Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 6
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »
X

Welcome!

You're reading Smorgasbord from Food & Water Watch.

If you'd like to send us a note about a blog entry or anything else, please use this contact form. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or follow the take action link above.

Blog Categories

Blog archives

Stay Informed

Sign up for email to learn how you can protect food and water in your community.

   Please leave this field empty

Blog Posts

May 7th, 2015

Five Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You To Know About GMOs

GMOs aren't going to solve nutrition problems or feed the world - they're about corporate control and profitYou’ve heard the controversy about genetically engineered foods (GMOs) and whether they’re safe to eat (and the question of safety is nowhere near settled, despite what the companies that create GMOs would like you to think). But the rest of the story about GMOs is far more complex: for biotech companies, the real purpose of GMOs is power and control over the food supply, and ultimately it’s about profits. The undeniable fact is that GMOs are bad for our environment, our food system, and the people in it.

Here are five reasons why everyone should be concerned about genetically engineered foods:

1. GMOs increase the corporate control of our food

Increasingly, the food industry is dominated by a handful of powerful corporations that control nearly every aspect of how our food is produced. Monsanto, for example, now owns a staggering number of seed companies that were once its competitors. For people who buy groceries, it’s distressing to realize that the dozens of brands in the grocery store are mostly owned by a few parent companies. When a company has a virtual monopoly on a whole aisle of the grocery store or a set of agricultural products, they make decisions based on what’s best for their profits, not what’s best for their customers or the planet.

This consolidation of control is easy to see in the corporations that create GMOs. Biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta create not only GMO seeds, but an entire system of food production. If there’s profit to be made in selling one product farmers need to buy, there’s far more profit to be made from creating a system of products designed to work together; for example, linking seeds with specific chemicals that these companies also sell, like Monsanto soybeans that are engineered to withstand Roundup, the weed killer produced by Monsanto. If a farmer plants those soybeans, they’re going to buy Roundup, too.

Nor is it easy for farmers to avoid planting GMOs. In our increasingly consolidated food industry, farmers have fewer and fewer options, and the advice they hear at every turn is “go GMO.” This happens not just in the United States, but increasingly around the world as well. Read the full article…

May 6th, 2015

Is USDA Censoring Anti-GMO Science?

By Tim Schwab GMO_Farming_BlogThumb

In a recent article about Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s future political prospects, Vilsack discussed his hope that the 2016 presidential election will offer an opportunity to initiate a national science-based debate on key public policy issues.

“On the right you have climate change deniers and on the left you have people raising issues about GMOs,” Vilsack said. “And the science doesn’t support either one of those positions.”

Vilsack nails the climate change talking point, but misses the boat on GMOs. His statement is not only factually incorrect, it is also a shameful parroting of talking points from biotechnology giants like Monsanto. In reality, unlike climate change, there is no scientific consensus on GMOs, and much of the evidence that the biotech industry and its advocates use to promote the consensus myth is spurious, inaccurate and, well, unscientific. There are, in fact, many scientific issues with GMOs, and there are many expert scientists—hundreds, in fact—who have said as much.

You may also notice another big problem in Vilsack’s comments. He is not actually calling for a science-based debate on GMOs. By saying that there is a consensus on GMOs, he’s saying the debate is over.

That’s an especially odd position given that new science continues to emerge about the risks associated with GMOs. In March, the World Health Organization determined that Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, the use of which has skyrocketed with GMO crops that are engineered to be sprayed with it, is probably carcinogenic to humans.

But more troubling than Vilsack’s efforts to quash the public debate on GMOs are new allegations that he is overseeing censorship of research produced by USDA scientists that is unfavorable to corporate agribusiness. The whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a legal petition last month documenting damning examples of USDA subjecting its scientists to:

“Directives not to publish data on certain topics of particular sensitivity to industry…

“Orders to rewrite scientific articles already accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal to remove sections which could provoke industry objections…

“Summons to meet with [USDA] Secretary Vilsack in an effort to induce retraction of a paper that drew the ire of industry representatives”

Tellingly, the only company mentioned by name in the petition is Monsanto.

