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New Regulations Proposed By EPA To Make Drinking Water Safer; Alaskan Willow Oil Project Approved By Biden Administration; Judge To Rule On Access To Abortion-Inducing Drugs; Hearing Tomorrow In Suit To Revoke FDA Approval For Abortion Drug; Inflation Cools As Food Prices Continue Rising. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 14, 2023 - 10:30:00   ET



ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's take a look at some of the health issues that they've been linked to. They've been linked to cancer, they've been linked to prenatal development issues, they've been linked to liver effects, they've been linked to immune effects.

And here's what the proposed regulation will do. First of all, this regulates just six forever chemicals, just six of thousands, and I will say more about that in a minute. Water systems have about three years to comply, so these regulations could take effect, like, let's say, around end of the year, they would then have three years to comply.

And it's unclear what the penalties would be for not complying, and water systems can raise rates if they say they need to in order to comply with these regulations. So, it is possible that people will seeing higher rates.

Now, I mentioned that this was for only six chemicals when there are thousands. These are six chemicals for which there is particularly clear evidence, or at least very strong suggestions, studies have shown, that there is a link to human health. But the Biden administration says that they are continuing to look at other chemicals like these to see if they should be regulated as well. Jim, Erica.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: All right. Key question, I imagine folks at home figured the same thing. Does bottle water contain this stuff?

COHEN: You know, it's interesting, there are no regulations, Jim, that say that these can't be in bottled water. So, we'll begin with that. So, various folks like "Consumer Reports" have tested various kinds of bottled water and they found that they're in some, not all, but they certainly are in some of the brands that they purchased.

SCIUTTO: Well, that is disappointing. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much for following.

New this morning, something else we're following. The Biden administration has approved a controversial new oil venture in Alaska, that's been the point of contention for years.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The approval is a victory for Alaska's bipartisan congressional delegation at a coalition of native Alaskan to set the drilling venture will bring a much-needed revenue and jobs in the remote region. Not everyone, though, is excited about this. Environmental activists already vowing to challenge this project in court.

CNN Chief Climate Correspondent, Bill Weir, joining us now. So, first of all, what exactly is the project? What would it entail?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would -- it had been shrunk from the original plan but it entailed three drilling pads in the Willow area of what is set aside as the national petroleum reserve. This is this wilderness you've been seeing that's, sort of, stark arctic B-row we've been showing up there which is really does not show the full environmental special nature of this place up here.

It was set up in the '20s when the navy was trying to get off of coal, and it stayed wilderness for a long time. But if you contrast that -- these pictures to -- here are some shots when we went to the national wildlife reserve, which is just next door, which was another point of political fighting that environmentalists and conservationists managed to win. When you call something, a nature preserve, it's easier to protect that a petroleum reserve.

HILL: Yes.


WEIR: So, the Biden administration really, they didn't have any other choice. These leases are contracts. ConocoPhillips could sue them for the lost revenue in the tunes of multibillions of dollars. And so, what they tried to do is protest the area around it. Now, at the same time, they pretty much wall off the rest of the arctic to offer drilling as well. But Joe Biden, in New Hampshire, said I will not drill on federal lands, period, period, period, period.

And so, for all of the climate-minded, environmental voters who were animated by that, this devastating. This is a huge setback, because it is not just about the Caribou and the bird life and the polar bears up there, at this point it's about adding more to the carbon blanket in the sky that is changing predictable weather and everything we know about life.

HILL: yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I've been up there. It's beautiful. It's cold but it's beautiful.

WEIR: Yes.

SCIUTTO: As you referenced, the Biden administration did announce some offsets in effect, other protections for other federal lands. How many lands, and is it actually an offset? I mean, does it -- sort of, is it even out? WEIR: Anything that -- you know, someone would say anything that protects wilderness, at this point, he has goals to set aside 30 percent by the year 2030 is considered a huge boon, at this point. And he set aside pretty much all the arctic sea around Alaska, the offshore drilling.

But what's interesting is, we're at a transition point where fossil fuels are definitely the villains and everybody wants to get on to electric vehicles, well that means a lot of folks are going to want to mine the bottom of the ocean for these minerals. Nothing -- there are no free lunches when it comes to energy. We got to decide our tradeoffs.

HILL: And also, just really quickly, I know we're tight on time, but even with these protections that he put in place, and as we talk about the National Wildlife Refuge versus the petroleum field, couldn't that be reversed in another administration?

WEIR: Exactly.

HILL: Is that a concern?

WEIR: I mean, legally, with everything being tied up, a matter of time. When you also look at the fact that oil won't start flowing out of Willow for six years.

HILL: yes.

WEIR: And at the current rate of electrification and the price of renewable coming way down, the country is not going to need a national petroleum reserve in six years, the experts would say -- energy experts would say.


So, practically who knows how much damage it'll do. If it goes full bore and that thing pumps all the oil that's in there, which is about a 10th of what we thought it was 50 years ago, well, at that point, it's sort of like humanity has given up the fight, you know what I mean?

