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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.

February 20th, 2015

Food for Thought With Dr. Dennis Keeney

By Kate Fried KeeneyCoverjpg

When many of us think of farms, our minds conjure idyllic images of small operations tended by friendly farmers, animals grazing freely in dewy pastures, rolls of hay that look like giant Shredded Wheats, bright red barns with silos. But with the advent of large-scale industrial farming, that reality is starkly different.

According to Food & Water Watch board member Dr. Dennis Keeney, the first director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, “the farm you grew up on, at least for a couple of generations, was named after the family that lived there. It became a sense of place that we really miss, because now agriculture is large corporate farms that have no sense of place. It’s a way of life that is largely gone.” Read the full article…

February 19th, 2015

An Apple Lover’s GMO Apple Lament

By Genna Reed 

What is it about an apple that makes it such a beloved and culturally important fruit? For some it might be its bright red color, its sweet, juicy crunch, its association with the brisk beginnings of fall or perhaps its fabled ability to ward off visits to doctors’ offices.Apples

When I was growing up, my mom packed a home-sliced apple for me every single day for lunch. Though slicing the apples took more time, my mom got into the habit when braces made biting into the skin of an apple an arduous feat. The apple slices were sometimes a bit browned by lunchtime, but it never deterred me from devouring this healthy snack. Furthermore, I never stopped before biting into the apple slices to think to myself, “Gee, if only these slices could be modified somehow to prevent browning.” Read the full article…

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!




Congress: Don’t Mess With Meat Labels

By Katherine Cirullo

COOL_Labeling_USDA_MeatThis week brought progress for consumers, ranchers and food safety advocates who want to know where their food is produced. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dropped an anti-consumer lawsuit filed by meatpackers and industry groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that would have denied U.S. shoppers the right to know where the meat they purchase was born, raised and slaughtered. The dismissal marks a major victory in the long history of industry attacks on country of origin labeling (COOL), but the battle to this labeling law isn’t over just yet, as the rule remains vulnerable to the whims of Congress.

The lawsuit, filed in July of 2013 by the American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. (a conglomerate of domestic and international meatpacking and commodity groups) sought to strike-down COOL, a popular meat labeling law that gives consumers basic information about the origin of meat products. The court entertained three rounds of challenges by the industry groups. And those groups lost at every round.

First, in September of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the meatpackers’ request that the USDA stop using an updated version of COOL requirements that gave consumers more precise information about the origin of meat. Then, in March of 2014, a three-judge panel of the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. And in July, the entire circuit appeals court upheld the legitimacy of USDA’s rules for the popular COOL labels – rejecting the industry’s claim that companies have a First Amendment right to not give consumers basic information about where food comes from. Read the full article…

February 10th, 2015

TPP is the Crazy Train, and Fast Track is the Highway to Hell

Stop Secret Trade DealsA quick guide to why the TPP and Fast Track would undermine Democracy and eliminate protections for food and water

By Rich Bindell

We’ve been exposed to an awful lot of banter and propaganda about international trade deals recently. In the past year, the words “Fast Track,” “Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” and “trade promotion authority” have been thrown around quite liberally, most recently in the State of the Union Address. While we’ve blogged about the TPP and Fast Track many times already, and produced a fact sheet or two to break it down for the uninitiated, it seems like it might be a nice gesture to explain why this topic is on the tips of many a political tongue as of late.

In a world of endless acronyms, international trade has produced its share, many of which can be noted for their potential to reap havoc on values that Americans hold dear. To put it simply, the TPP is a controversial and largely secretive global trade deal that the Obama administration is trying to push through Congress, and Fast Track is a convenient nickname for the mechanism that political leaders are trying to use to push it through Congress quickly, without any messy arguments about it’s details. If it helps you remember: TPP is the Crazy Train and Fast Track is the Highway to Hell.

For the better part of a year-and-a-half, the corporate lobbying machine, congressional Republicans and the White House have been united in pushing for Fast Track authority on trade deals that will hurt the environment, public health, workers and American democracy, but the TPP has the ability to do all of this in one fell swoop. Read the full article…

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.

January 30th, 2015

Cereal Killer: Post Holdings Takeover of MOM Brands

By Patrick Woodall CerealMerger2BlogThumb_

If you’re like many people, you may like to start your day with a bowl of cereal. Unfortunately, large food corporations are limiting your choices, making it all the more challenging to find healthy, affordable breakfast foods. That’s because right now, a handful of well-known companies like Kellogg and General Mills have a stranglehold on the breakfast cereal aisle, and a new merger announced this week will give consumers even fewer choices.

Read the full article…

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.

The Super Bowl: Football, Food and…Fracking Ads

By Katherine Cirullo

Image courtesy of Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Image courtesy of 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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