In today’s On the News segment: President Obama signes a $1.1 trillion spending package to fund our government through next September; two major medical organizations warn about toxic chemicals we’re being exposed to; authorities start an investigation to figure out how a worker at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State became contaminated with plutonium; and more.
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You need to know this. Just before the Christmas holiday, President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending package to fund our government through next September. In order to prevent another government shutdown, Congress agreed to $680 billion in new tax breaks, increased funding for Pell Grants and cancer research and a mix of good and bad policies for our environment. The bad news is that Congress lifted our nation’s 40-year ban on oil exports, but the deal also brought good news for solar and wind energy. After the oil embargo in the 1970s, the US enacted a ban on oil exports to protect US energy security. But, Republicans have been pushing hard to overturn that ban so that their oil industry buddies can sell US oil on the world market. In an interview with the Think Progress blog, a federal policy representative from the Sierra Club said, “This is a powerful reminder of just how powerful Big Oil and the Koch Brothers are.” They added, “This is a policy that is going to be bad for the climate, bad for the economy and bad for consumers.” Our strategic oil reserve is not only a national security issue, it’s an issue of jobs and economic stimulus for our country. And, lifting this ban will be bad news for all of us. But, with the bad comes the good – the extension of tax credits that are vital to our clean energy industries. The new budget deal extends a 30 percent tax credit for commercial and residential solar installations for the next four years, as well as tax credits that benefit the wind energy industry. Those tax credits are essential to wind and solar development in our nation, and they are vital to the continued expansion of those industries. Both the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association and the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association praised the tax credit extensions, but environmental groups worry that the tax breaks may not be enough to offset new oil exports. Congress is supposed to compromise on legislation, but hopefully that compromise doesn’t come at the cost of our species.
Last month, two major medical organizations warned about the toxic chemicals we’re being exposed to in everyday life. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “the warnings are a reminder that the chemical industry has inherited the mantel of Big Tobacco, minimizing science and resisting regulation in ways that cause devastating harm to unsuspecting citizens.” In other words, the chemical industry has worked hard to keep us unaware that the chemicals in our cosmetics, plastics, pesticides and even cash register receipts put us at risk for serious harm. In other countries around the world, the chemical industry must proven that a substance is safe before it can be sold to the public, but here in the US, the chemical lobby has the power to sell first and worry about the side effects later. This has got to change.
If you suffer from insomnia, science says you may want to consider “night milk.” According to a recent study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, milk collected from cows at night contains high levels of tryptophan and melatonin, which are proven to help us sleep and reduce anxiety. So, scientists set out to test whether the night milk could be used as a sleep aid. In order to test their theory, researchers fed lab mice dried milk from cows milked during the day and at night. The night milk given to mice contained 24 percent more tryptophan and 10 times more melatonin as day milk, and the mice were much less active as a result. Carl Bazil of Columbia University’s neurology department said that it’s too early to say whether night milk could physiologically improve a person’s sleep habits, but, he said it may still be helpful. He explained that many of the treatments for sleeping disorders are placebos, so simply thinking that the milk will help could be enough to help someone fall asleep. Regardless of whether the effects are real or just a state of mind, night milk could some day help many of us catch a few more Z’s.
According to the LA Times, authorities have started an investigation to figure out how a worker at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State became contaminated with plutonium. That plant has been inactive for the last 25 years, but cleanup operations there continue. Apparently the worker, who is employed by the company CH2M Hill, was exposed when he removed his hazmat suit after visiting the Hanford site. And, a subsequent investigation found a ventilation unit’s hose was also contaminated. Although the level of contamination was below federal safety standards, the Energy Department considers any plutonium exposure or release a serious breach. The plutonium finishing plant at Hanford is one of the most contaminated sites in our nation, and it is a perfect example of why there is no such thing as safe nuclear weapons or power. Instead of repeating our mistakes and continuing to develop more nuclear bombs and power plants, let’s learn from history and say “No Nukes!” once and for all.
And finally… If you want your next New Year’s resolution to have a big impact, this year you can pledge to stop eating meat to benefit your health and our entire planet. According to a recent article in The Guardian, raising cattle takes 160 times more land and releases 11 times more greenhouse gases than crops like wheat. And, switching to a meatless diet can improve your overall health. Multiple studies show that vegetarians are at lower risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. Going meat-free isn’t easy, but the rewards are worth the struggle. When the ball drops this year, consider a commitment to a healthier planet and a healthier you.
And that’s the way it is for the week of December 28, 2015. I’m Thom Hartmann on Science and Green News.