HILL: I mean, somedays it feels like that.

WEIR: Some days it feels like that.

HILL: We're going to hold out hope. Bill, appreciate it as always.

WEIR: You bet.

HILL: Thank you.

And stay with us, we'll be right back.


[10:40:00] HILL: One of the largest legal battles over abortion procedures since Roe V. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court is about to face a federal judge in Texas. So, this is all focused on the approval of a medical abortion pill, and the lawsuit is actually seeking to revoke the FDA's approval of mifepristone, that's one of the two drugs that are used in a medicated abortion.

Here's the thing, a federal judge in Texas scheduled that hearing for Wednesday, for tomorrow, after reports that he had sought to delay an announcement at the hearing because, of "Barrage of death threats".

CNN Legal Analyst and former general prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers joining us now. So, this is getting a lot of attention for multiple reasons. The minute you talk about abortion, you're going to get a lot of attention. But I want to pull the abortion part of it out for just a minute because I think there are some other glaring developments that we should touch on.

So, first of all, let's talk about this hearing. So, the judge wanted to keep the hearing secret until basically the night before. Saying he was worried about protests, worried about dissent that would also potentially limit journalist access because getting to Amarillo, Texas is not easy.

So, if they didn't actually announce it until tonight for a hearing that's tomorrow, can you -- I mean, does that read to you, like, a partisan judge actively working to limit first amendment rights of Americans who may want to be there to either cover the trial, to speak out wherever they may fall there?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, AND ADJUNCT PROFESSOR AT NYU LAW SCHOOL AND LECTURER AT COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Well, there's certainly something wrong happening here, Erica. I mean, this is not consistent with the rules. It's not consistent with constitution. It's not consistent with the long- standing access of the public to courts. All court proceedings are presumptively open and accessible to the public.

They have to be promptly docketed so that people can see that and attend if they wish to do so. That's not just the press, that's also members of the public who might be concerned with the proceeding. Only in rare circumstances is a proceeding not to supposed to be open.

So, this was is clearly an attempt to stop people and press from being at this hearing. The judge says, it's for security reasons and so on. But I think we can all see that what it really is, is an attempt to keep people who are very concerned that he is about drastically limit the access of millions of women to medical abortion from being there and from making their views heard. So, it's very, very problematic and troubling.

HILL: And so, if there were security concerns, this is something that judges in courts do deal with, practically on a daily basis around this country. I would imagine you could make concessions for that. You mentioned this is not consistent with the rules, it's not consistent with the constitution, it's not consistent, frankly, things are done in this country in terms of the public access. So, does that mean there would be any repercussions here?

RODGERS: Not really. I mean, Judge Kacsmaryk, like all district court judges is a lifetime appointee. I mean, you could, in theory, try to impeach a judge but something like this would never pass muster in that sense. So, there's really not much to be done, you know.

You would hope that perhaps the chief judge of that district would give him a talking to and re-emphasize the importance of public access, but frankly, there really isn't any recourse here for people. I mean, the media outlets have been doing the right thing by bringing attention to it. And so, hopefully it won't happen again, but, you know, besides that, there is not a lot of recourse.

HILL: OK. So, that's the one issue, right, just the hearing in and of itself. Separately, the crux of this case is that the FDA approval which was -- so that happened back in 2000. The plaintiffs are saying that should be overturned because they believe that the approval process there was flawed. What would that mean? Can you put it in perspective for us for a judge to say, the FDA did its job wrong.

RODGERS: Well, it is unprecedented. I mean, it would be unprecedented for a judge, a single judge to say the FDA got it wrong 23 years ago. There's never been an instance where anyone has overturned the ruling of the FDA against the FDA's wishes. And the notion that it has been 23 years and the FDA has repeatedly reaffirmed the efficacy and safety of this drug makes it sort of ridiculous.

And also, just the separation of powers issue. I mean, you have here a just in the judicial branch saying to both the executive branch, the FDA who are the subject matter experts here, you have gotten it wrong, and to Congress.

I mean, we had the whole huge Supreme Court decision last term, the EPA case versus -- West Virginia versus EPA where the courts had basically that the Congress should have the say over the executive agencies, the notion that the courts are not going to step into the subject matter expertise is ridiculous.

So, you know, I hope the judge doesn't do it. His anti-abortion leaning suggests that he might, but we are all on tenterhooks waiting to see.

HILL: In terms of the precedent that it would set to, let's say, for example, you don't like the COVID-19 vaccine. You don't think that it should have been approved, does that mean that somebody could then sue saying that they have an issue with that authorization and have it overturned?


RODGERS: Well, there just a huge overall problem here, and this has been the case for years, and really isn't just limited to Republicans making these suits. But the notion of a single judge issuing a nationwide injunction, having the power to do that is really problematic to a lot of people. You know, there are some potential fixes (ph) here. Congress could

step in, they could order that any seeking of a nationwide injunction would have to go, for example, to a three-judge panel instead of just a single judge.

