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January 23rd, 2014

Let’s Get Smart About Water Pollution Trading… By Making It Illegal

Pollution TradingBy Rich Bindell

Forty years ago the United States Congress, over the veto of President Richard Nixon, enacted one of the most important laws in the history of the country – the Clean Water Act. In a briefing room on Capital Hill last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Energy and Environment Task Force hosted a staff briefing focused on how this new market-based approach to pollution control is undermining the Act and endangering our communities. For those of us involved in the planning of the briefing, it was a welcome sight to see several dozen Congressional staffers occupying seats in that room. That means that Congress is listening, and that tells us that it’s time to step up our efforts to broadcast a very critical message: pollution trading schemes are bad for our waterways and bad for the country.  

The briefing featured four panelists who offered compelling reasons why water pollution trading is the wrong approach to pollution control. Panelists included former Maryland Senator Joseph D. Tydings, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Robert Lawrence, MD, Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman and Food & Water Justice Co-Director Michele Merkel. Each speaker highlighted concerns surrounding the implementation of Water Pollution Trading (WPT), a scheme that erodes the Act’s successful permitting program while allowing some of the biggest polluters, industrial agriculture operations, to sell the “right” to pollute to other polluting industries instead of actually reducing pollution at its source.

As Food & Water Watch’s Michele Merkel put it, the briefing was to explain to staffers…

“… how WPT is illegal; how it destroys the public trust by putting our waterways into the hands of the financial sector; how it is bad for our waterways by increasing pollution that should be eliminated; and how it leads to unjust outcomes by aggregating credits from a diffuse set of pollution sources and by concentrating that pollution in lower income communities, causing adverse public health impacts.  Read the full article…

January 22nd, 2014

Happy Birthday, Horsemeat Scandal

By Eve Mitchell

It’s been a year since we were first told the beef we buy may actually be horsemeat, but we still don’t really know what happened, how far it spread, who is responsible, or how they will be called to account for themselves.

We’ve seen a smattering of arrests, notably the September 2013 arrests of eight managers of the French company Spanghero on charges of aggravated fraud and mislabelling of food products. French authorities say they “knowingly sold” 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef. Around two-thirds of this went to French firm Comigel’s Luxembourg subsidiary Tavola and found its way into some 4.5 million products that were then sold again to 28 companies operating in 13 European countries. This may be the source of the tainted Findus “beef” lasagne (100% horsemeat) found on UK supermarket shelves.

Sound complicated? It is, but if you’re going to buy heavily processed foods you need to know this stuff – unless you’re happy to just pinch your nose and swallow.

Justice is elusive. Accused of netting some €500,000 over six months of fraud (£425,000 or US$681,000), Spanghero had been stripped of its operating license in February 2013. It then closed in June, changed managers, sacked nearly 60% of its workforce, renamed itself La Lauragaise, refinanced and was trading again by the end of July – protesting its “innocence” all the way. Then came the arrests in September. The company’s new tagline “Saveurs des terroirs” (“The flavours of the land”, with heavy overtones of traditional cultural quality) feels like a bad joke.

Flagship arrests, while welcome, are not enough. Supermarkets sold us this stuff but are not feeling the heat. The UK Parliamentary inquiry into the affair quizzed supermarket bosses, pointing out to Tesco that it is “notorious” for rejecting misshapen apples but somehow managed to miss the fact that products labelled beef were actually up to 29% horse. The Tesco representative attempted to blame consumers, saying the company does what they want, but this didn’t wash with the committee, which retorted, “You obviously don’t [do what your customers want] on horse.”

The inquiry pressed that if beef is trading at a premium to horse, and with “unscrupulous people out there, as obviously there are,” surely supermarkets should watch cheaper products more closely. Tesco said each of its suppliers is scrutinised with the same ”rigour” (Tesco does one DNA test per year at each meat production site). Horsemeat was still being found in Tesco products as late as June, but as the Food Standards Agency only reports results over 1%, for all we know horsemeat is still masquerading as beef all over the place. At this stage it isn’t in anybody’s interest to say differently, and consumers have to take what they can get.

Supermarkets sell UK shoppers 80% of our food, so when they fail us, it is a big deal. Tesco pleads innocence, saying its supplier used unapproved suppliers further down the chain. The Committee’s July 2013 report concluding its inquiry said while some retailers may have been misled, the big ones “need to ‘up their game’”, and the costs should rest on companies, not consumers. The inquiry concluded, “Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration,” instead of taking everything “on trust”. The Committee continued, “We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity.” That was in July 2013. 

So what has the UK Government done? Testifying before the inquiry in January 2013 Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath MP announced a wide-ranging review of the crisis, but the report was kicked into the long grass and is not due before an unnamed point in 2014, with actual action who knows when after that. Meanwhile the inquiry heard the Government is proposing to decriminalise food labelling violations amid a declining number of public analysts and labs able to carry out food testing and budget cuts to the local authorities responsible for food testing.

UK Secretary of State for Food and Farming Owen Paterson said of the horsemeat scandal: “I think we came out of it very strongly.” On addressing the scandal he said, “Firstly we are bound by the rules of the European market,” although this is a notable departure from his feelings in other areas (Paterson calls Europe’s rules on GM food “medieval” and compares them to “witchcraft”). The annual review of his department showed that fewer than a third of his staff have confidence in managerial decision making and fewer than a quarter think their management have a clear vision of the future. They are not alone.

Some say all this is proof that “Big Retail has government in an armlock”. It sure feels like they have shoppers under the other arm.

On 14 January 2014 the European Parliament passed a motion on food fraud that “deplores” that it has never been an EU enforcement priority and reiterates that “the retail sector has a special responsibility to guarantee the integrity of food products”. With supermarkets claiming innocence and the UK Government playing “hurry up and wait,” maybe the EU can force some action on our behalf.

January 21st, 2014

It’s Time to Get the Money Out of Politics, And Put the People Back In

By Mitch Jones

Four years ago today the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Citizens United case. The case had three major components that, taken together, have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics. First, it found that free speech rights are about the speech, not the speaker (in other words, it doesn’t matter who’s speaking, but that speaking is taking place.) Second, the case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood. Corporate personhood is a constitutional doctrine dating back to the mid 19th century, but Citizens United reconfirms the constitutionality of it. Finally, the case finds that since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny. Citizens United basically allowed corporate financing of elections to be protected as free speech.

It was an outrageous ruling that unleashed a flood of money in our political system. Read the full article…

January 20th, 2014

Why We Serve: Stories From Food & Water Watch Volunteers

In recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service, we honor the dedicated, hard working volunteers whose service with Food & Water Watch is bringing real change to their communities and the wider world. We asked a few of them to tell their stories about why they serve, and here’s what they told us: Read the full article…

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…

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