Common Resources | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
X

Welcome!

You're reading Smorgasbord from Food & Water Watch.

If you'd like to send us a note about a blog entry or anything else, please use this contact form. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or follow the take action link above.

Blog Categories

Blog archives

Stay Informed

Sign up for email to learn how you can protect food and water in your community.

   Please leave this field empty

Blog Posts: Common Resources

November 5th, 2014

Can 1 Million People Stop a Bad Trade Deal for Europe?

By Eve Mitchell

This Is One Doozey of a Trade Deal
This trade deal is such a doozey, it made more than 721,000 EU citizens hopping mad in a couple of weeks. Nothing makes citizens angry faster than being ignored. The executive director of War on Want and one of the citizens named in the official Stop TTIP ECI proposal summed it up nicely: “These trade deals are already facing unprecedented opposition for their secrecy and unaccountability, but now we are denied even the right to petition our own EU leaders. An unelected executive [the Commission], facing growing vocal opposition, has put its hands over its ears.”We don’t want the TTIP.We have to stop the TTIP.

Act now.

Take Action to stop the TTIP.

In July, a group of people set off to do a hard thing, but an important thing.

They wanted to collect 1 million signatures.

Once attained, those 1 million signatures would force the European Commission to discuss an immediate halt to the ongoing trade talks between the EU and U.S. These talks are known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. For short, they are called the TTIP.

Having already achieved nearly three-quarters of the signatures through the European Commission’s official process — the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) — we should be celebrating.

We aren’t celebrating. Here’s why:

On 11 September, just days before the ECI was to launch publicly by 230 organisations in 21 countries, the Commission announced that it was rejecting the ECI altogether. It claimed that the call to stop the TTIP “falls outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union”. The Commission argued that we could use an ECI to request an agreement, but we can’t use an ECI to stop something we didn’t ask for and don’t want.

We are not waiting for permission to try to stop this very bad trade deal.

As Karl Baer on the Stop TTIP ECI steering committee aptly points out, “Democracy arises through social intervention and participation in the political process; it is not something to be granted or denied by Brussels.”

So the ECI has re-formed and will carry on regardless of the Commission’s disapproval. In fact, not only are we collecting signatures to halt the TTIP talks, we are appealing to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against the Commission’s rejection of the official ECI.

It’s a wide-ranging mess that threatens to lower the standards that it took us generations to secure in employment and social policy, environmental protection, food safety, privacy, consumers’ rights, the deregulation of public services like water and everything else swept into these secretive discussions. It controversially includes a so-called investor-state dispute settlement mechanism that would enable companies to side-step our courts if we change our laws to protect ourselves. It can’t be allowed to happen.

Instead of a nice calm petition, the Commission now faces a legal challenge in the ECJ and an investigation by the European Ombudsman into transparency in the TTIP negotiations. Already an independent legal opinion issued by Professor Dr. Bernhard Kempen, University of Cologne, says that the decision to reject the ECI was wrong.

All of this lit the touchpaper of public anger over not just the TTIP but the very basis of EU trade policy.

For those keeping score:

Citizens: 1
Commission: nil

We need a new approach to trade and investment policy in the EU that puts people and genuine ecological sustainability at the very heart of discussions. To get that, we need to stop the TTIP.

Please sign our ECI now to help stop the TTIP. If there wasn’t so much at stake, the Commission wouldn’t be trying to stop us.

 

October 17th, 2014

The New Face of Green Energy: Profiting From Pollution in the Alberta Oil Sands

Image provided by Howl Arts Collective

Image provided by Howl Arts Collective

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

On September 29, Genalta Power of Alberta, Canada announced that it generated 8,208 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) carbon offsets from its Cadotte Peace River Power Generating Facility in 2013. The credits were created by converting waste gas — a byproduct of bitumen extraction in the oil sands — that is typically flared, or burned, into electric energy. This superficial, “environmentally-friendly” initiative is a sham, and here’s why:

First, offsets of any kind are a shell game. They allow a polluter to purchase emissions reduction credits instead of reducing their own emissions at the source. In the United States, for example, an oil refinery in California is allowed to meet a portion of its required emissions reductions by purchasing offsets from a landowner in Arkansas who has agreed to not cut down the forest on their land. Cutting down trees releases CO2 emissions, so the act of refraining from cutting them down counts as an “avoided emission,” and can be sold as an offset. Read the full article…

September 23rd, 2014

Why a Carbon Tax Won’t Save the Climate

By Mitch Jones

Factory_PollutionAs the UN meets this week to discuss our climate future, here’s one thing they probably won’t be talking about but should: how finance and regulating carbon don’t mix.

When Food & Water Watch created the Common Resources Program in April of 2011, we did so to push back against the finance industry’s desire to use nature as a new source for profits. In the international community this effort is referred to as the “financialization of nature”. The basic idea is that new commodities are being created, which then necessitates new markets for those commodities. On top of those markets, Wall Street hopes to build new financial markets and speculative financial instruments like those that brought down the global economy in 2007. The most egregious example of this may be Citibank Chief Economist Willem Buiter’s dream of a global water market that would not only rival, but also swamp the oil market in size and would have “futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps” built on top of it. Financial speculation in the housing market was bad enough, but in water? It’s unthinkable, unless you’re a Wall Street banker.

