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Victory! Governor Cuomo bans fracking in New York. more wins »
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Blog Posts: Water

December 19th, 2014

Ohio and Maryland Should Take a Hint from New York’s Fracking Ban

By Francesca Buzzi

FB_1412_CuomoQuoteRallySI-C2At the moment when Governor Cuomo revealed his decision to exercise caution and ban fracking in New York, a fracked well in Ohio was spewing natural gas into the air for the third straight day from a leak that well crews could not stop. This is the reality facing our air, water, climate, and communities as long as fracking continues in states without a ban.

Governor Cuomo’s decision was backed by the science described at length in the Health Department’s extensive study of the risks fracking poses to public health. New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker summed up the study simply: he wouldn’t want his child to play outside in a community that allows fracking.

Oil and gas companies claim that accidents are few and far between, but leaks, spills, and explosions are not uncommon. And when they do happen, they are often severe.

Ohio, a small shale gas producer compared to states like Texas and Pennsylvania, has seen a distressing number of serious accidents related to fracked wells. Last month, a worker was killed in an explosion and fire at a fracking site. Two weeks before that, Ohio saw three fracking-related accidents in three days, during which a worker was burned, a pipeline fire torched acres of forest, and a well blowout forced 400 families to evacuate.

In June, a massive spill and fire forced 25 families to evacuate and killed over 70,000 fish along a 5-mile stretch of a tributary of the Ohio River. The fire took a week to extinguish, with at least 30 explosions occurring over that week, driving dangerous shrapnel though the air. The state lets companies drill up to 100 feet from homes, but explosions at drilling operations are capable of blowing pieces of metal much farther than that.

The month before that fire, drillers were unable to prevent the excessive buildup of pressure in a well, which led to a leak of around 1,600 gallons of oil-based drilling fluids into a tributary of the Ohio River.

These accidents are unacceptable, yet they are only the most visible instances of pollution. We can’t see the long-term impacts of widespread drilling and fracking—damage to groundwater, the atmosphere, and the public health effects of long-term exposure to chemicals—but they stand to be a much more significant threat.

As Governor O’Malley prepares to open Maryland to fracking, we urge him to take a look at Ohio’s cautionary tale and New York’s safety victory and to seriously ask himself if he would let his kids live and play in a community that allows fracking, given the science. Governor O’Malley should join Governor Cuomo, and stand up for the long-term health of Maryland’s communities and watersheds.

Water for the World Act: Victory!

Water_FaucetBy Darcey O’Callaghan

Earlier this week, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act unanimously passed a Senate floor vote, following passage out of the House last week. It now advances to President Obama’s desk for signature.

Since the first iteration of the bill was introduced over five years ago, Food & Water Watch lobbied to remove components of the bill that promoted public-private partnerships (P3s). We argued that U.S. foreign assistance shouldn’t be used to privatize the water systems in developing countries. Everyone at Food & Water Watch is thrilled that the final version of the bill in both the House and Senate emphasizes local ownership, rather than P3s. We believe strongly that water must remain a public good, managed transparently by communities and funded by governments.

While the majority of U.S. foreign aid goes to strategic geopolitical allies—many of which are middle-income countries—this bill takes a huge step forward by prioritizing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) funding for countries with the greatest need. The bill also improves efficiency by designating WASH point people at USAID and the State Department, and by codifying use of a Global Water Strategy that includes clear performance indicators.

Amazingly, the average American thinks we spend 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid when the reality is just a fraction of that—less than one percent. And the majority of this money does not go to nations facing extreme water and sanitation needs. Kudos go to the bill’s champions, Representatives Poe and Blumenauer and Senators Corker and Durbin, for advancing a version of the bill that not only protects public water, but also prioritizes humanitarian need over geopolitics.

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December 18th, 2014

We Can Ban Fracking, New York Paves the Way

By Wenonah Hauter

CuomoBanFantastic news came from the state of New York this week when the Cuomo administration announced its decision to ban fracking in the state. This exciting decision is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard in New York to protect the state from the ravages experienced elsewhere from fracking.

Here’s the full story: On Wednesday, the Governor convened a cabinet meeting where Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker presented the findings of the Department of Health’s review on fracking. He described the peer- reviewed studies showing that fracking contaminates air and water and harms health, and he highlighted that many of the long-term health effects are still unknown, as epidemiological studies have not been conducted. Comissioner Zucker ended his presentation by saying, “Would I live in a community that would allow fracking? The answer is no.”

Then in this real-time drama, Joe Martens, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation indicated the department would issue “legally binding findings to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.” They will be included in the supplemental generic environmental impact study that will be released in the New Year, an approach that Governor Cuomo supports, and that will effectively ban fracking in New York.

