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November 25th, 2014

Governor O’Malley Caves to Oil and Gas Interests, Opens up Maryland to Fracking

Statement by Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Baltimore, MD—“Governor Martin O’Malley’s announcement today that his administration will release regulations on fracking next month ignores the tens of thousands of Marylanders calling on him to keep fracking out of the state.

“The Maryland Governor, who touts himself as a progressive champion of the environment, cowardly announced right before the Thanksgiving holiday that Maryland will move forward with fracking. He leaves control of fracking’s regulation in the hands of pro-fracking Governor-elect Larry Hogan, someone who sees fracking as a “goldmine” for the state’s coffers. The fact that O’Malley is praising Maryland’s fracking rules as the strictest in the country means nothing considering Hogan will likely change the rules or dismantle them completely.”

“O’Malley said that, “Maryland can’t afford to stick its head in the sand here,” but it is the Governor, himself, who is turning a blind eye to the mountain of scientific evidence showing fracking cannot be safely regulated. Given Governor O’Malley’s failure to adequately protect Marylanders from the harms of fracking, it is now incumbent upon the incoming Maryland legislature to keep fracking out of the state.”

Contacts:

Rich Bindell: 202-683-2457, [email protected]

Mitch Jones: 443-418-6454, [email protected]

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November 10th, 2014

Standing by Those Who Stand in the Way of Fracking Infrastructure

By Wenonah HauterBlogThumb_Wenonah1

It all began taking shape back in March of 2013, when Sandra Steingraber — the noted biologist, author, educator and advisor of Americans Against Fracking — and 11 other courageous individuals were arrested for blockading the entrance to a natural gas compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake, in the environmentally sensitive Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. These so-called “Seneca Lake 12” were simply doing what countless other Americans have done over generations when they knew their health and safety were threatened, when their elected leaders weren’t there to help, and when they had no other choice: they stood up for their neighbors, their families and themselves, and were hauled off to jail. Sandra spent 10 days behind bars after defiantly refusing to pay a fine.

The narrative of the Seneca Lake 12 is becoming all too familiar, as concerned residents across the nation are often finding no legal means of resistance against the incessant development of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure spurred on by fracking. Thanks to the decimation of campaign finance laws by the U.S. Supreme Court, state and federal politicians have become increasingly bought off by the unlimited wealth of the oil and gas industry. As such, pleas from desperate local officials and community groups to reject hazardous infrastructure projects fall on deaf ears.

As for FERC, the federal commission charged with regulating the construction and operation of our nation’s energy supply, forget about it. The faceless, bureaucratic agency is simply a machine-like rubber stamp for the whims of the fossil fuel industry and a president who usually backs them.

And so, the numerous infrastructure components required to support and enhance the productivity of fracking operations – pipelines, compressor stations, toxic waste facilities, export terminals, etc. – are sprouting up and branching out through our communities at an alarming rate. The compressor stations, in particular, are downright nasty to live near. They’re intolerably loud, and they regularly emit vast plumes of toxic gasses, including benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, into surrounding environs.

Which brings us back to the Seneca Lake 12, arrested last March for an act of civil disobedience that sought to draw attention to the hazards inherent in a new Inergy (subsequently bought by Texas-based Crestwood-Midstream) compressor station on Seneca Lake, in Reading, New York. Were this any typical gas compressor station about to come on line, community resistance to it would be fully understandable. Though this was no ordinary compressor station.

The Crestwood facility is intended to serve a much more audacious industry goal. The intended expansion project aims to compress and pump billions of cubic feet of natural gas, and millions of gallons of liquid petroleum gas, into vast, underground salt caverns that lie along Seneca Lake. These unlined salt caverns have existed for more than a century. The underground caverns abut the pristine lake, one of New York State’s largest drinking water sources. The repurposing of caverns like these are known to leak, collapse and explode. All fracked gas infrastructure is dangerous and polluting. Salt cavern storage is simply absurd.

