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Blog Posts: Public health

June 17th, 2015

Fracking: The Latest Fossil Fuel Industry Assault on Communities of Color

By Mike Roque, Guest Blogger

When the oil and gas industry wants to set up shop, it targets areas that, due to economic and social factors, have little political power. This trend has been well documented in California, where 79 percent of the more than 350,000 children who live within a mile of an oil and gas well are non-white. Fracking has become the latest chapter in the sad, epic tale of decades of environmental injustices committed by the fossil fuel industry in low-income communities of color.

FB_1506_DFD_MikeRoque-quote-V1It’s a story that is also playing out in my home state. With over 53,000 active wells in Colorado, the fracking fiasco has spread far and wide in our state, including into the Mile High City of Denver. Two-thirds of the residents of the Northeast Denver neighborhoods at risk of being fracked are African American or Latino. These are the families who will suffer the worst impacts – including health problems and loss of property value – if decision-makers allow fracking in Denver. What effort will leaders make to ensure the concerns of these communities inform decision making?

Probably not much, if things play out in Denver as they have in Greeley, Colorado – the epicenter of the fracking explosion – where Mexican and Somali refugee communities have not had a voice in the fracking debate. These communities have traditionally been neglected and have the least political power in Weld County.

These families are the reason that Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC) has been actively engaged in the fight to ban fracking in the Rocky Mountain State. CPC is a membership-led organization composed of low-income people of color – the exact community threatened by fracking in Denver and affected disproportionately by this dangerous oil and gas extraction process across the country.

CPC, along with Food & Water Watch and a broad range of other groups, is a proud founding member of Coloradans Against Fracking, which we helped create to protect our health, safety, clean air, water and property values. Colorado should be a national leader in transforming our economy from one that relies on fossil fuels to one that thrives on renewable energy. We are endowed with over 300 days of sunshine each year here and an ample supply of wind. But we know that the energy landscape won’t change overnight. It takes political will – and that means holding elected leaders accountable to constituents.

With Food & Water Watch and other partners in Coloradans Against Fracking, we’ve held rallies, hosted peaceful actions, bird-dogged our elected officials and have been working to help build a grassroots movement to ban fracking. CPC prefers to let our members decide their futures rather than leaving matters in the hands of corporations that only care about making money at the expense of our environment, neighborhoods, health, and our children’s schools.

The growing number of residents lining up to defend their communities from fracking is proof that the tide is turning. It’s time for Governor John Hickenlooper and our state officials to retire their drill-baby-drill rally cry. It’s time to transform our economy, save our environment, create thousands of new and quality jobs, and protect the health and future of our children and grandchildren. Together, we know this is a fight we can win.

Mike Roque is the Executive Director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

May 27th, 2015

New Data Shows Factory Farms are a #LoadOfCrap

FBLP_1505_FacFarmReport-C1By Wenonah Hauter

If you wander through Times Square through July, you will see an electronic billboard we unveiled last week—Factory Farms Are a #LoadOfCrap. That’s because factory farms produce more than just the majority of the meat, milk and eggs we consume—they breed disease, misery and pollution. In fact, every day, America’s factory farms produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building.

It’s therefore fitting that following on the heels of this important public service announcement, we unveiled today our latest Factory Farm Map and released a companion report, Factory Farm Nation: 2015 Edition. The Factory Farm Map uses U.S. Department of Agriculture census data dating as far back as 1997 to show how factory farms are getting larger—at the expense of the public, as well as small and medium sized farmers. For instance, the total number of animals on the largest factory farms increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2012.

It’s a trend we ignore at our own peril.

Larger factory farms are a symptom of the increasing consolidation of our nation’s food system. Rather than obtaining our food from a large variety of independent companies, most of us get our food from hungry agribusiness giants that are systematically gobbling up smaller companies. In many cases, large companies are merging with one another, creating foodopolies that control every link of the food chain. If you’re wondering why the Jolly Green Giant is so big and happy, it’s because he just ate several other companies for lunch.

The larger factory farms get, the more problems they create. Larger factory farms mean more animals crammed into disgusting, cramped quarters. To compensate for these tough conditions, industry relies on constant use of antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics on factory farms breeds resistance to antibiotics elsewhere, meaning that these life-saving medicines are less effective when we most need them.

