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Blog Posts: Fracking

March 4th, 2015

Two Huge Stories on Fracking You Probably Missed This Week

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah_Hauter_BlogThumbIt seems that the fracking industry’s biggest concern is keeping their operations secret. Whether they’re talking about the chemicals in their frac fluid, how they pay (or don’t pay) royalties to landowners, or even whether doctors can tell their patients what they’re treating, industry representatives have pushed to keep their secrets. The industry has been pretty good at keeping people in the dark.

But two recent disclosures have shed some light on how the industry manages to obscure the details of its operations. On Tuesday, Mike Soraghan at EnergyWire broke the news that scientists in Oklahoma knew five years ago that the state’s recent unprecedented swarms of earthquakes were probably due to oil and gas operations. (We confirmed with Mike that he had uncovered these emails after pursuing an Open Records Act request in Oklahoma. Previously, he had analyzed federal earthquake data to break the news that Oklahoma had more earthquakes than California in 2014.)

According to EnergyWire, when Austin Holland, a seismologist from the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) based at the University of Oklahoma, raised the issue, he was asked to meet with the president of the university and “concerned” oil and gas industry officials (including with Mitt Romney’s campaign advisor on energy issues, Harold Hamm, who has donated over $30 million to the school.)

Since that meeting, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and OGS have butted heads over the link between oil and gas activities and earthquakes, with OGS pushing back against the idea that Big Oil and Gas is to blame. Bob Jackman, a petroleum geologist, says that when he asked Holland about the earthquakes, Holland replied, “You don’t understand – Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.” Holland disputed this, but did not offer a corrected statement to EnergyWire.

Industry influence with national implications

In related news, through an open records request, Greenpeace received thousands of pages of correspondence between the EPA and industry participants in its fracking study. Sharon Kelley at DeSmogBlog and Neela Banerjee at Inside Climate News combed through the documents and pulled hundreds of pages of the more revealing finds.

Significantly, the documents include comments by Chesapeake Energy on the EPA’s study plans in which the company asks it to narrow its focus to only the specific step in which fracking fluids are injected, without allowing it to test conditions during the drilling and cementing of the well before those frac fluid injections. The EPA agreed to only install monitoring wells after Chesapeake’s wells were drilled.

Chesapeake also asked to be involved in reviewing contractors and field data and tried to influence testing methods. The records also include a list of Range Resources’ demands in order to cooperate with the agency, including access to documents, copies of recordings and photos and a stipulation that EPA employees be “identified in advance” and accompanied by a Range escort at all times.

These revelations go along with what we already knew happened in Parker County, Texas, where the EPA abruptly closed an investigation into groundwater contamination, despite evidence that nearby fracking operations were to blame. As it turns out, Range, the company accused of contaminating water supplies, threatened to pull out of the agency’s national study if it kept investigating.

Our report The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking raises questions about the EPA’s ongoing study of the potential impacts of fracking on water resources. Rather than require participation, the agency has done nothing but bend over backwards, pleading with industry to share its information. Not surprisingly, this hasn’t worked.

A constant refrain from the oil and gas industry and supporters is that state regulation of fracking is adequate and federal regulations are unnecessary. In reality, they’re trying to undermine regulation at every level of government. Industry has risen to the challenge of shaping the science in the EPA’s study

The importance of media watchdogs

The industry’s pressure on scientists has long-term and wide-ranging effects: it hampers public understanding, gives cover to fracking-friendly politicians, and inhibits further scientific study, both at universities reliant on industry funding and at government agencies reliant on industry participation for data. Public Accountability Initiative’s recent report shows that the industry is using flawed research to promote fracking as safe—research that PAI says is “industry-tied and lacking in scientific rigor.”

EnergyWire, a subscription-based news wire geared at the energy policy community, De Smog Blog and Inside Climate News have done a great job of breaking or reporting news around the dangers of fracking. Here’s hoping that more mainstream news organizations will conduct investigative reporting on these conflicts of interest to clear the fog created by industry misinformation. With the oil and gas industry spending tens of millions every year in public relations and advertising, media watchdogs are more important than ever.

