Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.
It’s not your imagination. If everything seems to cost more lately it’s because it does. Think about the things you usually buy at the grocery store or retail shop. Add up your utilities and gasoline. Since the pandemic started, prices have gotten higher and higher for nearly everything we need to live. Some industries (ahem, oil & gas!) even used the war in Ukraine as a pretense for “scarcity” price gouging.
Unchecked corporate greed affects every person and every family in the country. And voters are sick of it.
Corporate giants are profiteering at the expense of ordinary people – and voters aren’t happy. Polling from @GBAOStrategies found that “a political system corrupted by corporate influence” is one of voters’ top concerns.
Corporate Greed Showed Itself In The Supposed “Meat Crisis”
In 2020, as coronavirus killed millions and crumpled small businesses across the country, corporate titans saw a chance to profit. Smithfield and Tyson are prime examples. Then-President Trump hyped their PR about a “meat shortage.” Meat-packing plants pressured staff to work regardless of illness, in conditions that were even more unsafe than usual. Vice President Pence appealed to meatpacking workers, telling them how vital they are — because lobbyists told him to. Even with that stunning, unethical pressure, production fell — but from already unsustainably high levels.
Because overproduction was the status quo, and demand fell when consumers curtailed dining out, there was plenty of meat in cold storage. In fact, the U.S. was so flush with meat supply that exports carried on as usual. All while giant food corporations issued fake warnings about food shortages so they could jack up prices. We actually filed suit against Smithfield for lying about the situation.
The corporate motto? Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, especially if that story multiplies your profits. That mindset has spread from the food sector to touch every consumer.
But blatant price gouging is now facing a backlash.
Unsurprisingly, inflation is our top worry. But corporate greed isn’t far behind, with 60% of voters “very seriously concerned” about corporate influence & 49% “very seriously concerned” about corporations not being held accountable for price gouging.https://t.co/MeGDMi9WIj
Oil & Gas Industry Uses An Old Tactic To Gouge Consumers During Ukraine War
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine became another convenient pretense for profit, this time for a prolonged spike in gasoline prices. Despite adequate supplies, desperate politicians wanted corporations to increase supplies with more drilling, but shareholders were making billions in profit. CEOs, who personally profited, were in no hurry to do anything that even looked helpful since their Wall Street investors were benefiting from a fake ‘shortage.’
As @fightmonopolies said: Voters know that corporate greed is driving price hikes.
This is very true in the fossil fuel sector, where consumers are paying record prices for gas while Wall St. speculators & execs reap the profits. @exxonmobil CEO Darren Woods is one example. 👇 pic.twitter.com/C7UEUPO2aF
“The evidence could not be any clearer: The fossil fuel giants are cashing in on the global energy crunch, pinching American families and sending excess profits back to shareholders and Wall Street speculators. This demands a policy response – namely, a windfall profits tax like the one introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, that would recover much of these ill-gotten gains and return them to struggling households. Lawmakers who complain about corporate concentration and inflation should do something about it – like tackling the damage being caused by polluting profiteers. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer should bring this legislation forward for a vote.”
— Mitch Jones, Food & Water Watch Managing Director of Advocacy Programs and Policy
Gasoline prices nearly doubled during since the start of 2022. Even though they’re leveling off, they’re still significantly higher per gallon than before the spike. It’s doubtful prices will return to pre-Ukraine-invasion levels since consumers seem grateful to be gouged even a little less. Big Oil & Gas is still getting away with stealing from us, just a little less obviously.
In fact, Big Oil has used the Ukraine crisis to rally for a host of items on their wishlist:
The International Energy Agency warned in 2021 that fossil fuel production must stop growing immediately to avoid the worst effects of climate chaos. We all know we have to move to renewable energy right away, and that we can do it now. We also know now that fossil fuel executives will use every new crisis as a tool to prevent it.
Corporate Greed Has Gone Unchecked For Too Long
So many corporations are guilty of the tactics the factory farm and fossil industries have perfected. These are just two examples in industries that our work centers on. We can’t let corporations keep robbing people, and it starts by rallying everyone we know to get mad as hell! This is how we build the power to fight back.
Many of us have spent time at the beach in recent years. If you have, it’s nearly impossible to miss a glaring symptom of humanity’s manufacturing problem — plastic. Plastic of every imaginable kind washes onto the shorelines of our world. It comes tangled in seaweed, punctuating the driftwood, and even hiding in the stomachs of decaying ocean life. Smooth or jagged, colorful or not, its presence has become an emblem of humanity’s war with the natural world. The species is pitted against nature’s innate sustainability, certain that man can triumph in the pursuit of capital and comfort. Those of us not so foolish see that folly in the plastic along the beaches. We also face our own feelings about the hugeness of the problem and our sense of powerlessness to fix it.
This is something like what Emily Robinson was feeling during her daily beach strolls. She’s a Hollywood, Florida artist and mother with a background in journalism. She’s been a documentarian about difficult topics, including her beautiful work on loving family members with mental illnesses. That’s how I first met her many years ago.
Recently, I noticed she was sharing fascinating beach finds almost daily. Over time, these beach finds started morphing into curations of beach plastic. Her local news even featured her in a compelling video interview. Since we at Food & Water Watch fight to disrupt the literal pipeline of fossil fuels to plastic, I was hooked. Emily kindly gave me a peek at her process for the series she calls “Peace of Plastic” and what she aims to say with it. Her observations are profound and essential.
Plastic Pollution At Her Feet, Social Commentary In Her Hands
I asked Emily how this journey began for her.
She said that at first she was a casual beachcomber looking for little natural treasures — shells, seaglass, driftwood. But as her eyes scanned the sand for these, she couldn’t help but notice everything that was there. Suddenly she had an epiphany. As she bypassed a chip bag to scoop up a more desirable find, she got “grossed out.” Not at the trash — at herself. She thought about how she was taking all the beautiful things the Earth gave, and leaving behind all of the ugliness that humans had contributed. Her initial shame gave way to a new mission, and she was inspired.
The Big Problem That Plastic Pollution Signifies
Emily says trash, pollution, and climate change have always been upsetting to her. But she says recently she’s begun witnessing local, tangible changes that make it starker. She notes the sargassum seaweed blooms, mainly in the summer months, becoming larger and larger. Tucked into the mounds of rotting seaweed are masses and masses of plastic debris. She says it’s like a giant floating landfill arrives.
“Last year for many weeks the seaweed was filled with probably billions of tiny bits of shredded clear plastic. Once it’s in the water, it’s nearly invisible because its so tiny and clear. Like most people who become ‘woke’ to an issue suddenly, I think I felt really depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and a little hopeless and helpless, too. It’s like waking up to seeing the world being destroyed all around you, and looking around to find most people are still metaphorically ‘sleeping’ and you cannot wake them up to be in the same headspace as you are.”
MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE
An Artist’s Compulsion To Create Order From Society’s Chaos
Emily Robinson didn’t set out to intentionally make art from her oceanfront scavenging. But the storyteller within her couldn’t be at peace until she took her finds and began composing them in order to say something about our society’s problem with plastic.
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MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE
“At my core, I am a storyteller. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, professional documentary-style birth and family photographer, and done a lot of other activism/advocacy projects in my life. This environmental tragedy unfolding at my feet at the shoreline feels too big and complicated to explain with words or videos or more traditional journalistic approaches.”
MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE
“Once we visually examine our garbage in a more curated way, it becomes more inviting to look at and allows us to linger there longer, too. Looking at a pile of gross garbage on the sand is sad, but it’s not that interesting anymore, you know? But laying out every single bit of that pile into something that’s carefully arranged tells a better story, I think.”
Who Do We Hold Responsible For The Pollution Harming Our Planet?
When I ask her about who’s to blame for this pollution, her answer is both big picture and targeted.
“We are trained to think material wealth is synonymous with success, and that idea is perpetuated by a system that thrives on selling stuff and making money as its primary function. That’s the Too Big answer.
We all want and have too much stuff.
We are all too afraid to NOT have a lot of stuff because then we are perceived as ‘not successful.’
Practically speaking though, the ones most responsible right now for making it all worse are giant corporations and political leaders who are corrupted by the intertwined greed and power of their relationships with those businesses. The more our leaders continue to allow giant pollution-causing corporations to destroy our planet, the more we can all expect to suffer as climate change disrupts our food, water, air quality, ability to afford to live, and expectations to live free of armed conflict.
