March, 2012 | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


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Blog Posts: March 2012

March 29th, 2012

A (Pipe)line Even Chevron Won’t Cross

By Scott Edwards

It was one of those infrequent eye-openers that went largely unnoticed. On March 13, 2012 Chevron submitted an emergency motion to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, raising “serious environmental concerns” with a planned natural gas pipeline that is charted to run across land belonging to Chevron’s subsidiary, Texaco. The 16 mile long pipeline, proposed by Spectra Energy, is slated to bring fracked gas from New Jersey, across Texaco’s property in Bayonne, under the Hudson River and into the West Village in Manhattan. Now it seems that one of the dirtiest industries on Earth is siding with environmentalists who have been raising concerns for months about the adverse impacts of the Spectra pipeline.

Chevron is a company that has engaged in some of the most horrific environmental and human rights crimes across the planet. In Ecuador they poisoned Amazonian rainforest communities with hundreds of unlined oil pits and billions of gallons of poisonous sludge poured into local water sources. In Nigeria, Chevron has been linked to the deaths of indigenous activists who were against irresponsible oil production in the countryside. And just last week in Brazil, Chevron executives had their passports confiscated by a judge so they couldn’t flee the country after Brazilian prosecutors laid criminal charges arising from an oil spill. This is a company that sees the environment merely as a convenient place to dump its wastes, where every pristine land mass is a landfill in waiting and every waterway an opportunity to dilute their toxics. If Chevron has environmental concerns about a project, then you know that truly unmitigated devastation of biblical proportions is imminent. The end may truly be near. 

Chevron’s issue with the Spectra project is related to the release of benzene, a known human carcinogen, into the surrounding waterways and communities should the pipeline be built as planned. Of course, Chevron doesn’t really care about the ecological impacts of the Spectra pipeline – they’re concerned with their own liability for the additional releases of benzene from the highly polluted parcel of land they own that the pipeline would bring. Predictably, they’re not looking out for the environment, they’re looking out for their pocketbook. It just happens to be one of those very rare moments when corporate greed and community health happen to overlap. 

Nevertheless, Chevron’s concerns add to a long list of environmental and public health problems cited by environmental groups and community members who have been opposing the Spectra pipeline since its inception. The pipeline will cut through some of the most heavily industrialized and densely populated areas of New Jersey and New York – areas that already bear a disproportionate share of environmental burdens. The impact from construction activities alone will expose members of these communities to increased levels of health-damaging particulate matter in an area that is chronically in Non-Attainment for the Clean Air Act’s ambient air quality standards for PM2.5. Construction of the pipeline will also potentially impact numerous freshwater wetlands and other waterbodies and the species they support, in addition to disturbing already contaminated areas and thereby raising the potential for further exposing these communities to harmful contamination. Moreover, the operation of the pipeline in the midst of vulnerable communities increases the risk of exposure to hazardous air pollutants.

FERC, the federal agency that licenses and approves the Spectra pipeline, has been ignoring numerous concerns raised by the local and environmental communities. Just three days after Chevron filed its emergency request to halt the pipeline, FERC issued the final Environmental Impact Statement greenlighting the project. Given the agency’s willingness to kowtow to the big energy industries, one can only assume that Chevron’s request and FERC’s approval must have crossed in the mail. Whatever the case, this may be the only time in life I ever root for Chevron. 

The Spectra pipeline is an accident waiting to happen in one of the most heavily populated regions of the country. In addition, it’s being proposed to help facilitate the devastating practice of gas fracking in the Marcellus shale region. The environmental impacts of the project are undeniable. If you don’t believe the environmentalists, just ask Chevron.


March 23rd, 2012

Grist Needs to Dig Deeper on Industrial Fish Farms

By Mitch Jones

Today, our friends over at Grist published a story about the attempt to bring open ocean aquaculture, that is, industrial fish farms, to U.S. territorial waters. The story is based on a recent press release from Kampachi Farms trumpeting their recent attempts to demonstrate the viability of drifting cages in the open ocean.

Unfortunately the story leaves out many of the questions that surround this project…

First, while the story says the purpose of the Velella Project was to show that the cages could operate in open waters, the cages have been seen only four miles off the coast and have attracted wild species that would normally be fished. The presence of these cages will likely have a negative impact on local fishermen’s ability to catch fish, not only because they attract wild fish, but also because of the harm they could cause to the local marine environment.