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February 25th, 2015

Governor Christie Sells Off New Jersey to the Highest Bidder

By Jim Walsh

It was Hurricane Sandy, the disastrous “super storm,” that thrust Governor Christie on to the national stage as a supposedly straight-talking hero of the common man. But the truth can’t hide forever. Sooner or later, Americans will come to realize what many of us in New Jersey have known all along: Christie is selling New Jersey off to the highest bidder, at the expense of hardworking families and our environment.

While Christie’s recent gaffs and scandals have been good fodder for late-night television comedians, behind these missteps is a governor tied to corporate interests that he hopes will fund his national political ambitions. It seems he’ll do just about anything to put those corporations ahead of regular people.

Early in his first term, Governor Christie created a privatization task force, creating a virtual road map for transferring billions of dollars in public assets to private profit driven companies. And throughout his tenure as governor, Christie has pushed to privatize public television, parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, public parks, inspectors, and now our water.

Governor Christie just signed a bill that will open the floodgates for water system privatization in New Jersey. The bill removes an important requirement that communities have the right to vote on any water privatization plan and the rate details associated with it. The elimination of these important consumer protections are a dream come true to corporate water giants like American Water, which just donated $50,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association when Governor Christie was the chair.

Governor Christie used this his position as Governor’s Association chair to raise money and build his political presence and influence. But far more sinister is Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program. The program was enacted when Christie signed an executive order allowing the New Jersey governor (and only the governor) to accept large gifts from personal friends.

One of Christie’s personal friends seems to be Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who gifted Christie a $30,000 trip to a Cowboys playoff game. What folks may not know is that Jerry Jones amassed a fortune as on oil and gas mogul. This is concerning, considering that Christie recently refused to sign two bills that would have banned fracking and fracking waste in the state. At the same time he supported billions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies for the construction of fracked gas power plants in New Jersey, and a massive fracked gas pipeline through the Pinelands, a environmentally-protected area that preserves a 12 trillion-gallon fresh water aquifer in southern New Jersey.

Speaking of southern New Jersey, Christie has recently appointed an emergency fiscal manager for Atlantic City, a community on the brink of financial collapse due to long-term neglect and the downturn in Jersey’s casino industry. Instead of offering support, he appoints Kevyn Orr as the emergency manager. Kevyn Orr is the same person who, while serving as the emergency manager for Detroit, sought to solve Detroit’s financial struggles by recommending a fire sale of public assets, including their public water.

Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program has also garnered contributions from the King of Jordan and Sheldon G. Adelson, a wealthy casino owner. One can wonder exactly how much it costs to buy the governor’s friendship, but what is clear is that being “friends” with Christie comes with some fairly lucrative benefits.

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February 24th, 2015

March Mobilizes Movement to Ban Fracking in California

by Tia Lebherz, California Organizer

Fresh off a victory in New York State, which banned fracking in December, 8,000 Californians came together in Oakland on February 7 to send Governor Jerry Brown a simple message: Climate Leaders Don’t Frack. The March for REAL Climate Leadership was a historic moment for our movement in the Golden State as it brought together frontline community members, indigenous people, nurses, labor unions, students, environmentalists and concerned Californians from across the state. We marched together in the town Governor Brown calls home because it is past time for him to step up and protect our health, our water and our communities by banning fracking now. I’m proud of Food & Water Watch’s role in creating what was the largest anti-fracking rally in U.S. history; two weeks later, as we work to water the seeds we planted with this event, it’s a pleasure to pause to reflect on what we’re growing with our partners.

8,000 people joined the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

8,000 people joined the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Governor Brown fancies himself an international leader in the fight against climate change. When he was inaugurated in January for his fourth and final term, he indeed committed to some notable renewable energy goals. But, as Brown focuses on the consumption side of our energy use, he fails completely to address production and extraction. California is the third largest oil producing state in the nation. Surprised? And here in the land of all-things-eco, oil companies are expanding extreme extraction techniques like fracking all the time. So, sorry, Governor Brown, you cannot control one of the nation’s largest fossil fuel extracting states and be a climate leader at the same time.

