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July 24th, 2013

INTERVIEW: Karen Feridun, Success as a Pennsylvania Fractivist

By Walker Foley

Pennsylvania lies at the heart of the fracking controversy in the Marcellus Shale. Activists recently discovered that the Department of Environmental Protection covered up 161 cases confirming water contamination linked to fracking. Gag laws silence doctors treating sickened patients, stifling their contributions to greater medical understanding of the process’s effects on public health. Moreover, no one knows exactly what is in the chemical cocktail used in fracking, as that information is considered a trade secret. Despite this, party leadership on both sides of the aisle walks almost hand in hand on the issue. Both are seemingly pro-fracking, and many accept industry campaign contributions.

But Karen Feridun of the group Berks Gas Truth achieved the unthinkable, shaking up the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s pro-fracking platform. Together with Sue Lyons, Feridun was instrumental in convincing the state’s Democratic party to support a moratorium on fracking—much to the chagrin of many of its leaders.

I recently had the chance to speak with Karen on her recent victory. We hope her story can inspire and aid similar actions in other communities. 

Read the full article…

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July 23rd, 2013

Expansive Natural Gas Infrastructure Gets Push in House

By Liz Schuster 

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted in support of the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, a bill that would streamline the permitting process for natural gas pipelines by placing mandatory deadlines on the agencies in charge of approving infrastructure projects. Having passed out of committee, it may now make its way to the House floor for a vote.

It is obvious the oil and gas industry is looking to expand its market overseas. In pursuit of foreign markets, the industry needs to first create an expansive infrastructure to export liquefied natural gas. But these pipeline projects will ensure increased drilling and fracking across the country, bringing with them a host of health and environmental problems for nearby communities.

More specifically, the bill would place the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) under a mandatory 12-month deadline to approve or deny any natural gas infrastructure projects. This 12-month deadline starts ticking as soon as FERC receives a completed application. Other federal agencies would have 90 days after FERC releases its environmental review of the project to act. If they do not, or do not meet the requirements to demand 30 more days, the projects would automatically go into effect 30 days after the window for approval or denial runs out.  

In April groups protested FERC for “rubber stamping” natural gas infrastructure projects. By limiting FERC’s time for review, the bill almost ensures cut corners and less citizen participation.  

Building more natural gas pipelines only locks us into a future fueled by dirty fossil fuels. America’s sustainable, energy independent future depends on true renewables, like solar and wind power. The Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act may have passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee, but it still has to survive a full House vote.  Please contact your House Member to tell them to vote against speeding up natural gas pipeline approvals.

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July 19th, 2013

Fracking Bans Spread Across Argentina, Global Resistance Grows

By Jaime Hamre and Katherine Cirullo 

The momentum of the anti-fracking movement is growing as concerned communities across the globe feel the threat of natural gas development. On October 19, activists around the world will join together for the second annual Global Frackdown, an international day of action and an opportunity to, as one unified community, send a message to protect our resources. In anticipation of this year’s Frackdown, we can’t help but point to the recent victories of the anti-fracking movement in Argentina as an inspiring example of global resistance. Read the full article…

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July 18th, 2013

You Can’t “Get Fracking Right” in Maryland, Governor O’Malley

By Jorge Aguilar

Photo CC-BY © Office of the Maryland Governor/Flickr.com

Leaders in the Maryland Legislature rejected a bill last session that would have placed a ban on fracking in the state, seemingly supporting Governor O’Malley in whatever plan he unveils for Maryland. The governor, in turn, has appropriated taxpayer money to conduct several studies to determine whether or not the long-term effects of fracking would be too detrimental to public health and the environment. In fact, Governor O’Malley has been telling anti-fracking advocates that the Old Line State will not turn into another version of Pennsylvania, where regulations are scant and taxes on the oil and gas industry are virtually non-existent. But more and more, we are seeing evidence that Governor O’Malley wants to turn Maryland into a natural gas-friendly state like Pennsylvania. Almost as if to demonstrate that very point, I got some news that is as surprising as it is frustrating.

State officials recently revealed to Food & Water Watch that Governor O’Malley has hired John H. Quigley, who served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources during the state’s rapid expansion of fracking, to help draft key fracking regulations in Maryland. The news is further proof that Governor O’Malley has already made his mind up to allow fracking and is moving forward with developing regulations to issue fracking permits in Maryland. Read the full article…

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July 17th, 2013

Good Governors Don’t Frack Their People

By Anna Meyer

What do kid-hosted lemonade stands, a Governor Hickenlooper impersonator and over 100 activists have in common? They were all part of a protest this past weekend in Aspen to tell Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper and the other members of the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA): “good Governors don’t frack their people.” Protect Our Colorado, a statewide coalition to fight fracking in Colorado’s communities, brought together children, activists and community members to join in the growing movement to support a ban on fracking.