How Do We Fix The Pressing Pollution And Climate Change Problems We Face?
Emily suggests we urgently need a hero — several, in fact — in order to fix this.
“People are moved to action and change by brave and bold people who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power in big ways. We need people who can speak eloquently and passionately into microphones and megaphones and command rooms and bring people to tears and put them off their iPhones and into the streets.
We need a handful of heroes and an actual revolution of sorts to shut this mess down immediately. It’s that urgent, I believe.”
What Emily Robinson Hopes Her Plastic Pollution Art Will Leave You With
Ultimately, what Emily impresses on me is that none of us can fix this alone. Community holds power, and community is what will lead us into a more sustainable paradigm.
“Once I began to understand and have more compassion and forgiveness for my own ignorance and destructive behaviors, I also realized that I am a victim, too, of a system much larger than myself.
I alone did not do all this, and I alone cannot undo all this.
It’s important to begin with compassion first before justice will ever be possible. If we have not forgiven ourselves, we will continue to be obstinate and react emotionally or defensively to problems instead of heading into them with logic and determination.
If we feel shame from within or hatred toward our fellow humans, how can we expect to care enough to make changes toward alleviating suffering? Ultimately, loving the planet and caring about nature and our environment is an act of compassion and love for ourselves. Right now, we all continue to suffer energetically, spiritually and tangibly, during this era of ‘planetary self-harm.’”
Emily Robinson punctuates this interview with the most important thing of all — hope. She hopes we will be able to make enough changes quickly enough to head toward an era of harmony and peacefulness instead. I share her hope, and ideally you do, too.
An analysis of leading fossil fuel interests shows executives are profiting from the Ukrainian crisis. While carnage decimates others’ way of life, these predators are taking advantage of global price increases that have sent company stocks soaring. They include:
Fracking and LNG companies Cheniere, EQT, EOG Resources
Pipeline giants Kinder Morgan and Enbridge
And industry powerhouses Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil
Who are these players? Here are a few (and we’ll highlight more of them in the future).
The American Oligarchs Profiting From Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are one of the top drivers of climate change and need to be replaced by renewables now. These CEOs do everything so we can’t get out from under fossil fuels and the damage will last for decades. It’s stomach-churning to realize that people are profiting off an international crisis, even as they continue to drive climate chaos. These actions impact people and the environment in the present day and in the future.
Those who parcel out our future climate security in exchange for payouts should be known by name. We’ll keep making sure they are.
Make them famous for their greed — share this with your friends!
In the 1980s, Tamara Tripp spent her days doing chores on a small dairy farm in Minnesota. The future FWW Managing Director of Philanthropy was helping her mom and dad milk 60 cows. They sold their milk to Land O’Lakes, took care of the land and were comfortable enough to raise four children.
By the late 1990s, corporate mergers and the systematically-crafted farm crisis had taken their toll — Tamara’s parents sold the cows.
Big Ag Mergers In Organic Dairy Mean Fewer Buyers
We hear this story over and over again. Corporate bullies gobble up the market, enabled by corporate-friendly federal government policies. Since the advent of the organic milk label, the U.S. has failed to protect small organic dairy farmers from cutthroat corporate mergers.
In 2020, Dairy Farmers of America bought the dairy giant Dean Foods with little oversight from federal regulators. Before this $433 million-dollar buy, Dean Foods had swallowed up Horizon, AltaDena and Organic Cow of Vermont. Other notable shifts:
The licensing of Stonyfield Farm’s fluid milk brand to H.P. Hood
The growth of organic store brands in large grocery chains like Safeway, WalMart, Target and Trader Joe’s.
These changes left very few buyers for milk from organic family dairy farmers.
Organic Dairy Industry Becomes Another “Get Big or Get Out” Story
The dairy industry has been wholly transformed, from the cows to the cooperatives securing its prices and the processors packaging milk for consumers. Massive mega-dairies confine dairy cows and may use antibiotics and growth hormones to boost production. Then milk is shipped nationwide to be mechanically separated and resold as everything from ice cream to industrial protein concentrates. These days, consumers no longer know where their milk comes from — or what is actually in much of the dairy they consume.
It was hard for families like the Tripps who refused to use growth hormones like Monsanto’s Bovine Somatotropin (bST). And today’s industry doesn’t work for small- and mid-sized organic family farmers, either. They face pressure to “get big or get out.” The New York Times recently published a piece featuring the last New England organic family dairies. They struggle to survive in a market where just a few large cooperatives are the buyers — therefore setting the prices. Large processors also prefer to buy from a few large, polluting mega-dairy operations instead of family-scale ones with 60 cows. The growth of Western Goliaths producing organic milk on factory farms adds more pressure on small organic family dairies. They also happen to create massive amounts of liquid waste that jeopardize our air and water.
Higher Prices For Consumers, Smaller Profits For Farmers
While all this is happening, consumers are paying higher prices at the grocery store. It seems like everyone is losing, except for the corporate middlemen and speculators who skim off all the cream.
The organic movement in the United States originally built support for sustainably-produced food. Sustainable methods preserve the health of the land, the animals and the farming families. At first, organic producers received great prices with standards administered by the USDA. But increasingly, even the organic label has been eroded by consolidation, the influence of corporate bullies and profiteering. Because of co-op Goliaths, the organic milk market is now dominated by factory farms, sometimes housing tens of thousands of cows. The almost total corporate control of prices and standards in our food system is a bad deal for farmers and consumers.
The Crisis And Consolidation Of Organic Dairy Is A Policy Choice
The good news is that with good policies, farming like Tamara’s family enjoyed is a possible vision for our future. We can have a real market for organic milk. Consumers, the environment, animals and farmers can all share in the abundance of a healthy food system.
These changes will require shifting our food system using bold and essential federal legislation. The Farm System Reform Act will help us transition away from factory farms. Further, the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Review Act will break the corporate stranglehold on our food system. Crisis and consolidation in organic dairy are policy choices that we can change.
Urge your Congressperson to support the Farm System Reform Act today!
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been seized as an opportunity by fossil fuel investors. While consumers get hammered by high gas prices and spiking energy costs, top fracking executives’ wealth soars. Since January, the value of shares currently held by CEOs of eight leading fossil fuel companies has increased by nearly $100 million.
An analysis of leading fossil fuel interests shows executives are profiting from the crisis. While carnage happens in Ukraine, these predators are taking advantage of global price increases that have sent company stocks soaring. They include:
Fracking and LNG companies Cheniere, EQT, EOG Resources
Pipeline giants Kinder Morgan and Enbridge
And industry powerhouses Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil
Fossil Fuel Titans Are In A Mad Dash To Profit From Soaring Gas Prices
The value of Cheniere CEO Jack Fusco’s company stock is up $25 million from January to March 10th. ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods’ stock holdings have increased by $25 million over the same period. The value of Kinder Morgan CEO Steven Kean’s stock has jumped nearly $15 million. Some of these corporate leaders have sold shares to cash in on the crisis. ConocoPhillips’ Ryan Lance sold shares for $23 million in mid-February, while Chevron’s Michael Wirth sold $14 million in stock by late February.
The companies are finding other ways to consolidate wealth in response to this crisis, too.
Eight big fracked gas and export companies announced stock buybacks and repurchase authorizations in the last year totaling over $25 billion. That amassed wealth is equivalent to filling up 500,000,000 gas tanks with 10 gallons of gas at $5 a gallon. It’s also enough to heat the homes of over 33 million people for the winter (assuming a $750 gas bill).
Fossil Fuel Interests Use PR Spin To Peddle LNG As a ‘Solution’
The invasion of Ukraine helps fossil fuel interests promote an even greater expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Theoretically, this is to replace Russian gas in Europe.EQT, the largest US gas company, launched a brazen PR campaign. Its plan is titled “Unleashing U.S. LNG: The Largest Green Initiative on the Planet.” They’ve cooked up talking points to sell LNG as a security measure against the climate crisis they’ve helped cause:
[LNG is]”one of the world’s largest weapons to combat climate change…. it would allow us to provide energy security to our allies while weakening the energy dominance of our adversaries.” — EQT CEO Toby Rice
The truth is LNG transportation and export has significant environmental, public health, and safety impacts. Further taking into account the life cycle including leaks, fracked gas can be as bad or worse for the climate than coal, especially in the short term.