Californians demand and deserve better. Our state is in the midst of a historic drought that research shows is exacerbated by climate change. Our agricultural industry is suffering and farm jobs are being lost. Here’s another surprise for readers outside California: cities here are literally running out of water. Still, our Governor allows the oil and gas industry to permanently contaminate two million gallons of water every day in extreme oil extraction operations in California. Even more unsettling, recent reports show that under Governor Brown, billions of gallons of wastewater from oil and gas operations have been dumped illegally into protected aquifers in the state. Governor Brown’s unwillingness to tackle the real threat to our water and climate – his refusal to stand up to Big Oil – is what compelled thousands of Californians to march on February 7.

But the march was also an opportunity to spotlight the REAL climate leaders that work everyday to protect their communities and our planet by fighting the most powerful industry in the world. Leaders like Dianne Thomas from Carson, who along with a fierce coalition of her neighbors recently stopped 200 new wells from moving into their community. Or the busload of community warriors who traveled to Oakland from Kern County, where over 90 percent of the fracking is occurring in California; people here are already overburdened with the worst air quality in the nation and pesticide drift from Big Agriculture’s monocultures – who are literally fighting for their lives. And the leaders from San Benito who last November banned fracking through a ballot initiative despite being outspent nearly twenty-to-one. These are the REAL climate leaders in our movement; until Governor Brown steps up and puts an end to fracking, he has no claim to their ranks.

The action didn’t just end at the March. Afterward, Californians Against Fracking held a convergence where nearly 300 people talked about how they would take the energy from the march back to their communities to continue fighting for local and statewide bans on fracking. The following day, 50 grassroots leaders from across the state stayed in Oakland and together mapped out our work for 2015.

Food & Water Watch California Organizer, Tia Lebherz, talks with a reporter at the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Food & Water Watch California Organizer, Tia Lebherz, talks with a reporter at the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Working on the March for REAL Climate Leadership and the Californians Against Fracking convergence was one of the most powerful and incredible experiences of my life. From the start, it was clear that Californians are hungry for change and feel more urgently than ever the need to ban fracking now. The 130 partner organizations that came together for this event represented labor, faith, social justice, climate justice and other movements. This breadth and depth proves that the movement to ban fracking is not limited to a small group of environmentalist – it is united and strong and it touches every corner of California.

Need some inspiration? Check out the March for Real Climate Leadership wrap-up page, featuring an outstanding video, along with pictures, press hits and important numbers.

Keep your eye on California: the momentum is with us we’re not stopping until we’ve banned fracking for good.

Members of the Food & Water Watch California team pause for a quick photo as people gather behind them for the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Members of the Food & Water Watch California team pause for a quick photo as people gather behind them for the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

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February 13th, 2015

The Oil & Gas Industry Wants Your Children to Love Fracking, Not Democracy

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 5.40.42 PMBy Sandra Lupien and Rich Bindell

We live in a nation founded on democracy – a system that succeeds only when the people living within it engage in civic participation, a value prized so highly that “civics” has long been central to every public school K-12 curriculum. Kids learn that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right to “petition the Government for redress of grievances.” In other words, if you want something to be different, speak up and tell those who have the power to do something about it.

We also live in a world of finger-pointing and hypocrisy. Some point their fingers more than others. And some point their fingers to distract you from what they are doing behind their back.

Last month, Energy In Depth (EID), a front group for the oil and gas industry, pointed its finger at Food & Water Watch Western Region Director Sam Schabacker. The group cried out with rage at Sam’s audacity for what it called “using children in ‘ban fracking’ campaigns.”

Essentially, EID interrupted its regular programming—promoting the extracting of the last remaining ounces of fossil fuel from the earth by blasting it out with water and chemicals, endangering public health and the environment of thousands of American communities and millions of people, and exporting the final product to the highest bidders overseas—because it saw something it thought it could exploit: Food & Water Watch supporting children who wanted to learn about civic engagement and social responsibility.

