Morning news brief Arizona Supreme Court allows a near-total abortion ban to take effect soon. EPA limits the amount of PFAS in drinking water. President Biden will welcome Japan's prime minister to the White House.

Morning news brief

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Arizona Supreme Court allows a near-total abortion ban to take effect soon. EPA limits the amount of PFAS in drinking water. President Biden will welcome Japan's prime minister to the White House.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A ruling by Arizona's state Supreme Court just put abortion back into national politics.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The state court finds that an abortion law passed during the Civil War is still in force today. It bans abortion in all cases except a threat to a woman's life. An Arizona doctor who runs an anti-abortion pregnancy center asked the court to clarify that the law was still in effect. The ruling drew this reaction from Arizona's Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes.

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KRIS MAYES: By effectively striking down a law passed this century and replacing it with one from 160 years ago, the court has risked the health and lives of Arizonans.

INSKEEP: NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo joins us now. Good morning.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How does this state court ruling change the current law in Arizona?

BUSTILLO: Well, after the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, the Arizona state legislature allowed Arizona doctors to provide abortion up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy based on a lower court's interpretation of those state laws. But the state Supreme Court now says Arizona should follow a law banning abortion in almost all cases.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I was baffled by this. Like, how does the newer law not supersede the old one? But then I looked into it and realized the state law from 2022 prohibited abortions after 15 weeks, but didn't guarantee a right to abortion earlier. So the court finds this older law applies, passed in 1864 by something called the First Territorial Legislature. Is that right?

BUSTILLO: Yes. So this is now one of the oldest abortion laws on the books, older than even Arizona itself. Arizona didn't become a state until 1912, and it makes no exceptions for rape or incest and makes performing an abortion punishable by two to five years in prison. But the Arizona Supreme Court has stayed the ruling for 14 business days. That means that abortions can continue for about two more weeks, and groups like Planned Parenthood, the state's biggest abortion provider, say that they plan to continue providing abortion until the ruling takes full effect.

INSKEEP: OK, so this is a court ruling, but now comes the politics. How does this affect this election year?

BUSTILLO: Well, abortion was already something we were paying attention to when it came to the Arizona election. There's an effort to place a measure on the November ballot in the state that, if passed, would also overrule the state Supreme Court decision. The amendment would establish a fundamental right to abortion and protects access to abortion up to the point of viability and to protect the patient's health and life, as determined by the treating health care provider.

INSKEEP: Is it going to get on the ballot?

BUSTILLO: Well, the amendment supporters said this month that they have more than half a million signatures already, which is far more than they need, and they plan to keep collecting until July.

INSKEEP: OK, so this is Arizona, one presidential swing state and crucial in a Senate race, by the way, as well. How are the presidential campaigns reacting?

BUSTILLO: Well, shortly after the state Supreme Court decision came down, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that she would be back in Arizona this week on Friday. She's already campaigned on abortion in Arizona recently. From the Trump campaign side, earlier this week, he came out with his own official stance on abortion. He said he didn't advocate for a national ban and instead said he would leave it up to the states to decide.

INSKEEP: Yeah, although this has been kind of awkward for Republicans who had been supportive of this 1864 law in the past, hadn't they?

BUSTILLO: Yes. In Arizona's U.S. Senate race, Republican Kari Lake said that she opposes the decision recently come down from the state Supreme Court, adding that ultimately voters will get their chance to decide in November. That's a new position for Lake. She previously praised the 1864 law when she was running for governor two years ago. Some other Republican elected officials have also criticized the ruling.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Ximena Bustillo, thanks so much.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is putting limits on chemicals called PFAS in drinking water.

MARTIN: They're known as forever chemicals because of how long they last. They're useful. They're often used to waterproof and stain-proof products, but that comes at a cost to human health.

INSKEEP: NPR's science correspondent Pien Huang is covering the story. Good morning.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, why set limits on these chemicals now?

HUANG: Well, Steve, the EPA is acting to end what has seemed like a forever debate over forever chemicals. Here's EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

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MICHAEL REGAN: There's no doubt that these chemicals have been important for certain industries and consumer uses, but there's also no doubt that many of these chemicals can be harmful to our health and our environment.

HUANG: Now, this follows what some states, including New Jersey and Washington, have already been doing, but it's the first time that it's happening on the federal level. The EPA is now putting limits on six of these chemicals in the drinking water, saying that every water system now needs to look for them, and if they're found over a certain amount, they have to be taken out.

INSKEEP: What are these chemicals, and where do they come from?

HUANG: Yeah. So PFAS is a group of man-made chemicals, a rather large group, that have now been around since the 1940s. They were manufactured by companies like DuPont and 3M, and they're used to make things resistant to stains, to water and to grease - you know, everything from clothing, furniture to firefighting foam and electronics and semiconductors.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. I've sometimes had pants that the water rolls off the pants. They might have those chemicals in them. Is that right?

HUANG: Honestly, probably, although there are a few brands now that have committed to not using PFAS in their clothing, but probably, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK.

HUANG: And...