The Push For LNG Expansion Is A Bid To Lock In Decades Of Fossil Fuel Dependence
The United States is already the top exporter of fracked gas in the world, and companies are planning to expand their U.S. fracking operations. As Chevron CEO Colin Parfit said recently about the company’s Permian drilling projects:
While the industry and White House officials push to increase drilling, that will have no impact on current prices. It also overlooks the fact that Wall Street investors have been pushing drillers to slow production to increase profits. This campaign to promote LNG in response to Ukraine is a cynical calculation by the dominant players in the industry. They intend it to lock in long-term contracts that would create decades of additional fossil fuel dependence.
They say so themselves, often most clearly when speaking to investors.
As Jack Fusco, CEO of LNG company Cheniere, put it: “If anything, these high prices, the volatility drive even more energy security and long-term contracting. So I would say that the fact that there’s a scarcity of LNG these days is driving more and more conversation on how to increase our infrastructure and secure monthly contracts for our European customers.” He added that “the market continues to get healthier, but it’s extremely volatile. And you should expect us to be opportunistic out there.”
Ezra Yacob, CEO of EOG remarked, “the U.S. has discovered a very vast supply of natural gas and it’s important that we get that gas offshore and into the global market for some of the reasons that you talked about now, not only geopolitical, but just developing nations.”
It’s An Aggressive Move From Fossil Fuel Companies As Climate Change Jeopardizes Their Prospects
Oil and gas companies are positioning themselves for decades of continued fossil fuel growth because they perceive a threat. The science clearly shows we need to rapidly move off fossil fuels and towards a renewable energy future.
Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco told investors that increasing exports ”is what’s behind our crude and LNG export strategy. So before the crisis, our view was that conventional energy will grow at least through 2035 and what’s happening today just reinforces that view.“
Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said similar, based on fossil fuel execs’ favorite lie about renewable energy: “Particularly as you see more wind and solar, you need some sort of reliable generation capacity to deal with the intermittency that we’re going to see increasingly….I think there’s a good future for natural gas.”
The long-term damage of expanding fossil fuel extraction, however, is something they think can wait for another day. Charif Souki, the chair of LNG company Tellurian put it, “Since the consequences of climate are going to be 30 or 40 years down the road, people are going to focus a lot more on what is happening now….We can come back to climate.”
They couldn’t be more wrong. The consequences of climate change — which they’ve helped drive — are all around us now. Letting them capitalize on international conflict to secure their profits will only perpetuate their damage.
Send a note urging your Congressperson to support the Big Oil Windfalls Profits Act!
Fifty years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act, communities need a restored federal commitment to improve clean water systems.
2: The Daunting State of Our Wastewater Systems
Access to clean water is threatened by aging systems, growing needs, climate chaos and an affordability crisis.
3: Health Threats of Underfunded Water Infrastructure
Outdated systems and lack of funding are causing sewage spills, failing septic systems, polluted waters and human illnesses.
4: The Water Solution for The 21st Century
It’s time for the WATER Act to restore the federal government’s commitment to protect clean water for every community.
Fifty years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act, communities need a restored federal commitment to improve clean water systems.
Across the country, outdated wastewater systems dump hundreds of billions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways each year, polluting water resources, endangering public health, harming aquatic life and damaging our environment.1 It has been 50 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act, and an unprecedented climate emergency is overwhelming our aging wastewater systems.
Climate chaos is driving extreme weather that worsens sewage spills and dumps toxic waste in cash-strapped communities across the country, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast,2 while the Southwest suffers a megadrought, fueling fires and depleting water supplies.3 Without dedicated federal funding, many communities cannot afford to make the necessary repairs to the collection, treatment and septic systems that keep our water clean and safe. This lack of investment in water infrastructure isn’t just shortsighted; it’s dangerous. Aging systems contaminate our natural and built environments and threaten the health and safety of our water and of people everywhere.
It’s time to pass landmark water legislation for the 21st century: the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act. Our nation’s water systems need dedicated federal commitment to keep the promise of clean, safe water for everyone.
Clean Water Act
In 1972, Congress overrode a veto by President Richard Nixon to pass into law the Clean Water Act, a defining environmental victory of the 20th century. The legislation was intended to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” It has been one of our most effective environmental laws.4
To help communities comply with wastewater standards, the law dramatically increased funding for the wastewater system construction grants program, providing nearly $41 billion through 1984. According to the Congressional Research Service, it was “the largest nonmilitary public works program since the Interstate Highway System.”5
The Daunting State of Our Wastewater Systems
Access to clean water is threatened by aging systems, growing needs, climate chaos and an affordability crisis.
Many of the nation’s wastewater treatment plants were built or improved with the federal dollars provided by the Clean Water Act.6 By 2021, however, water and sewer pipes were averaging 45 years old, and many were approaching the end of their lifespan.7 These aging wastewater systems need major updates to protect human health and the environment.8 Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s wastewater infrastructure a grade of D+ in 2021.9
In total, our drinking water and wastewater systems require at least $744 billion in investment over the next 20 years, or more than $35 billion a year.10 Public wastewater systems alone, as of the latest needs survey in 2012, needed at least an estimated $271 billion over two decades to improve treatment plants, sewer lines, address stormwater and stop overflows.11 But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, the main source of federal support for wastewater projects, provided a mere $1.6 billion in 2021,12 and the infrastructure law of 2021 added only $12.7 billion over five years to this program.13 This falls far short of the total need.
Overall, federal funding for water and wastewater infrastructure has plummeted since its peak in the 1970s, dropping 77 percent from 1977 to 2017 in real terms.14 That’s a per capita decrease in funding of 84 percent.15
A 2020 wastewater industry survey found that two-thirds of spending on capital improvement plans went to update aging systems and to address combined sewer overflows, and that improvement budgets had grown 24 percent over the previous three years.16 Federal support through the State Revolving Fund program, however, accounted for only 15 percent of long-term financing,17 leaving a huge gap between what communities know they need and what the federal government has provided.
Climate chaos threatens to strangle the nation’s access to clean water, causing more sewage spills and compounding the costs of urgently needed updates to aging systems.18 In 2022, the megadrought in the southwestern United States was so severe that the last two decades were estimated to be the driest period in 1,200 years, causing water shortages and fueling wildfires.19
Weather disturbances also contribute to water system disruptions, including operational outages, loss of supply or restrictions on water use, and degraded water quality.20 Extreme weather has been catastrophic to water infrastructure. Flooding and sea-level rise further threaten systems and can force infrastructure relocation. Also, heavy rainfall leads to more sewage overflows. The total costs of adapting our water and sewer systems to meet the threats of climate chaos are already high and are projected to near $1 trillion by 2050.21
Many communities struggle to meet the costs of keeping waters clean, maintaining aging systems and grappling with climate emergencies. With meager federal support, water and wastewater systems are forced to hike customer rates.22 From 2008 to 2014, water and sewer rates nationwide increased by about 40 percent on average.23 Over the last 15 years, water bills have increased at three times the rate of inflation, but household incomes have fallen in real terms.24
Households and localities are grappling with water service costs that are increasingly unaffordable.25 This problem has become especially complex in this period of widening income inequality and reliance on regressive water billing practices, which lead low-income households to pay a disproportionate amount of their income for their water service.26
Many communities are stuck with an impossible choice: raise rates on people who cannot afford to pay, or allow aging systems to spill sewage into homes and waterways and endanger public health. Because of structural inequities, this crisis is not felt equally. Black and Brown communities are disparately impacted because of systemic racism, leading to unaffordable water bills,27 service shutoffs,28 failing wastewater and septic systems, greater pollution burdens and human illnesses.29
Health Threats Of Underfunded Water Infrastructure
Outdated systems and lack of funding are causing sewage spills, failing septic systems, polluted waters and human illnesses.
