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January 17th, 2014

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL: Ensuring a Clean Bay… by 3014

By Scott Edwards

Three years to the month after the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load in December 2010, the latest in a 40-year series of unsuccessful plans to clean up the declining Bay, the Government Accountability Office has just released a report about the abysmal failure of the EPA’s TMDL program to restore impaired waterways across the country. As the report notes, given the current federal and state TMDL approach to polluted waterways, “it would take longer than 1,000 years to restore all the water bodies that are now impaired by nonpoint source pollution.” With the report’s pessimistic conclusions, we can only hope that anyone who thinks the Bay TMDL is the last chance to save the Bay is sorely mistaken.

Why the GAO’s dismal outlook? Because, as the report notes, where TMDL’s were issued to solely address point sources of pollution—those end-of-the-pipe discharges from factories, utility units and wastewater treatment plants—the required pollutant load limits to attain water quality improvement were met 83 percent of the time. But for nonpoint sources of pollution—stormwater from diffuse sources and runoff from agricultural operations—the compliance rate dropped to 20 percent, thereby condemning many waterways that are significantly impacted by nonpoint source pollution, like the Chesapeake Bay, to continuing degradation.  Read the full article…

January 15th, 2014

Dear Governor Brown: It’s Time to Get Your Head Out of the Clouds on Fracking

This post originally ran on IndyBay

By Brenna Norton

As I boarded my plane from Los Angeles to the Bay Area the other week, I did a double take when I walked by a guy that looked an awful lot like California Governor Jerry Brown. Turns out it was him, which is ironic since earlier that week I had been following the governor around Los Angeles berating him for his support of fracking.

He was only sitting a row ahead and I began to think about what I could say to our governor who recently brokered a bad bill, SB 4, to allow companies to frack our state at the expense of our health, our water, and our climate.

Before I made my way off of the airplane, I took the opportunity to have a short chat with our governor from an empty seat across the aisle.

I told him that I know and work with people who have been sickened and harmed by fracking operations in Los Angeles, and then Brown immediately put up a wall and went on the defensive: “that’s not true,” he told me. “Fracking can be done safely and has been happening here for 60 years.” And, “what do you want to do? Ship in all this oil from Saudi Arabia instead?”

I thought to myself, is that the best you’ve got Jerry?  He had just repeated the oil companies’ main talking points, usually rattled off by their lobbyists.

This from the governor who goes around saying climate change is the greatest challenge to mankind? Did he forget that fracking for oil is perhaps the worst thing for our climate, spewing out both methane and carbon dioxide through the extraction, transport, refining and burning of the oil?

I let the governor know that it’s well documented that fracking has become infinitely more extreme in the last 15 years, using more water and toxic chemicals then ever before, and getting special federal exemptions such as the Halliburton Loophole in 2005. The industry is eager to use fracking and other forms of extreme extraction (acidizing, cyclic steam, acid fracking) to tap the Monterey Shale, our infamous rock formation that stretches from L.A. to the Bay Area and is estimated to hold 9-13 billion barrels of recoverable oil. 

If I had more time with the governor, I would have told him that when Zodiac Exploration announced in February of 2012 that it had drilled a horizontal well more than 14,000 feet below Kings County, the company’s president stated, “this type of deep high-pressure and high-temperature operation is new to California,” essentially admitting that this isn’t your grandma’s oil drilling anymore.

I told the governor that I’ve sat with Los Angeles residents living near fracking operations who are seeing an alarming increase in very rare cancers, and have children getting sick with nose bleeds and sudden unexplained severe respiratory problems. A recent report based on new data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, reveals that 12 dangerous chemicals that raise cancer risk, harm the heart and damage the lungs and eyes have been used in the L.A. Basin over 300 times in fracking and other unconventional oil production methods in just the first three months of reporting.

While I didn’t have time to address his second myth – that fracking for California’s oil would replace imports from Saudi Arabia – I’ll set that record straight now. Governor: you should know as well as anyone that oil extracted on U.S. soil goes into an international market. Recent articles in the Financial Times and New York Times illustrate that the U.S. is becoming a net exporter of oil and gas and that refineries in California are exporting more refined oil than ever before. And now President Obama’s energy secretary, a friend of fracking, is seeking to lift the ban on exports of crude oil.

And even if the industry fracked and extracted all the 9 to 13 billion barrels of oil from the Monterey Shale and didn’t export it to China, it would only be enough to supply our nation’s energy needs for two years.

As for Jerry’s question about what I would do instead of letting oil companies frack? Well, he left before I could answer, but in three simple words: ban fracking now. Use your executive power to prohibit fracking and other extreme forms of stimulation (hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, acid fracking, cyclic steam injection) in California and work to ensure that California remains a global leader in the burgeoning clean energy economy. We need to invest in clean, homegrown American energy that will create more jobs and end our addiction to fossil fuels. This is the only way to ensure energy independence and security.