It’s taken us a few weeks to catch the shortest break from our regular programming – fighting this lying industry’s dangerous profit-driven practices like fracking – to point out the comedic egregiousness of EID’s hypocrisy.

EID took issue with the fact that, in 2013, Sam helped train a group called “Kids Against Fracking” when its members visited their state legislators (with their parents’ permission) to urge them to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Colorado. These youth leaders organized themselves, scheduled their own meetings, led the discussions with the elected officials, and even reached out to the press to publicize their efforts to get involved in their democracy. Watch this video to see the result of Sam’s civics lesson. We’re pretty proud of Sam’s efforts to help educate these kids about democracy and civic engagement. EID’s charge that we’re “using kids” is not only desperate—it’s hypocritical.

Case in point: Talisman Terry. In 2011 gas extraction giant Talisman Energy created a propaganda coloring book, which it distributed widely to children in the Eastern United States. The book, which was later discontinued by Talisman (but still can be downloaded), features Terry, an amiable Fracasaurus and everyone’s favorite gas industry representative. He goes from house to house, asking homeowners for permission to frack their land. Then, Terry clears the land before drilling into the shale. But don’t worry, kids, reassures Terry, fracking only leaves behind a beautiful grassy field with its rainbow and sunshine completely intact. Terry even throws in an extra falcon. All this from a company that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cited for 145 violations.

But did EID make so much as a peep about Talisman Energy “using children?” Yeah … no.

What’s the matter, EID? Afraid that these kids engaging elected officials with nothing but their sincere concern will have some influence when all you’ve got is dough? From 2008-2011, the oil and gas industry spent $4.7 million lobbying in Colorado to promote its fracking ways. In 2014, they spent a whooping $ 11 million to elect pro-fracking candidates. In 2012, the American Petroleum Institute paid $85.5 million to four PR and advertising firms including a whopping $51.9 million to just one firm—Edelman, which calls itself “the world’s largest PR firm”.

Nothing scares a bully more than a knowledgeable truth-speaking foe. If the most powerful industry points a finger at you for teaching kids to be good citizens, it’s fair to say you’re doing something right. Go, Sam!

 

 

 

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February 6th, 2015

People in Carson, California Fight Big Oil – And Win

By Alex Nagy

Carson resident Dianne Thomas, right, rallies against Occidental Petroleum on March 15, 2014 in Sacramento, CA

Carson resident Dianne Thomas, right, rallies against Occidental Petroleum on March 15, 2014 in Sacramento, CA

In a testament to the power of organized and tenacious people, residents of Carson, California, claimed victory over an oil giant’s big money bullying. After a three-year battle, California Resources Corp., formerly Occidental Petroleum (“OXY”), last week pulled its proposal for 200 new frackable wells in the Los Angeles County community.

When OXY swaggered into town in 2012, it thought Carson was an easy target. But residents were no strangers to oil and gas industry greed and haste. Not too long before, residents discovered a buried Shell Oil Co. storage tanker underneath the Carousel Tract neighborhood leaking benzene and other carcinogens into the soil. Shell dodged responsibility for six years before settling for $90 million, but some residents still live with cancer.

So, Carson residents smelled a rat from the start with OXY. But that didn’t faze the second-largest oil producer in the state. In the first face-to-face with residents, the company’s rep shrugged off the community’s concerns about public health and the environment; then, he enthusiastically disclosed that the new wells would be fracked. That’s when residents vowed to fight to keep OXY out of their town.

So Oxy stepped up its game.

OXY Gets Ugly, But Residents Aren’t Fooled

In response to public outcry, OXY promised in an open letter not to frack – unless the company deemed it necessary. Not fooled, hundreds flooded public hearings in protest and OXY feared for its bottom line. Resistance costs companies money.