Outdated Systems and Sewage Spills
The EPA estimated in its last national assessment that more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage were being spilled each year across the country.30 That’s enough to fill more than 1 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Sewer overflows can cause raw sewage to back up into basements, flood onto streets and spill into rivers, lakes and streams.31 While improvements have been made, this remains a problem in communities across the country.32
Outdated systems are vulnerable to spills during storms. When there is heavy rainfall or snowfall, outdated wastewater systems overload, and large volumes of sewage spill into local waterways.33 In 2014, nearly 1,500 different spills discharged at least 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes Basin alone.34
Climate change is making things worse.35 The storm surge caused by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy— the largest storm to hit the Northeast to date — resulted in the spillage of 11 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into waterways and city streets.36 In 2021, Hurricane Ida also caused major spills of raw and partially treated sewage, including 350,000 gallons in Panama City, Florida;37 nearly 1 million gallons in Mobile, Alabama;38 more than 130 million gallons in the Merrimack watershed, Massachusetts;39 and hundreds of thousands of gallons in New Orleans.40
Failing Septic Systems
Aging home septic systems add to the problem. Wastewater from failing septic systems is a large source of groundwater pollution in the United States.41 More than one in five U.S. households rely on home septic systems instead of a centralized sewer system. Together, these decentralized systems treat more than 4 billion gallons of sewage every day.42
Many septic tanks are aging, failing, and endangering the environment and human health.43 Households bear the burden of maintaining and updating their septic systems, but the cost is unaffordable for many low-income rural residents.44 Failing household septic systems can contaminate water supplies and endanger human health.45 A 2013 survey in Ohio estimated that 31 percent of household septic systems were failing.46 Many rural residents in central Appalachia do not have a safe way to dispose of wastewater.47
Failing septic systems have been associated with bacterial contamination of groundwater.48 A 2003 study found that 40 percent of Alabama’s septic systems were failing or in need of repair, while bacteria contaminated 46 percent of household water wells in the state, leaving an estimated 340,000 residents with greater risks of waterborne disease.49 In Alabama’s Black Belt region, because of rural poverty, structural racism, and soil characteristics, not only do many septic systems fail but also many homes use straight pipes that directly pour raw sewage into woods or a ditch. A 2016 survey of Wilcox County, Alabama found that only 7 percent of homes had permitted septic systems, while 60 percent of homes examined had straight pipes, which together released more than half a million gallons of raw sewage every day.50 In Lowndes County, Alabama, a majority-Black county, at least 40 percent of homes lack adequate sanitation, and the cost of installing a system can exceed the average resident’s annual income.51
Climate chaos will continue to amplify these problems. More systems will fail as sea levels rise, precipitation increases and temperatures warm.52
Sewage spills harm the environment; they pollute rivers, streams, and other water bodies, and they can contain toxics and dangerous pathogens that endanger human health.53 These toxic overflows have destroyed aquatic life, killed fish and closed shellfish harvesting areas.54
Overall, because of all sources of pollution, two-thirds of estuaries in the United States have elevated risks of eutrophication55 and harmful algal blooms.56 More than a third of the shoreline area of the Great Lakes is in fair or poor biological condition (a third of the area was unable to be studied).57 Less than one-fifth of estuarine and Great Lakes waters have fish in good condition.58 In total, more than half of U.S. rivers and streams, 40 percent of lakes and 21 percent of coastal waters have excess nutrients (which can lead to excessive algal growth and cause fish kills), and 73 percent of U.S. wetlands have lost plant life, which can stress the ecosystem.59
Sewage spills have made water too polluted to swim, boat or fish.60 In 2020, one-third of the recreational beaches in the United States had at least one advisory or closing. Over the last five years, between 28 percent and 33 percent of beaches have had at least one advisory or closing each year. Aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems contribute to many of the beach closures.61 In 2020, wastewater and septic systems were responsible for one-fifth of the beach closings and advisories with known causes (although nearly half of closings have unknown causes, some of which may be related to wastewater events).62 Increased funding to improve wastewater systems and address stormwater can help stop pollution of the nation’s beaches.
More than 7 million cases of waterborne diseases are reported in the United States every year.63 As a result of these illnesses, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and over 6,000 people die a year.64 People become sick from drinking contaminated water; swimming in polluted pools, lakes and beaches; and other exposures to contaminated water.65
The EPA estimated that thousands of people become sick each year just from exposure to sewage-contaminated recreation areas.66 Wastewater contains viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that can cause serious illness. Many people are exposed to raw sewage that backs up in their homes or yards from overloaded municipal sewer systems or failing septic systems.67 People exposed to sewage-polluted waters can become sick with hepatitis, gastroenteritis, and infections of the skin, lungs and ears, among other illnesses.68
Failing septic systems can also expose people to high nitrate levels in household well water, which can lead to the potentially deadly blue baby syndrome in infants.69 In Wilcox County, Alabama, researchers estimated that the raw sewage dumped from straight pipes from homes into the environment releases 10 billion viruses and 19 billion parasites every day.70 In Lowndes County, Alabama, one study found that more than 40 percent of households were exposed to raw sewage, and more than a third of adults tested positive for gastrointestinal parasites, including hookworm.71
The Water Solution for The 21st Century
It’s time for the WATER Act to restore the federal government’s commitment to protect clean water for every community.
The WATER Act is the landmark 21st-century legislation that we need to restore federal support and help protect clean water. The WATER Act is the only permanent solution to our nation’s water funding woes, providing $35 billion each year to restore our public water infrastructure.
In addition to funding drinking water improvements, the WATER Act will provide $18.1 billion each year to address the nation’s wastewater problems:
$15.7 billion a year to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to fund publicly owned wastewater system upgrades, with at least half of the funding prioritized as grants or additional subsidization to disadvantaged communities;
$871 million a year to help update and install household septic systems and other on-site sewage disposal systems;
$871 million a year for non-point-source management programs;
$523 million a year for pollution control programs; and
$174 million a year for technical assistance to rural, small or indigenous wastewater providers.72
Now is the time to fully fund our wastewater infrastructure to help clean up our waterways and protect our communities.
Tell Congressmembers to support the WATER Act now!
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Office of Water. “Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows.” (EPA 833-R-04-001). August 2004 at ES-2, ES-3 and ES-5.
Bagenstose, Kyle and Kevin Crowe. “US sewer systems weren’t built for climate change; heavier rainfall can overwhelm systems, causing toxic spills in communities that can least afford it.” USA Today. December 7, 2021.
Fountain, Henry. “How bad is the western drought? Worst in 12 centuries, study finds.” New York Times. February 14, 2022.
Hines, N. William. “History of the 1972 Clean Water Act: The story behind how the 1972 Act became the capstone of a decade of environmental reform.” Journal of Energy & Environmental Law. Summer 2013 at 80, 81 and 98.
Ramseur, Jonathan L. and Mary Tiemann. Congressional Research Service. “Water Infrastructure Financing: History of EPA Appropriations.” Updated April 10, 2019 at 1.
Ibid. at 1; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). “2021 Infrastructure Report Card.” 2021 at 153.
ASCE (2021) at 153.
EPA. “Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2012: Report to Congress.” (EPA 830-R-15005).January 2016 at 1; ASCE (2021) at 152.
ASCE (2021) at 151.
EPA (January 2016) at 1; EPA. “Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: 6th Report to Congress.” (EPA 816-K-17-002). March 2018 at 9.
EPA (January 2016) at 1, 2 and 6.
EPA. “FY 2021 CWSRF Allotments: $1,638,826,000.” Available at https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf/clean-water-state-revolving-fund-cwsrf-allotments-federal-funds-states. Accessed December 22, 2021.
Regan, Michael. EPA. Letter to Governors. December 2, 2021 at 6.
Congressional Budget Office. “Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure, 1956 to 2017.” October 15, 2018 at Supplemental Tables. Table W-8.
Food & Water Watch (FWW) calculation based on Ibid.; U.S. Census, Population Estimates Program. “Historical National Population Estimates: July 1, 1900 to July 1, 1999.” June 28, 2000; U.S. Census. “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019.” (NST-EST2019-01). Last revised October 21, 2021.
National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). “NACWA Financial Survey: Executive Highlights.” August 2021 at 7.
Ibid. at 18.
Bagenstose and Crowe (2021).
U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Water Infrastructure. Technical Assistance and Climate Resilience Planning Could Help Utilities Prepare for Potential Climate Change Impacts.” (GAO-20-24). January 2020 at 2, 17 and 61.
NACWA and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. “Confronting Climate Change: An Early Analysis of Water and Wastewater Adaptation Costs.” October 2009 at ES-1 and ES-8.
National Academy of Public Administration. “Developing a New Framework for Community Affordability of Clean Water Services.” October 2017 at 25.
Ibid. at 21.
Ibid. at 22.
National Consumer Law Center. “Review and recommendations for implementing water and wastewater affordability programs in the United States.” March 2014 at 1 and 5.
