Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Connecticut Gets Tough on Wal-Mart Plan B

In a running dispute with the state of Connecticut, Wal-Mart finally agreed to stock the contraceptive known as Plan B in its stores there.  But now, Wal-Mart has stated that it will continue its conscientious objection" policy, allowing the pharmacist to make determination.


But a Wal-Mart spokesman said the chain would maintain its "conscientious objection" policy, which allows Wal-Mart or Sam's Club pharmacists who do not feel comfortable dispensing a prescription to refer customers to another pharmacist or pharmacy. The policy conforms to guidelines of the American Pharmaceutical Association and is similar to the policies of several other major pharmacy chains.

Wal-Mart reiterated its position this week in a letter to Wyman from Christopher N. Buchanan, the company's senior manager for public affairs.

"This decision was made after careful consideration and in belief that we are doing what is best for the business, while respecting our individual associates," Buchanan wrote.

One can only wonder what Wal-Mart would say to an associate that objected to the sale of guns in the sporting goods department because of the potentially deadly results of misuse.  Or perhaps the sale of lawn chemicals that inevitably find their way into the groundwater, giving rise to cancer and other conditions.  Or the sale of high calorie/fat foods that can cause obesity/diabetes.  I suspect that they would be shown the door forthwith.  But I digress.

Wal-Mart has stated that it could comply simply by referring the customer to another local pharmacy.  State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal responded that this is not acceptable.

"They have to make the drug available at the pharmacy where the patient goes," Blumenthal said. "Patients can't be shuttled from one pharmacy to another."

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman has again threatened to exclude Wal-Mart stores from insurance reimbursement.

Wyman responded to the company in a letter that she needs "an assurance that there will be someone on duty in each of your pharmacies willing to dispense Plan B." If there is no one on duty, Wyman wants specific information from Wal-Mart on how the company would ensure the patient's ability to receive the drug.

"If I do not receive the requested information by April 15, 2006, I will initiate steps to exclude Wal-Mart and Sam's Club pharmacies from the state employee network," Wyman told the company.

Blumenthal continues:

"We have never encountered this issue with any other chains or pharmacies," Blumenthal said. "No other pharmacy has even raised the issue. They understand their legal obligations under the plan. ... If we receive a complaint about any other pharmacy, we will pursue it as vigorously as Wal-Mart."

There are 31 Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut.  I applaud the Comptroller and Attorney General.  

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bushco Revisionist Air Standards Defeated

A panel of federal judges has blocked the administration from easing clean air standards.  Interestingly enough, the unanimous 3 judge panel included Judge Janice Rogers Brown, appointed by President Bush last year.  (So much for the claims against liberal activist judges.)

ENS Link

WASHINGTON, DC, March 20, 2006 (ENS) - A federal appeals court on Friday blocked the Bush administration from implementing a regulation that would have eased clean air requirements for some 17,000 industrial facilities, including coal-fired power plants and oil refineries. The court handed down a stinging rebuke of the regulation, which it said is "contrary to the plain language" of the Clean Air Act.

A coalition of states and environmental groups had brought suit to block the 2003 regulation.  The regulation attempted to add to the exemption for equipment changes.

Congress devised the NSR program in 1977 to require owners of older industrial facilities to modernize pollution controls when they make modifications to facilities that result in increased emissions. ...The August 2003 Equipment Replacement rule expanded the NSR routine maintenance exemption to include equipment modifications that did not exceed 20 percent of the replacement value of the equipment, notwithstanding an increase in emissions.

But the court did not accept the EPA's attempt at justification.  Instead, the judges found that the regulation was contrary to existing legislation.  And the court uses some colorful language.

EPA's interpretation of the statute "would produce a 'strange,' if not an 'indeterminate,' result: a law intended to limit increases in air pollution would allow sources operating below applicable emission limits to increase significantly the pollution they emit without government review," according to the court.

"Only in a Humpty-Dumpty world," would the regulation be allowed under the existing statute the court said in its 20-page ruling. "We decline to adopt such a world view."

Humpty-Dumpty, I like it.

And of course, industry has the obligatory black is white quoute.