Flash forward to October 24, 2014: FERC has just approved – rubber-stamped – Crestwood’s plan to ramp up operation at the Seneca Lake compressor station and salt caverns, and construction is authorized to begin. All means of local community appeal, veto or delay of the project, have been exhausted. And Sandra Steingraber and a dedicated, determined band of community members unwilling to be quietly dismissed are again blocking an entrance to the Seneca Lake Crestwood gas storage facility. Sandra wasn’t arrested again on Oct. 24, but she was a week later.

By early November, dozens of community members, organized and supported by the grassroots We Are Seneca Lake campaign, had been arrested for actions of nonviolent civil disobedience at Crestwood Seneca Lake. No doubt these courageous, intelligent demonstrations of community resistance and education will continue and expand at Seneca Lake, and in countless locations nationwide. Until our elected leaders and government institutions stand up for the health and safety of all residents, and against the profiteering interests of the oil and gas industry, arrests will surely mount.

I am proud to stand in solidarity with Sandra Steingraber and all the brave, nonviolent activists in the Finger Lakes region, and all those engaged in similarly righteous acts of resistance and education elsewhere throughout the nation.

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November 5th, 2014

Building on Regional Trend, Reading, Pa. Passes Anti-Privatization Measure

Reading, Pa. — Reading residents voted last night to amend the city charter to guard against future attempts to privatize the city’s municipal utilities and infrastructure, approving a ballot measure that will require a public referendum before any sale or lease of city assets valued at $10 million or more. The vote puts to bed a months-long debate over the future of the Reading water system, providing a firm rebuke of proposals to sell or lease the system to a private entity.

The Reading vote adds to a string of victories in communities throughout Pennsylvania fighting privatization attempts. In September, the Altoona City Council voted unanimously to abandon a water privatization proposal. In October, the Philadelphia City Council killed a proposal to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works, the municipally-owned gas utility. And last year, activists and community members pressured Allentown leaders away from leasing the city water system to a private company.

Reading voters affirmed the proposed charter amendment by a margin of three to one. Our Reading, Our Water, a community-led campaign, collected 1,800 signatures from Reading residents to put the question to the ballot and then made more than 4,000 attempts to contact voters in the weeks before the election to educate them about the need to pass the ballot measure.

“The people of Reading have acted as public leaders and protectors,” said Sam Bernhardt, senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group that worked closely with other local community groups to support the measure. “Communities throughout the region looking to safeguard their public assets against the threat of privatization can use this victory as a model. This is a smart, common-sense decision. The people of Reading collectively own their water system, and they should be ensured the right to make these important decisions as a community.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org, 718.943.8063

October 7th, 2014

Exelon-Pepco Merger Would Increase Energy Giant’s Unchecked Political Buying Power

Consumer Group Asks Public Service Commission to Block Exelon-Pepco Merger

Baltimore, MD – Today, Food & Water Watch sent a letter to the Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC), opposing the proposed merger of Exelon Corporation and Pepco Holdings Inc., and asking the commission to block the merger. The MPSC approval is one of several sought by the companies in the Mid-Atlantic region. Granting approval would have negative consequences for electricity customers throughout the region. Considering the political ramifications of such a merger, it would also be a major blow to democracy.

“Exelon currently enjoys tremendous influence in Congress,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This merger will only serve to increase the company’s already significant buying power in Congress. Given Exelon’s current reliance on polluting technologies, it is likely to use its considerable influence to continue advocating for the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power, rather than moving the nation down the path to a renewable future.

A merger of this magnitude would give Exelon nearly complete control of the energy market from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., giving the energy giant ownership of Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power, in addition to Pepco. Exelon already owns BGE and Peco in the Mid-Atlantic, along with ComEd in Illinois. The merger would add 1,845,000 Mid-Atlantic electricity customers to Exelon’s existing 2,800,000 electricity customers in the region.

But the biggest impact Exelon’s purchase would be its increased lobbying power. Exelon is already one of the largest donors to political campaigns in the country with nearly $1.5 million in contributions, putting the company in the top one percent in the nation. Exelon has spent over $8.2 million to lobby the 113th Congress, placing it in the top three percent of companies lobbying Congress.