In March 2014, residents won a temporary 45-day ban – approved unanimously by the City Council – on all oil and gas drilling. OXY’s stock dropped by 4 percent as a result, and even though it had just announced plans to move its corporate headquarters out of California, OXY called in a favor.

When Carson City Council reconvened in April to vote for an extension of the 45-day ban, OXY asked Governor Jerry Brown – whose campaigns have been well-financed by the industry – to make a personal phone call to Carson Mayor Jim Dear. Though Dear had supported the ban, Brown persuaded him to side with OXY and split the council votes needed to keep the ban in place.

Next, OXY invested in an elaborate astroturf campaign with the building and construction and electrical trade unions. Four buses full of union rank and file showed up from Pasadena, Bakersfield and beyond with shirts, buttons, stickers and signs, demanding “Jobs for Carson.” Carson High School kids attended the hearing, and we watched men in suits hand them VISA gift cards. The ban extension went down 2-2-1. But the defeat galvanized both the residents and the California anti-fracking movement watching via live stream.

Weeks later OXY tried to fool residents with a fake fracking ban. The company worked with Mayor Dear, who introduced to Council an ordinance to “ban” fracking … unless approved by the City Engineer. Thankfully, our champions, Councilmembers Lula Davis-Holmes and Albert Robles, refused to tolerate the glaring loophole, and helped defeat the disingenuous ban. They moved instead to update the City’s antiquated oil and gas code.

When public meetings on the oil and gas code resumed in August, the City made OXY cover the costs of the consulting firm hired to update the code. Around this time the price of oil started to plummet. By January, the industry could no longer be assured that the 200 well project would net a profit.

When OXY moved its headquarters to Houston, the newly formed California Resources Corp. picked up Oxy’s projects in the State. On January 26, we learned the company had dropped its proposal in Carson.

But The Fight Isn’t Over

The market was the final nail in the coffin. But, if the residents hadn’t fought from the start, OXY would be drilling there now. Carson residents can proudly claim this victory, but it’s also clear that the fight isn’t over.

When the price of oil goes back up, the industry will shuffle back to Carson. The oil and gas zoning code update is still Carson’s winning ticket. The City can use it to protect residents by banning all extreme oil and gas extraction and enacting setbacks from homes and schools that make it undesirable for the industry to ever come back.

People power can really defeat money power. Carson reminds me not to give up hope even when the chips were down. We must fight on.

RCL rectangleCarson residents, like my friend Dianne Thomas, know they are part of a bigger movement. Dianne will speak at the March for Real Climate Leadership in Governor Jerry Brown’s town, Oakland, on February 7. It’s time to make this personal, and Brown needs to hear from people like Dianne who have been directly affected by his close ties with the oil industry. Thousands will march to urge Brown to be a real climate leader – someone who stands on the right side of history with Dianne and California’s communities – by banning fracking and standing up, like Carson did, to Big Oil.

Alex Nagy is a Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch.

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January 30th, 2015

In Pennsylvania, Making Big Moves Against Fracking

Fracking rigBy Sam Bernhardt

Change happens when we make it happen. In the case of fracking, that change currently happens state-by-state.

Last month, our victory in New York changed the dynamics of what is possible for the fracking movement. With Governor Cuomo’s bold decision to ban fracking, we took what had been a campaign slogan and turned it into a reality. Last week, we brought the momentum that started with a victory in Albany and transformed it into one of the issues on the top of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s radar.

Monday, a day before Wolf was inaugurated, we published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling on him to make stopping fracking a priority for his administration. Challenging Wolf to separate himself from former Governor Corbett’s failed policies on fracking, we wrote that Wolf was largely shaping up to be a continuation of the status quo: unchecked pollution and health risks from an unchecked industry.

We knew we would need more than just the facts to be heard by Wolf. So on Inauguration Day, we assembled more than 250 Pennsylvanians from all corners of the state at a church nearby the Capitol. We marched as a group to the Capitol, accompanied by Gasland’s Josh Fox, catching the attention of the legislators and reporters assembling at the inauguration site. Once the inauguration started, we took the demands spelled out in our op-ed the day before and chanted them directly to Wolf and all the attendees at the ceremony.

