March, 2014 | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Governor Cuomo bans fracking in New York. more wins »
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Blog Posts: March 2014

March 31st, 2014

The Fight Against Fracking is a Fight For Social Justice

California fracking rally

Left to right: Food & Water Watch’s Adam Scow, social justice leader Lupe Anguiano and The Center for Biological Diversity’s Hillary Aidun at the March 15, 2014, Don’t Frack California rally in Sacramento.

By Anna Ghosh

Today, March 31, we celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the co-founder of what we know today as the United Farm Workers; now in its 52nd year. His heroic leadership of a 5-year grape strike in Delano, California, in the 60s is chronicled in the newly released film Cesar Chavez. Through aggressive but nonviolent organizing, Chavez organized thousands of poor Latino workers throughout Central California to win higher wages, better working conditions and collective bargaining rights for generations of farmworkers.

I had the honor last week of having a conversation with an amazing woman who worked alongside Chavez in the 60s and has been fighting for social justice her entire life. Lupe Anguiano is a civil rights activist known for her work on women’s rights, the rights of the poor, and the protection of the environment. In 2006, she founded the environmental nonprofit Stewards of the Earth to provide educational, social and economic services to low-income and Indigenous people in the United States, Mexico and Latin America. In 2007 she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project and has an archive named after her at UCLA. Now, Anguiano’s fight for social justice has led her to fight fracking and dumping of toxic waste associated with fracking and drilling where she lives in Oxnard, California.

Here’s an excerpt from our talk:

How did you get involved working with Chavez? When the strike began I was a Catholic nun working with migrants and Latino people in Los Angeles. The grape growers didn’t adequately take care of their workers – they had no restrooms or clean water to drink – and it I felt that it was part of my mission as a nun to stand up for these workers rights. We would picket in Los Angeles where they would unload the grapes from Delano.

What led to you leaving the clergy to become a community organizer? The more I learned about the injustices being waged against Latinos, the more I got involved. I fought redlining (housing and financial discrimination), as did many religious people, but Cardinal McIntyre (who Harvard historian Lisa McGirr calls “the most extreme right-wing member of the American Catholic hierarchy), objected to Los Angeles clergy speaking out. He said we were getting too political, but we knew this was about social justice. This is what Christ did (stand up for the poor). Pope John XXIII even encouraged is, which gave me wings. But I continued to be reprimanded by the Cardinal, which led me to leave the order. I felt that I could do more as a layperson. This is when I was invited by Cesar to come to Delano. But then I was called to Washington by President Johnson to work on bilingual education.

What did you think of Washington? I was very disappointed, so I went back to Delano. Volunteers were paid $5 a week plus housing and food, but it was the most rewarding job of my life. I would get up at 3a.m. so I could ride in the truck with Cesar. He used great a great method of organizing to get the attention of workers and policy makers alike. He taught us the importance of nonviolence. I learned so much.

What is your personal connection to the land and agriculture? I am a Latina and Latinos build the agricultural industry in California. When I was a child, every summer we would pick fruit on the farm that my Uncle tended. Latino workers always protected and respected the soil, the land and the environment. Agriculture is what enriches our state. It’s what makes California so special and important. Why would we want to tarnish or risk the agricultural wealth of our state?

Why do you think Governor Brown can’t see how fracking and extreme extraction threatens California’s agricultural heritage? I’m completely disappointed by Brown. I have lived in California since I was in the third grade (Lupe is now 85), and every governor and president since I have lived here has protected our agriculture and environment. For example, Nixon initiated the Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts and when the big oil spill in Santa Barbara happened, Governor Reagan initiated CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). What is Governor Brown doing destroying California’s agricultural economy? Petroleum by its very nature destroys living organisms. Has he gone out of touch? I hear his wife is invested in petroleum and she’s probably influencing him. But how can a governor not understand that agriculture is so integral to our economy? Destruction of our agriculture is criminal. More than 50 percent of the nation’s fresh food comes from California and to destroy that would be it outrageously sinful.

Then there’s his rhetoric on climate change, but he continues to stand behind dirty fossil fuels. The whole thing is crazy. Can he not see the huge opportunities in renewable energy? We are leaving behind industrial era and moving into renewable technology. California is in the lead and our universities are set. The whole nation and world are moving towards more renewable sources. But Governor Brown’s lack of action to stop fracking and drilling could destroy California’s position as a leader in renewable energy.