Economic Policy Institute. “Income Inequality in the U.S. by State, Metropolitan Area, and County.” June 16, 2016 at 1 to 4; Mirosa, Oriol. “Water affordability in the United States: An initial exploration and an agenda for research.” Sociological Imagination. Vol. 51, Iss. 2. December 2015 at 52.
Butts, Rachel and Stephen Gasteyer. “More cost per drop: Water rates, structural inequality, and race in the United States — The case of Michigan.” Environmental Reviews & Case Studies, Vol. 13, No. 4. December 2011 at 386 and 392 to 393.
Foltz-Diaz, Kimberly et al. Massachusetts Global Action. “The Color of Water: A Report on the Human Right to Water in the City of Boston.” July 2014 at 1 and 5; GAO. “Water Infrastructure: Information on Selected Midsize and Large Cities With Declining Populations.” (GAO-16-785). September 2016 at 57 to 58 and 72 to 73.
Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. “Flushed and Forgotten: Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the United States.” May 2019 at 12, 19 to 24 and 30; Flowers, Catherine Coleman. “A county where the sewer is your lawn.” New York Times. May 22, 2018; Okeowo, Alexis. “The heavy toll of the Black Belt’s wastewater crisis.” The New Yorker. November 23, 2020; Smith, Catherine. “‘If white people were still here, this wouldn’t happen’: The majority-Black town flooded with sewage.” The Guardian. February 11, 2021.
EPA (2004) at ES-5 to ES-7.
EPA. “NPDES Compliance Inspection Manual. Chapter 13.” (305-K-17-001). January 2017 at 297.
EPA (2004) at ES-5 to ES-7; ASCE (2021) at 153; Bagenstose and Crowe (2021).
EPA. Office of Wastewater Management. “Report to Congress: Combined Sewer Overflows to the Great Lakes Basin.” (EPA 833-R-16-006). April 2016 at 1 to 2.
Ibid. at ES-2.
Kenward, Alyson et al. Climate Central. “Sewage Overflows From Hurricane Sandy.” April 2014 at 3.
Ibid. at 1.
“Hurricane Ida — 350K gallons in raw sewage spill in area; Rains from hurricane overflowed 10 separate wastewater systems.” The News Herald (FL). September 8, 2021.
Specker, Lawrence. “Hurricane Ida’s silver lining: Mobile sewer improvements are working.” Press-Register (AL). September 8, 2021.
Wade, Christian M. “Lawmakers hear more pitches for relief money.” The Eagle-Tribune. September 13, 2021.
Natter, Ari. “Ida leaves toxic chemicals, sewage swirling in its wake.” Bloomberg. September 3, 2021.
EPA. Office of Water. “Managing Septic Systems to Prevent Contamination of Drinking Water.” (EPA 816-F-01-021). July 2001 at 2; Mihaly, Elena. “Avoiding septic shock: How climate change can cause septic system failure and whether New England states are prepared.” Ocean and Coastal Law Journal. Vol. 23, Iss. 1. January 2018 at 7.
EPA. “Decentralized Wastewater Program Annual Report 2013.” (EPA-832-R-140006). August 2014 at 1.
Hoghooghi, Nahal et al. “Frontiers in assessing septic systems vulnerability in coastal Georgia, USA: Modeling approach and management implications.” PLOS One. Vol. 16, Iss. 8. August 2021 at 2 to 3; Mihaly (2018) at 7.
United Nations. Human Rights Council. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on her mission to the United States of America (22 February — 4 March 2011).” August 2, 2011 at 7 to 8.
Mohamed, R. “Why households in the United States do not maintain their septic systems and why state-led regulations are necessary: Explanations from public goods theory.” International Journal of Sustainable Development Planning. Vol. 4, No. 2. 2009 at 41.
Ohio Department of Health. “Household Sewage Treatment System Failures in Ohio.” January 2013 at 1.
United Nations (2011) at 7.
Wedgworth, Jessica Cook and Joe Brown. “Limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Alabama’s Black Belt: A cross-sectional case study.” Water Quality, Exposure and Health, Vol. 5, Iss. 2. June 2013 at 70.
Ibid. at 69 to 70.
Elliott, Mark. University of Alabama. “Innovative Technologies and Approaches to Address Decentralized Wastewater Infrastructure Challenges in the Alabama Black Belt.” Presented at EPA Decentralized Wastewater Webinar Series. May 26, 2021 at 22; Elliot, Mark and Kevin White. Alabama Water Resources Research Institute. “Onsite Wastewater Management in Hale and Wilcox Counties: Failing Septic Systems, Direct Discharge by ‘Straight Pipes’ and Microbial Source Tracking.” Annual Technical Report. FY 2016 at 1 to 2; Flowers (2018).
Flowers (2018); Okeowo (2020).
Mihaly (2018) at 2 and 4 to 6.
EPA (2004) at ES-2, ES-3, ES-7 and ES-8.
Ibid. at ES-7 to ES-8; EPA. “Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of the Public’s Water.” 2011 at 4.
Eutrophication:A process that occurs when an estuary or another body of water has an excess of nutrients that causes too many plants and algae to grow. This can lead to toxic algal blooms and low-oxygen waters that kill aquatic life. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service. “What is eutrophication?” Available at https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication.html. Last updated February 26, 2021.
EPA. “National Coastal Condition Assessment.” (EPA 841-R-21-0001). August 2021 at 25.
Ibid. at 37.
Ibid. at 29 and 43.
EPA. “How’s My Waterway?” Available at https://mywaterway.epa.gov/national. Accessed November 9, 2021.
EPA (2004) at ES-7 to ES-8.
Note: the recreational beaches that are monitored are program beaches under the BEACH Act. EPA, Office of Water. “EPA’s Beach Report: 2020 Swimming Season.” (EPA-820-R-21-004). August 2021 at 2.
FWW calculation based on Ibid. at 3.
Collier, Sarah A. et al. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Estimate of burden and direct healthcare cost of infectious waterborne disease in the United States.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 27, No. 1. January 2021 at 140 and 145.
Ibid. at 140 and 145.
Ibid. at 140 and 145.
EPA (2004) at ES-9; EPA (2011) at 4.
EPA. Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA enforcement: Preventing backup of municipal sewage into basements.” Enforcement Alert. Vol. 8, No. 1. (EPA 325-N-06-001). September 2006 at 1; Mihaly (2018) at 7.
EPA (2011) at 4.
EPA (2001) at 2; Hoghooghi et al. (2021) at 2 to 3.
Elliot and White (FY 2016) at 1 to 2.
McKenna, Megan L. et al. “Human intestinal parasite burden and poor sanitation in rural Alabama.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Vol. 97, Iss. 5. September 2017 at 1 and 2.
For more than a year, local residents and our allies have joined with Food & Water Watch in a critical mission. We’ve teamed up to fight the nation’s first poultry waste factory farm biogas facility in Delaware. Now a new front has emerged, and the community is fighting back.
Eastern Shore Natural Gas (ESNG) has proposed expanding its pipeline facility in Sussex County, right next to an elementary school. Why? To pipe in biogas from the Bioenergy DevCo facility we’ve been fighting a few miles away.
Factory Farm Biogas Is Just As Explosive As ‘Traditional Gas’
ESNG asked Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission for a conditional use permit to expand its facility on Black Cherry Drive. Most significantly, the subsidiary of Chesapeake Utilities wants three new terminals to receive truckloads of “non-traditional” gas. We know what that means — factory farm biogas. Bioenergy DevCo has been teasing this expansion for months.
That could mean 18 truckloads of explosive gas daily to a site with almost no current traffic, a company spokesman said. The company could seek further expansion in the future, he said. All the while, local driverss and children at elementary school next door will be in harm’s way. After all, “non-traditional” biogas is just as explosive as “traditional gas.” In fact, factory farm biogas is absolutely identical to fracked gas.
This is a bad idea, and there are a lot of reasons why.
Proximity To Schools And Neighborhoods Isn’t Smart When It Comes To Biogas
The proposed pipeline expansion is adjacent to Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. The school’s playground would lie less than 1,100 feet from the gas facility. The school itself would lie just 1,300 feet away, according to the ESNG spokesman. We’re not sure where these figures come from, because at a glance Google Maps suggests they are actually much closer.
The nearest home would be just 330 feet from where the proposed facility meets the main gas line. This information is from a letter ESNG sent to the Planning & Zoning Commission. There are many additional homes in the area.
