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April 24th, 2015

TPP Update: Fast Track Not on Track Despite Proponents’ Bluster

By Patrick Woodall

Patrick_WoodallThis week, both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee approved Fast Track trade authority, designed to accelerate Congressional consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But this is merely what the politics of Fast Track looks like on the surface. The dueling committee hearings were designed to give a false sense of momentum and inevitability to the Fast Track fight, but passage was practically guaranteed in these two committees largely stacked with corporate free trade apologists.

Just below the surface, underneath the spin and the lobbying, this week’s committee action shows the broad-based and passionate opposition to Fast Track. The House Ways and Means passed Fast Track, but it did so on an almost entirely party-line vote, with only two Democrats joining the Republicans (Reps. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon and Ron Kind from Wisconsin). The rest of the House Democrats voted no, and this solid opposition to Fast Track in the pro-trade committee suggests that Fast Track does not have an easy road forwards in the House. Republicans even refused to allow a vote on the Democratic trade authority alternative bill (offered by the dean of Democratic trade policy, Rep. Sander Levin). Stalwart critics of corporate-driven free trade like Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) put up a spirited attack on the Senate side, foreshadowing contentious debates to come.

Now, Fast Track proponents want to bring the bill to the full House and Senate and pretend that the Committee passage gives the controversial legislation momentum. Don’t believe the pro-corporate trade hype; there is widespread, bipartisan opposition to Fast Track in the Congress and right now is a great opportunity for engaged citizens to give our Representatives the backbone to stand up for working families and the environment.

The Fast Track hucksters hope to bring the bill to the floor in early May, so RIGHT NOW is the time to contact your Representatives and Senators today and urge them to oppose Fast Track (TPA-2015).

Only people power can defeat the corporate free-trade agenda. And, stay tuned; we will keep you up on the trade shenanigans in Washington.

April 23rd, 2015

Congress Holds First Hearing on Banning Fracking; Too Bad It’s A Circus

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.Profile

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch

If it wasn’t about the future of the planet, I’d laugh at the chutzpah. One day after Earth Day, the GOP-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, chaired by Texas Congressman Lamar Smith (recipient of more than $600,000 from the oil and gas industry) held a hearing about efforts to ban fracking. Obviously, Big Oil and Gas is mighty worried about the success of the powerful grassroots movement to ban fracking.

Where to even begin? Let’s start with the headline speakers. Not even one person was invited to represent the affected communities from around the country, nor was one of the hundreds of members of Americans Against Fracking invited to discuss why a ban on fracking is crucial.

Instead, the GOP invited the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that has decried efforts to ban fracking, claiming that if “best practices” are used, it can be done safely. EDF is a “strategic partner” of the pro-fracking Center for Sustainable Shale Development alongside corporate giants Chevron and Shell. In his testimony, EDF’s representative repeated many industry talking points.

Starting to get the picture? Wait, there’s more. In the height of irony, a representative from Energy In Depth, an industry-funded front group, was on hand to release a new white paper decrying how the environmental groups get foundation money (and, as far as I can tell, the EDF representative never refuted their outrageous claims.) Meanwhile, while conducting research for my upcoming book Frackopoly, we discovered through SEC filings that the top 10 oil and gas companies had almost $80 billion in profits in 2014; and it was ExxonMobil, the largest fracker today, that spent millions funding climate deniers. Energy In Depth was created by the Independent Petroleum Association of America “to combat new environmental regulations.” Early funders included some of the largest oil and gas companies on earth, including BP, Chevron, and Shell.

No, it isn’t public interest foundations that are paying Energy In Depth’s salaries—it’s money from climate denying companies that are devastating the environment. No wonder they’re alarmed that New York State listened to the increasing body of science that shows fracking is bad news; this hearing is the latest proof that industry is working in overdrive to discredit the work of scientists that believe fracking is dangerous to public health, our environment and communities.

We’re not surprised the scientist present on today’s panel raised no such alarms. Dr. Donald Siegel, a scientist at Syracuse University, was recently accused of failing to disclose fees he received from Chesapeake Energy in a study on methane contamination of drinking water wells from fracking. His study concluded that proximity to a fracked well was not necessarily linked to methane concentrations in groundwater. The study was also criticized for its methane testing methods, and put under ethics review.