Factory farms also generate waste, and by that we mean crap. It’s not something to which the general public is usually privy. That’s because factory farms are usually set away from the public eye, but also because of ag gag laws that are intended to obscure the terrible conditions on factory farms. In 2012, alone, livestock on factory farms produced 369 million tons of manure—about 13 times as much as the sewage produced by the entire U.S. population. This is enough manure to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium 133 times. Unlike sewage produced in cities, the waste on factory farms does not undergo any treatment.

With nowhere to put this waste, it’s stored in giant pits or lagoons, and then eventually spread on fields as fertilizer, often in amounts that far exceed what the land can absorb or crops need to grow. It’s also important to note that manure from these operations contains nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria that can endanger the environment and public health. You don’t want this stuff anywhere near your drinking water, but that’s often where it ends up.

Waste from factory farms is an enormous problem, one that we cannot begin to curb through market-based approaches such as pollution trading, which should really be called “Pay-to-pollute.” These schemes don’t actually stop factory farms from polluting; they just spread waste around, even to other impaired watersheds. Factory farms concentrate too many animals – and too much waste – in one place. The only solution is to regulate factory farm pollution.

I could go on for days about factory farms, and how they’re both indicative of, and caused by a corporate foodopoly run amok. But instead I’ll leave you to read our report and to explore our map. Click over to www.factoryfarmmap.org to take a look at factory farms in your area and how they affect you and your community. And don’t forget to join the conversation on social media—tell us why you oppose factory farms using the hashtag #LoadOfCrap.

May 5th, 2015

How One Photographer Is Protecting Colorado from Fracking

John-credit-Gary-Soles-WEBBy Sandra Lupien

Colorado is a headwaters state: the Colorado, Platte, Rio Grande and Arkansas Rivers all start here and wiggle and weave their sparkling ways through the Rocky Mountain State before reaching their far-flung mouths at far lower elevations. John Fielder was just a teenager when he visited Colorado on a school science trip in the 1960s, but he knew it would one day be his home. He could not have known that as a renowned nature photographer, Colorado’s expansive public lands would become his muse – one he would be compelled to protect from threats like fracking. I recently spoke to Fielder about his art, his love of Colorado and what moved him to join Food & Water Watch’s “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign to keep fracking out of the Mile High City and the public lands that form its watershed.

Sandra Lupien: How did your strong connection to nature develop?
John Fielder: I had an inspiring middle school science teacher who, each summer, would pack seven kids in a station wagon and take us on trips across the United States. We visited public lands like national parks, and learned hands-on about geology and biology. That experience planted the seeds for an appreciation of science and nature. In college, I had a chance to explore Colorado working for my uncle in the geology department of his industrial company.

SL: How did you find your way to photography?
JF: In high school I was inspired by an art teacher who helped me be creative with paintbrushes. Then, in 1973, I first saw the work of Eliot Porter, a contemporary of Ansel Adams, but he shot in color. Like Adams, Porter was both an artist and an advocate for the preservation of the landscapes he captured so sublimely. The very next day I rented a 35mm camera and started taking pictures with Kodachrome.

SL: Did you study art or science in college?
JF: I studied accounting! And after college I had a well-paying career in department store management in Colorado, but I quit after eight years to pursue a career as a nature photographer.

South-Park,-Colorado-4-WEB

SL: What’s your favorite spot in Colorado?
JF: I’m a nature egalitarian. It’s all good, especially in the right light. But, at heart, I’m a mountain guy. Colorado has 28 mountain ranges, and as far as I’m concerned this is the most beautiful place on Earth. Right now, I’m sitting in my second floor home office in Summit County looking at the Gore Range. I see, at 13,560 feet, the peak of Mount Powell climbed first by John Wesley Powell in 1869. It’s got to be my favorite place in Colorado – the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

SL: What has changed about the Colorado landscape since you started shooting it?
JF: Let’s go from high to low. Up high – between 10,000 and 14,000 feet elevation – not a lot has changed. The hard rock mining industry effectively went out of business in 1893 when the price of silver crashed, and many of these places are now protected American wilderness. But lower, from 10,000 feet down to 3,300 feet [the lowest elevation in Colorado] there’s been a lot of impact from oil and gas, and human development. When I moved here in 1972, Colorado had 2.3 million residents; now there are 5.4 million. In addition to the homes, we see oil and gas infrastructure in those very backyards, as well as on America’s public lands.

