FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Charleston (W.V.) Gazette:The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s appeal of his criminal mine safety conviction, the court announced Tuesday.Justices turned down Blankenship’s petition, including it on a weekly order list of more than 200 cases in which a request for a “writ of certiorari” — the type of order in which the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case — was denied without any reason given or further comment offered.In doing so, the court allowed to stand Blankenship’s conviction for conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in an April 5, 2010 explosion.“We are pleased with but not surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision to deny the Blankenship petition,” said U.S. Attorney Carol Casto. “Now, hopefully, the families of those lost and others impacted by the UBB explosion and long history of safety violations can find some closure and begin the long and difficult process of healing.”Two years ago this month, jurors in U.S. District Court in Charleston began hearing testimony against Blankenship in the high-profile case involving charges against a coal executive who was once one of the region’s most powerful figures in a trial that focused on the rampant safety violations at Upper Big Branch in the months leading up to West Virginia’s worst coal-mining disaster in a generation.Blankenship, 67, was convicted of conspiracy to violate safety rules and then sentenced by U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger to pay a $250,000 fine and spend one year in prison, both the maximum allowed under current federal law that classifies criminal mine safety violations as misdemeanors. Blankenship completed his one-year prison sentence in early May, and is currently serving his one year of supervised release. Berger recently modified the terms of Blankenship’s supervised release so that he could report to probation officials in Las Vegas, where he now lives.Earlier this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirmed Blankenship’s conviction.Blankenship had argued on appeal that Berger incorrectly instructed the trial jury that Blankenship’s ”reckless disregard” of federal mine safety standards amounted to the criminal willfulness needed for a conviction and that Berger was wrong to deny the defense the chance for a second cross-examination of former Massey official Chris Blanchard, a major government witness. Coal industry lobby groups from West Virginia, Ohio and Illinois had warned that Blankenship’s conviction would pave the way for coal executives to be prosecuted for making “tough decisions” necessary to “operate a successful company.”More: US Supreme Court won’t hear Don Blankenship’s appeal U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal of Coal Exec Convicted in 29 Miner Deaths
The law introducing defined contribution pension plans without guarantees to Germany has passed the larger house of parliament, the Bundestag.The Betriebsrentenstärkungsgesetz (BRSG) was passed on Thursday with the votes of the government coalition, comprised of the social democratic party SPD and the conservative parties CDU/CSU.Against expectations, both opposition parties – the Green party coalition Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and the left-wing Die Linke – rejected the legal draft as agreed on by the government last week. The vote by the Green delegates came as a surprise because party representatives had agreed to the law in a preliminary vote in a parliamentary committee meeting the night before. The BRSG will for the first time allow the creation of defined contribution pension schemes – also called defined ambition plans – which can be set up by collective bargaining agreements.Only companies signed up to these agreements will be able to set up the new plans.However, all companies in Germany will be required to pay money they saved through salary sacrifice arrangements (Entgeltumwandlung) back into those plans.The Greens and other critics feared this and other changes might increase the burden on smaller companies.Insurers move to offer BRSG-friendly platformDuring the long negotiations on the BRSG over the past year, insurance companies had led the opposition to the ban on guarantees for the new plans. However, it now seems some have found a way to get a slice of the new pension cake.Five small mutual insurers announced yesterday that they were to join forces and create a pension platform. The so-called “Rentenwerk” is to be set up to provide companies and unions with flexible pension solutions to be implemented under the new law.Germany’s national competition regulator still has to approve the collaboration between Barmenia, Debeka, Gothaer, HUK-COBURG, and Die Stuttgarter.The BRSG itself still has to pass the smaller house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, in its last session before the summer on 7 July.It is expected that the representatives of the German provinces in the Bundesrat will approve the draft.However, analysts have said the Green parties’ approval could be crucial in getting the green light from provinces where the party is part of a regional government coalition.Stephan Oecking, partner at Mercer Germany, called on the companies and unions that will have to negotiate the new pension plans to “make full and quick use of the full range of new possibilities”.Reiner Schwinger, managing director at Willis Towers Watson Germany, added: “The new framework will fill the current white spots in the German pension landscape.”Fred Marchlewski, managing director at Aon Hewitt Germany, summed up: “Occupational pensions will become more attractive overall, but also more complex.”