Industry groups, including Energy In Depth, predictably cheered the findings. In his testimony today, Dr. Siegel criticized a methane study that conflicts with his study’s conclusions by suggesting that it used skewed samples.

Christi Craddick, the Chair of the Railroad Commission of Texas, the oil and gas regulator that is a toady for the industry, was another panel member. When the city of Denton, Texas, passed a ban on fracking in November of 2014, Craddick announced that she would ignore the ban and continue to issue fracking permits.

Today’s event wasn’t a serious exercise in democracy. It was a circus. Congress can do better. In fact, members of Congress have an excellent opportunity right now to listen to the growing chorus of advocates who are demanding that our leaders put people and the planet over oil and gas industry profits: new legislation in the House was announced yesterday to ban fracking on public lands—the strongest federal legislation against fracking to-date.

This very orchestrated hearing shows that a growing movement is getting behind the ever-deepening body of science showing that we need to ban fracking—and it’s making the industry very nervous.

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Monsanto and Big Tobacco’s Legacy

By Tim SchwabGMO_Canola

When an independent, international group of scientists recently determined that Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, widely used in conjunction with Roundup-Ready genetically engineered crops, is probably carcinogenic to humans, Monsanto called the science biased and demanded that the World Health Organization (which oversaw the study) retract the finding.

This is a pitch-perfect example of the biotech industry drawing on Big Tobacco’s playbook of denial tactics, used for decades to confuse the scientific discourse that linked cigarettes to cancer. In recent weeks and months, we’ve seen just how deep the ties run between Big Food’s PR machine and that of Big Tobacco. Read the full article…

April 22nd, 2015

Time for Congress to Protect our Public Lands from Fracking

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter at a public lands rally outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

Wenonah Hauter at a public lands rally outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

Today is Earth Day, an ideal time to think about what we can do to better preserve and protect our environment. Fittingly, the Protect Our Public Lands Act, which would ban fracking on all federal lands, was reintroduced today by Congressmembers Mark Pocan and Jan Schakowsky, and 12 additional cosponsors.

Sadly, fracking has already seriously damaged our public lands. By the end of 2014, oil and gas companies held leases on more than 34 million acres of public land, and more than 200 million additional acres are currently being targeted for drilling. These lands were set aside by past generations for the protection and enjoyment of future generations. Yet the oil and gas industry has been allowed and even encouraged by our current crop of federal leaders to decimate this land.

When President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management originally proposed rules to regulate fracking on public lands, more than 650,000 public comments were delivered demanding an outright ban on the practice instead. Ironically, President Obama is giving his Earth Day address from south Florida’s Everglades today, a delicate wetlands habitat that is under threat from fracking on adjacent public lands. While Obama selected the Everglades to highlight the risk that climate change poses to the location and the rest of our planet, his Earth Day message is wildly inconsistent with his support for fracking.

More and more Americans are demanding real action against fracking on the federal level. We are fortunate to have key members of Congress who are willing to heed this call. The rising national movement against fracking has been driven not just by emerging science, but also a groundswell of grassroots activism. In response, New York enacted a statewide ban in December and the Maryland General Assembly recently passed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium on fracking. It is becoming more clear that regulating fracking still risks accidental spills, water contamination, methane leaks, earthquakes and habitat destruction. The only way to negate these risks is to ban fracking entirely.

The Protect Our Public Lands Act is a huge opportunity for Congress to get on the right side of history by protecting national resources and heritage, while also decreasing America’s contribution to climate change. It is time for real action to be taken to protect our country’s pristine lands and pass the Protect Our Public Lands Act. Banning fracking on public lands should be a no-brainer for Congress and the President.

Tell you member of Congress to support the Protect Our Public Lands Act!