This is particularly exciting because just three years ago, conventional wisdom in New York’s mainstream environmental community held that fracking was inevitable in New York and that strong regulation was the best we could hope for. But Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Water Defense, United for Action, Citizen Action of New York and several other organizations joined together to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF) – with the audacious goal of winning a complete ban in the state of New York. For the next three years, thousands of people engaged in activities around the state, from massive demonstrations, to sending in comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation on the health risks of fracking. NYAF grew to over 250 national, state, and local groups.

For the last two years, it has been impossible for Governor Cuomo to go anywhere in the state without fractivists by the dozens, hundreds, or thousands rallying outside his appearances, delivering the clear message: ban fracking now. At his polling place this November, Cuomo recognized the movement as the most powerful protest movement in the state.

I’m proud that Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to stand with the grassroots organizations and to call for a ban on fracking. This hard won victory shows that we can win when we build political power. It also shows that we can win when we organize around a clear message and an unambiguous goal. It should inspire reflection among those mainstream environmental groups reluctant to take a strong stand against fracking or those who attempt to split the difference by supporting both a moratorium and stronger regulations at the same time. We need to be clear and uncompromising in calling for a ban on fracking and other extreme extraction practices.

Governor Cuomo heeded this call, and has positioned himself as a national leader in the movement to shift to an energy policy that is safe and based on efficiency and 100 percent renewable energy. New York is a bellwether state for fracking nationally, and is the first shale state to take such bold action against fracking. This decision has implications for other states considering fracking like Maryland, Pennsylvania, California and others.

In contrast to Cuomo’s decision today, Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley recently released regulations for fracking in his state. The Obama Administration’s EPA has refused to reopen investigations on instances of water contamination from fracking. Governor Hickenlooper in Colorado continues to oppose even communities’ ability to prevent fracking, Governor Brown in California continues to burry his head in the sand when it comes to the real health and environmental impacts of fracking, and Governor-Elect Wolf in Pennsylvania is floating a severance tax as a way for the state to make money off fracking, rather than taking on this dangerous practice.

Politicians with national influence or larger political aspirations should take note that support for fracking nationally has fallen, especially among Democrats and Independents, over the past few years. A PEW poll issued this November found that a 47 percent plurality of Americans, 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents nationally oppose increased fracking. This ban in New York comes exactly one week after Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a bill to ban fracking on public lands, the strongest federal bill on fracking to date.

The decision in New York will have a ripple effect across the country and act to strengthen efforts against fracking nationwide. The story of how tens of thousands of fractivists fought and won in New York with their blood, sweat and tears is awe-inspiring and demonstrates that we should fight for what we want – not just the best that can be negotiated in a backroom deal or what others say is politically feasible. Instead we should work to change the political reality in order to win real improvements in people’s lives and protect our fragile planet for future generations.

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December 16th, 2014

Don’t Let Fracking Destroy Her Legacy

By Alex Nagy

Dianne Thomas

Dianne Thomas, anti-fracking activist.

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Dianne is one of the amazing people I get to work with as the Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Dianne and her late husband worked hard to build a home in Carson, California to leave behind for their children, but the oil and gas industry could destroy their legacy.

When Dianne found out that Occidental Petroleum (“Oxy”) was planning to drill 200 new wells over the next 10 years, she asked if there would be fracking: they answered yes. The night before, she had caught a special on TV about extreme oil extraction — she saw homes cracking and falling apart because of fracking.

That’s when Dianne and her neighbors reached out to Food & Water Watch. They had heard about the work we were doing with communities to ban fracking.

Dianne and I started to meet weekly to strategize about the campaign — how to get Carson’s story in the news and how to build more public support. It was clear that Dianne was passionate, and as a skilled community activist she would give Oxy a fight. I helped by providing the information and resources to fight this fracking proposal, including reports from our research team and insight from other organizers working to stop fracking in towns across the country.

With your support, we can continue to partner with local activists like Dianne and provide the resources to ban fracking!

While the City Council was considering Oxy’s proposal, we convinced them to put a 45-day hold on all new drilling in Carson. During that time, the community rallied support to convince the Council to put a permanent ban on new drilling. At several City Council meetings, there were so many people that supported the ban, we couldn’t all fit in the room!

Oxy used a lot of dirty tricks to overturn the temporary ban and get approval to start drilling. They even bribed people by offering gift cards to generate support for fracking at City Council meetings. They also pulled some powerful political strings, with a local paper reporting that Governor Jerry Brown called Carson’s mayor to urge him to kill the fracking ban. Clearly the community was doing something right if Big Oil and Gas were trying so hard to shut them down.