Read the full article…

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July 16th, 2013

Tomato Irradiation Approval in Australia and New Zealand

By Stephanie Tate

On May 18th, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, better known as FSANZ, approved the use of irradiation on Australian tomatoes and bell peppers to deal with fruit flies. The agency said irradiation is an acceptable way to replace the method of fumigating produce with ozone-depleting chemicals. While that is a worthwhile goal, portraying this as a choice between irradiation and toxic fumigants is too simplistic – neither is acceptable. The effects of irradiated food consumption, especially over the long-term, have not been sufficiently researched, and the continued approval of irradiation for various food items, including meat and shellfish, in both the U.S. and other countries is a worrisome trend. Read the full article…

Sale of Bethel’s Water System Would be a “Tax Through the Tap”

By Seth Gladstone

The proposed sale of Bethel, Connecticut’s drinking water system to Aquarion is a bad deal for residents and one that they should reject. Not only would the privatization mean much higher water rates for town residents in the future, it would also take the drinking water system out of local public oversight and control.

Aquarion agreed to charge the same rates as the town would charge through 2015, but after this period, the company will likely bring Bethel’s rates up to those of its Eastern Division – an extra $141 a year, or 37 percent more. Plus, Aquarion seeks a rate increase once every three years, and right now, the company is seeking to hike its Eastern Division rates by 23 percent over the next three years, which would bring the typical household’s annual bill up to $642 by 2015.

Statistically, privately owned water systems charge higher rates than publicly owned water systems of the same scale. This makes sense. Privatized water systems have two key disadvantages that drive up their rates significantly. First and foremost, private utilities demand profit on their investments. This profit motive compels regulated utilities to overinvest and prioritize reimbursed capital expenditure over efficiency. This is a well-established economic phenomenon, and it comes at the expense of ratepayers.

Read the full article…

July 15th, 2013

If You Thought What ALEC and the Koch Brothers Are Doing Was Bad…

By Mitch Jones

We’ve all seen the results in states across the country of the influence that ALEC and the Koch Brothers have amassed. And if you think the results of their agenda to hand more and more power to corporations at your expense are bad, you should really hate the new “trade” deals being negotiated to hand even more power to corporations at our expense.

The Transpacific Partnership (TPP) is being secretly negotiated by 12 countries, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and Brunei. The Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) includes the 27 nations of the European Union. Both of these proposed trade agreements threaten U.S. food safety rules, infringe upon public and private land with an increased push for fracking, undermine efforts to develop local food systems and increase the privatization of water systems.

While its supporters talk about them as “trade” deals, in reality the TPP and TAFTA would be a permanent power grab by corporations and their financers that would make it impossible for future generations to choose what laws and rules they want to live under. They would permanently enshrine the very economic system that has lead to greater imbalances in income and wealth and increasing economic crises. These deals would also allow foreign corporations to sue the federal, state and local governments over laws and policies that violate the “trade” deal, but protect us from unsafe food, dirty water and dangerous fracking. It’s outrageous!

How do we know that these deals will give more power to corporations and leave our children, our air and water, and our food safety at greater risk? Because while the American people aren’t being told what’s in the deal, and while members of Congress are being shut out of the negotiations, representatives from more than 600 corporations and corporate interests are able not only to see the text of the agreement, but also are able to help influence what goes into it.

We need to stop these trade deals before they give even more power to corporations!

Read our new fact sheet: Don’t Fast Track Fracking and Unsafe Food

And tell your senator and representatives to oppose these corporate give-aways.

July 12th, 2013

Not-so-super Supermarket Merger

Food & Water Watch report advises local governments to seek better solutions.By Tyler Shannon

The year of the Foodopoly mega-merger churned forward this week when the second-biggest grocery retailer, Kroger, announced it was buying the Harris-Teeter supermarket chain. The $2.5 billion merger is one of the biggest supermarket super-mergers in ten years and will change the landscape for consumers – and not in a good way. Grocery consolidation limits consumer choices – of stores and of food – and often drives up food prices.

Kroger is already a gigantic grocery retailer, second only to Walmart. Kroger grew during the 1990s by snapping up regional grocery store chains and now it has more than 2,400 stores in 160 metropolitan areas. The chains it bought still fly their old corporate flags, so there are Kroger stores as well as Fred Meyer, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Smith’s, Fry’s, King Soopers and 10 other names.  

The purchase of Harris-Teeter would grab an established upscale grocery chain with over 200 stores in the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic region. Loyal shoppers might not notice, because Kroger will maintain the Harris-Teeter name, but some hometown Harris-Teeter consumers are worried that the store quality will deteriorate.

Consolidation in the grocery industry has rapidly accelerated in the past few decades driven by mergers and the growth of Walmart. In the 1990s, the top four chains sold about one out of every five bags of groceries, but today the big four retailers control half the market selling every other bag of groceries. Kroger is the biggest supermarket retailer in 27 cities and ranks second in another 56 cities.

Read the full article…

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Victory: FDA Finally Tackles Arsenic in Apple Juice

By Darcey Rakestraw and Anna Ghosh

Image provided by Patrick Geltinger.

Some of the problems with our food system might seem intractable, but today’s news shows that when we put pressure on decision makers, we get results.

According to media reports, the FDA is proposing stricter standards for allowable arsenic levels in our apple juice. Tests commissioned by the Empire State Consumer Project in 2011 showed one juice sample had arsenic levels more than five times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency would allow in drinking water. We publicized these results to the media and the issue resonated with consumers and health professionals—Dr. Oz even tackled the issue on his show, bringing even more pressure onto the FDA to do something to protect our littlest consumers (since apple juice is a favorite of kids).

We’ve been lobbying for two years for these stricter standards for arsenic levels in apple juice. Now, we need to make sure they are finalized and enforced.

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