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April 20th, 2015

GM Mosquitoes: Bad for Business in the Keys

By Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch and
Barry Wray, Executive Director of Florida Keys Environmental Coalition

Aedes_albopictus_on_human_skin copyThis week, local officials in the Florida Keys will decide whether to approve the first ever release of genetically engineered (GMO) mosquitoes in the United States. Yes, you read that right: lab-engineered mosquitoes could be released in one of America’s favorite tourist destinations very soon, even though it’s unclear if any government agency has evaluated the full array of health and environmental risks associated with these new GMO insects.

Unfortunately, the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners have been conspicuously absent from the conversation about GMO mosquitoes even though this experiment could have a direct impact on business in the Keys. The proposal to release millions of these mosquitoes by British company Oxitec is instead being vetted by a small, local board called the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. This mosquito district has touted GMO mosquitoes as a potential boon to tourism in the Keys because they could reduce dengue fever, though the Keys haven’t had a case in a half-decade.

Of course, Florida’s mosquito problem should not be trivialized. Dengue fever is a leading cause of illness and death for those in tropical and subtropical climates, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But Oxitec has not provided evidence to support that its mosquitoes will be able to effectively control dengue. On the contrary, reports from the field suggest the opposite. Malaysia’s Health Minister recently announced that after field-testing Oxitec’s mosquitos, the country will not be pursuing the program because it was not cost-effective. Additionally, one Brazilian town was still at the highest alert for dengue fever even after Oxitec’s mosquitoes were released there in 2013.

Even if these bugs did successfully wipe out the entire population of the targeted A. aegypti mosquito, the Asian tiger mosquito (also a known vector of dengue and other diseases) could easily take its place. Letting tiger mosquitoes become more commonplace would only make a new dengue fever carrier more prevalent.

Oxitec claims that its mosquitoes are engineered with a lethal gene that is supposed to break the pest’s reproductive cycle because its offspring, for the most part, die before reaching adulthood. The company claims this would theoretically reduce the mosquito population and the prevalence of dengue fever without the need for pesticides. But the Mosquito Control District has not done enough to identify insecticide alternatives. Instead of exploring a range of options, they have hastily and aggressively pursued Oxitec’s GMO mosquito program despite strong public opposition and a lack of peer-reviewed data.

Significant public opposition defeated Oxitec’s first plan to release GMO mosquitoes in Key West in 2012, but Oxitec is now poised to win approval in Key Haven, a peninsula just a few miles east of Key West. Hundreds of thousands of citizens from across the country have written local, state and federal officials to oppose this plan and last week, hundreds of people called the local tourism council to ask that the Keys be preserved as a national treasure for tourists and residents alike, not for GMO mosquito experiments.

It is puzzling that any local official would sit on the sidelines while GMO mosquitoes were allowed to potentially tarnish the reputation that most Americans have of the Florida Keys as a pristine island paradise. But that is exactly what the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council and the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners have been doing.

It’s high time that local officials took decisive steps to stop this bizarre plan now instead of inheriting the more difficult task of attracting visitors to a place where residents and tourists are the subjects of a science experiment. It’s clear now that GMO mosquitoes could not only harm public health and the environment – they may also be bad for business.

April 16th, 2015

Same Old Hatch-et Job on Trade Agenda on Fast Track

By Patrick Woodall

DSC_2957

Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced their Fast Track trade promotion legislation (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015) to a flurry of adulation that this bill signals momentum on the Big Business-Republican leadership-Obama trade agenda. The free trade fanfare cannot overcome the broad-based public opposition to fast-tracking trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Far from an exciting new trade initiative, this is pretty much the exact same retrograde legislation that Hatch introduced last year. Fast Track is a parliamentary mechanism that prevents Congress from providing oversight to presidential trade negotiators and relegates the Congress to rubber stamp trade deals like the TPP on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

The Hatch-Ryan Fast Track (they like to call it “trade promotion authority”) not only sets the rules for how Congress votes on trade deals but the Fast Track fine print prioritizes business interests ahead of consumer protections, food safety rules, public health safeguards and the environment.  Read the full article…

What FDA Can’t Tell Us About Antibiotic Use in Animals

By Sarah Borron Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

Factory farms routinely use antibiotics to compensate for filthy conditions, a practice that promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Food & Water Watch has been fighting to change policies about how antibiotics can be used in agriculture and to demand more information from government agencies about the problem.