But this is a lot of power in the hands of one person. And especially when you think about the judge -- that's happening here, he's the only judge in this division. They specifically incorporated their alliance in the Amarillo division in order to get Judge Kacsmaryk because of his anti-abortion views in his lack of hesitance to Trump at them. So, you know, given all of that, it's really important, I think, that Congress does something about these nationwide injunctions in the hands of one person.

HILL: What would happen? Let's say the judge, does in fact, rule to overturn this authorization from the FDA, which as you point out has stood for 23 years. I'm sure there'll be appeals process, but let's say it was overturned, what does that mean immediately for people who may need to use this drug? And we should point out, not just use, right, for medical abortions.

RODGERS: So, of course, the administration would move for -- would appeal and move for a stay. If they do not get a stay, so the injunction actually took effect. Then women and their healthcare providers would have to find a work-around. I mean, this drug is used as one part of a two-part regimen. It can be done without this drug. Apparently, it's not quite as efficacious if you do it that way, there's bigger health concerns, but it can be done.

So, I expect they'll just have to find a way to work around. But not only will it be problematic, it'll be chaotic, right, with people not knowing what to do and how to proceed from here. So, it's a real problem for women and their reproductive health care provides.

HILL: Jennifer Rodgers, I really appreciate you joining us to break this all down because there are several levels to it and it's really important that we have all of these facts in front of us. Thank you.

RODGERS: Thanks, Erica.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, inflation fell slightly in February. Food prices, though, do remain stubbornly high and continue to rise. Why are shoppers paying so much more, in particular for groceries? We're going to explain coming up.



SCIUTTO: This first the on CNN, the Biden administration has announced new steps aimed at lowering American's everyday costs. According to White House officials, the Department of Health and Human Services will be releasing new details on lowering the price, specifically, of health care and prescription drugs.

HILL: HHS also offering up more than half a billion dollars in funds to help cover home heating costs for Americans. And the FCC will release additional money this week to help eligible households pay for broadband internet.

SCIUTTO: Well, February's consumer price index report, key measure of inflation, show that inflation does remain high at six percent, but the temperature is coming down. This is the eighth straight months that inflation has fallen, you can see it on the graph there, but still grocery prices are climbing higher, you may have noticed it. With data showing a 10.2 percent increase over the past year.

HILL: Joining us now with more, CNN Business Reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn. So, we are still paying, right, and I certainly noticed certain things in the grocery store, some have gone down a little bit, some have not. Can we expect this to settle down a little bit at some point?

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Yes. So, grocery prices up 10.2 percent in February from a year ago, outpacing the inflation. And the reason we're seeing these higher prices is because food manufacturers and producers, they're paying more for labor and transportation, they're passing along those higher costs on to shoppers.

And they're able to raise prices because demand from customers has not slowed down. After all, we have to go to the grocery store. We have to buy food. There are only so many trade-offs we can make. And that's, you know, that's what happens with food. So, once these prices stay high, it's harder for them to come down.

SCIUTTO: So, in the midst of all this, you know, a potential merger here, Kroger and Albertsons, two of the largest chains in the country, they're trying to merge in a nearly $25 billion deal. Lots of time you see these mergers and that puts more pressure on prices. What do we know?

MEYERSOHN: So, Jim, this is a massive supermarket merger, worth about $25 billion, two of the largest chains in the country. Last year, the combined companies had more than $200 billion in sales, 5,000 stores, and 700,000 workers. So, a massive deal. They say that this -- the new company would allow them to drive down prices for customers, better compete with Walmart and Amazon.

But there is a lot of concern about this, corporate consolidation often raises the prices for customers, critics are worried that this is going to drive out the local groceries stores and Mom and Pops hurt competition, and ultimately raise prices for the customers.

HILL: That is not what we want to hear, is raising prices for customers. We'll see what ends up happening with that. Nathaniel, appreciate it. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: All right. The governor of Illinois signed a new bill that ensures all employees in that state will get 40 hours of paid leave per year. This covers time off for things like sick days, also key child care, as well as medical appointments, and mental health. The law excludes independent contractors. When it kicks in next year, Illinois will be the -- only the third state to have that type of law joining Maine and Nevada.

HILL: New this morning, Facebook's parent company, Meta, announcing yet another round of massive layoffs. If you remember in November, Meta said it was eliminating 13 percent of its workforce.


In a Facebook post today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, the company would let go of roughly 10,000 people and then leave open another 5,000 positions that they haven't filled. These reductions are a part of a series of changes in what Zuckerberg is calling the year of efficiency.

How about ending on that note? We will end on something brighter.


HILL: It's --

SCIUTTO: Get your bracket done, Erica.

HILL: Oh, that's what I need to do.

SCIUTTO: We're going to war.

HILL: You're right. You're right. Because Jim wants to steal money from me in a bet. We'll see if that happens. Thanks to all of you for joining us today. Good luck with your brackets. I'm Erica Hill.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Having said that now, I'm probably going to lose. "At This Hour with Kate Bolduan" starts after a quick break.