INSKEEP: Go on. What makes these so effective?

HUANG: Yeah. Well, the thing about them is that they have these really strong molecular bonds, which means that they really don't break down for a long, long time. You know, PFAS from the 1940s - it's still around today, and that's where they get the name forever chemicals. But as they've accumulated, so has evidence for how they can harm human health. You know, there are now links between PFAS and certain cancers, liver damage, high cholesterol, immune problems. And now there are more than 12,000 PFAS chemicals out there. And the EPA is putting limits on six of them in the drinking water.

INSKEEP: When you say 12,000 chemicals and six of them are to be limited, that doesn't sound like much.

HUANG: Yeah, but experts like Elizabeth Southerland, who's a former EPA official, says that it is a strong first step.

ELIZABETH SOUTHERLAND: The six that they have here have had many, many, both animal and human studies, in many cases, so that they feel confident that they have estimated the safe level of these chemicals.

HUANG: The limits are set around 4 to 10 parts per trillion, depending on the chemicals. And she also says that the filters or chemical treatments that water utilities are going to have to use to deal with these six chemicals are also going to remove a lot of other chemicals that people are concerned about.

INSKEEP: How much does it cost to install the better filters and take the other steps that water systems will need to take?

HUANG: Well, in total, the EPA estimates that this will cost around $1.5 billion a year for water companies to comply. And, Steve, that's $1.5 billion every year until these chemicals stop showing up in the drinking water. The EPA does say that the benefits will exceed that cost. They say about 100 million people are affected. And in that population, there will be less cancer, fewer heart attacks and fewer birth complications.

INSKEEP: Does my water bill go up?

HUANG: Well, maybe eventually, but there is funding that the government intends as a first resort. So the bipartisan infrastructure law includes billions of dollars for PFAS removal. And companies that made these chemicals are also on the hook for more than $10 billion from a class action lawsuit. But if water systems can't access those funds or if those funds run out, then some of those costs might eventually get passed on to consumers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Pien Huang, thanks so much.

HUANG: You're welcome.

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INSKEEP: President Biden will welcome Japan's prime minister, Fumio Kishida, to the White House today for a coveted state visit.

MARTIN: Beyond the 21-gun salute and black-tie dinner, the leaders are talking about how to deepen their cooperation on global security issues, including on China. But those shared interests could be overshadowed by a crack in the economic relationship. We're talking about a takeover bid for the iconic company U.S. Steel.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is in Studio 31 this morning. Franco, it's not a state dinner, but it's good to have you at our table.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Sorry you didn't bring the black tie, but I didn't either. OK, so there's this Japanese company, Nippon Steel, that wants to buy U.S. Steel. President Biden has raised concerns about this. How does this make the visit awkward?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it's going to make it very awkward. I mean, U.S. Steel late last year reached a nearly $15 billion deal with Nippon Steel. But there are a lot of forces trying to block the sale. You know, the United Steelworkers union, which represents thousands of U.S. steel workers across the country, and several influential lawmakers. Former President Donald Trump has said he'd block it if he were back in office. And Biden, who is counting on the union vote, announced last month that he opposes the deal, too. Now, Biden's intervention has caused some waves in diplomatic and trade circles because this is a private deal from a company in a country that is a very close ally to the United States.

INSKEEP: Although it is just classic American Midwestern politics. Keep your hands off my steel. You can just feel the echoes of this from many decades past. Is this actually going to be a subject to the summit?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, I think White House officials are insisting that they won't discuss it in their meetings, but reporters are very likely to raise it in the press conference. This is a very sensitive issue, as you can hear even from Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, when he was pressed about it yesterday during the briefing.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: You guys all know Joe Biden. You've seen Joe Biden. He's been very clear that he's going to stand up for American workers. He's going to defend their interests. He's also been very clear that he is going to make sure that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the strongest it's ever been. He's going to accomplish both of those things.

INSKEEP: Sullivan says this is what you should expect of Joe Biden. Is it normal that he would be doing this?

ORDOÑEZ: It's not normal. I mean, and there has been a lot of pushback from groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who said this could discourage foreign investment. Scott Lincicome, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, he told me that this contradicts the idea that the U.S. is open for business.

SCOTT LINCICOME: That really sends a bad signal, not just to Japan but to the world, that economics is not driving the bus.

ORDOÑEZ: And he says, what is driving the bus is politics. The reality is that U.S. Steel has been around for more than a hundred years. It's based in a critical swing state, Pennsylvania, and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, an important ally of Biden - he's opposed this, and he's in a very tight race of his own this fall.

INSKEEP: OK, so if this is not part of the official agenda of this state visit, what is?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, officials told us there is a long list of deliverables, more than 70. You know, that's a lot. So they're trying to show that the relationship is much bigger than just one deal. There are defense projects, space cooperation, AI research with major U.S. companies. You know they're going to focus on their work countering China in the Indo-Pacific. And, of course, they'll have the black-tie dinner, where the leaders will be entertained by singer Paul Simon.

INSKEEP: Hearts and bones. We'll try not to think too much. Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

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