SL: Why are you concerned about fracking in and around Denver?
JF: Most of the exploration is north of Denver in Weld County, but it’s all along the Front Range, and Denver’s in the middle of it. To me, the single greatest travesty of oil and gas exploration is having a well in your backyard. One’s sense of sight, smell and hearing is violated when you drive up and down the Front Range. To the north of me in Summit County, one of the West’s most beautiful mountain basins known as North Park has oil and gas infrastructure. I spent a week in that area photographing cattle ranches; all night I listened to the sound of a new well being drilled. Closer to Denver is South Park – the South Platte River Basin – comprising 280,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which is being considered by BLM for oil and gas exploration. That watershed provides drinking water for Denver and its suburbs.

SL: What’s your big picture view of oil and gas extraction in Colorado?
JF: I don’t want the “extractive” to destroy the “attractive,” and by that I mean Colorado and most Western America states are beautiful, biologically diverse places. Oil and gas exploration and fracking do nothing but damage everything that we sense: sublime mountain views, the sound of gurgling creeks, the smell of clean air and the taste of clean water and the touch of powdery aspen tree bark. The problem is that two of our four public land management agencies, BLM and Forest Service, have a legal mandate to manage those lands for multiple uses. That means they are obligated by law to both protect the land, and to allow – if not promote – the leasing of public lands for mineral exploration. The latter is antithetical to the grand “picture,” which is that people are healthier, happier and more economically prosperous in societies that protect nature, not destroy it.

South-Park,-Colorado-WEB

SL: What’s your bottom line?
JF: My degree is in accounting and my background is in merchandising, and I’m an environmentalist! I believe that ecology and economy – with the same Greek root, “eco,” meaning “house” – are symbiotic. History shows that societies that protect their forests and their water sources last longer than those that destroy nature and biodiversity. My belief that the oil and gas industry has no place in Colorado is based as much on economic science as it is on ecological science. Oil and gas industry jobs are short-term jobs, lasting only as long as the oil remains. The death of hard rock mining in the West economically stranded millions of people for decades. Tourism and recreation saved the day, and those jobs can last as long as we preserve nature. I would like to think that people appreciate the morality of protecting four billion years of the evolution of life on Earth, but some don’t. I hope for everyone’s sake they will consider just the economics and realize that states like Colorado are far better off basing their economies on the “attractive” than the “extractive.”

You can help protect our most beautiful natural places from fracking. Check out our public lands map to view threatened spots in Colorado and beyond. Tell your members of Congress to ban fracking on public lands. 

September 21st, 2014

Don’t Frack Montana’s National Treasure

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

By Eleanor Guerin

I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.

Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them "23 feet, 2 inches away from a 'griz' near Old Man Lake," according to a note on the back of the photo.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them “23 feet, 2 inches away from a ‘griz’ near Old Man Lake,” according to a note on the back of the photo.

Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.

Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.

I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.

eleanorguerin.headshotEleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”

July 31st, 2014

EPW Subcommittee Jumps the Shark with New Report

By Lane Brooks

Lane Brooks is Chief Operating Office of Food & Water Watch

Lane Brooks, COO, Food & Water Watch

 

We are used to groundless attacks from Big Ag and Big Energy, such as the silly effort that industry shill “Dr. Evil” mounted against us.

We are also used to elected officials pushing policy that helps their richest donors become even richer at the expense of the public.

Now it looks like the industry PR machine really is taking over our institutions of democracy to combine these two trends. The minority staff of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has issued a report that might as well be a post from the Koch Brothers.

The name of the report gives you a good picture of the tone: “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.” Really? The 92-page report doesn’t get around to mentioning that many of the organizations they cite are actually supporting pretty weak efforts that are giving industry a pass. Only in the land of the loony is the Walton Family Foundation (of Wal-Mart fame) a vanguard of progressive action in the public interest.

Congress is on track to become the worst performing congress in the history of the nation, yet they have time to spend your tax dollars attacking the environmental movement. It’s no surprise that the Committee includes water carriers for industry and climate change deniers, David Vitter of Louisiana and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  

It would be laughable except that the report has a chilling point. They are attacking the idea that tax-deductible organizations can work on public policy. They are trying to silence any organization that has the courage to stand up for the public interest. We will not be silenced and you will be hearing more about this effort in the future.