When it came down to it, we knew the vote was close. The movement against fracking in Carson was strong, but Oxy’s connections were powerful and they had spent a lot of money to fight the ban. Unfortunately, Oxy’s money and lobbying won out, and the Council voted against the ban on drilling.

But our fight is far from over — we are continuing to work together to keep fracking out of Carson, and out of other communities in California and across the country. We know we can’t let up, that we have to work even harder because if we don’t stop it, new oil drilling could start in Carson in 2015. Will you stand with us to ban fracking in communities across the country by making a generous gift?

Dianne is in this fight because Carson is her home, it’s where she bought a house and has worked hard to create a legacy for her children and grandchildren. I’m committed to this work because, like Dianne, I can’t just sit by as some corporation comes into a community and destroys the land, water and health of real people. This is all of our fight, because no one should be at risk of the dangers of fracking.

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December 1st, 2014

United Water Living Large, Customers Stuck with the Bill

By Mitch Jones

Mitch_Jones_BlogThumbIn the wake of the defeat of its plan to build an unnecessary desalination plant in Rockland County, United Water New York finds itself under investigation by the New York Public Service Commission (PSC). The reason? Alleged financial impropriety. In other words: while United Water executives have been partying, ratepayers have been picking up the bill.

According to news reports, the company reported a “$7.1 million ‘misstatement’ of revenue” between 2010 and 2014. The “misstatement” led to three United Water New York executives losing their jobs.

A new report by a local NBC affiliate uncovered even more odd expenses. The company paid close to $80,000 for private school tuition for executives’ kids. On top of that, it paid $16,000 a month to rent a house for its CEO, Bertrand Camus, despite the fact that Mr. Camus is both the CEO of United Water and of its parent company, Suez Environment North America. Surely he can afford to pay his own rent.

But what’s even more ridiculous is that the company spent about $6,000 for golf balls in 2012. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you about the efficiencies of the private sector.

While the company was paying for these perks for its executives, it was seeking outrageous rate hikes for its customers. The company asked for a 28.9 percent rate increase this summer. Thankfully for its customers, New York PSC refused to grant such a large increase and approved one for 13.3 percent instead. During the proceedings on the rate increase, the PSC questioned expenses reported by the company for “holiday parties, award events, gifts, etc.,” as well as for a “wives breakfast” (seriously?) and for alcohol for corporate parties. Ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay more for their water service so that United Water New York can throw itself boozy parties.

Of course, United Water New York didn’t see any problem with including the parties in its request. It told the PSC that it would “provide more benefits than cost.” I doubt your typical Rockland County ratepayer benefits more from a corporate “wives breakfast” than it costs.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior. We’ve chronicled United Water’s failures for years as it attempts to make a profit out of privatizing water service. But lack of surprise doesn’t mean a lack of outrage. For the increasing rates that they’re paying, United Water’s customers deserve better.

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November 26th, 2014

What Happens When You Greenwash Fracking

By Hugh MacMillan

Last week, the Obama administration heard from large environmental groups about the need to directly regulate emissions of methane –– a potent greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas. The Obama administration has not been listening, as evidenced two days later when it dropped its Fall 2014 Statements of Regulatory Priorities for this fiscal year. The administration’s shortcoming does not surprise us, but from our perspective, the prospect of methane regulations makes for a Trojan horse.

Read the full article…

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November 24th, 2014

Halliburton acquires Baker Hughes and its ‘trade secrets’

Fracking-Rig-DTM-Blog

By Francesca Buzzi

This October, oilfield company Baker Hughes made a surprising announcement that the company would begin disclosing the contents of its frac fluid. Oilfield companies like Baker Hughes, Halliburton, and Schlumberger provide drilling and well completion support—including the creation of toxic frac fluid—to oil and gas companies. Last week, the company announced that they will merge with multinational giant, Haliburton – the very company after whom an infamous Safe Drinking Water Act exemption is named.

Read the full article…

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November 21st, 2014

The Last Straw for Irish Citizens: The Struggle Against Water Charges

By David Sánchez

IrishRight2WaterA European country in crisis. Men in black come to the rescue. With the complicity of the national government, they impose painful measures on the population. Men in black never forget to be nice to their friends, so the measures include a provision to privatise public water services. As a reaction, massive citizen’s mobilisations take place. The story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We have already experienced this situation in Greece, and just a few months ago, Greek citizens won the battle, and water will remain in public hands. Now history repeats itself, and the struggle against water privatisation and commodification is at boiling point in Ireland.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Irish Government and the men in black (also known as the Troika, formed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) provides for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a new water utility, Irish Water, easy to be privatised in the near future. In a nod to their cronies, the men in black tapped former Irish Minister of Environment Phil Hogan, who led the implementation of these changes, as the new European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Following months of protests and resistance, on November 1, more than 150,000 people mobilised across Ireland to oppose the changes. Water charges in Ireland will discriminate against those with less economic means and the unemployed, adding another regressive tax at a time when citizens have been asked to make too many sacrifices to solve an economic crisis which they did not cause. Ireland’s public water system is already paid for through general taxation, which is progressive, and charges commercial users. The Irish people have already shown that they wish it to remain that way.