Exelon’s unchecked political influence puts the company in conflict with the idea of pushing toward a sustainable energy future. The company has been a major opponent renewing the federal wind energy tax credit. In addition, Exelon has shown a desire to rapidly expand its electricity generation from natural gas. An increasing share of the natural gas burned in electricity generation is extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is an inherently dangerous process that puts at risk both public and environmental health. Exelon has shown itself to lack a commit to a truly renewable and sustainable energy future.

Contact: Rich Bindell, Food & Water Watch, 202-683-2457, [email protected]

 

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September 30th, 2014

FERC’s Approval of Dominion Cove Point Sacrifices Communities and Public Health

Maryland’s political leaders continue to choose the gas industry over citizens

Statement by Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. — “In its approval of the Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility late Monday evening despite local opposition, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) chose to sacrifice the well being of Maryland communities and endanger public health in favor of hefty profits for Dominion Resources. Cove Point will be one of the largest LNG export facilities in the U.S., and the first of its kind to be located so close to a community.

FERC’s authorization to render the Cove Point facility capable of processing and exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) overseas is merely one part of the oil and gas industry’s aggressive push to expand fracking in the Marcellus Shale region – an agenda actively backed by the Obama Administration. By approving Dominion Cove Point, FERC puts the interests of oil and gas companies above the health of local communities—especially the 2,500 residents of Lusby, MD who live less than one mile away from the facility.

Dominion Cove Point is designed to send fracked gas to markets in Europe and Asia where it can fetch the highest price, accelerating the pace of fracking here in the U.S., and transforming rural communities into sacrifice zones that endangering public health, natural resources and local economies.

At a time when citizens should be looking to their political leaders to help lead them away from destructive fossil fuels toward a more sustainable energy future, they are working hand-in-glove with the oil and gas lobby, enabling a process that continues to sacrifice communities and the potential for a healthier environment.”

 

 

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July 29th, 2014

Pa. Residents with Neglected Fracking-Related Health Complaints Urge Action from Attorney General

Residents Ignored by Department of Health Share Details, Call for Investigation and Announce Story-Collecting Initiative

Harrisburg, Pa. – Today, individuals from around Pennsylvania who had fracking-related health complaints ignored by the state’s Department of Health (DOH) shared their stories and called on Attorney General Kathleen Kane to launch an investigation into the apparent disregard for their complaints.

The call on Kane follows a series of reports that DOH had several procedures in place designed to neglect health complaints related to hydraulic fracturing, including circulating a list of “buzzwords” relating to either fracking or health impacts frequently seen near areas with fracking-related infrastructure. In the midst of the conference call, advocates received a request from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes unit to interview the impacted individuals.

“In 2008 my family and I began getting sick after a compressor station was built 780 feet from our home,” said Pam Judy, a resident of Greene County. “The first place I contacted seeking information and assistance was the DOH.  I was advised that they had received no similar complaints and they were unable to direct me to anyone who may be able to help us.  After doing some research on my own I located a gentleman in Texas who had experienced a similar situation and he provided me with a list of the blood tests we needed to have done to determine exposure as well and a wealth of additional information.  I should have been able to receive the same valuable information from the DOH.”

“I called two or three times to get information, while I was going in and out of the emergency room in Johnstown with migraine headaches, severe rashes, and blurry vision,” said Randy Moyer, a resident of Blair County. “Department of Health never got back to me, so I had to go on my own to figure out the details of my condition.”

Moyer and Judy are two of the 11 individuals impacted by fracking who have identified themselves as having experienced neglectful treatment from DOH. Advocates used the call to publicize an online form and hotline (717-467-3641 or 717-467-DOH1).

“We know these stories are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sam Bernhardt, Senior Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch. “These stories have been swept under the rug, and we are going to continue working to uncover them.”

“These stories not only confirm the allegations made by the whistleblowers, but demonstrate that the agency was unresponsive to fracking-related complaints since at least 2008 and as recently as last week. Nothing has changed. Pennsylvanians are not getting the answers they need from the agency tasked with protecting public health,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth.