May 19th, 2014

Factory Farms are Bad for Your Health

By Katy Kiefer

TAKE THE SURVEY

Every single day, factory farms feed their animals low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and prevent disease in filthy, crowded living conditions. In fact, the factory farming industry uses 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. And now, the medical community is warning that the medicines we’ve been relying on since the 1940s may no longer work when we need them.

I started working on our grassroots efforts to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics last fall. At first, I was excited about the opportunity to fight the corporate abuse of our food system. But the more I read, and the more people I talked to, I was struck by how deeply personal and serious this issue really is. It’s not just about fixing our food system — it’s about saving lives.

Hearing stories from people like Marian really put this issue into perspective for me. 

Marian is a mother in Seattle who always eats good food, yet after a simple burn on her foot, found herself with a crippling antibiotic-resistant infection that’s made it hard for her to care for her family. The unfortunate reality is that antibiotic-resistant infections can affect anyone, no matter what you eat, where you work or how old you are. Read the full article…

May 12th, 2014

Oil and Gas Spills and BLM Ills: It’s Time for the People’s Lobby Week!

By Katherine Cirullo

On Monday, Mike Soraghan of E&E EnergyWire revealed that in 2013, the number of oil and gas related spills increased by 18 percent, despite the fact that the rate of drilling actually began to level off. In a similar vein, the Associated Press recently reported findings from the new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has failed to inspect a large number of high-risk oil and gas wells on pubic lands. Think regulations are enough to prevent fracking from affecting the environment and the health of American communities? Just in time for the People’s Lobby Week against fracking, it is imperative that you consider the facts and think again.

On one hand, data shows a major increase in oil and gas spills in the top 15 on-shore drilling states. In 2013 there were at least 7,662 spills, averaging slightly over 20 spills per day. The combined volume of spilled oil, fracking fluid, fracking wastewater and other substances surpassed 26 million gallons — that’s 26 million gallons of toxic substances more than our waterways and our communities should be forced to tolerate.

On the other hand, there is data showing grossly inadequate government oversight of oil and gas drilling. In a review of 14 states, the GAO reports findings that for wells drilled from 2009 to 2012, the BLM failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that it had specified as “high-priority” for preventing water contamination and other environmental damage. The BLM, the very agency that is supposed to preserve and protect our public lands (and act as a dependable source of federal oversight), just isn’t pulling through. Read the full article…

May 1st, 2014

How Industry Steers the Conversation on Pollinator Health

By Genna Reed

Earlier this week, I attended a hearing hosted by the House of Representatives Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture intended “to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.” Between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013, U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 45 percent of their colonies, which has threatened not only their livelihoods, but the very existence of one of the world’s most vital pollinators. The decline of bee populations across the country at levels higher than ever before seen is good reason for Congress to take notice, not only for the struggling bees, but also for the health of the broader environment, since bees are considered an indicator species of ecosystem health.

Colony Collapse Disorder is the term given to the disappearing-bee situation for which a single cause has not yet been defined. Members of the subcommittee saw the disorder as a problem caused by a wide variety of things, including varroa mites, disease, diet and nutrition, genetics, loss of habitat, beekeeping management practices and last but not least, “improper use of pesticides,” which “may also play a role.” The varroa mite is indeed a serious pest that should absolutely get some credit for bee losses, but it is also serving as the perfect scapegoat for Congress and agrichemical industry forces to take attention away from the harmful pesticide cocktails widely used in agriculture. As Jeff Pettis, Research Leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD, testified, “…even if the varroa mite problem were solved today, this would not by itself solve all of the problems facing honey bees and beekeepers.” The weak language regarding pesticides’ impacts on bee health and the trivialization of the scientific evidence related to the adverse effects of pesticides on bees that was repeated throughout the hearing is a glaring example of how pesticide companies have been instrumental in framing the conversation surrounding bee health. Read the full article…

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

November 13th, 2013

It’s Pay-to-Play Science as Usual

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Last week, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) was once again exposed as an industry front group – taking industry money and advocating pro-industry positions while claiming to be an independent, science-based organization. The magazine Mother Jones published a leaked document showing the enormous extent to which the organization is bankrolled by corporations and industry groups, confirming what many environmental and health advocates had always believed about the four-decades-old organization.   

The Council, which claims to be a scientific organization, takes tens of thousands of dollars from big oil and gas interests like Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute and publicly advocates for fracking. It also stridently speaks in favor of genetically engineered (GE) crops, which may have something to do with the money Syngenta and Bayer gives it. Read the full article…

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