So, what’s this got to do with pricing carbon? Quite a bit actually, because the same failed economic myths that support the desire for water markets support the idea of pricing pollution. We’ve already documented the problems with pricing pollution, including carbon, through cap and trade. And while cap and trade is still being pushed at the state and regional level, nationally the push is for a carbon tax.

The problems with the carbon tax begin with its regressivity. A regressive tax is one that hits households with lower income harder than those with higher income. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under a $28/ton carbon tax, the bottom 20 percent of income earners would pay 2.5 percent more in taxes, while the top 20 percent would pay less than 1 percent more.

The politics of passing a carbon tax will make this inequality worse. While the carbon tax is already regressive, the most likely proposals to get bipartisan and corporate support couple it with a reduction in individual and corporate taxes that make it even more so. Unfortunately, the politics that would have to come together to pass a carbon tax would likely necessitate just this sort of tax swap to get the votes to pass.

Beyond the regressive nature of any carbon tax that could get the votes to pass, we should also be clear that using “pricing” to reduce pollution is the wrong approach. Pricing relies on the idea that “market signals” are the best way to regulate pollution. Put a price on it, and businesses and households will respond by polluting less. The goal has been to replace environmental regulations with these price and market signals.

We should be clear, polluting companies want to have a set cost they can factor into their pricing of their products, that is, pass on to us, instead of having to respond to regulation that will clean up their businesses and reduce their pollution. And they want that cost to be unrealistically low.

Yvo de Boer, the former chair of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has proposed a carbon tax he thinks can work. That carbon tax is set at €150 (or about $193) per tonne. For comparison, the current price for carbon in the EU’s trading scheme is about €6.30. Proposals for a carbon tax in the U.S call for a tax in the $20 -$30 per tonne range. Even if we accepted the questionable economics of financializing carbon, and we don’t, then these proposals are woefully inadequate when it comes to stopping climate change. But, it’s at a level acceptable to some major corporations that want to be seen as “doing something” on climate change.

Instead of a “price on carbon” we need an aggressive cap on emissions, a prohibition on allowing states to use gimmicks and false solutions to achieve the cap target (be it pricing, offsets, or switching to natural gas), a focus on efficiency, and greater investment in bringing truly renewable energy up to scale to provide the electricity we need. And these aren’t solutions we can wait for Wall Street to bring to us. We need to build power in our communities, put pressure on our decision makers, and ensure that we’re a unified voice calling for effectively regulating pollution.

The climate can bear no less.

Posted in  |  11 Comments  | 
September 5th, 2014

Where the Jobs Are: U.S. Manufacturing, China, and Free Trade

TPP_SecretBy Mitch Jones

I’ve highlighted before the threat to our food and water posed by the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated by the U.S. and eleven other Pacific Rim countries. But a few recent events have shifted my attention to the other big story about which we don’t speak as much: manufacturing jobs.

Earlier this year, I traveled to New York to give a talk about the TPP and food safety. Traveling north on the train it struck me that the tracks passed through many neighborhoods filled with boarded up houses. I noticed that all of those neighborhoods had one thing in common: they all surrounded shuttered factories. Then this summer, while visiting family, I drove past the abandoned Motorola factory outside Harvard, Illinois. When I returned to work I saw a new “working paper” from economists working with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) entitled “Import Competition and the Great U.S. Employment Sag of the 2000s” (pay walled). NBER is a nonprofit research organization that represents mainstream economic thinking. Many economists associated with NBER have gone on to work as advisors to both Democratic and Republican presidents.

The paper confirms what progressive economists have long been saying; so-called “free trade” has a massive negative effect on U.S. manufacturing employment. The authors of the paper estimate that between 1999 and 2011 the U.S. had a net job loss of 2.0 million to 2.4 million jobs because of imports from China. A quick, back of the envelope calculation shows that, were these jobs still in the U.S., it would have knocked a full percentage point off of our unemployment rate. And these aren’t just any jobs—they are more likely to be better-paying jobs with better benefits. Read the full article…

August 18th, 2014

The Toledo Water Crisis Won’t Be the Last

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Algae_Blooms_Blog_ThumbThe recent water crisis in Toledo, Ohio is not an isolated incident, and it won’t be the last. As the annual and increasingly severe algae blooms hit Lake Erie this year, levels of the toxin mycrocystin reached such high levels that the City of Toledo ordered a tap water ban because the toxin can cause diarrhea, vomiting or impaired liver function. Residents were ordered not to drink the water or use it for cooking, brushing their teeth or pets. Children and people with compromised immune systems were even warned not to bathe with the water.

Caused by large amounts of phosphorus runoff from excessive fertilizer application on farms, manure from livestock feeding operations and aging wastewater infrastructure, the algae blooms in Lake Erie are nothing new. In fact, water contamination from industrial agriculture and wastewater discharge has repeatedly been a detriment to public waterways and sources of drinking water, causing previous contamination crises.