Secretary Vilsack sits atop the largest public agriculture research enterprise in the United States—and one of the largest such research organizations in the world. The USDA spends hundreds of millions of dollars on research each year, which, in theory, should be making food production safer and more sustainable while also helping farmers and consumers. But too often we see that USDA’s research agenda is geared toward empowering and enriching corporate interests, seldom challenging or questioning risky and unstudied industry products and practices, like the use of GMOs.

The allegations that the USDA is censoring unfavorable research echoes the many documented cases where public university researchers have had research censored at the behest of biotech companies, which exercise enormous influence over science through the millions of dollars they pour into university research programs.

The biotech industry also pours millions of dollars into politics, including $572 million in the last decade lobbying congress and funding political campaigns. Industry’s deep pockets buy pro-industry regulations, friendly government administrators and, according to the new whistleblower allegations, influence over government science.

At a time when states across the country are calling for mandatory GMO labeling and new science is emerging showing problems with GMO crops, Vilsack’s industry talking points are woefully out of step with American consumers and also American voters, who will weigh in on the presidential ticket next year.

May 5th, 2015

How One Photographer Is Protecting Colorado from Fracking

John-credit-Gary-Soles-WEBBy Sandra Lupien

Colorado is a headwaters state: the Colorado, Platte, Rio Grande and Arkansas Rivers all start here and wiggle and weave their sparkling ways through the Rocky Mountain State before reaching their far-flung mouths at far lower elevations. John Fielder was just a teenager when he visited Colorado on a school science trip in the 1960s, but he knew it would one day be his home. He could not have known that as a renowned nature photographer, Colorado’s expansive public lands would become his muse – one he would be compelled to protect from threats like fracking. I recently spoke to Fielder about his art, his love of Colorado and what moved him to join Food & Water Watch’s “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign to keep fracking out of the Mile High City and the public lands that form its watershed.

Sandra Lupien: How did your strong connection to nature develop?
John Fielder: I had an inspiring middle school science teacher who, each summer, would pack seven kids in a station wagon and take us on trips across the United States. We visited public lands like national parks, and learned hands-on about geology and biology. That experience planted the seeds for an appreciation of science and nature. In college, I had a chance to explore Colorado working for my uncle in the geology department of his industrial company.

SL: How did you find your way to photography?
JF: In high school I was inspired by an art teacher who helped me be creative with paintbrushes. Then, in 1973, I first saw the work of Eliot Porter, a contemporary of Ansel Adams, but he shot in color. Like Adams, Porter was both an artist and an advocate for the preservation of the landscapes he captured so sublimely. The very next day I rented a 35mm camera and started taking pictures with Kodachrome.

SL: Did you study art or science in college?
JF: I studied accounting! And after college I had a well-paying career in department store management in Colorado, but I quit after eight years to pursue a career as a nature photographer.

South-Park,-Colorado-4-WEB

SL: What’s your favorite spot in Colorado?
JF: I’m a nature egalitarian. It’s all good, especially in the right light. But, at heart, I’m a mountain guy. Colorado has 28 mountain ranges, and as far as I’m concerned this is the most beautiful place on Earth. Right now, I’m sitting in my second floor home office in Summit County looking at the Gore Range. I see, at 13,560 feet, the peak of Mount Powell climbed first by John Wesley Powell in 1869. It’s got to be my favorite place in Colorado – the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

SL: What has changed about the Colorado landscape since you started shooting it?
JF: Let’s go from high to low. Up high – between 10,000 and 14,000 feet elevation – not a lot has changed. The hard rock mining industry effectively went out of business in 1893 when the price of silver crashed, and many of these places are now protected American wilderness. But lower, from 10,000 feet down to 3,300 feet [the lowest elevation in Colorado] there’s been a lot of impact from oil and gas, and human development. When I moved here in 1972, Colorado had 2.3 million residents; now there are 5.4 million. In addition to the homes, we see oil and gas infrastructure in those very backyards, as well as on America’s public lands.

SL: Why are you concerned about fracking in and around Denver?
JF: Most of the exploration is north of Denver in Weld County, but it’s all along the Front Range, and Denver’s in the middle of it. To me, the single greatest travesty of oil and gas exploration is having a well in your backyard. One’s sense of sight, smell and hearing is violated when you drive up and down the Front Range. To the north of me in Summit County, one of the West’s most beautiful mountain basins known as North Park has oil and gas infrastructure. I spent a week in that area photographing cattle ranches; all night I listened to the sound of a new well being drilled. Closer to Denver is South Park – the South Platte River Basin – comprising 280,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which is being considered by BLM for oil and gas exploration. That watershed provides drinking water for Denver and its suburbs.

