Failing grades

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read up each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

John McCain and Barack Obama both earned an F on their environmental report cards this past year, greatly disappointing Auntie Ruth. The League of Conservation Voters released its 2008 National Environmental Scorecard in October, which rates members of Congress on their votes related to energy, climate change and public lands, and how politicians demonstrate efforts to end our addiction to oil, reduce global-warming pollution and support renewable energy. The scorecard included 11 Senate and 13 House of Representative votes. Seventy representatives and two senators scored zero percent, including McCain. Obama wasn’t much better, scoring a measly 18 percent. Both candidates missed important votes while out on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, 67 representatives and 27 senators earned an impressive 100 percent.

For 25 years, environmental protections have restricted mining companies from dumping mountaintop-mining waste near rivers and streams. Companies have largely thwarted these protections over the years, however, devastating Appalachia—more than 2,000 streams in the region have been permanently buried or degraded by this waste, according to Earthjustice. But the Interior Department has advanced a proposal to ease dumping restrictions, making it legal for mining companies to violate the natural landscape. In 1983, the Reagan administration enacted a rule that prohibits mining companies from dumping valley fill and sludge from surface mining within 100 feet of any intermittent or perennial stream if disposal adversely affects water quality or quantity. Under the proposed rule change, companies would be required to minimize the debris they dump but would be allowed to ignore the 100-foot-buffer rule if compliance is deemed impossible.

A new study has Auntie Ruth worried: Some plastic products have been linked to troublesome reproductive effects on boys. The University of Rochester study links fetal exposure to phthalates—a chemical widely used to make plastics soft and pliable—to smaller penis size, incomplete descent of testicles and a decreased distance between the anus and the genitals—an area colloquially known as the “taint"—in baby boys. The study is published in this month’s issue of Environmental Research, along with five other studies linking various endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in plastics to adverse health effects in humans and laboratory animals. In August, Congress banned several types of phthalates used in children’s toys and products.