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Materials Industry

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A federal judge ordered a Wisconsin company that cleans hundreds of slaughterhouses nationwide to ensure it is complying with child labor laws after investigators identified at least 50 minors scrubbing and sanitizing dangerous equipment at five different meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Minnesota and Arkansas. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. also entered into an agreement with the Labor Department that was announced Tuesday. As part of that, the company promised to hire an outside consultant to review its hiring policies and provide additional training for its managers. Investigators are still in the early stages of reviewing thousands of pages of records from other plants. The company employs some 17,000 people working at more than 700 locations nationwide.

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Britain’s Conservative government has approved the U.K.’s first new coal mine in three decades. Environmentalists have condemned the decision as a leap backwards in the fight against climate change. Cabinet Minister Michael Gove decided the mine in the Cumbria area of northwest England would have “an overall neutral effect on climate change." The government said coal from the mine would be used to make steel — replacing imported coal — rather than for power generation. Opponents say the mine is a major blow to the U.K.’s status as a world leader in replacing polluting fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. Greenpeace said “the U.K. government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership."

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The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency has visited a West Virginia county where some residents recently got access to clean water after years of having to boil it before drinking. EPA Administrator Michael Regan spoke with community members in McDowell County about drinking water and wastewater inequity. Regan's Journey to Justice tour focuses on historically disadvantaged communities. Residents in the small, majority-Black community of Keystone had to boil their water for a decade until finally getting hooked up to a new water system about a year ago. A coal company had built the original system, but no on took over when it left and the lines deteriorated.

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The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy is suing a Moorhead-based manufacturer of THC-laced gummies, saying the company’s candies contain far stronger doses of the chemical that gives marijuana its high than state law allows. The lawsuit filed Monday alleges that Northland Vapor and its stores in Moorhead and Bemidji are violating Minnesota’s new law allowing low-potency edible and drinkable cannabinoids. It alleges investigators found candies with 20 times the legal dose and packages containing 50 times the limit. The board says it has embargoed the products, which it says have a retail value of over $7 million

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The German chemical company BASF will restore damaged natural resources at a notorious Superfund site in New Jersey where decades or pollution and illegal dumping caused vast contamination of the environment. The state Department of Environmental Protection says it has a deal with BASF to restore conditions at the former Ciba Geigy plant in Toms River. BASF, based in Ludwigshafen, Germany, is the corporate successor to Ciba Geigy. Cleanup efforts have been ongoing for decades at the site and will continue, even as the environmental restoration work proceeds. Work is expected to begin in the spring and last for five years.

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The unmarked graves in a forgotten West Virginia burial ground known locally as Little Egypt contain the remains of dozens of coal mine workers who died in a 1912 explosion. For Ed Evans, a Democratic state lawmaker and retired school teacher, they are a reminder of the dangers of undoing mine safety regulations, currently under debate in the state Legislature. Evans says he worries about what will happen now that many advocates of the mine safety laws, himself included, were defeated in the Nov. 8 election. With Republicans gaining an even tighter grip on the Legislature, lawmakers are expected to make another run at further deregulating the agencies that monitor mine safety.

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The unmarked graves in a forgotten West Virginia burial ground known locally as Little Egypt contain the remains of dozens of coal mine workers who died in a 1912 mine explosion. For Ed Evans, a Democratic state lawmaker and retired school teacher, they are a reminder of the dangers of undoing mine safety regulations, currently under debate in the state Legislature. Evans says he worries about what will happen now that many advocates of the mine safety laws, himself included, were defeated in the Nov. 8 election. With Republicans gaining an even tighter grip on the Legislature, lawmakers are expected to make another run at further deregulating the agencies that monitor mine safety.

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The United States' newest nuclear stealth bomber has made its public debut after years of secret development. The new bomber is part of the Pentagon’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China. The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft built in more than 30 years. The Pentagon provided the public its first glimpse of the Raider at an invitation-only event in Palmdale, California, on Friday. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calls it “the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.” Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman is building the Raider, which will take its first flight next year.

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More than 2,000 experts wrapped up a week of negotiations on plastic pollution Friday, at one of the largest global gatherings ever to address what even industry leaders in plastics say is a crisis. It was the first meeting of a United Nations committee on plastics set up in March to draft what is intended to be a landmark treaty to bring an end to plastic pollution globally. The United Nations Environment Programme held the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Punta del Este, Uruguay Monday to Friday. Even in this first meetings of five set to take place over the next two years, factions came into focus as some countries want top-down global mandates, and the chemical industry wants country-by-country rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protect Agency on Thursday proposed restrictions that would block plans for a copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region that is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. The regional EPA office said discharges of dredged or fill material into the waters of the U.S. within the proposed Pebble Mine footprint in southwest Alaska would “result in unacceptable adverse effects on salmon fishery areas.”  The decision will now be forwarded to the EPA Office of Water for the final determination. Mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership called the EPA’s decision a preemptive veto. It described the decision as political and without legal, environmental or technical merit.

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One of a shrinking number of Democrats in the West Virginia Legislature has announced he is changing his party affiliation to Republican. Sen. Glenn Jeffries of Putnam County said he is leaving the Democratic party, increasing Republicans’ control of the state Senate to 31 of its 34 seats come January. This year, the Republicans occupied 23 seats to the Democrats’ 11. That means Republicans will hold 119 out of 134 positions in the state Legislature. Jeffries said that when he was first running for election in 2016, he pledged to work in a bipartisan way, and he plans to continue those efforts.

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The Minnesota Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday on an attempt by environmental groups to cancel a key permit for the long-stalled PolyMet copper-nickel mine. They say regulators should have included “end-of-pipe” limits on discharges of mercury and sulfates in PolyMet’s water quality permit. And they say the state improperly tried to suppress the concerns of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, resulting in a weaker permit. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and PolyMet counter that the permit meets the legal requirements. It's one of three major permits issued to PolyMet four years ago that remain on hold due to legal challenges.