SL: What’s your big picture view of oil and gas extraction in Colorado?
JF: I don’t want the “extractive” to destroy the “attractive,” and by that I mean Colorado and most Western America states are beautiful, biologically diverse places. Oil and gas exploration and fracking do nothing but damage everything that we sense: sublime mountain views, the sound of gurgling creeks, the smell of clean air and the taste of clean water and the touch of powdery aspen tree bark. The problem is that two of our four public land management agencies, BLM and Forest Service, have a legal mandate to manage those lands for multiple uses. That means they are obligated by law to both protect the land, and to allow – if not promote – the leasing of public lands for mineral exploration. The latter is antithetical to the grand “picture,” which is that people are healthier, happier and more economically prosperous in societies that protect nature, not destroy it.

South-Park,-Colorado-WEB

SL: What’s your bottom line?
JF: My degree is in accounting and my background is in merchandising, and I’m an environmentalist! I believe that ecology and economy – with the same Greek root, “eco,” meaning “house” – are symbiotic. History shows that societies that protect their forests and their water sources last longer than those that destroy nature and biodiversity. My belief that the oil and gas industry has no place in Colorado is based as much on economic science as it is on ecological science. Oil and gas industry jobs are short-term jobs, lasting only as long as the oil remains. The death of hard rock mining in the West economically stranded millions of people for decades. Tourism and recreation saved the day, and those jobs can last as long as we preserve nature. I would like to think that people appreciate the morality of protecting four billion years of the evolution of life on Earth, but some don’t. I hope for everyone’s sake they will consider just the economics and realize that states like Colorado are far better off basing their economies on the “attractive” than the “extractive.”

You can help protect our most beautiful natural places from fracking. Check out our public lands map to view threatened spots in Colorado and beyond. Tell your members of Congress to ban fracking on public lands. 

May 4th, 2015

Keep School Lunches Safe: Reject Chinese Chicken

By Kate Fried Cafeteria_Kids

When parents send their children off to school, they expect a few things. Among them that their kids will receive a complete education, and that schools will provide their kids with healthy, wholesome meals. Yet ensuring that kids eat well at school is more complicated than some might expect, as major corporations target kids as potential future junk food customers, and attempts to set higher nutrition standards for school lunches become the subject of endless debate. Read the full article…

May 1st, 2015

ReThink Energy: ‘We Will Ensure Florida Keeps Fracking Out of Our State’

Guest blog post by Kim Ross, President, ReThink Energy Florida, and EcoWatch

Reposted with permission from EcoWatch

In 2013, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the few organizations fighting pro-fracking bills in the Florida Legislature in reaction to public attention on drilling near the Everglades. The bills failed to garner enough votes to make it into law. Each year since, state legislators have attempted to pass similar meaningless, pro-industry regulations. Each year, they have failed. But 2015 will mark the year that the tide turned in the battle to keep fracking out of Florida!

We were among the Floridians shocked in 2014 upon learning that, while we’d been going to public hearings on one well permit, another had been secretly and illegally fracked. With this illegal procedure, a more dangerous form of unconventional drilling called ‘acid fracking’ was introduced to the Everglades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a cease and desist, but the oil company continued in defiance. DEP fined the company for $25,000 – an amount that seemed like couch-change to the public.

As ReThink Energy Florida and its allies began to build public awareness, and leaders began to scrutinize the process, DEP got firmer with the company. Eventually, after the company failed to meet several simple demands, DEP revoked their permits.

CypressPCnoText_WEBBy 2015’s Legislative session, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the lead organizations for the Florida Anti-Fracking Coalition, which called for a ban on fracking in Florida. Due at least in part to its work educating and engaging the public, bans on fracking were filed in the Florida Legislature by Senators Soto and Bullard, and Representative Jenne. Unfortunately, other legislators filed fracking regulation bills again, along with trade secrets exemption bills, which required a 2/3 majority in each chamber of the Legislature to pass. While these other legislators claimed to have worked with DEP, industry, and environmental groups, the few environmental groups that they invited to the table eventually withdrew their support because the legislators refused to amend the bills to meet their bottom-line requirements.