Contact: Sam Bernhardt – 267.428.1903, sbernhardt[at]fwwatch[dot]org

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July 14th, 2014

On Eve of Cove Point Rally, O’Malley Administration Moves Forward on Fracking in State

Statement by Jorge Aguilar, Southern Region Director, Food & Water Watch

Washington, D.C. — “Late on Friday evening, while civil society organizations were preparing for a large rally opposing the Cove Point LNG export terminal, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) submitted the interim final report of ‘Best Management Practices’ that will be used in drafting regulations for fracking in Maryland. Clearly, the Departments timed this move to draw as little scrutiny as possible. This move is further proof that state agencies have already predetermined that fracking is indeed going to happen in Maryland.

“We question how the Departments can complete an interim report before required risk assessments and public health reports have been completed. It is contemptible that the state agencies would act so carelessly and with such negligence for protecting the Maryland public.

“It has become increasingly clear that the purpose of the Governor’s Commission has been to greenwash fracking, presenting a front of deliberation, when in fact the decision to allow fracking in Maryland has already been made. We call on Governor O’Malley to end this charade and ban fracking now.” 

Contacts:         
Jorge Aguilar, 202-683-2529; [email protected]
Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]

 

 

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June 30th, 2014

Protecting Our Water: It’s Simply the Right Thing to Do

By Nisha Swinton

I have worked with Food & Water Watch – Maine on bottled water issues for almost five years, and I am always so excited when new people join our growing movement against corporate control of our most precious natural resource. I met Nina and her mother Molly, recently, and I was immediately inspired. Nina is nine years old, in third grade, and loves to swim. Nina was not shy at all about discussing her bottled water work at her local elementary school.

“I found out about global warming through nature shows and I realized that polar bears were endangered, so I wanted to do my part in helping the polar bears by helping people notice that plastic water bottles are NOT cool,” Nina explained one afternoon. “One of the reasons I want to keep the ocean clean is because I love swimming and I don’t want to swim in trash or have the fish be sick.”

Nina started the Protect Our Land and Resources (POLAR) Kids Club at school. She and other club members have been speaking in classes, holding raffles for Take Back the Tap reusable water bottles, meeting with teachers and administration, and collecting student signatures to ban bottled water and plastics from their school. POLAR has collected more than 500 signatures already, from a school of 700 students!

Across the United States and the world, students like Nina are making headlines for their efforts to ban the bottle. People are realizing that bottled water is not safer than tap water. Increasingly, bottled water comes from the tap. Bottled water creates mountains of garbage and causes other major environmental problems. Bottled water is thousands of times more expensive than tap water. Bottled water companies mislead communities into giving away their public water in exchange for dangerous jobs. 

Nina’s work is most important right here in Maine because we are facing a huge battle with the bottled water industry giant Nestle North America, which owns Poland Spring. Nestle is looking to go into a 45-year contract with a water district right here in Maine. We need more and more Mainers, young and old, to learn from Nina’s story and work in their communities to ban bottled water to protect our natural resources for Nina’s generation and beyond.

Molly is proud of her daughter’s hard work. “I’m really proud of Nina for being passionate about an important issue and working to share her ideas with her peers, and not giving up. She has put aside her own fear of public speaking for the sake of this cause about which she feels so strongly. For her, the ideas are simple and she is motivated to protect the environment. Her reasons are not political or economical, it’s simply the right thing to do.” I couldn’t agree more.

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May 23rd, 2014

Chesapeake Bay: Where MD Stores Its Fertilizer and Chicken Manure

By Mitch Jones

 

Photo by Jlastras.

In a new report the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science gives an overall health grade to the Chesapeake Bay of a “C” for 2013. The report claims that the Bay’s health has remained steady from 2012 to 2013, except for one major problem: there is “a continuing degradation of the Eastern Shore” due to runoff from agriculture.

