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Blog Posts: Common Resources

July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

July 10th, 2014

Taking Back Our Democracy, One Step at a Time

By Mitch Jones

On June 17 I wrote a blog about efforts in the United States Senate to move forward a Constitutional Amendment that would overturn the disastrous Citizens United ruling.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the raising and spending of money in federal and state elections, last year. This summer, the resolution is moving towards a possible vote on the floor of the Senate.

Citizens United opened the door to an obscene amount of corporate dollars flowing into political campaigns. The case had three major components that have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics… 

  1. It found that free speech rights are about the speech, not the speaker (in other words, it doesn’t matter who’s speaking, but that speaking is taking place.)
  2. The case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood.
  3. Since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny.

The way the amendment would work is that it would give the federal and state governments the clear constitutional authority to regulate how money is raised and spent in elections – just as they’ve been doing for over 100 years before Citizens United.

Already, pundits are predicting that the 2016 Presidential election will cost considerably more than the $2 billion spent in 2012. Most of that money, we know, will come from corporate interests trying to buy influence in whatever administration takes over in 2017. That’s why we need to let the politicians in Washington know we are fed up with dollars trumping votes and corporations trumping people.

It’s time to get the money out of politics and put the people back in.

On July 10, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee will consider the resolution. If it passes it will move to the full Senate for a possible vote.

Email your Senators today and ask them to support S.J. Res. 19 when it comes up for a vote.

 

June 17th, 2014

The First Step in Overturning Citizens United

By Mitch Jones

This Wednesday the Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice will be holding a vote on a Constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. 

Citizens United opened the door to an obscene amount of corporate dollars flowing into political campaigns. The case had three major components that have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics… 

  1. It found that free speech rights are about the speech, not the speaker (in other words, it doesn’t matter who’s speaking, but that speaking is taking place.)
  2. The case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood.
  3. Since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny.

So, Citizens United basically allowed corporate financing of elections to be protected as free speech. This is money spent by people like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson trying to buy elections to ensure they have a Congress and a President that is willing to do their bidding.

The only way to ensure that we get rid of this terrible ruling is to amend the Constitution. That’s why Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and 43 of his Senate colleagues have introduced S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the raising and spending of money in federal and state elections. It’s a simple fix to a major problem.

Send your senators an email and ask them to support the Udall Amendment

June 9th, 2014

Getting Nowhere Fast With Offsets, Cap-and-trade and the New EPA Power Plant Rule

By: Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Food & Water Watch, along with allies like the Institute for Policy Studies, is raising the alarm: offsets, cap-and-trade and the new EPA proposed power plant rule will not achieve the emissions reductions necessary to prevent severe repercussions from climate change. If you pay attention, the warning signs have already begun.

A closer look at the EPA’s proposed rule to reduce GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants shows that it relies heavily on fuel switching to achieve reductions. It promotes natural gas as an energy alternative to coal. But this in turn supports fracking — the highly polluting and dangerous process of extracting natural gas — leaving us in no better position, if not worse off. Substituting one fossil fuel for another changes nothing. Read the full article…

June 2nd, 2014

President Obama’s Carbon Rule: Too Little, Too Late?

pollution tradingBy Mitch Jones

Today, President Obama unveiled his long awaited rule to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Unfortunately, the plan isn’t bold enough to affect the change we need.

To what depths have we sunk when embracing a failed 25-year-old right wing policy is hailed as a radical move for a Democratic president?

Recently both the International Panel on Climate Change and the President’s own National Assessment on Climate Change have sounded the alarm. Anthropogenic climate change is real, it is happening, and unless we drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the air, it will only get worse.

That means more extreme weather: dry areas becoming drier, leading to more droughts. Wet areas becoming wetter, leading to more floods. Our increasingly acidic oceans’ levels rising. More extreme, violent storms.

The President’s target for emissions cuts is too low. After the Supreme Court recently validated the EPA’s authority to regulate cross border air pollution, the administration had a green light to go bold. Instead they flinched. The targets don’t make the U.S. a leader in seeking emissions reduction. Because this rule applies to only one segment of our economy, existing coal-fired power plants, the reduction targets fall far short of the IPCC’s goals of economy-wide reductions of 15 to 40 percent below 1990 emission by 2020. With these targets, U.S. economy-wide emissions would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.

What’s more, even that unambitious target is undermined by the President’s decision to let states use cap and trade as a mechanism for meeting the target. The problem is that cap and trade doesn’t work; it merely lets polluters keep polluting as long as they are willing to pay for the right to do so. Cap-and-trade has a 25-year history here in the U.S., but it’s based on a false premise. As NASA scientist James Hansen said, it “perpetuates the exact pollution it is supposed to eliminate.”

Carbon reduction programs like cap-and-trade should not be a substitute for regulation. They are difficult to implement, create unneeded problems with unfair credit distribution, and threaten the stability of the marketplace. Above all, they benefit current polluters at the expense of everyone else. It’s merely a substitution of economic abstractions in place of actual regulation.