Once again, European citizens should raise their voice against water privatisation and commodification. Food & Water Europe, together with our allies at the European Water Movement, want to express our solidarity with Irish citizens. Resisting water charges means fighting for access to water as a universal human right, and against the commodification of water. And it means blocking future privatisation attempts.

When will the European Commission finally get the message? Its provisions to privatise water failed in Greece, and they will fail in Ireland if citizens continue with their mobilisation. People in the streets of Dublin, Madrid or Athens; citizens voting in Thessaloniki, Rome or Berlin; nearly 2 million Europeans signing the Citizens Initiative on the Right to Water. All of them are claiming water as a public and common good. Men in black should be nice, for a change, to their citizens — not to their friends.

You can support the Irish campaign on the Right to Water here.

 

November 5th, 2014

Using Our Voice and Our Votes to Fight Corporate Interests

By Wenonah Hauter

1411_FBHL_ElectionsQuote-C1I can’t say that I was surprised as the returns came in from the bruising midterm election last night. It’s no accident that a group of die-hard reactionaries were elected in many states from the flood of dark money, in combination with low turnout and shocking voting rights abuses. Once again, the Democratic strategy of sounding “Republican Light” and relying on TV ads to win seats in a handful of swing states has proven ineffective.

The fact is, no matter which party is in control of Congress, our way forward remains clear: We must continue to organize and keep elected officials accountable on the issues we care about.

While news programs spent most of yesterday and today talking about big wins for the Republican Party and corporations, the American people still managed to make a considerable difference. Voters went to the polls in Reading, Pennsylvania and Sussex Borough, New Jersey to prevent corporations from privatizing their respective water systems. In addition, the people of Athens, Ohio, San Benito County and Mendocino County, California and Denton, Texas all successfully voted to ban fracking in their communities.

This midterm election put communities and corporations up against one another in a very unfair fight. Plain and simple, Big Oil and Gas tried to use money to bludgeon its opposition. In San Benito County alone, the oil industry spent about $2 million in order to spread misinformation about fracking and lead residents astray.

But what did local residents have to fight against this dangerous campaign of lies? They wielded true facts about fracking, backed up by independent scientific research. And these dedicated activists pounded the pavement, talking with neighbors and building a network of trust.

People dedicated to banning fracking in their communities may have been outspent 13 to 1. But they still managed to win, and preserve the wellbeing of the places they live for future generations. To date, 136 communities in the U.S. have banned fracking, and that number is only likely to grow.

By gutting campaign finance laws, the U.S. Supreme Court put a gaping wound in our democratic process. The Koch Brothers and other greedy sources of dark money have given corporate interests a soapbox and a megaphone to push a dangerous, selfish agenda.

Things will be very tough in Congress now, and we expect more McCarthy-like tactics. But Food & Water Watch and our supporters will not be cowed or frightened.

We will continue to fight for our right to clean drinking water and safe food; for our right to know what ingredients are used in our food; for our right to preserve our health and our environment; for our right to create a better, healthier world for our children and future generations.

That’s why no matter what the results of the elections at any given time, we must continue to raise our voices and engage politically so that we can build the political power to create the world we want for our children and grandchildren.

That’s what we’ll continue to do in 2015.

October 31st, 2014

Water Markets: A False Solution to a Real Crisis

Water_Protest_VolunteersPutting a public resource in the hands of the wealthy will not solve California’s water crisis

By Mitch Jones

If we have learned anything from the water shut-offs in Detroit and the ongoing water crisis in the Western U.S., it is that every community deserves access to safe and reliable water, regardless of its ability to pay. Yet a new movement is afoot to transfer control of our water to new water markets. Despite the evidence privatizing water doesn’t work, water privatization and market-based schemes are still being pushed upon the public as a solution. Specifically, we are seeing the idea of water markets gain attention, especially in response to the Western drought.

While not a new idea, the widespread use of water markets, which represents the financialization of all of our common resources, is relatively new. They are a false solution that assigns the benefits of our investment in this common resource to a small few at the expense of everyone else, and do little to ensure adequate supply to anyone.

We know that large financial institutions dream of water markets. In fact, Willem Buiter, Chief Economist at Citigroup, has written of his desire to see a global water market: “I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps — both exchange-traded and OTC will follow…. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Read the full article…

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