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January 5th, 2015

New Congress, More Problems

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.ProfileThe swearing-in of the 114th Congress this week spells trouble for our food, water and environment, and for all those who seek to champion healthy, safe communities for our families. We may be looking at the most hostile Congress ever in terms of protecting the environment.

Here are a few examples of what we could face over the next few years:

James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a notorious climate change denier and an unabashed champion for the fossil fuel industry, will likely chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Expect the committee to intensify its bullying of environmentalists, especially in light of the game-changing decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking.
We’ll also see attacks on the credibility of groups that do environmental work – in fact, we already have, and it will only get worse.

Last July, Inhofe released a report that targeted environmental groups and their funders in an attempt to silence groups working in the public interest. This should surprise no one, given that David Vitter (R-LA), who headed the minority staff at the time, receives a majority of his campaign cash from the oil and gas industry.

Then, in November 2014, a subcommittee released a report on fracking calling its opponents “extremists.” It’s chilling to see policymakers taking a page from industry-backed astroturf campaigns and front groups whose discredited attacks have no place in serious policy discussions.

Given the mounting evidence that fracking harms public health and the environment, we anticipate chilling attacks by the industry (via the politicians they support) on environmental advocates, academics and any other voice that raises concerns about fracking.

But we won’t be cowed by the bullying and McCarthy-like atmosphere. Environmental advocacy is not illegal.

Food & Water Watch will continue to support one good piece of legislation: the bill to ban fracking on public lands, introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). With the help of our supporters, 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.

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December 30th, 2014

Top 10 Misguided Climate Deniers’ Quotes of 2014

Mitch_JonesBy Mitch Jones

Every year climate deniers manage to say some truly misguided things in an attempt to appease their oil and gas industry sponsors. From breathtaking avoidance of the issue to outright denial; from magic Icelandic volcanoes to refusal to believe the experts, politicians find a variety of ways to spout climate denial nonsense.

As 2014 ends and we move into a new era of Climate Deniers in charge of both houses of Congress, we thought we’d give you our Top 10 Misguided Climate Deniers’ Quotes of 2014.

1) “The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years’ worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe.” Senator Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK) – Incoming Chairman, Energy & Natural Resources Committee, $733,144 from oil and gas industry in her career

2) “We have 186 percent of normal snow pack. That’s global warming?” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), $489,933 from oil and gas industry in his career

3) “Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world.” Ex-Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), $977,624 from oil and gas for his 2012 Presidential Campaign

4) “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), $1,463,788 from oil and gas industry in his career

4) (tie) “I’m not a scientist,” Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), $1,783,169 from oil and gas industry in his career

6) “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), $295,138 from oil and gas industry in his career

7) “Anybody who’s ever studied any geology knows that over periods of time, long periods of time, that the climate changes, mmkay? I’m not sure anybody exactly knows why.” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), $129,305 from oil and gas industry in his career

8) “I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think science does, either.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), on whether human activity causes climate change, $508,549 from oil and gas industry in his career

9) “And the problem with climate change is there’s never been a day in the history of the world in which the climate is not changing.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), $932,568 from oil and gas industry in his career

10) “How long will it take for the sea level to rise two feet? I mean, think about it, if your ice cube melts in your glass it doesn’t overflow; it’s displacement. I mean, this is some of the things they’re talking about mathematically and scientifically don’t make sense.” Ex-Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), $118,100 from oil and gas industry in his career

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December 22nd, 2014

All Naughty, No Nice: 5 Worst Fracking Industry Moments of 2014

By Jo Miles

BlogThumb_PinkDrill

A pinkwashed fracking drill bit. Fracking company Baker Hughes claims to be fighting breast cancer, when fracking actually increases people’s risk of cancer.

There’s never much chance of fracking companies ending up on Santa’s “nice” list, considering that polluting our air and water and making people sick is a regular part of how they do business. But while the movement to ban fracking made great strides in 2014, most notably with the recent ban in New York, the oil and gas industry seemed to go the extra mile this year to get onto the “naughty” list. Even here at Food & Water Watch, we were surprised by some of the dirty tactics some fracking companies used to attempt to sway public opinion and win over lawmakers.