The Governor, not wanting to continue our conversation, made his way quickly off the plane and told me to send the research proving the dangers of fracking to the general email address on his website. I will take him up on this offer, but it’s a shame that he probably won’t actually read what I send him.

But if all Californians who are concerned about the threats fracking poses to our air, water, food and neighborhoods continue to remind the governor that he works for us, not the oil and gas industry, he won’t be able to ignore us. We will keep hounding Jerry to grow some spine reminding him that he can’t preach about climate change and let oil companies frack and dump tons of methane and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Until he does the right thing, Governor Brown will be hearing from us everywhere he goes – even 30,000 feet in the air: climate leaders don’t frack!

And Now Introducing Our Corporate Branch of Government…

The TPP is Real, It’s Happening Now, and We All Need to Call Our Congressmen

By Rich Bindell

Click here to take action.

Not that you had any reason to doubt our opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but now you know we’re not crying wolf on the destructive potential of the controversial and largely secretive global trade deal the Obama administration is trying to push through Congress. Thanks in part to leaked documents shared by WikiLeaks, The New York Times reported today on the environmental chapter of the TPP, along with the reaction from several environmental groups who have also been closely following the progress of the trade deal.

The New York Times focused mostly on the environmental chapter of the leaked documents. They wrote, “As it stands now, the documents…show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections.” Yes. But that’s merely one small aspect of the TPP that’s threatening.

We regard every single chapter of the TPP as unacceptable according to the standards and rights of American citizenship and Democracy, as the trade deal would lead to increased gas exports and potentially dangerous food imports, while simultaneously undermining our domestic laws and increasing the financialization of nature. Free trade agreements have already proven how they can disenfranchise American workers, undermine domestic policies and even interfere with attempts to use sensible economic development to help developing countries grow their economies.

But the TPP would take this even further. It will harm working families by increasing our reliance on imported food instead of furthering our trust in sustainable, locally grown food production. It will wreak havoc on the environment by increasing the production and exportation of liquefied natural gas from fracking that has already contaminated our air and water. It would even challenge our right to know if the ingredients in our food have been genetically modified.

But the most frightening aspect of the TPP might be the authority it grants corporate entities to undermine local sovereignty. Many decisions about public health, infrastructure and the environment that are currently made by our local city councils or county governments using the democratic process could actually be overturned by international corporate tribunals. Why? Because if your town votes to ban water privatization or fracking, for example, that decision might challenge the financial interests of a multinational corporation. Tragically, the TPP would allow financial interests to dictate how we manage public resources or dismantle the system of local, state and even federal protections we currently have in place to regulate food and water.

Right now, President Obama is seeking Fast Track authority to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S.- EU Free Trade Agreement through Congress, which is why we should all pay close attention. The TPP would affect all of the issues we work on here at Food & Water Watch—from food safety, seafood imports and GMO labeling, to water privatization, water pollution and fracking—which is why it’s so critical that you get involved now by contacting your member of Congress to tell them to oppose this potentially devastating trade fiasco.

January 10th, 2014

Fast Track, the TPP, and Our Fight

Which Side Are You On?

By Mitch Jones

Fast Track must be defeated!

I’m not engaging in hyperbole when I say that, of all the political fights I’ve engaged in over the years, this is the most important one. By a long shot.

The late Margaret Thatcher was famous for saying, “There is no alternative.” What she meant was there is no alternative to the anti-environment, anti-public health, anti-safe food, anti-clean water de-regulatory agenda. No alternative to the privatization of basic services. No alternative to replacing a high wage manufacturing economy with a low wage service economy. No alternative to putting finance in the drivers’ seat of our economy and our governments. No alternative to the neo-liberal agenda of hyper-individualism and the denial of the existence of society.

But, of course, she was wrong. There is an alternative. I know there is because everyday moms and dads, working folks who don’t have the privilege of being paid to fight this fight like I do, give up their weeknights and their weekends to make that alternative real. Against all odds they pass referenda to stop fracking in Colorado of all places. They beat back water utility privatization in Ft. Worth! They pass bills to label GMOs. They pass local living wage laws. And so much more. We know the alternative is possible.

But the people who thrive in the world created by “free trade” know it, too. And that’s why they are trying desperately to enact their agenda in the form of global trade agreements that contain provisions that will allow corporations to challenge federal, state, and local laws and regulations enacted democratically – but against their narrow financial interests. The biggest of these deals being negotiated right now is the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. And, just today, legislation was introduced that would let the Obama administration push that deal through Congress on a “fast track” with no chance for amendments, no opportunity for real debate. And, what’s almost worse, the deal is being negotiated in secret. Neither you nor I can see the text being negotiated in our names.