The ruling is "a step backwards for the protection of air quality in the United States," according to Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a trade organization group for electric utilities.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Edging Toward ANWR Drilling

Drilling in ANWR?  Wasn't that issue defeated just a short time ago?  Drilling supporters have painted several dreary scenarios .


WASHINGTON -- With a hard-fought Senate vote yesterday clearing the way, supporters of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge said survey teams could arrive on the harsh landscape within a year and leases for tapping its significant deposits of oil and natural gas could be sold as soon as 2007.

And according to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, if all goes according to plan, oil and natural gas could be flowing from ANWR in seven to 10 years.

How, exactly, is this all possible?  

Those predictions, which once seemed unthinkable, emerged as far more likely in the wake of a 51-49 Senate vote to allow drilling for oil and natural gas in a protected part of the Alaskan wilderness. The vote was a major victory for President Bush and his supporters in business and elsewhere who had long advocated drilling in ANWR as a way to ease the nation's dependence on foreign supplies.

Bushco protocol dictates that when a frontal assault doesn't work, try a less obvious means.  And so it was here.  Language regarding drilling was put into the senate budget bill which passed by the close vote set forth above.

Opponents have vowed to fight on, including Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

"The fight over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is far from over," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who led the opposition. "We almost stopped this budget trickery on the floor today. ... I'll be prepared to use every tool at my disposal to stop drilling in the Arctic. We need a serious national strategy to move us toward energy independence."

One tactic for challenge is on parliamentary grounds, policy language being out of place in a budget bill.

Among other ideas, opponents said they would challenge the ANWR provision on parliamentary grounds. The challenge will argue that the ANWR provision is out of order on a budget bill because it deals with policy rather than money. ...

But budget bills are notoriously difficult to pass and there are several other difficult issues.

Another possible hurdle is the fact that final passage of the budget bill containing the ANWR provision is not assured. Congress has been unable to pass the budget bill in two of the past three years, and this year there are major fights looming on Medicaid spending, tax cuts and other politically divisive questions.

Let's hope that this pattern holds true for the future.

Senator Kerry has information for contact with your senators.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Putting Money Where Your Food Is

H.R.4167, the new food labelling legislation (National Uniformity for Food Act), has passed in the House.  (The Senate version is still pending.)  This is so, despite the fact that hearings were never held.  Many individuals and groups stated their opposition including a majority of state attorneys general.  And you will now have the great privilege of paying more for less protection.


WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2006 (ENS) ­ The U.S. House of Representatives today passed controversial legislation that would eliminate more than 200 state food safety and public health protections.

The National Uniformity for Food Act, H.R. 4167, is opposed by environmental groups, Democratic legislators and a majority of state attorneys general.  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that H.R. 4167, introduced by Congressman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, last October, would cost taxpayers $100 million over the next five years, with unknown additional costs on the federal government and state and local governments.


This is a most disturbing development.  Central to the intent of this legislation is the vacature of the more rigid California standards.  At the core of this effort are the large-scale food producers. < gasp! >  Apparently, they will attempt to reduce their costs at any price, health of the consumer be damned.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer says the bill specifically targets California's voter-approved Proposition 65, a 1986 law requiring businesses to provide "clear and reasonable" warnings when they expose consumers to known reproductive toxins, such as mercury.

States would lose the control over labelling standards they currently enjoy.  Instead, there would be a new hierarchy under which states would be required to apply for leave to add standards.  (How do you think that will turn out?)

H.R. 4167 would shift the balance of power between the states and federal government, critics say. They object that the bill would undermine states' ability to prepare for and respond to terrorist threats to the food supply; prevent states from requiring consumer notifications about health risks associated with certain foods; and create a new federal bureaucracy to review and, potentially disapprove, new state food safety laws.

Once again, money talks.

"The House is trampling crucial health safeguards in every state without so much as a single public hearing," said Erik Olson, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This just proves the old adage money talks. The food industry spared no expense to assure its passage."


A new report released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "Shredding the Food Safety Net," finds that the the proposed bill would preempt shellfish safety standard laws in at least 16 states, milk safety laws in all 50 states, and, restaurant and food service establishment safety laws in 50 states.