Here are a few of the most unbelievable fracking industry stunts that made the news in 2014:

5. Sorry about that explosion. Here, have a pizza.

When a Chevron fracking well exploded in the small town of Bobtown, Pa. this February, you can imagine how upset the residents were.  The fire from the explosion burned for days, and they couldn’t be sure whether toxins were released into their air. One 27-year-old worker was killed. But Chevron made it up to them… with coupons for a free pizza.

One pizza. That’s Chevron’s idea of fair compensation for an explosion that put homes, families and workers in danger. And what happened in Bobtown isn’t an isolated incident – just this month, 25 families in Ohio were forced to evacuate their homes due to potentially explosive methane leaking from a nearby fracking well.

4. This is not what they meant by “job creation”

Grassroots organizations like Food & Water Watch often work with concerned locals to pack hearing rooms and show decision-makers that the community opposes fracking. In September, a pro-fracking industry group called North Carolina Energy Coalition tried to do the same… but failed. Instead of bringing community members who actually supported them, it bused in a group of homeless people who knew nothing about fracking. Several of the homeless men admitted that they were paid to attend, and didn’t know why until they arrived.

It wouldn’t surprise us if the industry couldn’t find people genuinely supportive of fracking to attend a hearing, but paying people to pretend they support fracking is a cheap trick.

3. Getting cozy with Dr. Evil

Food & Water Watch and our activists must really be making the fracking industry nervous, because this year the industry partnered with Richard “Dr. Evil” Berman to attack us and other anti-fracking organizations. Berman is notorious for using underhanded tactics to make advocacy organizations look bad, going so far as to dig up information on the titles of board members’ cars. What’s next, going through activists’ trash?

2. NIMBY-ist of the year

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon and hypocrite extraordinaire, got involved in a lawsuit against fracking in his neighborhood. That’s right, he’s trying to stop fracking near his home. He still insists that people should be fine with fracking happening in their backyards – he just doesn’t want it in his backyard.

1. Fighting breast cancer… you’re doing it wrong

The world is full of feel-good pink products that do little or nothing to fight breast cancer. Fracking company Baker Hughes claimed to do their part this year by partnering with Susan G. Komen to create the most egregious piece of pinkwashing ever: pink fracking drill bits. The part that makes this disgusting instead of laughable is that fracking fluid contains carcinogens. Fracking increases people’s risk of cancer, and using pink drill bits won’t magically change that.

 

There you have it: a few of the many reasons why the fracking industry indeed deserves a big lump of coal this year. Or should we say, ahem, a big glass of fracking fluid.

December 19th, 2014

Ohio and Maryland Should Take a Hint from New York’s Fracking Ban

By Francesca Buzzi

FB_1412_CuomoQuoteRallySI-C2At the moment when Governor Cuomo revealed his decision to exercise caution and ban fracking in New York, a fracked well in Ohio was spewing natural gas into the air for the third straight day from a leak that well crews could not stop. This is the reality facing our air, water, climate, and communities as long as fracking continues in states without a ban.

Governor Cuomo’s decision was backed by the science described at length in the Health Department’s extensive study of the risks fracking poses to public health. New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker summed up the study simply: he wouldn’t want his child to play outside in a community that allows fracking.

Oil and gas companies claim that accidents are few and far between, but leaks, spills, and explosions are not uncommon. And when they do happen, they are often severe.

Ohio, a small shale gas producer compared to states like Texas and Pennsylvania, has seen a distressing number of serious accidents related to fracked wells. Last month, a worker was killed in an explosion and fire at a fracking site. Two weeks before that, Ohio saw three fracking-related accidents in three days, during which a worker was burned, a pipeline fire torched acres of forest, and a well blowout forced 400 families to evacuate.