What are you working on now? I live in Oxnard, which is the dumping ground of Ventura County. A few years ago, we fought tooth and nail to keep a liquefied natural gas terminal our or Oxnard. We won, but it’s a continuous battle. Now they’re dumping fracking waste in our strawberry fields and trying to build wells near an elementary school. They’re trying to turn Oxnard into a Bakersfield. Why aren’t they going to Thousand Oaks or Simi Valley? Because they would never allow it. We cannot allow our communities to become toxic dumping grounds. We’re not Texas, we’re not South Dakota.

What organizations do you think are doing the best work in this area? Groups that engage Latinos, like LULAC and the Latino Congreso, and groups that focus on agriculture, like Food & Water Watch, are critical. We must align ourselves. Food and water are the foundation for life. The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice have good attorneys, great research and information.

How can we make the most impact?  
We must cultivate more responsible leaders. We need more independent, “decline to state” voters. We need more young people to get politically active. Afterall, this is the world that they are inheriting.

Whether It’s “Energy Independence” or “Geopolitics” You Still Get Fracked

By Mitch Jones

 

Fracking rig and wastewater pit

Have you heard about the plan to create a virtual worldwide free trade zone for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG)?

Domestic politics blended with with geopolitical gamesmanship recently when Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced bills in their respective houses of Congress that would expedite approval of LNG exports to almost every nation in the world. Not coincidentally, the two are planning to face-off against one another in the fall elections.

Under the guise of providing support to Ukraine, both bills would remove current regulations controlling LNG exports from every member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) – that’s over 75 percent of all nations. This includes growing economies such as China, India and Brazil – and ironically, Russia. Earlier this month, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter argued that LNG shouldn’t be used as a geopolitical bargaining chip. This plan takes it to a whole new level. Read the full article…

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March 28th, 2014

Species Extinction on the Installment Plan

By Mitch Jones

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was in recognition of the increasing threat to the species from the ongoing drought in the Southwestern United States—and the main threat of habit loss and fragmentation—much from oil and gas development. In 2013, the lesser prairie chicken population fell more than 50 percent from 2012, leaving fewer than 18,000 of the birds living in its historic range.

While it is certainly good news—long overdue good news—that the FWS has listed the lesser prairie chicken, there’s a big caveat. Included in the listing is a loophole allowing oil and gas industry to “avoid further regulation” of their activities, so long as they enroll in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA’s) range-wide conservation plan. In other words, the oil and gas industry has an out from regulation if they make a financial contribution to “offset” the damage down to the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat.

Such plans are growing increasingly popular and are part of the broader push to financialize nature. Known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), the idea seems simple enough. Supporters argue that paying a landowner to preserve a particular natural feature—in this instance rangeland, but it could be forest or wet land—offsets damage done by industry in other areas. Through PES, a gas company wanting to drill can continue to do so and will be allowed to kill—or “take”—lesser prairie chickens so long as it pays into the plan. It’s species extinction on the installment plan.

Such plans really just undercut strong protections for endangered and threatened species. But even with this giant loophole, it could have been worse. A consortium of industry and nonprofit groups, lead by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has been pushing a “habitat credit exchange.” While somewhat similar to the plan adopted by the FWS, the habitat exchanges would go much further in pushing the financialization of nature. Instead of merely establishing a means for landowners to be paid to offset industrial destruction and disruption of lesser prairie chicken habitat, the exchange would allow for trading of conservation credits, and for the eventual price fluctuation that comes with commodity exchanges, as well as the temptation to hedge and speculate on those changes in price.

Instead of allowing oil and gas companies to pay-to-endanger threatened species, the Fish & Wildlife Service should enforce strict rules to preserve habitat and protect those species.

 

 

 

March 27th, 2014

Cities Don’t Need Expensive Private Financing Gimmicks

By Mitch Jones 

This week, the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s special Public-Private Partnership Panel held a roundtable discussion on the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) in water and wastewater systems. I was pleased to represent Food & Water Watch as the only witness critical of these needless corporate get-rich schemes. 

Read the full article…

March 25th, 2014

Q & A: Wenonah Hauter on GMOs and Activism

By Marissa Sherman, for GMO Inside

Wenonah Hauter has worked extensively on food, water, energy and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Her book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America looks into the corporate consolidation and control over our food system and how that affects farmers and consumers. She is a skilled and accomplished organizer. She’s lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans concerning many food and environmental issues. She has an M.S. in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland.

Q: In your opinion, what is the root of the GMO problem? Why should people care?