While the bans sat unmoving, the regulatory bills began moving quickly through committees. The coalition drove phone calls, emails, press events, and public awareness across the state. The primary focus was that we need to ban, not regulate, fracking. The coalition spoke to many of the issues with the bills: they would have kept cities and counties from banning fracking and they were full of loopholes, including trade secret exemption rules written by and for industry. The public testified about these bills in committee, and reminded the legislators that a ban was another option. We knew we were getting better at speaking as a unified body when the opposition attempted to address our points. Still, we knew it was an uphill battle, as we were not only arguing against industry, but also against DEP.

We did hope we could kill the trade secrets exemption bill on the Senate side, and keep it off the Governor’s desk. Our conversations with Senators indicated that even if they felt the fracking regulation bill could be fixed, they didn’t see the need for the trade secrets exemption bill.

The tide began to turn the penultimate week of session, as several leaders in the Senate expressed grave concern about the bills. These leaders told the sponsor they were disappointed in the few changes they’d seen so far.

The last week of session, the bills were scheduled for final debate on both floors. The House voted for the fracking regulatory bills but tabled the trade secrets exemption bill, perhaps because they were unsure it would have the votes to pass in the Senate.

No one expected what happened next, except maybe comedians who enjoy making fun of Florida politics. Because of disagreement between the Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate over Obamacare, the Speaker of the House ended session three days early, but without passing a budget – the one thing that they are constitutionally required to do! The move was a jab at the leadership in the Senate, and left several bills, good and bad, in limbo.

The house had passed the faux regulatory bills on Monday before they went home.  While we were overjoyed that the House had not passed the trade secrets bill, rendering it dead on the table, we were worried that the regulatory bill could still pass. It was clear the House had thrown the Senate into chaos right as a final debate on the fracking regulatory bill came up in a hearing.  As a result, the bill was ‘temporarily postponed’ while its sponsor determined how to proceed.

The Senate had three options: 1) let the bad regulatory bill die a natural and well-deserved death; 2) amend the bill and send it back to the House – who was not present to hear the amended bill, thereby killing it; or 3) Pass the bill as passed in the House, which would send it on to the Governor.

In these final days of the Senate, very few people still believed the bill should pass as written; seemingly only the head of the Florida Petroleum Council still supported it. Most importantly, several leaders in the legislature had expressed concern about the bill and had worked to come up with ‘fixes’. However, because the House had ended their session, any amendments would render the bills dead.

Wednesday, after ReThink Energy Florida and its partners had burned the phone lines, held press conferences, and written even more op-eds (such as this one from Our Santa Fe River), the Senate bill’s sponsor acknowledged that the bill would not pass.

Our work is not done. Next week, we will begin doubling down on our efforts to create the necessary groundswell for a permanent ban on fracking. But today, we celebrate a victory in the end of this legislative session: the birth of a new movement that calls on leaders to take our concerns about Florida’s Energy Policy and Environment into account! We will keep moving to ensure Florida does the right thing and keeps fracking out of our state forever!

 

April 30th, 2015

Mapping Out Fracking’s Dangers

By Briana Kerensky

It feels like spring only just arrived, but as of tomorrow we’re less than a month away from the official start of summer: Memorial Day. National parks and forests across the country will welcome millions of hikers, campers, photographers “picnic-ers,” and others this summer: people looking to leave home for a while and enjoy America’s natural beauty.

But oil and gas corporations want to visit the United States’ public lands for a very different reason: to profit off their oil and gas reserves via fracking.

Send an email to your members of Congress to support and co-sponsor the bill to ban fracking on public lands.

TAKE ACTION

Did you know that about 20 percent of U.S. oil and gas reserves and resources are beneath federal public lands? Some of these public lands are next to our most beautiful national parks, including Glacier National Park in Montana, or national forests like George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia and Shawnee National Forest in Illinois, to name a few.

But it can be hard to visualize the scope of the danger that fracking poses to our public lands. That’s why Food & Water Watch created a map to help illustrate the vast span of public lands across America, and illuminate where Big Oil and Gas corporations aim to drill and frack through it. Explore the map.

