SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California would add wine and distilled spirits containers to its struggling recycling program, while giving beverage dealers another option to collect empty bottles and cans, under a measure lawmakers approved Wednesday. But critics say the bill would also give hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations they say don’t need the incentives.
It’s “a huge opportunity” to divert hundreds of additional tons of waste from landfills, said Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting, who carried the bill in the Assembly. “This bill will be a huge leap.”
In addition, dealers could form a cooperative organization to collect the containers as an alternative to the current law that requires stores to take back the empties, under the proposal by Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins.
Fewer people have been able to claim their deposit refunds in recent years as many neighborhood recycling centers closed. The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has said many grocery stores have been refusing to take back empties in-store as required.
The measure cleared the Assembly 54-0 and the Senate 38-0. It will have an effective date of July 1, 2024, if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the bill into law.
The bill doesn’t spell out how the cooperative would work, but would require dealers to submit their plan to state regulators for approval. It would also increase the penalty for violating the law from the current $1,000 to $5,000 per day and for intentional violations from $5,000 to $10,000 per day.
California consumers pay a nickel each time they buy a 12-ounce (355-milliliter) bottle or can, and a dime for containers over 24 ounces (709 milliliters).
They’re supposed to get that money back by returning the bottles and cans, an incentive so the containers don’t go into landfills but can be recycled into new products.
The proposal would include a 25-cent deposit and refund for wine and distilled spirits sold in a box, bag or pouch.
Hawaii, Iowa, Maine and Vermont already have deposit programs including those containers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Adam Smith, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States’ vice president of state government relations, praised the bill’s passage in a statement.
“The spirits industry believes that sustainable environmental practices are critical to the continued production of the high-quality spirits that consumers enjoy,” he said.
Adding wine and spirits would bring nearly $18 million more annually to the state’s recycling fund starting in 2024, along with annual costs topping $6 million, projects the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, generally known as CalRecycle.
Newsom’s administration has proposed grants for automated recycling machines, also known as reverse vending machines, at high schools, colleges and retailers, and state-funded mobile recycling programs in rural areas and other places with few recycling options. It also has proposed temporarily doubling the refunds to encourage recycling and give back a portion of nearly $600 million in unclaimed deposits, but that double refund is not in the current proposal.
Consumer Watchdog, Container Recycling Institute and The Story of Stuff Project objected that Atkins’ proposal contains too much pork for corporations, costing nearly $400 million over the next five years for market development and quality incentives that the groups argue aren’t needed.
Of that, $300 million would go to glass container makers including E&J Gallo Winery’s Gallo Glass Company, the nation’s largest glass container plant, they said.
Consumers’ deposits “shouldn’t underwrite enormously profitable companies such as Gallo,” Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog said in a statement. “These grants do not help existing redemption centers that are dying on the vine, they only help manufacturers and the biggest recyclers.”
The recycling institute withdrew its support, saying the grants would put “a strain on the ability of the program to operate with financial sustainability.”
Consumer Watchdog backed the distributors’ cooperative portion of the bill, which is similar to previous legislative proposals. That option “could work to create better access if the rules are drafted correctly and enforced,” the group said.
“This is an issue done what I call the right way” with intensive negotiations over several years, said Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray. “We’ve come to a solution … good for the industry, good for the state of California.”
Without addressing the grants, Atkins said her bill would “reduce consumer confusion” by adding wine and spirits containers, while potentially more than doubling the recycling of those containers from the current 30%. She said her bill also gives dealers “a new path to compliance” with the state’s recycling law.
A second bill heading to Newsom is designed to help reduce recycling fraud by barring cash payments from processors to recyclers.
This story has been corrected to show that dealers, not distributors, can form cooperatives.
Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges
LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.
Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”
Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.
Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.
The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.
If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.
The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.
Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.
Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.
Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”
Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.
Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.
Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.
Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.
She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.
Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.
Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”
Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.
“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.
Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.
A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.
Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.
Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.
Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.
Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.
The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.
“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.
The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.
The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.
For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.
Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.
In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.
Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.
The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.
Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.
The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.
The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.
“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”
President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”
In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.
The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.
The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.