The largest pipe would carry gas under 800 pounds of pressure per square inch, the ESNG spokesman said. He also mentioned a “catastrophic failure” of the facility would have an “impact radius” of 200 feet. History suggests this figure could be misleading. In 1974, a gas pipeline facility in Bealeton, Va. exploded, burning an area as wide as 700 feet. That blast originated from a pipeline also under 800 pounds of pressure. During his commission testimony, the spokesman didn’t say how far from the facility neighbors could expect damage from potential explosions. Given that these explosions could cause widespread burning, broken windows, and serious injury, we think these details matter.
And then there are the bomb trucks. Nearly 7,000 bomb trucks annually would carry factory farm biogas from Bioenergy DevCo through the residential community into the site. This transport is not safe. The recent explosion of a fuel-laden bomb truck in New York underscores the danger posed by these vehicles. This hazard is not only at the Black Cherry Drive location, but to motorists, homes and businesses all along the haul route.
Environmental Justice Issues Raise Concern About Factory Farm Biogas
Residents within one mile of the proposed facility are significantly more likely than the average Sussex County resident to be people of color. More than a third of these residents live in low-income households. And rounding out the inequity, more than a third of them are 65 years of age or older. Placing a potentially explosive facility in a vulnerable neighborhood would worsen community members’ difficulties, while lowering their property values. In testimony before the commission, one opponent said the fact that this project was even proposed constitutes “environmental racism.” They’re right.
It’s All So Bioenergy DevCo Can Make A Buck From A False ‘Climate Solution’
The proposed pipeline facility expansion is clearly tied to the Bioenergy DevCo factory farm gas facility proposed for Seaford. It’s no big secret. Chesapeake Utilities, ESNG’s parent company, struck an agreement with Bioenergy DevCo in June 2020, and announced it widely.
The Bioenergy DevCo proposal would bring 200,000 tons of poultry slaughterhouse waste annually from three states; Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It would go to a digester and methane refinery near Seaford, all to sell biogas into regional pipelines. That gas would be trucked to Bridgeville to be injected into the Chesapeake Utilities pipeline. Without this pipeline facility expansion, Bioenergy DevCo has nowhere to take their bomb trucks, and nowhere to sell their gas.
This proposal would justify the pollution of factory-farmed poultry and amplify the contamination it already causes. Rather than solving the climate crisis, its damage would manifest in other toxic byproducts, some worse than the original issue.
Concerned Residents Will Speak Out Against This Dirty Biogas Scheme
Concerned Delawareans submitted nearly 30 written comments to the Sussex Planning & Zoning Commission in opposition to the ESNG pipeline proposal. Several also spoke out at the hearing. After this pressure, the Commission deferred its decision until March 10. But Food & Water Watch is prepared.
Food & Water Watch and allies will be protesting outside the Sussex Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on March 10.
Join us in protest at the Commission meeting on March 10.
1: We Must Stop Pretending Renewables Will Automatically Displace Fossil Fuels
Only curbing fossil fuels will let renewables deliver on their potential.
2: Renewables and Fossil Fuels Have Grown Together
Renewable energy is not a silver bullet for eliminating fossil fuels.
3: Emphasizing Renewables Alone Will Not Displace Fracking
Waning consumer demand for fracked gas means frackers turn to exports, industrial uses.
4: Corporations and Democrats Continue Trump’s Energy Agenda
The “all of the above” approach prevents us from curbing the climate crisis.
5: Cozy State Regulators Will Not Choose Renewables Over Fossil Fuels Unless They Have To
Loopholes help fossil fuels compete against renewables.
6: Leaders Must Directly Confront Fossil Fuel Production and Use
Supply-side energy policy is crucial for our future.
We Must Stop Pretending Renewables Will Automatically Displace Fossil Fuels
Only curbing fossil fuels will let renewables deliver on their potential.
Leaders of the United States are at a make-or-break crossroads. As the climate rapidly deteriorates and the impacts multiply from climate-amplified disasters — such as fires, drought, hurricanes and floods — we have a waning chance to avert the worst-case scenarios of climate chaos. It will require bold action and directly taking on the fossil fuel industry.
The science behind climate change is undeniable, and with each passing day more policy makers agree that action is required. The only real debate that remains is how to address this challenge.
There is a growing consensus that we must drastically increase the production of renewable energy, and policy makers — including President Biden — have embraced broad goals for a large percentage of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030.1 However, these goals will fall short in addressing the climate emergency if increases in renewable energy are not coupled with immediate action to curb the production and use of fossil fuels.2
Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Changes Our Future
The climate policies we enact by 2030 affect how much our climate warms by 2100.
Source: Graphic based on projections for warming over pre-industrial levels, from OurWorldInData.org.
The policy decisions of the past decade drove a boom in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), resulting in a massive buildout of fracked gas power plants, pipelines and petrochemical facilities. Fossil fuel corporations plan to build even more. Natural gas currently accounts for more than three times as much electricity production as renewable energy.3 Alarmingly, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the United States will consume more fracked gas in 2050 than 2020.4 This is a recipe for disaster.
We do not have a decade or even a few years to test the idea that simply by building up renewable energy, the market will phase out the production of fossil fuels. History shows that even when renewable energy has increased, it has not significantly impacted fossil fuel production. For example, only 34 percent of the fracked gas is burned to produce electricity — meaning that most fracked gas is not even supporting our electric grid.5 To address our climate crisis, we need to thwart climate change’s main driver: fossil fuels.
President Biden and many elected leaders use catchy soundbites about moving off of fossil fuels, but the policies that they embrace (including false solutions such as carbon capture, “blue” hydrogen and offsets) will lock us in to dependence on fossil fuels for decades. Despite Biden’s promises to tackle climate change, and the iron-clad science that says we must stop approving new fossil projects, the administration has greenlit even more of them.6
Hundreds of leading scientists stated in an October 2021 letter to President Biden that “the reality of our situation is now so dire that only a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel extraction and combustion can fend off the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”7 Their urgency was mirrored in the 2021 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Following the report’s release, the UN Secretary-General said:
We still have time to fix our future, but the hour is getting late. We are already experiencing significant climate impacts, but we can and must act now to avoid truly catastrophic consequences. We are at a crossroads that will either haunt our future or redeem it. Policy makers can keep catering to the fossil fuel industry and condemn us to runaway climate chaos, or we can boldly reverse course, act for the benefit of humanity and take the necessary steps to end fossil fuels. As a society, the choice is ours.
Renewables and Fossil Fuels Have Grown Together
Renewable energy is not a silver bullet for eliminating fossil fuels.
Renewable Energy Is Ready to Take Center Stage
The need for urgent climate action becomes more pressing daily, and fortunately renewable energy options are cheaper than ever. Across their lifetimes, solar and wind energy projects cost $36.50 and $40 per megawatt-hour, respectively, in 2020, down from $248 and $123.50 per megawatt hour just over a decade earlier.9 These levelized costs are far cheaper than generating electricity from new nuclear or coal power plants and are often cheaper than natural gas plants.10 Over the past decade, cost reductions and public policy have more than quadrupled the share of electricity generated by wind and solar.11
Moreover, advances in storage and reliability technologies have torpedoed the fossil fuel industry’s claim that 100 percent renewable energy is not possible because “the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.” Scientific advances now mean that off-the-shelf, commercially available technology could support a power grid without any fossil fuels.12
Renewable energy’s potential has been demonstrated at scale in the real world. In 2019, a literature review of 180 scholarly papers covering the challenges associated with 100 percent (or near 100 percent) renewable systems concluded that most systems studied are technically and economically feasible.13 Moreover, when combining renewable technologies with storage, modeling shows that “enough renewable baseload potential exists across the US to meet the current electricity demand ten times over.”14
Fossil Fuel Investment and Production Still Boom
While the trends and viability of renewable energy provide reason for hope, without immediate climate action, the powerful and tenacious fossil fuel industry will doom any hope for climate stability. Despite remarkable progress in renewable electricity, the United States continues to produce and consume large quantities of fossil fuels.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. fossil fuel production fell somewhat in 2020 from an all-time high in 2019 (Figure 1). But according to EIA projections, fossil fuel production is poised to resume its rise through 2022.15 Although coal production has fallen by about half during the fracking boom, the increased production of oil and natural gas has more than offset any greenhouse gas reductions that occurred during coal’s decline.16 If these trends continue, the long-term outlook for the climate is dire. The EIA’s latest long-term projections predict that the U.S. will consume more oil and natural gas in 2050 than in 2020.17
How has U.S. fossil fuel production grown so quickly?