Second, fish escapes and equipment loss can also reap havoc on the environment immediately surrounding fish farms. In the summer of 2011, Kona Blue Water Farms reported that they lost two of their empty net pens while towing them out to sea, as the Grist story mentions. What is left unsaid is that the whereabouts of one of these cages is unknown. Attempts to sink it failed and it may still be floating at or just below the surface of the water creating a potential hazard for shipping activity. No environmental study of the impacts has been conducted on the sinking of the second cage.

Third, despite initial claims that the project would produce 2,000 fish at 8,000 pounds total, the company’s release is completely silent on how much fish was produced, leading us to question how much of a success it actually was. The public has a right to know all the facts. After all, the project was partly funded with U.S. tax dollars: $500,000 from the National Science Foundation and $242,889 from National Marine Fisheries Service.

Finally, if this project was a much of a success as the company claims, and is reported in this story, how come the next phase of the project will use anchored cages? If the project successfully proved the viability of drifting cages, why won’t the cages be drifting any longer? And, if the next round of cages are anchored, what does this mean for the supposed environmental benefits of having the cages drift? Surely anchored cages will not lead to the wide dispersal of fish waste promised by this project.

Instead of providing a solution, the Velella Project raises serious problems with the concept of open ocean aquaculture. To learn more about the decade-plus track record of setbacks and failures in open ocean aquaculture read our report Fishy Farms.

March 22nd, 2012

Help Us Prevent the Next Global Water Crisis

Take Action to Protect our Water on World Water Day

By Kate Fried

March 22 may not be a date that means something to everyone, but around here it’s one of our favorite days of the year. That’s because today is World Water Day, when we reflect on the importance of freshwater resources and advocate for their sustainable management. It’s really not a lot different than any other day of the year, but on World Water Day, we’re reminded more than ever of the momentum behind the global effort to protect our essential water resources.

This year on World Water Day, we’re fired up over fracking. In the United States this controversial form of energy extraction has wreaked havoc on rural communities, polluting drinking water, destroying property values and endangering public health. But apparently this isn’t enough for the oil and gas industry, which has its sites set on conquering lands abroad as well.

Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is getting in on the action as well, further fulfilling the Obama administration’s apparent desire to cozy up to the oil and gas industry by suggesting that Bulgaria join the natural gas rush. Too bad for her the Bulgarian Parliament recently voted 166 to six to suspend shale gas exploration.

To celebrate World Water Day and to protect water abroad, we’re reminding Secretary of State Clinton that people everywhere need access to safe, clean, affordable water and energy plans that offer clean, green, sustainable power, not ones that destroy water and cause a mess of public health problems.

Take a stand for fresh water and join us in reaching out to Secretary of State Clinton. Ask her to protect our allies overseas, not do the oil and gas industry’s dirty work.

March 20th, 2012

Why the Water Justice Movement Was Denied Equal Press Access at the World Water Forum

By Wenonah Hauter

Last week, we sent a letter to World Water Forum organizers asking to hold a press conference there about the fact that Veolia, Suez and Saur—among the biggest private water corporations globally—are being investigated for price fixing in the EU. After all, the forum organizers claimed that their space is open to all opinions. We believe that it’s important the attendees know that Veolia, Suez and Saur have longstanding ties with the World Water Council, the force behind the Forum. And after all, AquaFed, the lobbying group for private water companies, along with dozens of other economic interests at the forum held official press conferences.

Of course, it’s no big surprise that we were denied access to the forum infrastructure for our press conference.

Their answer as to why our request was denied was somewhat entertaining. They said it was “unethical”.

At the end of his letter, Mr. Benedito Braga, President of the International Forum Committee, called our attempt to use the Forum’s  “infrastructure” “unethical” on the grounds that Maude Barlow and I refused to participate in the debate on public/private involvement in the provision of water services. It’s true that we declined to debate, telling them that they needed to hear from someone representing the Global South whose community had been impacted by privatization first hand, and we suggested an activist from the Philippines, Maria Theresa N. Lauron (who did a great job at the debate).

As expected, the forum turned us down because they are not a legitimate or participatory body on global water policy. They have an agenda, and our message undermines their plans to profit from water services.

If our effort to show the forum’s true colors was “unethical”, then the water industry’s use of the forum to make profit off of the billion people that lack access to clean water is a downright travesty.