In June, a massive spill and fire forced 25 families to evacuate and killed over 70,000 fish along a 5-mile stretch of a tributary of the Ohio River. The fire took a week to extinguish, with at least 30 explosions occurring over that week, driving dangerous shrapnel though the air. The state lets companies drill up to 100 feet from homes, but explosions at drilling operations are capable of blowing pieces of metal much farther than that.

The month before that fire, drillers were unable to prevent the excessive buildup of pressure in a well, which led to a leak of around 1,600 gallons of oil-based drilling fluids into a tributary of the Ohio River.

These accidents are unacceptable, yet they are only the most visible instances of pollution. We can’t see the long-term impacts of widespread drilling and fracking—damage to groundwater, the atmosphere, and the public health effects of long-term exposure to chemicals—but they stand to be a much more significant threat.

As Governor O’Malley prepares to open Maryland to fracking, we urge him to take a look at Ohio’s cautionary tale and New York’s safety victory and to seriously ask himself if he would let his kids live and play in a community that allows fracking, given the science. Governor O’Malley should join Governor Cuomo, and stand up for the long-term health of Maryland’s communities and watersheds.

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Water for the World Act: Victory!

Water_FaucetBy Darcey O’Callaghan

Earlier this week, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act unanimously passed a Senate floor vote, following passage out of the House last week. It now advances to President Obama’s desk for signature.

Since the first iteration of the bill was introduced over five years ago, Food & Water Watch lobbied to remove components of the bill that promoted public-private partnerships (P3s). We argued that U.S. foreign assistance shouldn’t be used to privatize the water systems in developing countries. Everyone at Food & Water Watch is thrilled that the final version of the bill in both the House and Senate emphasizes local ownership, rather than P3s. We believe strongly that water must remain a public good, managed transparently by communities and funded by governments.

While the majority of U.S. foreign aid goes to strategic geopolitical allies—many of which are middle-income countries—this bill takes a huge step forward by prioritizing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) funding for countries with the greatest need. The bill also improves efficiency by designating WASH point people at USAID and the State Department, and by codifying use of a Global Water Strategy that includes clear performance indicators.

Amazingly, the average American thinks we spend 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid when the reality is just a fraction of that—less than one percent. And the majority of this money does not go to nations facing extreme water and sanitation needs. Kudos go to the bill’s champions, Representatives Poe and Blumenauer and Senators Corker and Durbin, for advancing a version of the bill that not only protects public water, but also prioritizes humanitarian need over geopolitics.

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December 18th, 2014

USDA Decks the Halls With…New GMOs?

By Genna Reed GMO_Farming_BlogThumb

In 2012, the USDA was considering 23 new GMO crops for approval. Since then, all but four have been approved. The most recent final Environmental Impact Statement and preliminary decision to approve a crop came this week for Monsanto’s “Xtend” dicamba-tolerant and Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton, yet another GMO crop engineered to tolerate multiple herbicides. Read the full article…

We Can Ban Fracking, New York Paves the Way

By Wenonah Hauter

CuomoBanFantastic news came from the state of New York this week when the Cuomo administration announced its decision to ban fracking in the state. This exciting decision is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard in New York to protect the state from the ravages experienced elsewhere from fracking.

Here’s the full story: On Wednesday, the Governor convened a cabinet meeting where Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker presented the findings of the Department of Health’s review on fracking. He described the peer- reviewed studies showing that fracking contaminates air and water and harms health, and he highlighted that many of the long-term health effects are still unknown, as epidemiological studies have not been conducted. Comissioner Zucker ended his presentation by saying, “Would I live in a community that would allow fracking? The answer is no.”

Then in this real-time drama, Joe Martens, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation indicated the department would issue “legally binding findings to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.” They will be included in the supplemental generic environmental impact study that will be released in the New Year, an approach that Governor Cuomo supports, and that will effectively ban fracking in New York.