Attendees chanted “ban fracking now” with such volume it seemed our collective vocal cords would give out after a few minutes. But, as we went on, and reporters Tweeted that they were having trouble making out the content of Wolf’s remarks over our yells, we began to realize just how loud – and powerful – we really were. When all was said and done, we felt more confident than ever that Governor Wolf had truly heard us and internalized our strength.

Later in the week, Food & Water Watch released a report with Berks Gas Truth clarifying exactly why we had had so much trouble being heard by Wolf short of vocally taking over the inauguration: his ears had been clogged with money from the gas industry. Analyzing Wolf’s campaign finance reports, we found individuals, corporations and PACs associated with the gas industry totaled $1.5 million.

We have no illusions regarding how much work it will take to protect Pennsylvanians from fracking by winning a statewide halt. If anything, we now know exactly how much grassroots power we’ll need to show Wolf (roughly the equivalent of $1.5 million in industry payoffs.) But we know that by educating Pennsylvanians and engaging them, one by one, as a part of a statewide movement against fracking, we can win. And I am confident that with our leading partners in Pennsylvanians Against Fracking – Berks Gas Truth, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Marcellus Protest, and Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Air and Water – we have the commitment and motivation required to build what can be the most powerful –and most successful – coalition in the state.

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The Super Bowl: Football, Food and…Fracking Ads

By Katherine Cirullo

Image courtesy of Grist.org. Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Image courtesy of Grist.org. Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Super Bowl commercials are famous for being the most expensive ad buys of the year. These commercials are designed to persuade by using tactics that tug at our heartstrings, make us laugh or promise a better life. The oil and gas industry is no stranger to these strategies.

After what must have been a devastating loss to the industry—the ban on fracking in New York announced by Governor Cuomo this past December—the American Petroleum Institute (API) is dropping $100,000 dollars on a 30-second ad blitz during halftime that will air in the D.C. area, where many of our country’s decision makers and major influencers will be watching the event. API’s Super Bowl commercial, which touts fracking as the key to American energy independence and job creation, is the most expensive spot the lobbyist group has bought in their recent string of ads. Couple this with API’s spending as a whole, and you’ll understand the outrage.

You see, in 2012, API spent more than $7 million dollars lobbying the federal government. But it also shelled out a whopping $85.5 million to public relations and advertising firms, as a means to, as the Center for Public Integrity puts it, “lobby the American public”. Between 2008 and 2013, API paid one PR giant a total of $327.4 million dollars to shape public opinion, and that’s only one of the many firms they’ve hired.

API isn’t the only one shelling out big bucks to influence the public about fossil fuels. Politico reports the Koch brothers will spend $889 million ahead of the 2016 elections, double what the Republican National Committee spent in the 2012 cycle.

No thanks to Citizen’s United, which just rang in its 5-year anniversary, it is crystal-clear that money rules politics; this week’s football game is yet another arena where the industry will drop cash to wield influence. But we won’t be cowed. Together, we will continue to fight for what’s right: a democracy led by people, not corporations. You can ask your Member of Congress to overturn the Citizen’s United decision here.

Want to learn more about the money machine behind the pro-fracking agenda? Check out our primer on API and other organizations promoting and funding fracking interests at all levels of our government here.

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January 15th, 2015

Citizens United 101

By Briana Kerensky and Mitch Jones

supreme_court_blogTHUMB

Take action: Tell your members of Congress to overturn Citizens United!

Next week marks the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. Since 2010, corporations have been legally able to use their deep pockets to influence politics, to a destructive degree. According to the Supreme Court, corporations have the same First Amendment right to free speech as people, and as such are allowed to give as much money to political campaigns as they want. But whereas the average Joe or Jane might donate up to a few hundred dollars, corporations have the ability and resources to put millions of dollars into a campaign and change the course of an election.