Instead of allowing states to play an emissions shell game with cap-and-trade, the President should have set an ambitious target, prohibited states from using false solutions like cap-and-trade or switching to natural gas generation, and allowed them to come up with real solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

When your target is 25 years down the road, you can’t afford incremental change. This will be the final rule for quite some time. Aiming low, allowing carbon emissions above 1990 levels, and using a mechanism that won’t get the reductions we need isn’t leadership. It’s a mistake.

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May 23rd, 2014

Chesapeake Bay: Where MD Stores Its Fertilizer and Chicken Manure

By Mitch Jones

 

Photo by Jlastras.

In a new report the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science gives an overall health grade to the Chesapeake Bay of a “C” for 2013. The report claims that the Bay’s health has remained steady from 2012 to 2013, except for one major problem: there is “a continuing degradation of the Eastern Shore” due to runoff from agriculture.

 

Pollution caused by agricultural runoff is one of the reasons Food & Water Watch supported legislation in this year’s Maryland General Assembly that would have provided more funding for cover crop programs. Delegate Shane Robinson in the House and Senator Rich Madaleno in the Senate introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act that would have placed a 5-cent per head fee on the large poultry companies on the Eastern Shore. The birds owned by those companies produced about 1.5 billion pounds of manure each year. The new report notes that “it’s the fertilizer and chicken manure that’s causing the problems” for Eastern Shore waterways. Read the full article…

May 15th, 2014

Closed-Door Agreement Shuts Out U.S. Fishing Industry and Consumers

the fight over fish quotaBy Patrick Woodall

This week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) trade negotiators met in secret in Vietnam to hammer out the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While many Wall Street and Big Business issues were reportedly discussed — like extending copyrights and patents and securing overseas corporate investment rights — protections for consumers continue to receive short shrift.

And that is a shame, because Vietnam is the perfect venue to discuss seafood safety and the impact that the global fish trade has on consumers and independent fishing businesses here in the United States. Vietnam is one of the biggest exporters of fish-farmed catfish and shrimp and many of these seafood products are raised with veterinary medicines or chemicals that are unsafe and illegal in the United States. U.S. border inspections have failed to keep pace with the flood of imports and dangerous imports may be slipping past the safety inspectors.

The TPP poses significant risks for both American fishing and fish farming businesses as well. Imports make up the vast majority — more than 90 percent — of the seafood eaten in the United States. In 2012, about one-third of all fish and seafood imports came from TPP countries and shrimp and catfish imports from Vietnam have increased significantly. Oftentimes, these shrimp and catfish are imported at unfair and illegally low prices, undercutting U.S. shrimpers and catfish farmers.

The TPP negotiators could address some of these key issues and ensure that the trade pact includes key protections for consumers and for independent fishing businesses and fish farms in the United States. This week, Representative Walter Jones (NC) spearheaded a letter, with other members of Congress, to USTR Ambassador Froman demanding that negotiators address key concerns on their trip to Vietnam.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION

The letter notes that “Vietnam’s aquaculture and fisheries industry has been a scofflaw of U. food safety and trade rules for too long, these negotiations provide a key leverage point to ensure that Vietnam’s industry plays by the rules and does not unfairly disadvantage American fishing an aquaculture industries or imperil consumes with dangerous seafood exports.”

USTR needs to put the needs of consumers and independent small fishing and fish farming businesses on an equal footing with the corporate special interests who have set America’s free trade agenda for too long. Representative Jones is leading the charge to make sure that free trade deals don’t drown our consumers and fishing communities in a tidal wave of unsafe imported fish.

 

 

 

May 2nd, 2014

Water Privatization Coming to Your Town, Thanks to the WTO?

By Mitch Jones

 

Water Privatization

Read Public Services International’s latest report, “TISA Versus Public Services”.

With your help, we at Food & Water Watch have been working with a broad alliance of organizations to push back against the pro-corporate trade agenda being negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. While we’ve made some progress, the fight is far from over, and it could impact your local water services.

Evidence of that fact is the necessity of a new report by our friends at Public Services International: TISA Versus Public Services: The trade in services agreement and the corporate agenda.

Negotiations for TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement, began in 2012 when a group of 20 World Trade Organization (WTO) members formed the “Really Good Friends of Services” (no, I’m not making that up). These Really Good Friends decided to negotiate a new deal outside of the normal WTO framework.

Like the TPP and TTIP, the TISA would undercut domestic regulations designed to protect local workers and small businesses, as well as the environment, so that large multinational corporations could reap larger profits. Little wonder when the Really Good Friends’ really good friends –- the banks, oil and gas industry, and private water companies, among others –- have been pushing for this agreement. TISA would allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favorable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time it would block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services. Under TISA, privatization of local water systems would be made easier, and fights against privatization would be made harder. Oh, and it could use investor-state dispute resolution to allow foreign companies to sue our local governments if they don’t like our laws and regulations, just like the TPP and TTIP. It’s outrageous!