March 16th, 2012

What You Do Matters — Whatever It Is — in the Work to Ban Fracking

By Lane Brooks
Take action to ban fracking.

This past weekend I heard Sandra Steingraber speak before a concert to benefit several New York organizations working to ban fracking. Sandra recently won a Heinz Award, which came with a cash award of $100,000. She is using that money to do what she can to ban fracking in New York. Many people have told her that big oil is spending many millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising and that she is just wasting her money, which, even though she is a noted author, is more than she has ever seen at one time in her life. To the people who tell her that she can’t make a difference, she retells the following fable:

Once, a fire broke out in a dense forest. This forest was home to many animals of every kind. As the fire spread, the animals moved away from it, but the forest was dry and the fire raced through the trees. Now terrified, the creatures fled to the river edge and huddled in fear. But a little parrot, who could not sit and wait for the fire to destroy everything, flew over the river and scooped up a beak of water. Then he flew over the burning forest and let the water fall into the flames. He repeated this over and over, but the fire just grew wilder. The other animals shouted up at him to stop wasting his time, that it was too late to save their homes. But the parrot said, “I am doing what I can,” and kept on.

The flames grew higher, singeing his feathers as he flew over the raging fire, but he continued bringing water a beak-full at a time. Then the gods looked down and said, “Little parrot, you can’t save the forest. Stop before you perish.” But the parrot said to the gods, “I don’t need your advice. I need your help,” and continued to do what he could. The gods, touched by the little parrot’s bravery and humiliated by their own defeatism, began to weep. Their flood of tears put out the fire and saved the forest for all of the animals.

Yes, the oil industry is enormous and not easily stopped.

But what you do matters — whatever it is. Are you a parrot?

March 15th, 2012

What is Sodium Tripolyphosphate Doing in Your Fish?

By Marie Logan

Seafood lovers beware: there’s a chemical that threatens to deceive you about the freshness of your flaky fillets of fish. You might be paying more for seafood that contains this chemical, because it can increase the weight of the products to which it’s applied. Worse, you might not even know it’s there, because labeling of this potentially toxic chemical is not mandatory in the U.S.

So what is it? It’s an additive—called sodium tripolyphosphate, or STPP for short—and it is used to make your seafood appear firmer, smoother and glossier. Seafood manufacturers may soak your seafood in a quick chemical bath of STPP in order to achieve these effects. Some of the more commonly “soaked” seafood items include scallops, shrimp and anything filleted that’s very flaky—like hake, sole or imitation crab meat. (For those of you following food safety news, this is similar to the spraying of carbon monoxide on red meat, which can make older meat appear fresher than it is.)

If seafood is soaked for too long in an STPP bath, it may absorb more water, which means you’ll pay more for the product by the pound because the excess water makes it weigh more. A product may have been “soaked” with STPP if a milky white liquid oozes from the fish as you cook it, and it may also deflate in size a bit.

In large quantities, STPP is a suspected neurotoxin, as well as a registered pesticide and known air contaminant in the state of California.

How can one steer clear of STPP? Ask at your market or fish shop if the scallops or shrimp you’re being sold are “dry.” You can ask the same thing of waiters at seafood restaurants—they should have an understanding of the topic. (In industry-speak, “wet” fish means a product has been soaked in phosphates.) You can also check labels of packaged products, which may list STPP as an ingredient. Unfortunately, it’s not mandatory for companies and sellers to do so.

Remember, consumers have the power. Start wielding yours today! Find out where the fish you’re ordering comes from, and how it’s produced, to help influence your local food system.

Read up more on STPP in our fact sheet, “What’s on Your Fish?” As always, if you have any questions, please post them here in our comments section and we’ll do our best to respond in a timely manner.

API’s Bait and Switch

By Hugh MacMillanBan Fracking!

Faced with the current glut of cheap natural gas, the shale gas industry has begun to slow its overzealous pace of drilling and fracking in the Northeast. Chesapeake Energy has announced it will slash the number of new drilling rigs in Pennsylvania by 68 percent (from 75 to 24). Why? Because natural gas is simply too cheap to justify the financial costs of drilling and fracking; the public health and environmental costs, of course, are another story.

Now, with a convenient new report, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is artfully setting the stage for blaming the U.S. EPA for this slowdown in new shale gas drilling. The report decries soon-to-be-finalized EPA rules that would force the industry to gradually adopt “green completion” technology at new wells. This technology captures volatile organic compounds, which contribute to smog and other public health problems, and also captures methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global climate change.