In 1997, outbreaks of Pfiesteria, a toxic algae, contaminated the Chesapeake Bay, Pocomoke River, Rappahannock River and other waterways of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Excessive nutrient run-off from the high concentration of chicken farms in the region, contracted by companies like Tyson, caused algae blooms and the subsequent spread of Pfiesteria. The outbreak resulted in large fish kills, with thousands of fish dying and showing signs of contamination like sores, ulcerous holes and whole chunks of fins missing. Public health effects also materialized, with several people experiencing neurological problems like short-term memory loss.

In the early 2000s, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma faced water contamination from excess phosphorus runoff caused by land application of poultry litter and wastewater discharges. The runoff polluted Lake Eucha and Lake Spavinaw, which supplied drinking water to about half of the city’s 500,000 residents at the time of the incident, causing algae blooms and “foul-smelling and bitter tasting water.” As a result, the city faced substantial treatment costs from the runoff contamination and eventually brought suit against poultry industry companies like Tyson Foods, among others, as well as the city of Decatur, Arkansas for wastewater discharges.

Similarly, Des Moines, Iowa experienced historically high nitrate levels beginning in May 2013, caused by runoff from excessive fertilizer use in agricultural production. The nitrate levels reached as high as 24 milligrams per liter (mg/l), far above the accepted safe level of 10 mg/l. Des Moines Water Works, the municipal water utility for the city and surrounding communities, had to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility at a cost of $7,000 per day to keep nitrates at levels safe for consumption. This ended up costing consumers over $525,000. Left untreated, high levels of nitrates also pose the risk of Blue Baby Syndrome to infants six months old and younger — nitrates can reduce the ability of infant’s blood to carry oxygen, leading to death.

In other cases municipal water supplies have been contaminated with E. coli and other harmful contaminants due to runoff from factory farms and wastewater discharge into our public waterways. In 2000, Canada experienced one of its worst water contamination crises ever when the water supply for Walkerton, Ontario was contaminated with E. coli from nearby farm runoff. Seven people died from the outbreak and more than 2,300 became ill with symptoms like bloody diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections and other symptoms common with E. coli infections.

In a less severe but still serious case, residents of Morrison, Wisconsin also faced drinking water contamination from factory farm and other agricultural runoff. According to the New York Times, in 2009 more than 100 wells used for drinking water had become contaminated with E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants commonly found in manure, due largely to runoff from nearby dairy farms or fields covered with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage. Residents suffered chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

These incidents might leave you wondering why we haven’t learned from the past and prevented future crises. The fact is, it’s well known that runaway fertilizer use, excessive nutrient runoff from factory farms and devil-may-care wastewater discharges from other polluters are responsible for the ongoing occurrence of these water crises. Instead, actors on all sides have knowingly ignored or tried to side-step directly addressing the issue with sub-par policies, largely because of undue influence from industry lobbies and special interests that stand behind those guilty of polluting our waterways.

Despite having policy tools like the Clean Water Act (CWA) that initially provided strong protections for our public waterways, it has since been weakened and little has changed. Industrial agriculture continues to be the highest source of pollution in many of our waterways and simultaneously these polluters remain some of the least regulated and continue to discharge pollution with impunity.

To make matters worse, the proposed solution to this has been to allow water quality trading as a way to comply with the CWA. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a giant step away from the public trust approach of the CWA when they created a plan that gives polluters the option to buy the right to pollute our waterways. The EPA is allowing polluters like coal-fired power plants to purchase “credits” from other polluters, like industrial agriculture, in lieu of controlling their discharges.

Until public and environmental health is put before industrial agriculture and other polluters’ interests, we stand to face more of the same crises at the cost to consumers. How do we go about changing this? First, water quality trading cannot stand as an option. It is a false solution and to date there is not one documented case of its success. Second, runoff from industrial agriculture must be regulated. Full stop. In 1977, amendments to the CWA set a strong and simple standard that polluting is illegal, and that the national goal is zero discharge of pollution into our public waterways. Our rivers, lakes and estuaries do not exist as dumping grounds for the pollution that comes from irresponsible and unsustainable industrial practices. There is no substitute for water — not polluting it is our only option.

Take action today to protect Ohio’s water from factory farms!

August 6th, 2014

Cereal Problems: Letting Corporations Address Climate Change Won’t Solve the Problem

By Mitch Jones

Our friends at Mother Jones posted a story that points us to a recent announcement on climate change by agribusiness giant General Mills. While many of us may just be happy to see a corporation willing to admit climate change is anthropogenic climate change, we shouldn’t be fooled by the announcement or the idea that supposedly good behavior by corporations will save us.

The company announced that it will make changes to its global supply chain in order to reduce its carbon footprint. But what it’s proposing are some of the same gimmicks to which others that aren’t serious about making real change resort. To begin, the company announced that 92 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions related to its product line occur outside of its control in the supply chain. Of course, a major supply chain component for a company like General Mills are the farmers that provide the ingredients for its products. But, instead of pledging to seek out (and fairly compensate) small farms that actually have less negative impacts on our climate, General Mills is going to support the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an initiative supported by the largest players in the dairy industry. Read the full article…

Posted in  |  No Comments  | 
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…

Page 1 of 7123456...Last »