This is particularly exciting because just three years ago, conventional wisdom in New York’s mainstream environmental community held that fracking was inevitable in New York and that strong regulation was the best we could hope for. But Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Water Defense, United for Action, Citizen Action of New York and several other organizations joined together to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF) – with the audacious goal of winning a complete ban in the state of New York. For the next three years, thousands of people engaged in activities around the state, from massive demonstrations, to sending in comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation on the health risks of fracking. NYAF grew to over 250 national, state, and local groups.

For the last two years, it has been impossible for Governor Cuomo to go anywhere in the state without fractivists by the dozens, hundreds, or thousands rallying outside his appearances, delivering the clear message: ban fracking now. At his polling place this November, Cuomo recognized the movement as the most powerful protest movement in the state.

I’m proud that Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to stand with the grassroots organizations and to call for a ban on fracking. This hard won victory shows that we can win when we build political power. It also shows that we can win when we organize around a clear message and an unambiguous goal. It should inspire reflection among those mainstream environmental groups reluctant to take a strong stand against fracking or those who attempt to split the difference by supporting both a moratorium and stronger regulations at the same time. We need to be clear and uncompromising in calling for a ban on fracking and other extreme extraction practices.

Governor Cuomo heeded this call, and has positioned himself as a national leader in the movement to shift to an energy policy that is safe and based on efficiency and 100 percent renewable energy. New York is a bellwether state for fracking nationally, and is the first shale state to take such bold action against fracking. This decision has implications for other states considering fracking like Maryland, Pennsylvania, California and others.

In contrast to Cuomo’s decision today, Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley recently released regulations for fracking in his state. The Obama Administration’s EPA has refused to reopen investigations on instances of water contamination from fracking. Governor Hickenlooper in Colorado continues to oppose even communities’ ability to prevent fracking, Governor Brown in California continues to burry his head in the sand when it comes to the real health and environmental impacts of fracking, and Governor-Elect Wolf in Pennsylvania is floating a severance tax as a way for the state to make money off fracking, rather than taking on this dangerous practice.

Politicians with national influence or larger political aspirations should take note that support for fracking nationally has fallen, especially among Democrats and Independents, over the past few years. A PEW poll issued this November found that a 47 percent plurality of Americans, 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents nationally oppose increased fracking. This ban in New York comes exactly one week after Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a bill to ban fracking on public lands, the strongest federal bill on fracking to date.

The decision in New York will have a ripple effect across the country and act to strengthen efforts against fracking nationwide. The story of how tens of thousands of fractivists fought and won in New York with their blood, sweat and tears is awe-inspiring and demonstrates that we should fight for what we want – not just the best that can be negotiated in a backroom deal or what others say is politically feasible. Instead we should work to change the political reality in order to win real improvements in people’s lives and protect our fragile planet for future generations.

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December 17th, 2014

Food & Water Watch’s Holiday Gift Guide

BlogThumb_GiftBy Briana Kerensky

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to start worrying about what to get your friends and family for the holidays. Are you searching for the best gifts to get your loved ones that won’t make you feel like you’re giving in to corporate holiday marketing schemes?

This year, we’ve got you covered. Steer clear of the shopping mall and check out these seven meaningful gift ideas for the holidays.

  1. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in Americaby Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water WatchRead all about how our food system came to be controlled by a handful of companies—and what you can do to fix it.
  2. Homemade candy or baked goods. Fight the Foodopoly and make your friends and family some sweet treats this season, like peppermint bark or gingerbread cookies.
  3. Food & Water Watch gift membership. Give the gift of safe food and clean water for all… with gift memberships to Food & Water Watch.
  4. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. In this excellent new book, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein skillfully explains how the climate crisis and gaping inequalities in our global economy are tied together, and what we can do to make a difference.
  5. Cookbooks. A number of chefs and professional foodies are great allies in supporting safe food and clean water. Why not show them your support and purchase some of their cookbooks for your loved ones this year? For example, Chef Alice Waters is not only a culinary legend, but is also extremely active in the fight to ban fracking as a member of Chefs for the Marcellus.
  6. Gift certificate to a local restaurant. Everyone loves being treated to a nice meal, so why not treat your friend and support your local economy at the same time? For sustainably minded restaurant ideas, visit the Eat Well Guide.
  7. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Following the death of her mother, divorce, and a descent into drugs, author Cheryl Strayed decided to take control of her life by hiking solo across a 1,100 mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. While Strayed’s journey is the focus of the story (and a new film featuring Reese Witherspoon), the beauty of the Pacific Northwest is certainly more than a bit part. Spanning 25 national forests and seven national parks, the Pacific Crest Trail is one of our most treasured places – and it’s at risk of getting fracked. Learn more about the danger of fracking on public lands and what you can do to stop it.