How has U.S. fossil fuel production grown so quickly?
The massive expansion in U.S. fossil fuel production has been enabled primarily by the environmentally destructive practice of shale gas development through hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Proponents of fracking misleadingly claim that fracked gas is a “bridge fuel” to move us from traditional fossil fuels such as oil and coal to renewable energy like wind and solar. But this bridge has led only to more fossil fuel dependence, locking us in to decades of worsening climate chaos.
Communities plagued by fracking have experienced well-documented and severe environmental impacts.18 These harms fall disproportionately on frontline communities that are more likely to be rural, lower income and/or communities of color.19 In addition to known environmental and public health consequences, fracked gas production is associated with significant leaks of methane.
Fracked gas production grew more than five-fold between 2010 and 2019, reaching 75.28 billion cubic feet per day in May 2021, or around 82 percent of all gas produced in the United States.20 The climate consequences of this natural gas glut are staggering. Natural gas produced in the country is responsible for emissions equivalent to 10.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each day; to match these daily emissions, the average American would need to drive a car non-stop for 2.3 million years.21
Progress in Fossil Fuel Technology Could Doom Our Climate
Without supply constraints such as banning natural gas and oil production, there is no guarantee that fossil fuel use will end or even slow. Unfettered technological progress is likely to unlock an ever-growing supply of fossil fuels at lower prices.22
SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE
Total resources unlockable by technological improvements vastly outnumber these proved reserves (a metric used in mining that describes the amount of hydrocarbon resources that can be obtained from a site with a reasonable level of certainty). For example, if the production of oil shale (an oil-rich sand similar to bitumen tar sands, not to be confused with shale oil) became economical, it would at least triple proved reserves, and technology to extract methane hydrates (crystalized methane deep in the ocean) could more than double current gas reserves.23
New environmentally destructive extraction methods could continue to unlock new sources of oil and gas. Currently, technological progress is finding new hydrocarbons faster than consumption is depleting existing sources. Proved reserves of oil and natural gas in the United States more than doubled between 2005 and 2018 despite high rates of extraction. In 2018, proved reserves totaled 504 trillion cubic feet of gas and 47 billion barrels oil.24 If extracted and burned, these reserves would release the equivalent of 78.7 billion metric tons of CO2.25 These reserves alone contain 15 years’ worth of U.S. energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.26
Emphasizing Renewables Alone Will Not Displace Fracking
Waning consumer demand for fracked gas means frackers turn to exports, industrial uses.
A single-minded focus on the promotion of renewable electricity, without addressing fossil fuel use in other sectors, will fail to adequately address climate change. Only 34 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States is burned at power plants. Buildings and industrial users each account for about 25 percent of natural gas use, and the remaining 17 percent of natural gas is exported (Figure 2).27
Even in the context of electricity, the promotion of renewables has done little to check the rise of new natural gas power plants supplying the grid. Since 2010, the contribution of renewable energy to the grid has risen from 2.8 percent to 11.5 percent (Figure 3). At this rate, the United States would only reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2130.28
However, the main trend in the electricity sector has been a substantial shift to natural gas. Natural gas grew from supplying 22.7 percent of electricity in 2010 to supplying 39.3 percent in 2020.29 This was the result of building more than 1,100 new natural gas generators with combined nameplate capacity greater than 100,000 megawatts (about 9 percent of all power plant capacity, or enough to power around 100 million homes if running at maximum).30 These new gas plants are intentionally designed with lifespans of 40 to 50 years.31 Without new policy, natural gas plants are likely to represent 40 percent of the new electric generation built through 2050, with even more gas plants opening through mid-century.32
Buildings Continue to Use Dangerous and Outdated Natural Gas Appliances
Natural gas is used for air and water heating in 9.7 percent of commercial buildings and 14.6 percent of residential buildings in the United States.33 This use (for air and water heating) could be displaced by readily available electric alternatives, as technologies that enable full electrification eliminate the need for natural gas in buildings.34 However, current trends indicate that without policy changes, natural gas use in buildings is unlikely to end. Natural gas appliances emit dangerous pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, which are linked to respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease. Operating a gas-powered stove and oven for an hour can raise indoor pollution to levels that exceed national air quality standards.35
Long-term climate goals cannot be reached without electrification.36 Despite this, the current pace of electrification in buildings is nowhere near fast enough. Buildings have slow turnover, and owners are often reluctant to invest in retrofits. Full electrification would likely require stringent standards for new buildings combined with rolling retrofit requirements for existing buildings.37 Deep reductions in buildings’ energy use are unlikely without the mandated retrofitting of the existing building stock.38 While constructing new buildings without natural gas should be the easier task, natural gas companies have fought tooth and nail against modest measures to limit the supply of natural gas to newly constructed buildings.39
Fracking’s Petrochemical and Plastics Push
The slow-changing buildings industry, while providing a stable outlet for entrenched natural gas companies, is not large enough on its own to support the continued fracking boom. The two sectors that are best positioned to enable the ongoing rise in natural gas production are exports and industrial users.40
The use of natural gas in the industrial sector is booming. Bulk chemicals (the production of organic and inorganic chemicals, resins and agricultural chemicals) account for half of this new industrial demand, including as feedstock (for hydrogen, methanol and nitrogenous fertilizer) as well as for heating purposes. Refineries, as well as producers of paper and bulk chemicals, also use natural gas for process heating and electricity generation, often at combined heat and power (CHP) plants.41
In February 2021, the main industry group representing petrochemical companies noted nearly 350 petrochemical projects that were planned, under construction or completed were made possible as a result of fracking.42 The EIA anticipates that the use of natural gas as a feedstock and a heating source in the industrial sector will grow substantially over the next decade.43
Fracking has unlocked a glut of ethane, a key petrochemical building block for plastics. In January 2020, the United States produced twice as much ethane as a decade earlier, sending growing quantities of ethane to domestic petrochemical plants and exporting it overseas.44 Ethane production is set to grow faster than other fossil fuels, buoyed by the fleet of new U.S. petrochemical plants.45 This additional petrochemical manufacturing will compound the local pollution generated by existing large facilities, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.46
The petrochemical boom is ramping up plastics production, generating not only industry profits but also mountains of plastic waste. More than half of the new raw plastic resins produced in the United States are slated to be shipped overseas to be turned into plastic products.47 The majority of the packaging manufactured by the plastics industry involves materials that are immediately thrown away.48 Globally, on average, a person discards 110 pounds of plastic annually.49 Of the 18.3 trillion pounds of plastics produced since 1950, only around 9 percent have been recycled — meaning that more than 16 trillion pounds have been tossed into landfills, littered in the environment or incinerated.50 In addition to the environmental impacts of plastic waste, plastic production was responsible for 4 percent of global emissions in 2015.51
Exporting Natural Gas: A Booming Industry
U.S. energy production hit record highs in 2018 and 2019.52 Because of the pandemic, among other things, consumption of natural gas is set to decline slightly through 2022.53 However, after a brief decline, U.S. production of natural gas is accelerating,54 mostly because of the amount being sent to other countries. The EIA projected that natural gas exports would rise from 14.4 billion cubic feet per day in 2020 to 18.3 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2021 (equal to nearly 20 percent of total U.S. natural gas production). This new export volume would more than compensate for a slight dip in the domestic use of natural gas for electricity, keeping producers flush.55
Of this increase in exports, 80 percent will be filled by fracked gas from newly drilled wells — gas that otherwise would have remained underground.56 Some natural gas is exported by pipeline or truck to Mexico and Canada, and the rest is shipped by tanker from export terminals to reach overseas markets.57 The gas moving via tankers first gets converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG), and its transport is highly dangerous.