If you want to know what this “free trade” agenda has done to our economy just look around. Wages have been stagnant for 40 years. Manufacturing jobs have fled abroad. More and more wealth has accumulated in fewer and fewer hands. Our economy is broken and it is broken because of this agenda.

In short, if we lose this fight it makes all our work harder.

This is a “which side are you on?” moment.

And this isn’t a partisan issue. I’m proud to say that some of our best allies in this fight are conservative – even tea party Republicans.

I want to take back the idea that “there is no alternative” and put it to good use. Because, there is no alternative to losing this fight. There just isn’t.

So, if you haven’t done it already please email, call, and tweet at your Member of Congress and tell them to vote no on fast track.

Disney Rejects the Poison Apple of Fracking

By Katherine Cirullo and Kate Fried 

Recently it looked like Disney was poised to reimagine one of its beloved films in a very modern and controversial manner. Imagine a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves where, rather than trotting off to work in the coal mines, the characters in question instead sing their famous song about going to work on a fracking rig. Sounds pretty dopey, right? 

Until yesterday, Radio Disney was partnering with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association to teach kids about the science behind oil and gas production through the “Rocking in Ohio” program. While billed as “scientific education,” the prospect of this alliance had many in the anti-fracking movement feeling rather grumpy, worrying that the program was actually an attempt by industry to influence the hearts and minds of our most impressionable population, who, when it comes down to it, probably just want to meet Mickey Mouse. 

This wasn’t the first time the oil and gas industry had used cartoons to promote its agenda to children. Back in 2011, Talisman Energy released Talisman Terry, the Friendly Frackosaurus, a PR stunt intended to teach kids about the so-called benefits of oil and gas extraction.  

But a world run on dirty, dangerous and unsustainable fossil fuels seems quite the opposite of an enchanted fairytale. When word of Radio Disney’s partnership with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association got out, the public objected, and many were not bashful about voicing their opposition to this unlikely alliance. In fact, over 81,000 people signed a petition initiated by CREDO Mobilize asking Disney to end its involvement with the program. Ohio’s Center for Health, Environment & Justice also weighed in

Their efforts paid off. After a barrage of criticism, yesterday Radio Disney announced that it was pulling out of remaining installments of the tour. In statement sent to Al Jazeera, the company said: 

“The sole intent of the collaboration between Radio Disney and the nonprofit Rocking in Ohio educational initiative was to foster kids’ interest in science and technology. Having been inadvertently drawn into a debate that has no connection with this goal, Radio Disney has decided to withdraw from the few remaining installments of the program.”

It looks like we won’t be seeing fracking rigs popping up within the Magic Kingdom any time soon, a development that should make any fracktivist happy.

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January 7th, 2014

Preparing to Oppose the TPP in 2014

By Rich Bindell

In case you missed it, The Nation gave a nice little nod to Food & Water Watch in its “2013 Progressive Honor Roll.”

Here’s the excerpt…

MOST VALUABLE EDUCATION OF CONGRESS: PDA’s “Letter Drops”

Working with Food & Water Watch (on fracking), Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (on the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and US Labor Against the War (on intervention and Pentagon spending), Progressive Democrats of America has organized monthly “Educate Congress” interventions. Activists have dropped by as many as 250 congressional district offices in a single day to deliver letters and talk with representatives and staffers.

“Instead of lobbyists, members of Congress are hearing from constituents who want to talk about economic and social justice, environmental justice and peace,” says PDA director Tim Carpenter.

Now, before you go back to catching up from your winter break, let’s take a moment to see where we are with the timeline for the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. Read the full article…

January 6th, 2014

Syngenta Correctly Predicts Superweeds Infestation: Jolly Well Done!

weeds and tractor steering wheel

By Eve Mitchell

In 2009 Swiss biotech giant Syngenta made a bold prediction that by 2013 a quarter of U.S. cropland would be infested with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. I heartily congratulate Syngenta for its foresight, if not the response to it. By January 2013, 61.2 million acres of U.S. farmland suffered from an increasingly stubborn case of superweeds. So Syngenta was being uncharacteristically modest – around one third of the 185 million acres of U.S. land planted with corn, cotton and soy has weeds that can’t be killed by normal means, adding significantly to the cost and effort of farming.

As 2013 drew to a close, a new Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) policy brief reported that, in fact, “Almost 50 percent of surveyed farms are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds, and the rate of these weeds’ spread has been increasing.” UCS added:

“Herbicide-resistant weeds are also symptomatic of a bigger problem: an out-dated system of farming that relies on planting huge acreages of the same crop year after year. This system, called monoculture, has provided especially good habitat for weeds and pests and accelerated the development of resistance. In response, Monsanto and its competitors are now proposing to throw more herbicides at resistant weeds, an approach that ignores the underlying biology of agricultural systems and will inevitably lead to more resistance and a further spiraling up of herbicide use.”