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The Biden administration is designating the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species. Officials say that the bat's situation has worsened since it was classified as threatened in 2015. The species is among a dozen U.S. bats suffering from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that causes bats to emerge early during hibernation, sometimes burn up winter fat reserves and starve. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will work with timber companies and landowners to protect trees where bats nest. The agency will also seek cooperation from the wind energy industry to reduce the likelihood that bats will strike turbines. The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states, plus Washington, D.C., and much of Canada.

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Workers at the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository have started using a newly mined disposal area at the underground facility in southern New Mexico. Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant made the announcement this week, saying the first containers of waste to be entombed there came from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The area called Panel 8 consists of seven separate rooms for placing special boxes and barrels packed with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements. Officials say creating a panel requires mining nearly 160,000 tons of salt deep below the surface.

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Up to 2.4 million trees would be cut down as part of a project to prevent major wildfires in a federally protected New Jersey forest heralded as a unique environmental treasure. New Jersey environmental officials say the plan to thin trees in the Bass River State Forest will better protect against catastrophic wildfires. They say it will mostly affect small, scrawny trees, not the towering giants for which the Pinelands National Refuge is known and loved. Some environmentalists say it's a reasonable response to the dangers of wildfires. Others call it a waste of trees that imperils the globe in an era of climate change.

An Australian minister has likened a mining company blasting ancient rock shelters to the Taliban’s destruction of giant Buddha carvings and vowed to improve protections of Indigenous cultural heritage. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Rio Tinto acted lawfully in 2020 when it destroyed two rock shelters that had been inhabited for 46,000 years. She said Thursday that Australia’s laws would be updated to prevent future destruction of Indigenous sacred sites. The Taliban in 2001 destroyed two 1,500-year-old Buddha statues because the carvings in an Afghan cliff were considered to be idols. Rio Tinto demolished the rock shelters to gain the cheapest possible access to iron ore reserves. Four executives lost their jobs following outrage over the destruction.

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On a recent evening in early November shoppers at the Bryant Park holiday market in New York City were in the holiday spirit well before Black Friday. The scent of pine wafted from candle sellers’ booths, people snapped up gingerbread cookies and hot cider and ice skaters swirled figure eights around the rink in the center of the market. After two years of pandemic holidays when people spent more dollars online, shoppers are back in force in stores and at holiday markets. Small businesses say it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, both emotionally and financially.

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American consumers and nearly every industry will be affected if freight trains grind to a halt next month. One of the biggest rail unions rejected its deal Monday over concerns about demanding schedules and the lack of paid sick time. The U.S. hasn't seen an extended rail strike in a century. Many businesses only have a few days’ worth of raw materials and space for finished goods. If a strike goes past a few days, makers of food, fuel, cars and chemicals would all feel the squeeze, as would their customers. That’s not to mention the commuters who would be left stranded because many passenger railroads use tracks owned by the freight railroads.

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A Wisconsin company that cleans hundreds of meatpacking plants nationwide is defending itself against allegations that it employed more than two dozen minors working overnight shifts cleaning massive saws and other dangerous equipment. Labor Department officials said in court documents that they believe Packers Sanitation Services Inc. might be employing underage workers at other plants but investigators have only just starting reviewing thousands of pages of employee records at plants besides the ones in Nebraska and Minnesota where they confirmed teenagers were working. A judge already issued a temporary order prohibiting the company from employing minors and interfering in the investigation. The company says it's cooperating and already prohibits hiring anyone younger than 18.

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Tennessee officials have announced plans to invest $3.2 billion to develop a cathode materials plant for electric vehicle batteries. The manufacturing facility will be built in Clarksville, Tennessee and create more than 850 jobs, according to a memorandum of understanding signed by the state of Tennessee and South Korea-based LG Chem. Construction will begin next year with the goal to start mass production in 2025. Once operational, the goal is to produce 120,000 tons of cathode battery materials annually — or enough to power 1.2 million electric vehicle batteries.

A company will hire 100 people and invest $60 million in southern West Virginia to extract rare earth metals from coal waste impoundments. Gov. Jim Justice says Omnis Sublimation Recovery Technologies is expected to build its Wyoming County facility and install equipment by mid-2023. Currently most of the world’s supply of rare earth elements comes from China. Rare earth metals are necessary for manufacturing smartphones, computers and other high-performance electronic devices. In March, Justice announced that Omnis Building Technologies will build a $40 million facility in Bluefield to make housing materials.

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The CEO of Cleveland-Cliffs says an iron ore mine in northern Minnesota will close in a few years if it doesn't get mineral rights from a nearby project that hasn't been completed. Hibbing Taconite is expected to run out of iron ore around 2025. Cleveland-Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves says his company needs the rights from the Mesabi Metallics project to keep the Hibbing operation going. The state of Minnesota has terminated Mesabi Metallics' mineral rights and plans to reassign the leases. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Goncalves says if Cleveland Cliffs secures the leases, the Hibbing mine's operations will be extended by about 27 years.

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Russian airstrikes have targeted Ukraine’s energy facilities as the first snow of the season fell in Kyiv. The freezing weather on Thursday is a harbinger of the hardship to come if Moscow’s missiles keep taking out Ukraine's power and gas plants. Separately, the United Nations announced the extension of a deal to ensure exports of grain and fertilizers from Ukraine that were disrupted by the war. The deal was set to expire soon, renewing fears of a global food crisis. Still, air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine on Thursday. At least seven people were killed in Russian drone and missile strikes. One hit a residential building and rescue workers were still searching Thursday for more victims amid the rubble.

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