 

Pollution caused by agricultural runoff is one of the reasons Food & Water Watch supported legislation in this year’s Maryland General Assembly that would have provided more funding for cover crop programs. Delegate Shane Robinson in the House and Senator Rich Madaleno in the Senate introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act that would have placed a 5-cent per head fee on the large poultry companies on the Eastern Shore. The birds owned by those companies produced about 1.5 billion pounds of manure each year. The new report notes that “it’s the fertilizer and chicken manure that’s causing the problems” for Eastern Shore waterways. Read more…

April 3rd, 2014

MD Fracking Health Study Narrow, Hasty, and Underfunded Say Health Experts

 Health Groups Call On Gov. O’Malley and Maryland Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission 

To Extend Deadline On Health Study

Baltimore—Today, a commissioner from Governor Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Commission joined three leading medical advocacy groups at a press conference in Baltimore in critiquing the timeline and scope of a study on the possible health impacts of shale gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” that is scheduled for release in June.

Representatives from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), Maryland Environment Health Network (MdEHN), Concerned Health Professionals of New York  (CHPNY), Food and Water Watch and Ann Bristow warned that the study is poised to fall woefully short of meeting international standards and health study guidelines for protecting public health. 

They called on Governor O’Malley to commit more resources and to extend the health study deadline in order to fully assess the potential health effects to all Marylanders. They also noted that the study is limited to investigating possible impacts on public health only among residents of Western Maryland, even though exploitable shale gas reserves are located across the state.

“We are watching the emerging science from other states show increasing harms from fracking. We’re hearing about poisoned drinking water and radioactive waste, as well as smog in places that used to have pristine air.  So it is clear that an eight month study period, funded at $150,000 does not suffice to assess even the top tier of costly health impacts that fracking will likely have in Western Maryland, let alone the rest of the state,” said Rebecca Ruggles, Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network said.

“As it currently stands, the State of Maryland is conducting a flawed, rushed, and superficial study that will not help inform Maryland residents—nor their elected officials—about the full burden of possible health risks from the entire process of shale gas extraction,” said Katie Huffling, a registered nurse and the director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “As nurses, we are also gravely concerned that they will not be including a health cost assessment in their study. If the public is being asked to assume health risks from fracking, it deserves a comprehensive investigation of those risks and their economic costs, not a fig leaf.”

Health professionals across the country have argued that a Health Impact Assessment (HIA)—a specific National Research Council-sanctioned process developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (among others)—must be conducted to inform any decision as critical as whether or not fracking should be permitted in states. 

“Drilling and fracking operations are inherently dangerous and pose demonstrable risks to health, especially for children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people living nearby,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD and cofounder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. “The proper tool for investigating these impacts is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with its vetted protocols and seal of approval by national and international public health institutions. A comprehensive HIA with full public participation, not a rushed study with a political deadline, is what the people of Maryland need and deserve. “

The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is currently scheduled to make a final recommendation on fracking in August to Governor Martin O’Malley that will include the health assessment report. 

Ann Bristow, a current commissioner on the Advisory Commission, also joined the medical advocates in calling for more time.

“As a member of Governor O’Malley’s Safe Drilling Initiative Commission, I am very worried that we are moving too fast and not getting all the health data we need to make protective recommendations to the residents of Maryland,” said Bristow. “Several commissioners have repeatedly asked for more time and a more thorough scope of work on these critical health issues. If the health study team were on schedule, we would have received the baseline health assessment, with public commentary, last month. We need more time and a guarantee of transparency and public participation.”

Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar added that the O’Malley administration should pay attention to the demands of the health community.

“After two years of a largely unfunded process, Governor O’Malley’s administration now seems to be rushing through the final year, when specific studies just got started,” said Food & Water Watch Regional Organizing Director Jorge Aguilar. “The health study team has already missed its first deadline and it’s not clear that the health community will have time to comment on the final report.  The writing is on the wall: this will be an inadequate study unless the time line is drastically modified to address the concerns of the health community.”

Contacts:

Jorge Aguilar – 202-683-2529; [email protected]

Rich Bindell – 202-683-2457; [email protected]

 

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