Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 2
Victory! Governor Cuomo bans fracking in New York. more wins »
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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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A Decision No Family Should Have To Make

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Every family deserves to be protected from fracking.

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By Ann, Food & Water Watch Supporter

Oil and gas companies are poisoning more and more communities in their mad rush to “drill, baby, drill.” After watching my family in Texas face this reality, I know for certain that I don’t want to see fracking expanded in backyards, schoolyards or in our national forests.

That’s why I am offering to triple your gift to Food & Water Watch to protect more families from fracking.

My nephew’s son was constantly getting sick – from chest colds to ear infections – and doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause. My nephew began to wonder if the rumors of oil and gas pollution in their town were true. What would you do?

Because of his son’s health, he made the excruciatingly difficult decision to uproot his family from their small town and move across the state line to a frack-free part of New Mexico. My family was able to get away, but the fact of the matter is that not all families have the means to leave, and no family should have to make that decision.

Since moving away, the illnesses that plagued my nephew’s son have disappeared and he’s a happy, healthy second grader. My nephew hasn’t been able to find work in New Mexico, so he still operates his business in Texas during the week and drives four hours each way to be with his family in New Mexico on the weekends.

I can’t prove that the oil and gas industry was to blame, but I know my nephew’s son got healthy when he left the town and I’ve heard too many similar stories to discount them. As long as the oil and gas industry is allowed to expand fracking and make its own rules, more families will wonder if their water is safe to drink, if the air at the playground is safe to breathe and if they need to make a tough decision to sell their house at a lower price just to get out.

We know that fracking companies consistently cut corners to put profits before people, so it’s up to us to stop them. And I believe that Food & Water Watch’s approach is truly one of the best. That’s why I’ve decided to put my full-fledged support behind them. Donate today and I’ll triple the impact of your gift.

Food & Water Watch gives people the information they need to see through the smoke screens that big oil and gas companies put up, they have staff across the country in 16 states helping communities stop fracking locally, they advocate on behalf of people who don’t want to see fracking expanded and they hold our elected officials accountable for their actions — from small towns all the way to the White House.

Food & Water Watch has helped win victories against fracking that nobody thought were possible, like keeping fracking out of New York, passing more than 400 measures to protect communities from fracking, stopping Congress from fast tracking approval of a slew of new facilities to export fracked gas abroad and working to introduce a bill to ban fracking on public lands and in national forests.

I hope my offer will inspire you to give to help more communities fight fracking before it affects more families like mine. No family should have to wonder if fracking is making their child sick.

If you donate before Friday, December 19, I will match your gift to triple the impact you can have to protect more families from fracking. That means if you donate $50, I will make that gift $150!

I hope you will join with me today.

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November 26th, 2014

O’Malley’s Fracking Problem

By Emily Wurth

Fracking_Maryland_ReportYesterday, the Washington Post reported that Governor O’Malley plans to move forward with fracking regulations in Maryland. Just as we were all starting to get excited about our Thanksgiving dinners, he announced that his administration will release the regulations next month and open up the Western part of the state to drilling and fracking. The news made me lose my appetite altogether, as it has become increasingly clear that fracking cannot be done safely, even with regulations.

The outgoing Governor’s regulations will not take effect until after he leaves office and pro-fracking Republican Larry Hogan, who defeated O’Malley’s Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown in the election, takes over. At that point, the new governor can do whatever he wants and is under no obligation to adopt these rules.

So why did Governor O’Malley release these regulations now? He claims it would be irresponsible after the years of study not to propose regulations on fracking, and that “Maryland can’t afford to stick its head in the sand here.”

But it’s Governor O’Malley who is turning a blind eye to the mountain of scientific evidence showing fracking cannot be safely regulated. In fact, the public health study conducted by the University of Maryland found that fracking would pose significant impacts to public health in Maryland. In seven of eight research areas – including air quality, worker health, noise and crime, water quality and cumulative effects – the research team found a high or moderately high likelihood of negative public health impacts. Read the full article…

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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

What I’m Thankful for this Season

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Halliburton acquires Baker Hughes and its ‘trade secrets’

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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 20th, 2014

FDA and Pfizer Take a Trip to Spin City

By Wenonah Hauter

Chicken_Drum_StickUntil last year, small, yet significant levels of arsenic may have laced your chicken dinner, but Big Pharma really didn’t want you to know. And once again, industry influence over government prevailed over protecting public health.

In a classic case of the fox guarding the chicken coop, Alpharma, a former subsidiary of the major pharmaceutical company Pfizer, was recently found to be colluding with the FDA behind closed doors to delay and downplay public release of important information about risks of one of its livestock drugs. Those closed doors have now been thrown wide open.

After filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and having to sue the agency to get the documents, Food & Water Watch recently obtained internal documents ranging from formal letters to e-mails, between Pfizer and the FDA. The trail of breadcrumbs reveals just how far Big Pharma will go to protect its interests, and just how easily the FDA gave in—at the expense of public health and food safety.

Here’s the deal: Decades ago, FDA approved the use of drugs containing arsenic for use in chickens, turkeys and pigs. It says these drugs can be used for growth promotion and to treat and prevent disease. The catch is, the FDA recognizes the organic form of arsenic as safe, while inorganic arsenic is considered a carcinogen that may lead to health effects from lung, bladder or skin cancer, to heart disease, diabetes, neurological problems in children and more. Read the full article…

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November 10th, 2014

Standing by Those Who Stand in the Way of Fracking Infrastructure

By Wenonah HauterBlogThumb_Wenonah1

It all began taking shape back in March of 2013, when Sandra Steingraber — the noted biologist, author, educator and advisor of Americans Against Fracking — and 11 other courageous individuals were arrested for blockading the entrance to a natural gas compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake, in the environmentally sensitive Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. These so-called “Seneca Lake 12” were simply doing what countless other Americans have done over generations when they knew their health and safety were threatened, when their elected leaders weren’t there to help, and when they had no other choice: they stood up for their neighbors, their families and themselves, and were hauled off to jail. Sandra spent 10 days behind bars after defiantly refusing to pay a fine.

The narrative of the Seneca Lake 12 is becoming all too familiar, as concerned residents across the nation are often finding no legal means of resistance against the incessant development of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure spurred on by fracking. Thanks to the decimation of campaign finance laws by the U.S. Supreme Court, state and federal politicians have become increasingly bought off by the unlimited wealth of the oil and gas industry. As such, pleas from desperate local officials and community groups to reject hazardous infrastructure projects fall on deaf ears.

As for FERC, the federal commission charged with regulating the construction and operation of our nation’s energy supply, forget about it. The faceless, bureaucratic agency is simply a machine-like rubber stamp for the whims of the fossil fuel industry and a president who usually backs them.

And so, the numerous infrastructure components required to support and enhance the productivity of fracking operations – pipelines, compressor stations, toxic waste facilities, export terminals, etc. – are sprouting up and branching out through our communities at an alarming rate. The compressor stations, in particular, are downright nasty to live near. They’re intolerably loud, and they regularly emit vast plumes of toxic gasses, including benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, into surrounding environs.

Which brings us back to the Seneca Lake 12, arrested last March for an act of civil disobedience that sought to draw attention to the hazards inherent in a new Inergy (subsequently bought by Texas-based Crestwood-Midstream) compressor station on Seneca Lake, in Reading, New York. Were this any typical gas compressor station about to come on line, community resistance to it would be fully understandable. Though this was no ordinary compressor station.

The Crestwood facility is intended to serve a much more audacious industry goal. The intended expansion project aims to compress and pump billions of cubic feet of natural gas, and millions of gallons of liquid petroleum gas, into vast, underground salt caverns that lie along Seneca Lake. These unlined salt caverns have existed for more than a century. The underground caverns abut the pristine lake, one of New York State’s largest drinking water sources. The repurposing of caverns like these are known to leak, collapse and explode. All fracked gas infrastructure is dangerous and polluting. Salt cavern storage is simply absurd.

Flash forward to October 24, 2014: FERC has just approved – rubber-stamped – Crestwood’s plan to ramp up operation at the Seneca Lake compressor station and salt caverns, and construction is authorized to begin. All means of local community appeal, veto or delay of the project, have been exhausted. And Sandra Steingraber and a dedicated, determined band of community members unwilling to be quietly dismissed are again blocking an entrance to the Seneca Lake Crestwood gas storage facility. Sandra wasn’t arrested again on Oct. 24, but she was a week later.

By early November, dozens of community members, organized and supported by the grassroots We Are Seneca Lake campaign, had been arrested for actions of nonviolent civil disobedience at Crestwood Seneca Lake. No doubt these courageous, intelligent demonstrations of community resistance and education will continue and expand at Seneca Lake, and in countless locations nationwide. Until our elected leaders and government institutions stand up for the health and safety of all residents, and against the profiteering interests of the oil and gas industry, arrests will surely mount.

I am proud to stand in solidarity with Sandra Steingraber and all the brave, nonviolent activists in the Finger Lakes region, and all those engaged in similarly righteous acts of resistance and education elsewhere throughout the nation.

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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.

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