BlogThumb_PubLandsMapPreview543w

Explore the map and see where fracking can harm public lands.

The yellow areas are U.S. federal lands. The red areas in the map are where — given inconsistent data — there are oil and gas deposits. Lands in red are where there’s already been a wave of drilling and fracking for oil and gas, or where companies envision fracking before long. The overlapping orange areas are public lands that are either being fracked now, or could be soon. Check out the blue pins to learn about specific public lands and how they’re at risk from fracking.

Fracking on public lands such as these is dangerous on many levels: it introduces toxic chemicals to water; it disrupts the habitats of millions of animals, including endangered species; it poses serious risks to human health, such as breast cancer; and it spurs on climate change. The production of oil and natural gas in 2013 from federal public lands led to more than 292 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, or about what 61 million cars emit in a year. 

No amount of regulation will protect our public lands, health, drinking water and climate from the impacts of fracking. About 90 percent of federally managed lands are available for oil and gas leasing, while only 10 percent are reserved for conservation, recreation, wildlife and cultural heritage.

If we want to preserve our nation’s natural heritage for future generations, we must act. The Protect Our Public Lands Act was recently introduced to Congress, and is the strongest piece of federal legislation against fracking to date. No amount of regulation will protect our public lands or communities from the impacts of this dangerous practice. Tell Congress to pass the Protect Our Public Lands Act and ban fracking on public lands now and forever.

April 29th, 2015

California Drought: Will Governor Brown Stop the Biggest Water Abusers?

By Wenonah Hauter and Adam Scow

1504_CA-Drought-BlogThumbBy now, the whole nation is aware that its fruit and vegetable basket, California, is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought. One NASA scientist recently projected that the state may only have roughly a year’s supply of water left in its reserves. While that number is not entirely cut and dry (pardon the pun), it’s clear that California’s water crisis is real and that solutions are late in coming. For the first time in the Golden State’s history, its Governor, Jerry Brown, has placed mandatory water restrictions on residents and municipalities.

We can all agree that individual water conservation – efficient toilets and washing machines, shorter showers and smarter landscaping – should be expanded and embedded in our culture. But restrictions on households are not enough to dig us out of our water woes. Given that residential and municipal uses account for less than fifteen percent of California’s annual water use, we must ask: who is guzzling California’s water and what should Governor Brown do to rein in these users?

Below we identify some of California’s most egregious water abusers and offer some commonsense steps for Governor Brown’s consideration.

Big Agriculture

The Almond
On the desert-like west side of the San Joaquin Valley, almond orchards stretch as far as the eye can see. But this nut empire is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood: in the past five years, skyrocketing global demand for the cash crop has enabled it to double in size and become the second-biggest water consuming crop in California. The arid climate and selenium-laced soils in this region make it a kind of madness to grow this thirsty crop here, where it takes more than double the water to grow almonds than in Northern California. Agribusiness giants like Beverly Hills-based billionaire Stewart Resnick are raking in profits from these crops, about seventy percent of which are exported overseas. The Westlands Water District, where many of these orchards are based, has pumped more than one-million acre feet of groundwater in the past two years – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco combined use in a whole year – to produce these nuts, threatening the region’s water supply, and causing the ground to sink as much as a foot per year in some places. What’s more, most of this crop is exported abroad—meaning, effectively, the water is exported along with it.

Factory Farms
Industrialized animal agriculture is notoriously water-intensive. For example, Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 150 million gallons of water a day to maintain the dairy cows on California’s mega-dairies. That calculation does not include the large quantities of water needed to raise the feed for dairy cows in California or to move manure into storage systems; it is just the water given to cows to drink and used to wash cows and buildings. A lack of available numbers tallying the meat industry’s water use in California presents a problem as the State seeks to tackle the drought crisis.

Alfalfa
Of all crops grown in California, alfalfa uses the single largest share of agricultural water, so it clearly deserves attention. Like almonds, alfalfa is exported overseas, but is also used to feed dairy cows in California. Alfalfa is grown in some of the state’s hottest and driest areas, including the Imperial Valley, and is exported to feed livestock. Interestingly, though, acreage devoted to growing alfalfa in California is expected to shrink 11 percent this year, according to Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie in this recent Mother Jones piece, as the agricultural industry increases production of cash crops like almonds and other “pricey nuts.”

