists to uncover that about 90 percent of rainforest carbon offsets certified by Verra, do not reflect real reductions in emissions. Specifically, they found that 21 of 29 Verra projects had no climate benefit; seven had less benefit than claimed by a margin of 52 to 98 percent; and one had more benefit than claimed. While Verra criticized the studies’ methods and conclusions, an outside expert, Oxford ecoscience professor Yadvinder Singh Malhi, had two PhD students check for errors, and they found none. A few months after the report, Verra announced it would phase out its flawed rainforest offset program by mid-2025. But the Project Censored team could only find one brief mention of the joint investigation in major U.S. newspapers, a Chicago Tribune op-ed. 6. Unions are winning elections. Unions grew in power and membership, and workers of color were responsible for 100 percent of union growth, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. In fiscal year 2022, there were 2,510 petitions for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board, up 53 percent from 2021. There were 1,249 certification elections held, with 72 percent voting to certify a union as their collective bargaining agent. “The entire increase in unionization in 2022 was among workers of color—workers of color saw an increase of 231,000, while white workers saw a decrease of 31,000,” EPI wrote. EPI also noted that “survey data show that nearly half of nonunion workers (48 percent) would vote to unionize their workplace if they could. That means that more than 60 million workers wanted to join a union, but couldn’t.” (The Protecting the Right to Organize Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would strengthen workers’ rights to form a union. After passing in the House in 2020 and 2021, those bills died in the Senate.) “Seventy-one percent of Americans now support unions according to Gallup—a level of support not seen since 1965,” Roth and Macek noted. Yet despite recent gains, “the power of organized labor is nowhere close to what it once was. More than a third of workers were unionized in the 1950s, whereas only a tenth were in 2021. “Corporate media coverage of the labor resurgence of 2022 was highly selective and, in some ways, misleading. It often fails to address the outsized role played by workers of color in union growth.” Nor has it placed recent union successes in the historical context of prolonged decline. “Chemicals are considered innocent until proven guilty.”