The rapid spike in the use of Monsanto’s best-selling weed killer glyphosate in the U.S. is closely linked to the uptake of genetically modified (GM) crops designed to be used with the brand name version of the chemical (Roundup). As widely predicted by both industry and GM skeptics, problematic weeds like Palmer amaranth quickly developed resistance to Roundup and are spreading fast as farmers struggle to kill them with combinations of chemicals in heavier concentrations, or simply resorting to hand weeding hundreds of acres of fields. The problem is so serious in the Southern U.S. that UCS reports, “92 percent of cotton and soybean fields are infested as a result of Roundup Ready crops.” Superweeds are also causing escalating problems in other countries with heavy GM crop use, including in the soy fields of Argentina and Brazil upon which the EU is so reliant to fuel its factory farms. Read the full article…

January 3rd, 2014

2014 Starts With a Biotech-sponsored Bang

By Genna Reed

In a completely unpropitious start to the new year, the USDA released its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Dow AgroScience’s 2,4-D tolerant Enlist corn and soybeans today after taking just six months to analyze over 400,000 comments and write a 223 page assessment.

Many of you sent in comments to the USDA regarding its Environmental Assessments released in 2011, which prompted the USDA to open a comment period for a proposed EIS (the more thorough of two options for environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act). Now farmers, farmworkers, consumers and environmental advocates will have 45 days to comment on the USDA’s EIS for Dow’s 2,4-D tolerant corn and soybean varieties. This is the public’s last opportunity to tell USDA to deny the approval of these genetically engineered crops.

The biotech industry wants to claim these new GE crops will help control herbicide resistant weeds, but instead these new herbicide tolerant crops will just perpetuate the problem and tack on harsher environmental consequences for good measure. In Food & Water Watch’s “Superweeds” report released last summer, we predicted that once 2,4-D corn is approved and adopted at the same rate as Roundup Ready corn, 2,4-D application on corn could increase by 2 million pounds in just two years. USDA’s own models in its EIS show that with the approval of Dow’s new corn and soybeans, 2,4-D use would increase two to six-fold.

This could have devastating impacts on grapes, tomatoes and all other specialty crops because 2,4-D is very prone to drifting away from the field where it is applied and killing other plants that aren’t engineered to survive it—not to mention the potential health effects associated with 2,4-D exposure, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma. (If 2,4-D sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it was one of the ingredients in the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War.)

2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans are not only dangerous, but completely unnecessary.

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a policy brief on superweeds and found that, “herbicide use could be reduced by more than 90 percent—while maintaining or increasing yields and net farmer profits—through practices based on the principles of ecological science that reduce weed numbers and growth.”

We hope you will join Food & Water Watch in calling on the USDA and EPA to deny approval for these toxic crops. Look for an opportunity to send in your comment in the coming weeks!

New York’s Fracking Ban Movement Joins Cuomo for the Holidays

By Alex Beauchamp

You could forgive Governor Cuomo if he’s feeling a little sick of the movement for a ban on fracking in New York. After all, he’s been seeing quite a lot of us this holiday season.

Just before Thanksgiving, the governor headed to Buffalo to raise some money for his upcoming campaign, and there we were. One hundred New Yorkers gathered just outside the fundraiser urging him to ban fracking now.

The next week, the governor headed to New York City’s Theater District for a high-dollar birthday fundraiser, headlined by the singer Billy Joel. Over 700 New Yorkers were there to wish Governor Cuomo a happy birthday – and demand a ban on fracking. 

Perhaps tiring of seeing concerned New Yorkers following his every move, the governor headed to Washington, D.C. the following week. He went to – you guessed it – another fundraiser, this time at the offices of the Podesta Group, a high-priced lobbying firm. But in Washington, even in the midst of a snowstorm that shut down much of the District of Columbia, we were there once again, right outside the fundraiser, demanding a ban on fracking.

None of this should come as a surprise of course. Thousands of New Yorkers demanding a ban on fracking have followed Cuomo for over a year. And, headed into a reelection campaign in 2014, you can count on the movement against fracking to follow the governor all over the state – and out of it as well.

The truth is, we won’t stop until Governor Cuomo protects us all by banning fracking in New York. Our next stop: the movement to ban fracking will be ringing in the New Year in style with a huge rally to ban fracking outside Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address on Wednesday, January 8th. Join us there!

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January 2nd, 2014

Starting the Year Off Right

By Briana Kerensky

With the holiday season finally rolling to a close, it’s time to see if we can make good on our New Year’s resolutions. Getting healthy; spending more time with our families; being more productive at the office; these are all things we promise ourselves when the ball drops.

Here at Food & Water Watch, we’ve made our own resolutions. But as always, we need a little help from you to make sure we can achieve them. Here are some of the urgent priorities we’ll be focusing on early this year that will be crucial to win if we want to protect our essential resources—and our democracy. Read the full article…

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