Big Oil

It’s estimated that each year, the oil industry in California uses eighty-two billion gallons of water – enough to supply both San Diego and San Francisco for a year. While agriculture dwarfs the oil industry in terms of overall water use in California – where more than one million people lack access to safe drinking water – it’s well-documented that the industry’s dirty practices like fracking, acidizing and cyclic steam injection are permanently contaminating and destroying water California can’t afford to lose. What’s more, recent reports have brought to light that this industry has been illegally injecting billions of gallons of its wastewater into protected drinking water aquifers.

Bottled Water

California is home to over 100 bottled water facilities that every year bottle millions of gallons of water for private profit. In Sacramento it is estimated that each year, the notorious multinational water hog, Nestlé, pumps around fifty million gallons of local groundwater to be bottled and sold for 1,000 times the cost of tap water. Nestlé pays just shy of $1.00 per 748 gallons of water it taps from Sacramento’s municipal water supply, then resells it for thousands of times more in environmentally damaging plastic bottles. While Food & Water Watch has always opposed bottled water, during a historic drought the moral imperative for ending this practice is crystal clear.

Solutions

As he calls on California’s 38 million residents to conserve, Governor Brown must also take bold action to rein in uses by these corporate water abusers. The Governor oversees the State Water Board, which is empowered under the California constitution to manage water for the public good. To serve that imperative, Governor Brown should quickly take the following first steps:

  1. Align California agricultural production with the realities of the State’s water supply. The State routinely promises water users, including industrial agricultural users, five times more surface water than it can provide. The State must reduce demands to meet the reality of California’s water supply.
  2. Manage groundwater as a public resource to prevent depletion. The State, albeit poorly, manages surface water for the public good, but groundwater – the State’s water savings account for future generations – is largely managed privately. The State should start with immediate, sensible restrictions on groundwater pumping. In the long-term, the State should retire from production the toxic, arid lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that we do not have the water to support and compensate producers fairly for their losses.
  3. Place an immediate moratorium on fracking and the bottling of California’s water for private profit.

It’s Californians’ job to exercise their democratic rights, starting with signing this petition urging the Governor to take these bold actions. While some have suggested that people boycott almonds or make other changes in their diet, the realities of the global food system are such that corporate agribusiness will continue to abuse our water and simply export the crops we wouldn’t be buying. In other words, we can’t shop our way out of the crisis.

It’s time for Jerry Brown to exercise courageous leadership that fixes the long-time mismanagement and corporate abuse of water that threatens the future of California’s economy and agriculture. There are no easy shortcuts: the governor must govern.

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, and Adam Scow is the organization’s California Director. 

April 28th, 2015

Truth from the Tap: A Water Industry PR Blitz

By Darcey Rakestraw

Click here to download a copy of our Borrowing Trouble report

Read one of our latest reports on water privatization.

The National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) has launched a new campaign, truthfromthetap.com, to undermine advocates who want municipal water systems operated and owned by local, democratically elected councils—not by big companies accountable to shareholders.

But the truth is, the private water operators behind the site have a poor track record when it comes to serving communities. Company executives drive the management decisions, not locally accountable water boards, and they have a financial incentive to cut service, cut maintenance and cut the workforce. This often results in delayed repairs and slow responses to customer service requests. There is ample evidence that maintenance backlogs, wasted water, sewage spills and service problems often follow privatization. In fact, poor performance is the primary reason that communities demand their local governments reverse the decision to privatize and resume public operation of previously contracted services.

For many communities, frequent and massive rate increases are the most pronounced consequence of privatization. On average, private sector companies charge higher water and sewer rates than local government utilities. For example, a 2010 survey of the largest water utilities in the Great Lakes region found that privately owned systems charged more than twice as much as municipal systems. The researchers attributed this difference to private companies’ taxes, profits, higher overall service costs, and ratemaking practices.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of failed privatization efforts:

  • Within a year of Veolia taking over the water system in Indianapolis, thousands of residents experienced billing problems and consumer complaints more than doubled. In 2005, because the company lacked proper safeguards, an error caused a boil-water alert for more than a million people, closing local businesses and canceling school for 40,000 students.
  • The privatized system in Gladewater, Texas violated federal water quality standards 16 times, and residents described the water as “dark brown” and “foul.” The company failed to perform work required by its contract, and its water plant operators were lacking the necessary certification.
  • In Gary, Indiana, after United Water downsized the workforce, residents experienced numerous service problems. In May 2008, a state inspection found that the district, under United Water’s management, violated discharge limits 84 times from 2005 to 2007.
  • The New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office issued a scathing audit of United Water’s Camden, NJ It found that inadequate contract supervision and the company’s poor performance cost the city millions of dollars.