A crowd of students watched as Cassandra Davis, a representative of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, held up two identical jars, one with several moon jellyfish and the other with a plastic bag. Davis said that though humans could tell the two jars apart, on the open ocean it might not be so easy for the sea turtles that may confuse the plastic with their prey.“They’re going to be drifting along, often in the same currents,” Davis said. “When they are out in the ocean current, they look and act like jellies. It’s easy to see the confusion when you hold them side by side.” The demonstration took place at the Plastic Bag Ban Summit, hosted in the Trojan Ballroom on Wednesday afternoon by the Benioff Ocean Initiative at UC Santa Barbara in conjunction with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The summit included a panel discussion on the ways plastic waste manifests in the ocean ecosystem and its impact on humans, as well as what actions need to be taken to address the pollution.The Aquarium of the Pacific is hoping to raise awareness by using the jars to demonstrate just how easy it is for marine life to become confused and ingest plastic. Davis said that even if the sea turtles do not directly eat the plastic, the jellies on which they feed may. The plastic, and the chemicals from it, stay in the system of the jellyfish, then travel up the food chain until they reach the animals at the top.This makes humans vulnerable as well, Davis said. Most plastic remains in the stomach of fish, posing a threat to people who consume this part of the fish. Furthermore, schooling fish, like sardines, are caught and ground into feed for domesticated animals, making it possible for the plastic contaminants to enter the human body through chicken. Jennifer Brandon, a Ph.D. candidate who is researching microplastics through the SCRIPPS Institute of Oceanography, said that one of the biggest misconceptions about plastic waste pollution in the ocean is that it takes the form of a large island of trash in the middle of the ocean. The reality is that garbage patches, which tend to occur at convergence points of major currents, only consist of a few large pieces of plastic waste. The rest is what has been called “microplastic.”“Most of the plastic in the ocean is very small,” Brandon said. “Ninety percent are smaller than a quarter of an inch, but we started to realize that these pieces are even more dangerous. They are much harder to clean up and much easier to eat.”Brandon said that an increasing number of bottom-feeders have been found with plastic in their stomachs, which can impact predators at the top of the food chain. Studies conducted by the SCRIPPS Ocean Institute have found that about 34 percent of gooseneck barnacles examined had plastic in their guts. In South America, these organisms are considered a delicacy, creating a direct path for plastic to be ingested by humans.Other studies have been conducted on copepods, one of the most abundant organisms in the world. In an experimental setting, they have been proven to eat plastic, and Brandon said that because they are one of the key building blocks for the entire oceanic food chain, the implications could be devastating.According to Brandon, plastic smaller than one-third of a millimeter across escapes most nets, making it difficult to measure how much of it is actually in the ocean. Because of the tendency for plastic to break down into infinitely smaller pieces, it is possible that this form of plastic, called “nanoplastic,” is the most prevalent. Roland Geyer, an associate professor at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, said that there are also studies being conducted to determine which countries contribute most to the plastic problem. “Out of the top 20 countries, 18 are South Asian,” Geyer said. “This is because they have high a population density along with recent economic development, so they use a lot more plastic, especially in packaging. They also don’t have the infrastructure to deal with plastic waste. It’s the perfect storm.” The United States also appears in the top 20, due to its large population and coastal areas. Panelists agreed that California has pioneered the way for increased environmental regulation, inspiring the laws of other states as well as across the globe, but said that issues in combatting plastic pollution still remain. For example, plastics are currently manufactured to withstand whatever they are being used for, making it very difficult to dispose of them properly. To address this problem, panelists emphasized that the solution may need to come from the industries that manufacture plastics, rather than relying on the government.