Last week, the FDA released a report about antibiotic use in livestock and poultry. What’s interesting is not just what the report tells us, but what it doesn’t. For over two years, we’ve waited for FDA to make some significant changes to data collection and reporting on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry.

Let’s start with what the report does tell us–how many antibiotics producers purchased to use on livestock and poultry in 2013.

  • Overall, antibiotic sales went up by 17 percent over a five-year period.
  • For antibiotics that are important for human medicine, sales for use in animals went up by 20 percent in that same time frame.
  • Medically important antibiotics accounted for nearly two-thirds of total sales of antibiotics for use in animal agriculture.
  • Nearly all the medically important antibiotics given to animals were administered in food or water, a practice that can lead to imprecise dosing and higher likelihood of antibiotic resistance.

So, what important questions remain unanswered? To be able to better understand how antibiotic use in livestock production relates to antibiotic resistance patterns, we at least need to know how antibiotic use breaks down by different types of animals and why the antibiotics are being given to the animals. It makes a difference whether the antibiotics are given to healthy animals to prevent disease or to sick animals to treat disease. It also makes a difference to know which animals are getting which types of antibiotics as we examine, for instance, how Salmonella and E. coli are resistant to different drugs in different types of meat.

Antibiotic resistance is a complicated problem. We need more detailed data to understand how antibiotics are being used and how that affects resistance patterns. FDA has waited long enough; it’s time for them to finalize their new rules on data collection so the public can get a clear picture of how the meat industry is using antibiotics. We’ll let you know when they make a proposal so you can weigh in.

In the meantime, ask your Congressperson to protect antibiotics and stop the overuse of these important drugs on factory farms!

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April 14th, 2015

Glyphosate: As Safe as, Well, Poison

By Genna Reed GMO_Canola

Years ago, Monsanto began touting its crown jewel weed killer, glyphosate (Roundup), as “less toxic to rats than table salt.” It was reminiscent of their infamous “DDT is good for me-e-e!” ads showing gleeful fruits and vegetables dancing around with a woman and cow. Now, after Roundup has been on the market for 40 years, a new review of the available data on glyphosate may alter the commonly held belief that it is benign.

The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) put out an evaluation of glyphosate and four other herbicides and insecticides, which determined that glyphosate should be classified as a 2A carcinogen, meaning it is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Just for a measure of comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently rates glyphosate at an E for carcinogenicity, indicating no risk of cancer whatsoever. Read the full article…

April 13th, 2015

Somerset County Residents Fight Back Against Expanding Chicken Industry

By Michele Merkel and Claire Fitch

Chickens_Farm

Somerset County has been in the cross hairs of the poultry industry for quite a long time, with an inventory of 14.9 million broiler chickens – the largest of any county in Maryland, and the sixth largest in the United States. Big companies, including Perdue and Tyson own these birds, which are raised in large industrial facilities for their entire lives, and produce enormous quantities of waste. With nowhere to put the tens of millions of pounds of manure generated by these birds, the county is now considering poultry litter incinerators while continuing to entertain proposals to build a number of new broiler chicken operations.

Last week, public health scientists, environmental advocates, and local residents joined together for a Town Hall meeting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to express their concerns with the proposed expansion of factory farm chicken operations and the construction of a poultry litter incinerator in Somerset County on the lower Eastern Shore.

Speakers at the Town Hall meeting gave us a snapshot of the public health and community impacts that may result from the expansion of broiler production and the introduction of manure burning facilities.

Brent Kim from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future spoke about the evidence of chemical contaminants and harmful bacteria, including antibiotic resistant strains, in and around broiler operations. These health hazards have been identified several miles downwind from such operations and may be carried into groundwater sources – particularly concerning for the 60 percent of Somerset County’s residents who access their household water supply from private wells. Read the full article…

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The U.S. Water Alliance’s Water Prize Greenwashes Pollution Trading

By Scott Edwards

When is an award really greenwashing? When it recognizes a scheme that perpetuates pollution of our waterways as innovative.

Tonight, the U.S. Water Alliance, a Washington-based water policy organization, will hand the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) its 2015 United States Water Prize for its work promoting water pollution trading in the highly polluted Ohio River Basin.