Read more examples here.

Lifting the veil on industry attacks of advocates

It’s no wonder that communities get wary when they hear their local water system may be considering some form of privatization. To combat this resistance, the water industry’s latest PR campaign asks, “Why are activists meddling with your water?” The strategy appears to be to confuse people by equating the relatively meager resources backing public interest groups to the massive resources of industry.

Financial support from our more than 70,000 members keeps us independent of corporate and government influence—enabling us to take uncompromising positions and win strategic fights that threaten industry interests.

The growing numbers of industry-backed attacks on Food & Water Watch actually underscore our effectiveness, and are a good example of why some donors do not want their names publicized. It is their right to remain anonymous, and we guard our members’ privacy in order to protect them from harassment. GuideStar, a top source of information about nonprofit transparency and best practices, recently gave us their GuideStar Exchange Seal, demonstrating Food & Water Watch’s commitment to transparency.

What’s not so transparent is how the water industry lobbies to secure their interests. Comprised of large U.S. water companies and the U.S. subsidiaries of multinational corporations like Suez, the NAWC has been a member of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), alongside Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. ALEC works to ensure that state legislation is modeled to support its industry-friendly policy goals, including deregulation and privatization. One of its bolder resolutions has been one to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency. ALEC has even backed restrictions on voting.

Some companies, such as Amazon, Coca-Cola and more recently, Google, have backed out of ALEC because of its reactionary agenda. But in 2012 NAWC publicly defended its membership in ALEC, and, as journalist Sarah Pavlus noted, it’s not the industry’s only dubious association: American Water’s Pennsylvania subsidiary and Aqua America have partnered with the oil and gas industry on a lobbying effort to expand fracking (water companies sell the industry water used in fracking operations, and also recognize that the treatment of wastewater from fracking is a lucrative business opportunity.)

The solution

Instead of promoting private involvement in municipal water systems in the form of public private partnerships, the federal government should adequately fund water infrastructure projects. It’s understandable that communities consider private investment to improve crumbling systems: much of our country’s water infrastructure is nearly a century old, and many community leaders look to lease their water systems out to address budgetary shortfalls.

However, instances of water privatization are still pretty rare in the U.S. As of 2012, only six percent of local governments contract their drinking or wastewater services to private, for-profit entities. Since 2000, major water companies have lost 169 contracts in the United States.

That’s because communities have learned the hard way that they can do better. Part of democracy is asking local and federal leaders to stand up for what’s right when it comes to the things we can’t live without. We cannot live without water.

The real truth from the tap

These brazen water industry attacks underscore that advocates and communities are being effective in their work every day to protect our essential resources. They also present an opportunity to talk about how big companies attempt to sway the debate around important issues like how our water should be managed.

April 24th, 2015

TPP Update: Fast Track Not on Track Despite Proponents’ Bluster

By Patrick Woodall

Patrick_WoodallThis week, both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee approved Fast Track trade authority, designed to accelerate Congressional consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But this is merely what the politics of Fast Track looks like on the surface. The dueling committee hearings were designed to give a false sense of momentum and inevitability to the Fast Track fight, but passage was practically guaranteed in these two committees largely stacked with corporate free trade apologists.

Just below the surface, underneath the spin and the lobbying, this week’s committee action shows the broad-based and passionate opposition to Fast Track. The House Ways and Means passed Fast Track, but it did so on an almost entirely party-line vote, with only two Democrats joining the Republicans (Reps. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon and Ron Kind from Wisconsin). The rest of the House Democrats voted no, and this solid opposition to Fast Track in the pro-trade committee suggests that Fast Track does not have an easy road forwards in the House. Republicans even refused to allow a vote on the Democratic trade authority alternative bill (offered by the dean of Democratic trade policy, Rep. Sander Levin). Stalwart critics of corporate-driven free trade like Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) put up a spirited attack on the Senate side, foreshadowing contentious debates to come.

