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Blog Posts: Common Resources

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…

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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.

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