What does this terrifying concept mean for our work to protect the food you eat and the water you drink? Read on for Citizens United 101, where we break down the landmark case, how it’s changed the electoral process and what it means for the safety of your food and water.

What is Citizens United?

In a nutshell, Citizens United is a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows for unlimited campaign contributions in the U.S. electoral system. Corporate donations to elections are now supposed to be protected as free speech. There are three big takeaways from the ruling:

  1. Citizens United established that free speech rights are solely about speech, and not the speaker.
  2. Citizens United didn’t create corporate personhood (the idea that businesses have the same rights and protections as humans), but it claims that corporate personhood extends to the First Amendment.
  3. Since political speech is a fundamental First Amendment right, any constraint on it has to be limited. For a long time the U.S. didn’t allow corporations to spend money on political campaigns, in order to avoid political corruption. What Citizens United ruled, though, is that avoiding corruption puts a damper on free speech rights.

What does Citizens United mean for corporate control?

Citizens United opens up the ability of corporations to spend money on political campaigns. So in terms of control of our political system, it allows corporations the ability to take much more overt control of funding of campaigns and pushing through their agenda. It helps corporations make sure that legislative bodies, whether at the federal level or state level, governorships, attorney generals, and even in some instances judges, are aligned with their interests.

What does Citizens United have to do with Food & Water Watch’s work?

Citizens United allows corporations to have yet another avenue for gaming the political system. Corporations have more money to spend than the average citizen or most non-profits, making it more difficult for organizations like Food & Water Watch (which doesn’t accept donations from corporations or the government) and our allies to advocate for legislation that protects our food, that stops damaging trade deals and that bans fracking. Citizens United allows corporations to use their political influence to essentially buy themselves a government that is willing to implement their agenda.

What’s the relationship between Citizens United and the DARK Act, which would allow corporations like Monsanto to keep GMO ingredients off food labels?

The free spending on political campaigns that Citizens United allows certainly makes bills like the DARK Act harder for Food & Water Watch and our allies to defeat. “Thanks” to the 2010 ruling, there is now a large amount of money (think billions) being spent in support of political candidates who support the DARK Act, as well as other Big Ag, Big Oil and Gas, and free trade agendas. As long as Citizens United remains in place, it makes it more likely that pro-corporate candidates will get elected, then introduce and vote for legislation like the DARK Act.

What is Food & Water Watch doing about Citizens United?

Food & Water Watch is working with a group of partner organizations from the environmental community, the faith community and organized labor to push for a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the amount of money in federal and state elections – reversing some of the problems with Citizens United.

What can I do to help?

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court gave corporations massive power over our democracy, treating them just like people… except that, in the case of corporations, protecting their supposed “freedom of speech” means allowing them to make unlimited political donations and effectively buy campaigns.

That’s no way for democracy to function. Corporations shouldn’t control our food supply or our political process. Tell your members of Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to take back democracy for the people and overturn Citizens United!

January 13th, 2015

The Research Is In: Regulations Alone Won’t Save Us From Climate Disaster

By Wenonah Hauter

We are convinced that any serious attempt to address climate change means that a large portion of the natural gas, oil and coal currently locked underground must remain unexploited. Unfortunately, rather than aggressively deploying renewable energy resources, the Obama administration has opted to allow polluters to continue burning these dirty, polluting fossil fuels. Case in point: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to soon release rules to regulate methane leaks from natural gas production and transportation. But two new reports released this week underscore the importance of keeping fossil fuels where they belong—underground.

Read the full article…

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January 6th, 2015

Fracking Breaks the CO2 Budget

By Hugh MacMillan

The Obama administration is prepared to directly regulate methane leaks from the oil and natural gas industry, and may do so soon. But as we explained in a previous blog, directly regulating methane from the industry greenwashes the climate impacts of widespread and intensive drilling and fracking for natural gas. That’s because, just looking at carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, almost all of the natural gas has to stay underground, unburned, to stay within a CO2 budget that would avoid dangerous climate changes.

Read the full article…

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