Now, Fast Track proponents want to bring the bill to the full House and Senate and pretend that the Committee passage gives the controversial legislation momentum. Don’t believe the pro-corporate trade hype; there is widespread, bipartisan opposition to Fast Track in the Congress and right now is a great opportunity for engaged citizens to give our Representatives the backbone to stand up for working families and the environment.

The Fast Track hucksters hope to bring the bill to the floor in early May, so RIGHT NOW is the time to contact your Representatives and Senators today and urge them to oppose Fast Track (TPA-2015).

Only people power can defeat the corporate free-trade agenda. And, stay tuned; we will keep you up on the trade shenanigans in Washington.

April 23rd, 2015

Congress Holds First Hearing on Banning Fracking; Too Bad It’s A Circus

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.Profile

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch

If it wasn’t about the future of the planet, I’d laugh at the chutzpah. One day after Earth Day, the GOP-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, chaired by Texas Congressman Lamar Smith (recipient of more than $600,000 from the oil and gas industry) held a hearing about efforts to ban fracking. Obviously, Big Oil and Gas is mighty worried about the success of the powerful grassroots movement to ban fracking.

Where to even begin? Let’s start with the headline speakers. Not even one person was invited to represent the affected communities from around the country, nor was one of the hundreds of members of Americans Against Fracking invited to discuss why a ban on fracking is crucial.

Instead, the GOP invited the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that has decried efforts to ban fracking, claiming that if “best practices” are used, it can be done safely. EDF is a “strategic partner” of the pro-fracking Center for Sustainable Shale Development alongside corporate giants Chevron and Shell. In his testimony, EDF’s representative repeated many industry talking points.

Starting to get the picture? Wait, there’s more. In the height of irony, a representative from Energy In Depth, an industry-funded front group, was on hand to release a new white paper decrying how the environmental groups get foundation money (and, as far as I can tell, the EDF representative never refuted their outrageous claims.) Meanwhile, while conducting research for my upcoming book Frackopoly, we discovered through SEC filings that the top 10 oil and gas companies had almost $80 billion in profits in 2014; and it was ExxonMobil, the largest fracker today, that spent millions funding climate deniers. Energy In Depth was created by the Independent Petroleum Association of America “to combat new environmental regulations.” Early funders included some of the largest oil and gas companies on earth, including BP, Chevron, and Shell.

No, it isn’t public interest foundations that are paying Energy In Depth’s salaries—it’s money from climate denying companies that are devastating the environment. No wonder they’re alarmed that New York State listened to the increasing body of science that shows fracking is bad news; this hearing is the latest proof that industry is working in overdrive to discredit the work of scientists that believe fracking is dangerous to public health, our environment and communities.

We’re not surprised the scientist present on today’s panel raised no such alarms. Dr. Donald Siegel, a scientist at Syracuse University, was recently accused of failing to disclose fees he received from Chesapeake Energy in a study on methane contamination of drinking water wells from fracking. His study concluded that proximity to a fracked well was not necessarily linked to methane concentrations in groundwater. The study was also criticized for its methane testing methods, and put under ethics review.

Industry groups, including Energy In Depth, predictably cheered the findings. In his testimony today, Dr. Siegel criticized a methane study that conflicts with his study’s conclusions by suggesting that it used skewed samples.

Christi Craddick, the Chair of the Railroad Commission of Texas, the oil and gas regulator that is a toady for the industry, was another panel member. When the city of Denton, Texas, passed a ban on fracking in November of 2014, Craddick announced that she would ignore the ban and continue to issue fracking permits.

Today’s event wasn’t a serious exercise in democracy. It was a circus. Congress can do better. In fact, members of Congress have an excellent opportunity right now to listen to the growing chorus of advocates who are demanding that our leaders put people and the planet over oil and gas industry profits: new legislation in the House was announced yesterday to ban fracking on public lands—the strongest federal legislation against fracking to-date.

This very orchestrated hearing shows that a growing movement is getting behind the ever-deepening body of science showing that we need to ban fracking—and it’s making the industry very nervous.

Page 6 of 169« First...456789...203040...Last »