A: People should care because very little unbiased, independent scientific research has been done into the health and environmental implications of GMOs, and the industry works hard to keep it that way through inappropriately influencing our academic institutions and bullying scientists who don’t comply with their worldview. What we do know about GMO crops is troubling: the vast majority are designed with the sole purpose of withstanding large quantities of toxic pesticides and herbicides that pollute our environment and are linked to serious health problems. This overuse of agrichemicals is also giving rise to uncontrollable superweeds that cost farmers thousands to deal with. But the root of the problem is that GMOs are a tool that giant agribusinesses like Monsanto have used to dominate multiple sectors of agriculture and make the marketplace less competitive and more expensive for farmers.

Q: Do you see GMO labeling happening anytime soon? How do you think it might happen? State-by-state or at the national level?

A: A huge grassroots movement is gaining ground around the country. I’m excited about the grassroots state legislative campaigns going on now that are advancing GMO labeling and have the industry on the defensive. While strong national labeling legislation is the end game, we believe that Oregon’s ballot fight for labeling can be won this November and are on the steering committee of that effort. The legislative fights we’re involved with in New York, Illinois, California and Florida also look promising and coalitions in several other states are making great progress as well. The industry is on the wrong side of history on this issue – eventually this labeling will be required. Read the full article…

Dear President Obama: Big Oil and Safe Water Just Don’t Mix

By Katherine Cirullo

Pubic concern about the effects of fracking is escalating, and the breadth of actions people across the country are taking to stop this dirty method of energy extraction sure show it. Last fall, four cities in Colorado, a state peppered with gas fields, voted to pass bans or moratoria; and earlier this month, thousands of concerned community members flocked to the largest anti-fracking rally in California’s history.

Among those leading the charge against fracking are four individuals personally affected by the process,  (residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming) who, over the past year, have gone to great lengths to share their stories and expose the truth about the connection between fracking and water contamination. After the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) abandoned water contamination investigations in their respective communities despite evidence that the contamination was likely linked to fracking, these four courageously devoted their lives to making sure that hundreds of others don’t find themselves in the same tragic situation.

Craig Stevens, Ray Kemble, Steve Lipsky and John Fenton have garnered a massive support network to boot. Last fall, Americans Against Fracking and Stop the Frack Attack gathered 250,000 petitions from concerned citizens across the country demanding that the EPA re-open the investigations it abandoned in the three communities. In January, over 200 groups sent a letter to President Obama with the same message. Despite immense pressure, his administration has turned a blind eye and worse yet, failed to meet with affected families.

Recently, these four folks spoke out at a briefing on Capitol Hill, only this time they called on Congress for help. As John Fenton so aptly framed it:  “Congress, support the people you’re supposed to support.”

Read the full article…

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March 24th, 2014

Still Reckless After All These Years

By Kate Fried 

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the largest human-caused catastrophes in our history. Since then, the oil and gas industry has continued its quest to squeeze as many fossil fuels from the ground as possible, with little regard for public safety and the environment.  Read the full article…

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March 21st, 2014

Higher Education Brought to You By the Biotech Industry. Encore.

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Journalism and agriculture students, watch out.

 Your administrators are laying out the red carpet for corporate press junkets at a campus near you.

 Again.

 Last year, I reported on HungerU and Biotech University, billed as educational opportunities but actually greenwashing campaigns to promote corporate agribusiness. This week we get news that Hunger U is hitting the college circuit again, with a new slogan: “DuPont is Helping us Feed the World.”

 Exactly. DuPont helps us feed the world by selling pesticides and herbicide and GMOs.

Hunger U last year stopped at only a handful of universities, wooing students with a $2,500 grant and embarking on a mission to “educate college students about the significance of modern agriculture.” This year the program is traveling across the country, even stopping in the nation’s capital.

Events like Hunger U and Biotech University are an unfortunate sign of the times at our nation’s public universities, where corporations pour hundreds of millions of dollars into our agricultural colleges, distorting the science and perverting the mission of higher education. Increasingly the message from our universities really is: Dupont is Helping us Feed the World.

You find the names Monsanto, Cargill and Tyson emblazoned on university buildings around the country, and corporate representatives sometimes play key roles in determining the research direction of our agricultural colleges. In its most benign form, industry rolls up on campuses with programs like Hunger U or Biotech University.

Food & Water Watch detailed the ways in which industry is buying influence at our public universities in our report Public Research, Private Gain.

Don’t biotech and pesticide companies already have too much influence over our public universities? Do we really need to greenwash our campuses by inviting Hunger U to spread the gospel of agrochemicals and GMOs?  If you attend one of these schools, call your university administrators and tell them enough is enough.