Do you have other meaningful gift ideas? Tell us in the comments below.

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December 16th, 2014

Don’t Let Fracking Destroy Her Legacy

By Alex Nagy

Dianne Thomas

Dianne Thomas, anti-fracking activist.

DONATE

Dianne is one of the amazing people I get to work with as the Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Dianne and her late husband worked hard to build a home in Carson, California to leave behind for their children, but the oil and gas industry could destroy their legacy.

When Dianne found out that Occidental Petroleum (“Oxy”) was planning to drill 200 new wells over the next 10 years, she asked if there would be fracking: they answered yes. The night before, she had caught a special on TV about extreme oil extraction — she saw homes cracking and falling apart because of fracking.

That’s when Dianne and her neighbors reached out to Food & Water Watch. They had heard about the work we were doing with communities to ban fracking.

Dianne and I started to meet weekly to strategize about the campaign — how to get Carson’s story in the news and how to build more public support. It was clear that Dianne was passionate, and as a skilled community activist she would give Oxy a fight. I helped by providing the information and resources to fight this fracking proposal, including reports from our research team and insight from other organizers working to stop fracking in towns across the country.

With your support, we can continue to partner with local activists like Dianne and provide the resources to ban fracking!

While the City Council was considering Oxy’s proposal, we convinced them to put a 45-day hold on all new drilling in Carson. During that time, the community rallied support to convince the Council to put a permanent ban on new drilling. At several City Council meetings, there were so many people that supported the ban, we couldn’t all fit in the room!

Oxy used a lot of dirty tricks to overturn the temporary ban and get approval to start drilling. They even bribed people by offering gift cards to generate support for fracking at City Council meetings. They also pulled some powerful political strings, with a local paper reporting that Governor Jerry Brown called Carson’s mayor to urge him to kill the fracking ban. Clearly the community was doing something right if Big Oil and Gas were trying so hard to shut them down.

When it came down to it, we knew the vote was close. The movement against fracking in Carson was strong, but Oxy’s connections were powerful and they had spent a lot of money to fight the ban. Unfortunately, Oxy’s money and lobbying won out, and the Council voted against the ban on drilling.

But our fight is far from over — we are continuing to work together to keep fracking out of Carson, and out of other communities in California and across the country. We know we can’t let up, that we have to work even harder because if we don’t stop it, new oil drilling could start in Carson in 2015. Will you stand with us to ban fracking in communities across the country by making a generous gift?

Dianne is in this fight because Carson is her home, it’s where she bought a house and has worked hard to create a legacy for her children and grandchildren. I’m committed to this work because, like Dianne, I can’t just sit by as some corporation comes into a community and destroys the land, water and health of real people. This is all of our fight, because no one should be at risk of the dangers of fracking.

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December 15th, 2014

No Surprise: Congress Gets it Wrong on GMO Labels

By Genna Reed

Genna_ReedThe FDA issued voluntary guidance for labeling GMO foods in 2001 and has basically been inactive on the topic ever since. Since the agency has for years neglected citizen petitions to require the mandatory labeling of GMOs, a movement is afoot to introduce bills on the state level. In 2012 and 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed bills with trigger mechanisms that would require additional New England states to pass similar bills of their own. And just this year, Vermont passed a labeling bill, with no strings attached, which is now being fought in court by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA)Read the full article…

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