TISA is really just another effort by large corporations and the big banks that fund them to push an agenda that they can’t get passed through democratic means. It’s part of the same agenda being pushed in the U.S. by the Koch brothers and ALEC. And, with the Supreme Court paving the way for these same companies to pour millions upon millions of dollars into our elections, we need to fight back harder than ever.

Read the report by Public Services International. Then, email your Member of Congress and tell them you oppose fast track trade deals that will undermine our laws and harm our communities and our environment.

May 1st, 2014

From “Pay-to-Pollute” to “Free-to-Pollute” in California

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

On April 25, Governor Brown’s California Air Resources Board (CARB), the agency charged with reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions, approved new amendments that weaken its cap-and-trade program — a dubious scheme that allows California’s biggest polluters to pay to keep on polluting.  E&E Newswire reports that these changes will make it “less expensive” for companies to adhere to the cap-and-trade program by giving them more free allowances.

CARB is also expanding their offsets program to accept coalmine methane capture projects as part of a new sector of auxiliary offsets (E&E Newswire, April 28). Not only are these amendments a continuation of pay-to-pollute, but also an extension of allowing big polluters to pollute for free — putting us right back where we started.

These changes mean that CARB is now going even easier on polluters, making it cheaper for them to comply and giving them yet another loophole to avoid reducing emissions. How does this help to permanently reduce emissions? It doesn’t. These changes strengthen the pay-to-pollute mentality of cap-and-trade and offset schemes, and further weaken the chance of any real pollution reductions.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have already gone above 400 ppm twice this year, 50 ppm higher than what scientists say is needed to have a healthy and stable climate. The climate crisis is here and Governor Brown should not be coddling the industries responsible for getting us here in the first place. Issuing more free allowances to some of the biggest offenders is backwards and completely ineffective.

E & E Newswire’s Debra Kahn reports… 

“Petroleum refiners, industrial gas manufacturers, steel and aluminum processors, food manufacturers, breweries and apparel manufacturers will receive all of the allowances they should need for free through 2017, rather than 75 percent as previously planned. From 2018 through 2020, they will receive 75 percent, up from 50 percent.”

CARB cites that giving away these allowances for free will “extend transition assistance for the industrial sector through the second compliance period (2015-2017) as businesses undertake needed investments to cut their emissions.” But these sectors don’t need assistance; they include multi-million and billion dollar industries that can afford to invest in the technologies they need to reduce their pollution now and in the near-term.

But it gets worse. The newly approved class of offsets from coalmine methane capture is one of the most backward options yet. Coal is one of the highest polluting fossil fuels around and it doesn’t just cause methane emissions. Mining and burning coal also emits carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, mercury and several other harmful pollutants and greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Generating offsets from capturing methane emissions at coalmines allows a polluter in California to pay another polluter (the coalmine) for capturing its methane emissions. But what happens to the methane once it is captured? It can either be destroyed through flaring, which creates CO2 emissions as a by-product, or the coalmine can make further profits by selling the captured methane for end-use options like generating heat, electricity and other forms of fuel.

Not only will emissions continue at the source in California, but also methane would simply be exchanged for other GHGs released from flaring the methane or using it for fuel.

Instead of furthering its pay-to-pollute, or with these changes free-to-pollute, schemes, Governor Brown, who talks a big game about fighting climate change, needs to work for real emissions reductions. The only true options to reduce emissions are to stop pollution at the source without exceptions, and replace highly polluting fossil fuels with renewable energy. Governor Brown must stop putting profits over people, the environment and our future.

 

 

April 30th, 2014

Thank You Food & Water Watch Volunteers!

By Mark Schlosberg

At Food & Water Watch, we take on powerful interest groups to protect our food and water – big agribusiness and chemical companies, massive private water companies, and big oil and gas companies. We might not be able to match these corporations dollar for dollar, but due to the many wonderful volunteers who work with us, we are able to build winning campaigns.

As the Organizing Director at Food & Water Watch I have been fortunate enough to watch our volunteers truly make a difference – by helping out in our state offices, tabling at events and participating in phone banking opportunities. Many of our volunteers also end up leading campaigns and taking on larger organizing efforts – planning rallies, lobby visits and campaign strategy meetings. Leaders like these truly give us the ability to go toe-to-toe with powerful interest groups as we work to protect our essential resources 

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and we would like take a moment to thank all of the people who take time our of their day to help us out. Volunteers from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, California and all the way to Brussels, Belgium: you guys ROCK. And because words alone do not do your hard work justice, we created a special thank you message from some of our on-the-ground organizers. 

Food & Water Watch is made up of researchers, communicators, organizers and technological wizards, but an equally essential part of this organization and the work that we do are the many passionate and dedicated volunteers who, every day, build power in their communities. Whether you have petitioned, helped plan a local event, organized a rally or made calls to your state legislators – your efforts are critical to growing a movement to protect our food, water, planet and democracy. You inspire your communities and you inspire us. For all of this, we could not be more grateful! 

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