"The bill also targets a law limiting levels of toxic lead in candies, a law requiring warnings to consumers about excessive levels of toxic chemicals in foods that cause cancer, birth defects, or developmental problems, and laws requiring labeling of fish as farm-raised or wild," the report states.  "Shredding the Food Safety Net" can be found at:

PDF Link

Now, call me silly, but don't legislators eat the same food as their fellow citizens?  And when current laws regarding shellfish are preempted (amongst others), won't they suffer the same effects from exposure to toxins?  No, I suppose that it's far better to retire from life on the hill and reside in a corporate-purchased gated condo community in Boca, even if the ingested toxins are eating away at one's body.    

I would, once again, urge calls to your senators.  888 355 3588 or 888 818 6641  The Senate must hear from us.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Desperate For Positive P.R.

In a sickening attempt to gain a more positive image, retailing giant Wal-Mart has utilized bloggers to do its bidding.

NYT Link

Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.

And while other companies have utilized bloggers to promote new products, attempting to repair an image is apparently a first.

What is different about Wal-Mart's approach to blogging is that rather than promoting a product — something it does quite well, given its $300 billion in annual sales — it is trying to improve its battered image.

And how about this?

In a sign of how eager Wal-Mart is to develop ties to bloggers, the company has invited them to a media conference to be held at its headquarters in April.

Well, if the Bush administration has no problem buying journalists, why shouldn't Wal-Mart be training bloggers? Right? < /snark >

This week, we vote all such cooperating bloggers off the virtual island. The scribe has spoken.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Your Food Has Been Given a 1 Week Reprieve

Previously, I posted a diary about proposed legislation to change food labelling.  H.R.4167 is an attempt, at least in part, to roll back the more stringent California labelling standards.  Apparently pressure brought to bear has caused the vote to be delayed for a one week period.

This, from the Organic Food Consumers site:


WASHINGTON, DC ­ In a partial victory for consumers across the nation, the House has delayed the vote on H.R. 4167 for a week. H.R. 4167, the "National Unity for Food Act", was set to come before the House of Representatives today. If passed, this Act will take away the power of local and state governments to require food safety warning labels on food and beverages, keeping consumers in the dark about what is truly in their food. Thus far the bill has been met with widespread opposition from consumers, health groups and state legislators. The Organic Consumers Association is concerned that lawmakers are selling out consumer health for campaign contributions.

So there is still time to contact your congresscritters and state your disgust in no uncertain terms.  As always, the numbers are: 888 355 3588 or 888 818 6641.  And of course, operators are standing by.

In the meantime, the New York Times has printed an editorial now featured at the Organic Consumers site.  It appears below.


The Abusive New Federalism

After a murky legislative process distinguished by a lack of any public hearing, the House is ready to rush to approve a special-interest measure for the food industry today. The bill would pre-empt all state food safety regulations that are more protective than federal standards. A bipartisan majority behind this clearly dangerous bill is echoing the industry's line that the goal is simply to end consumers' confusion about varying state regulations that govern warning labels and protective inspections.

If consumers believe that, then we have some bottled water to sell them that no longer warns of arsenic levels, and a salmon fillet that drops the distinction between fish originating in the wild and fish from a farm. Such information and a much larger array of warnings could be expunged under the bill.

Professional associations of state health, farm and consumer officials < denied a hearing before Congress and taxpayers < warn consumers that countless protections on the state and local levels would be gutted in favor of a lowest-common-denominator dictated by food and retail interests. The broad proposal threatens existing food safety programs affecting things like restaurant sanitation and sales of milk and numerous other vital products.  The bill would invent a burdensome process by which states would have to petition federal officials to restore the safety regulations they now have.  The driving force behind the bill seems to be the challenge to industry forces posed by California, which is leading the way in demanding consumer warnings about mercury levels in fish, lead in calcium supplements and other hazards. Other states have followed suit. Proponents of the bill in the food industry and Congress claim that their goal is being misunderstood. If so, they should pull the bill back and prove their case at open hearings that treat the public interest as something more than a nonentity.

€ Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Sheesh, don't Republicans and DINOs eat the same food as everyone else?

The remaining time can be well used for contact with your respective legislators.  I urge you to do so.

This week, the corporate-controlled toadies that proposed this awful legislation are voted off the virtual island. The scribe has spoken.