Corporate Patronage at UCLA

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Tim Schwab

The University of California school system, as of late, has been no foe to big business, taking millions of dollars from corporations to conduct industry research. So it wasn’t a huge shocker to learn that UC Los Angeles’ law school took $4 million from Big Ag to create the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy. By Resnick, I mean Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire water barons.

Stewart Resnick could be considered one of the nation’s largest corporate farmers and campaign donors, sitting atop a fruit, flower and nut empire that calls itself the “largest farming operation of tree crops in the world.” In addition to being the largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios in the world, Resnick’s operations also have enormous citrus and pomegranate holdings, the latter of which drives one of his signature products, POM Wonderful brand juice.

Resnick’s farming operation covers 120,000 acres of land in California’s agriculturally rich – but water poor – Central Valley. While other farmers in the region often pray for rain, the Resnicks have played politics to control tens of millions of dollars in available water sources.

With this immense wealth, why do the Resnicks need UCLA on their side? From this UCLA press release, the Resnicks appear to be buying influence: “Through the publication and dissemination of policy briefs and position papers, the program will play a crucial role in shaping policy-making process.”

Our academic institutions – and especially our public schools like UCLA – play a critical role in providing the science and research used to shape policy making. What our food system looks like, to some great extent, is determined by what the experts from our public universities prescribe. And what they prescribe is increasingly a pro-industry stance, derived from the kind of corporate funding like the Resnicks recently provided.

Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars funding universities, paying for research, endowing professorships, naming buildings and engaging professors in lucrative consulting gigs. This largess buys friendly scientific reviews of corporate products and practices, which are used to secure favorable regulations from legislators. Favorable research from our public institutions also serves as a kind of stamp of approval that companies can peddle to their customers.

And the Resnicks clearly understand how this game works and use their financial largess to curry favor with public institutions and nonprofit groups that can help their companies. For example, the Resnicks acquired FIJI water in 2004, shipping water from the poor island nation all the way around the world to rich consumers in the West, growing FIJI into the most imported water to the United States. (If you don’t already know why bottled water is bad, read this.) In the face of controversy over this business scheme, Conservation International issued a press release talking about how great FIJI water is for the environment. No surprise, Stewart Resnick sits on the organization’s board.

This level of influence, earned through “philanthropy,” allows the Resnicks – and the Monsantos and Cargills and Tysons – to manipulate and confuse the public discourse to benefit their bottom line. At UCLA, the Resnicks most recent $4 million food policy program only adds to their influence, which also includes a seat on the executive board of UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute at the law school.

In our 2012 report Public Research, Private Gain, Food & Water Watch lays out the myriad ways that conflicts of interest spring from these industry partnerships and offers a few solutions. This influx of corporate money to our universities is not about philanthropy. It’s about the bottom line.

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GMOs: Marching Forward

On March 19, 2014, Food & Water Watch and its allies delivered a 2,500-signature petition to New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney to urge him to support GMO labeling legislation. From Left to Right: Katie McCarthy, Jim Wilday, Stephanie Rossi, Jennifer Kolarsick, Steph Compton and Nicole Souza.

By Anna Ghosh

Food & Water Watch has been fighting – and winning – campaigns to defend consumers’ right to know what’s in their food since its inception in 2005. As a result of our campaign, Starbucks committed to make its stores rBGH-free in 2007, and in 2008, we successfully fought in nine states to keep rBGH-Free labels on dairy products. In 2009 we won a campaign to get the federal school lunch program to specifically allow schools to use federal dollars to choose rBGH-Free milk for their students.

Since 2010, we’ve collected more than 150,000 signatures opposing the FDA’s approval on AquaBounty’s GE salmon, and in 2011 and 2012, along with our allies Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Sum of Us, Corporate Accountability International and CREDO Action, we collected more than half a million signatures from consumers refusing to purchase genetically engineered (GMO) sweet corn and asking Walmart not to sell the biotech corn. We’ve also been involved in collecting and submitting official comments to oppose dozens of new GMO crops that have been considered since we started in 2005.

Over the past few years, our focus has been on the fight to label GMOs. Despite the narrow defeats of Prop 37 in California in 2012 and I-522 in Washington last year, momentum around GMO labels has never been stronger. Food & Water Watch is on the ground in over 12 states, joining with national, regional, and local allies to make GMO food labels the law once and for all. Here are the latest updates from our field team: Read the full article…

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