API argues that in the few years it would take to ramp up the availability of green technology, fewer new wells would be drilled. They then warn that this will mean government revenues will decline in these few years. But this ignores the fact that any near-term losses in revenues would be recovered as the finite source of shale gas is depleted in subsequent years.

Reading between the lines of the report, it is clear that API believes it is not economic to drill and frack for shale gas if the industry is forced to take just a small step in reducing its environmental footprint and address only some of its air pollution – never mind the rest of its pollution.

They think they’ve got us where they want us: at their mercy. But this fixation on near-term profit, whatever the long-term consequences, is fueling a response. Communities around the country are working to ban fracking.

These communities want sustainable solutions for economic growth, and they have come to recognize that being at the center of a temporary shale gas bubble will create more problems than it solves.

Why World Water Forum “Solutions” Miss The Mark

A display in the “slum” tent at the World Water Forum’s Village of Solutions.

By Wenonah Hauter

Yesterday I walked around the “solution tents” at the 6th World Water Forum, which is more clearly than ever a trade show for the water industry to sell expensive services and products. Arranged as a “village,” the exhibit offered no vision for a future that addresses the source of pollution or the reason that millions of people lack access to water. From the tents labeled “factory” and “slum” to the “bank” and “library” exhibits, the failure to address the real problems was Kafkaesque. 

Take the factory exhibit. In no place there was the cause of pollution mentioned. There was no suggestion that we should prevent pollution to begin with, or that waterways should not be the dumping ground for human waste or factory waste. In fact, pollution was never mentioned at all. The organizers of this corporate forum see pollution as a profit center to be cleaned by a range of technologies. So, instead of addressing water pollution issues, the exhibit featured an expensive machine that packages water in little plastic bags that are sold to people during disasters. It displayed the Hippo Roller, a nifty technology that is essentially a barrel on wheels that makes it easy for women to transport water. It featured a stand with two buckets, one above the other, that was for hand washing.

The slum tent, designed to mirror any of the millions of impoverished neighborhoods that have become the norm in urban areas, shows the real agenda at the forum—making money for the water industry. Most outrageous in the tent was Veolia’s water fountain with a coin slot and a place to use a smart card to access water. According to the provided literature, if the prepaid credit made available to a “target population” by authorities is depleted before the end of the month, users can recharge their card in commercial and mobile agencies at special prices. If this is the best the World Water Forum can do for the world’s poor—prepaid cards for water at a fountain—they should pack up today and go home. Read the full article…

March 14th, 2012

Two Pictures of the World Water Forum Are Worth A Thousand Words

 VIPs vs. Everyone ElseBy Darcey Rakestraw

We’ve said that the World Water Forum is a corporate trade show masquerading as a multilateral forum. Others have pointed out that the high fee for full access to the conference (up to 700 euros) is prohibiting participation by the grassroots. Still others have reported that security is high, and activists are being profiled and arrested.

Now, we’re wondering if the organizers have fully thought out the logistics of welcoming guests.

The forum has two very different entrances, depending on whether you are a VIP or not. The first entrance is a nice, welcoming one, and yesterday we surmised that it was the general entrance to the conference. But the man standing in front of the barricade shooed us away because we didn’t have the proper credentials. The photo of the second entrance, taken today by a colleague, is a shabby side door. This is where they gained access to the conference today.

If the World Water Forum wants to maintain even the veneer of inclusivity, they might want to ditch the separate-but-not-so-equal approach to conference attendees each day as they enter.

March 13th, 2012

Five Arrested at World Water Forum

By Darcey Rakestraw

A water activist at the World Water Forum provided us with this summary in English of yesterday’s action where five people were arrested:  

What a nasty surprise this morning! Walking out the metro station we stopped at the gates of the World Water Forum, and saw that a multitude of riot police had taken the place. It is difficult to talk about numbers, but certainly those policeman were more than the people walking on the street or registered for the official forum.

Meanwhile, a group of activists from the international movement for water justice, along with the occupy movement, did a peaceful action to highlight the lack of access for citizens to this space. The music, colors and smiles where a clear danger to public security to be avoided.

Forced by this offence to public security, police needed to arrest 5 persons and detain people walking by without giving any justification. Those arrested have been kept 3 ½ hours in the headquarters without receiving any explanation. Read the full article…

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