In a press release, a former EPA official called the EPRI project impressive, noting that “…companies now have an opportunity to receive turn-key verified credits to meet their stewardship goals, address compliance needs, support farms, and protect ecosystems.”

Share this image and help us spread... the word to EPA that pollution trading just doesn't work!

Share this image and help us spread… the word to EPA that pollution trading just doesn’t work!

The problem is, water pollution trading is a market-based scheme that does none of that. But polluting industries, like coal-fired plants, and their front groups promote it as a way to avoid upgrading their facilities to protect our threatened waterways. For over 40 years, the Clean Water Act (CWA) has demanded that these industries implement increasingly advanced pollution reduction technologies towards the Act’s ultimate goal of eliminating discharges from our waterways. But companies don’t like to be regulated. So, with EPRI’s pay-to-pollute program, proven methods of regulating pollution under the CWA are being significantly eroded and our rivers, streams and bays will pay the price.

Water pollution trading is essentially a scam. The untested theory is that agriculture operations that discharge nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich manure into our nutrient-impaired waterways can cheaply reduce their discharges through the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) like grass buffers. These BMPs generate pollution “credits” that the agriculture operations sell to EPRI’s power plant Board members who want to avoid controlling their own nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. Trading proponents label this approach as a “win/win,” and they’re right. Power plants win because they get to keep on polluting and agricultural operations win because they can continue to avoid regulation while making money from the sale of the credits (and installing BMPs that are never subject to monitoring and discharge verification).

Industry wins and agriculture wins—but our rivers lose. In fact, the list of successful pilot trades EPRI and others trumpet in support of their approach are anything but.

Take, for example, the trading plan concocted for the Alpine Cheese factory in Ohio. Alpine Cheese has been a chronic violator of its CWA permit as it dumped excess amounts of nutrients into the impaired Sugar Creek. Back in 2006, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) crafted a trading plan that allowed Alpine Cheese to fund the implementation of BMPs of local dairy operations in lieu of forcing the factory to adhere to permit limits to meet Sugar Creek’s water quality standards. That five-year plan called for biannual inspections of all the participating dairy operations to “verify” that the BMPs were installed and effective. OEPA, the Agency charged with protecting waterways in the state, wasn’t even allowed to take part in this water quality inspection and verification plan because in a 2005 letter, Ohio Representative Bob Gibbs told the Agency to stay off the farms.

We have retrieved a number of public records related to the Alpine Cheese trading scheme, as well as several records related to the Pennsylvania trading program. What we’ve found is disturbing (perhaps it’s not too late for the Alliance to ask for its award back.)

The agreement called for biannual farm inspections for Alpine Cheese over the five-year period – a total of 10 inspection reports for each operation in the program. What we found, instead, was a small smattering of inspection checklists representing a fraction of these mandated reports. There was no monitoring done to verify farm nutrient reduction, and no confirmation of actual results. At the same time, Alpine Cheese continued to regularly violate even its relaxed nutrient permit standards while OEPA stood by. And the Sugar Creek that was supposed to be the beneficiary of this “innovative” new approach to water quality? That remains on Ohio’s nutrient impaired list without any evidence that overall water quality is improving.

The Ohio River Basin is also the “beneficiary” of the ongoing Pennsylvania trading program that we are also scrutinizing. There, third party manure brokers are making money by moving tons of poultry factory farm manure out of the southeast corner of the state where it poisons the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Transport manifests show that hundreds of tons of manure are being driven across the state to the southwest corner of Pennsylvania to be dumped. That’s the corner of the state that sits in the Ohio River Basin, where EPRI is operating its own manure-shifting program.

If innovation is moving piles of manure around the country from one impaired waterway to another, allowing a highly-polluting industrial agricultural operation to continue discharging into our waterways, and giving power plants a way out of complying with permits—and controlling their own discharges—then EPRI deserves even more awards. It’s a shame, though, that they would come at the expense of clean water and communities.

Call on the Environmental Protection Agency to PROTECT the Clean Water Act and REJECT water pollution trading schemes.

 

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