Natural gas is almost impossible to ship in its gaseous state. Super-cooling natural gas converts it to a liquid that takes up 600 times less volume, making it possible to load the liquefied natural gas (LNG) onto tankers. When unloaded, the LNG is heated to return it to a gas.58
When LNG is stored in tanks, the vastly different air and storage temperatures lead to pressure buildup and require venting to release or “boil-off-gas.”59 At some facilities, super-cold LNG is stored in tanks with only a single inner shell capable of withstanding the extreme temperature of the gas.60 Observed leak rates are as high as 10 percent, which more than offsets any climate advantage of natural gas relative to coal combustion.61
The tankers and storage facilities also pose significant risks of potentially catastrophic explosions. In 2014, a pipeline explosion at a Washington state LNG terminal sent shrapnel flying into a 14.6 million gallon storage tank, causing it to leak.62 The accident injured five workers, forced the evacuation of 1,000 residents within a two-mile radius and caused $72 million in property damage.63 In 2004, an LNG explosion at the terminal in Skikda, Algeria killed 30 people and flattened port infrastructure.64
U.S. LNG exports rose to record levels by the end of 2020, averaging 9.8 billion cubic feet per day in December.65 Existing LNG export capacity supports exporting as much as 10.1 billion cubic feet per day, but facilities that are currently approved and under construction would expand that capacity to 42.1 billion cubic feet per day, nearly half of all natural gas produced in the United States.66 If built, this export capacity could completely offset the total elimination of natural gas from the electric power sector, enabling producers to export all of the gas that they otherwise would have sold to power plants.67
LNG advocates love to argue that the export of LNG is necessary to displace coal plants abroad; however, the United States also continues to export coal.68 The switch to natural gas power in the country has actually pushed some of the domestic coal supply overseas, where international consumers burn it.69 Every 10 percent drop in U.S. natural gas prices is associated with a 3.3 percent increase in coal exports.70 As fracking boomed from 2007 to 2013, U.S. coal exports doubled, despite the economic recession.71 However, continued coal exports depend on expanding the capacity at west coast terminals or adding rail capacity to Canada — hotly contested projects that are vulnerable to public opposition.72
These rising fossil fuel exports could be the final nail in the coffin for climate stability. Under so-called “baseline” scenarios — in which no additional mitigation of fossil fuel emissions occurs —the world is on track to hit 4.3 degrees Celsius of warming this century.73
So far, modest reductions in the consumption of coal and oil in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have been largely offset by an increase in natural gas consumption domestically and by a dramatic rise in fossil fuel use in non-OECD countries.74 Exports would help enable a nearly unlimited supply of fossil fuels, meaning that any policies to mitigate climate change proposed by countries such as the United States, if implemented, would still put the world on track for 3.2 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100.75
Corporations and Democrats Continue Trump’s Energy Agenda
The “all of the above” approach prevents us from curbing the climate crisis.
U.S. state governments have seized on the momentum for climate action by championing the buildout of renewable energy. However, they have avoided confrontation with entrenched fossil fuel interests and refuse to commit to hard limits on supply. Experience shows that building more renewable energy projects is not enough to guarantee deep reductions in emissions — even within the electricity sector. The “energy dominance” doctrine of the Trump administration took the stance that welcoming renewable energy as part of an “all of the above” approach poses no direct threat to fossil fuels.76
While the Biden administration has been more vocally supportive of renewables — promising billions in new spending on technology and development — it has not committed to hard limits on fossil fuel extraction.77 The administration has made clear that it sees fossil fuels as a key part of the future energy mix.78 When pushed, Biden even says, “I’m all for natural gas.”79
Facing pressure from oil and gas interests, some Democrats have embraced carbon capture as a way to keep the oil and gas industry afloat while “complying” with climate goals. However, carbon capture is a favored misdirection tactic, posing as a climate solution. Recent drafts of federal climate legislation have even included carbon capture in a list of “clean” energy sources, elevating it to the same status as real renewable energy such as wind and solar.80 Carbon capture and storage is unproven, prohibitively expensive and, after accounting for the entire emissions lifecycle, incapable of producing deep emissions reductions. Carbon capture can even enable increased oil production by injecting the captured carbon into oil reservoirs.81
Despite the impressive-sounding goals of electricity corporations, the planned time frames for fossil fuel retirements are too slow to meet these goals. Some utility companies are adhering to their climate pledges by divesting from their coal fleets rather than dismantling them, leaving these plants in service under new owners.82 Others corporations are choosing to buy credits, certificates or offsets from renewable energy producers while leaving dirty portions of their supply chain intact.83 Meanwhile, sectors such as technology and airlines have embraced a similar approach to climate pledges, but company insiders have questioned whether these measures have any impact on overall emissions.84
Virginia’s Renewables Seem to Be Token Gestures, While Fossil Fuels Keep Trucking
Plans to build additional renewable energy plants and transition to a more renewable grid in Virginia have been shadowed by new investments in fracked gas infrastructure and a reluctance to phase out existing fossil fuels. Amid growing pressure from climate activists, in 2018 Governor Ralph Northam touted plans by the state’s biggest utility to build 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy.85 Meanwhile, from 2010 to 2020, the state added 6,500 megawatts of new natural gas capacity.86 Despite posturing in support of renewable energy, Northam’s administration supported a number of multi-billion-dollar pipelines to bring natural gas into Virginia.87 Governor Youngkin’s election in 2021 only intensifies the threat of further fossil fuel development in the state, through commitments to weaken climate and environmental protections, dismantle citizen review boards for fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and greenlight fracked gas projects in the name of grid reliability.88
Northam’s administration even won praise nationally for its “landmark” climate bill.89 While the state’s climate bill, the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), is intended to phase out fossil-fueled power plants, the law takes decades to fully take hold and is riddled with loopholes.90 A legislative effort to clean up those loopholes in 2022 didn’t make it out of Committee, signaling the shifting reality regarding climate policy under Governor Youngkin.91 It is unclear whether the VCEA will have any meaningful impact on the decision making of utilities in the state. Despite the new law, developers have pushed ahead with the environmentally destructive Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile long project which would carry fracked gas through Virginia.92
Virginia’s added renewable energy projects appear to provide cover for the business-as-usual operation of fossil fuel power plants in the state. Even as a raft of positive press statements have touted the “transformative” nature of the VCEA, long-term resource plans submitted to Virginia’s utility regulator by Dominion Energy tell a starkly different story, including plans to operate natural gas plants long after the targets set by the VCEA.93
Dominion’s plans show that the company intends to retire much of its coal power fleet regardless of the VCEA. This is because many of Dominion’s coal operations have a negative net present value. Conversely, where environmental ambitions compete with profitability, profits appear to win out. Dominion’s plans do not retire any natural gas capacity until 2035 at the earliest, and include 970 megawatts of new gas capacity to be built in the early 2020s.94 Dominion claims that these gas plants are “placeholders,” but the company gives no indication as to what might be built in their place.95 Additionally, Dominion’s plans make little reference to the company’s highly profitable coal units at the Mount Storm power plant in West Virginia.96
Between now and 2035, Dominion’s plan features only 150 megawatts of additional retirements compared to how much the company would have retired if the VCEA had not passed. The biggest change from the “no VCEA” plan is that the VCEA plan retires three 50 megawatt biomass power plants.97 Dominion notes that uncertainty exists regarding the units it plans to retire, stating that, aside from a few units, “inclusion of a unit retirement in this 2020 Plan should be considered as tentative only.”98 These power plants may operate less frequently, but without firm commitments to actually close the plants, lower emissions are not guaranteed.
Do we really have to keep fossil fuels around for reliability?
Do we really have to keep fossil fuels around for reliability?
For utility executives, keeping fossil fuel plants around even while building renewable energy projects makes good business sense, because utilities are often allowed to choose fossil fuel plants over renewable plants to supply electricity when both are available.99 The most common justification for this practice is the supposed reliability advantages of fossil fuels over renewables. Threats of rolling blackouts and sudden outages are a popular and effective fear tactic in defense of keeping fossil fuels on the grid.100 These claims continue even though they are based on outdated understandings of how electricity is produced.101
Hidden in the complexities of electricity markets, regulators often use the spectre of reliability to thumb the scale for fossil fuels, and utilities point to it as a justification for a slow transition away from fossil fuels. Utilities even use the pretense of reliability to operate inefficient plants.102 These claims transcend classic concerns about weather variability, touting the supposedly unique ability of traditional turbines to perform “ancillary services” such as frequency regulation.103 This technical mirage distracts from the fact that other countries have run their entire grids on variable sources of renewable energy (such as wind and solar) for days at a time.104
These reliability justifications are not only propping up coal. Energy regulators in California have discussed the need to also prop up unprofitable natural gas plants on supposed reliability grounds.105 In the state, three needlessly expensive gas plants operating under “reliability must-run” contracts were recently replaced with battery storage at a cost savings, but the process required regulatory intervention and public commission approval.106
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) notes that energy storage technologies are capable of providing ancillary services (frequency regulation, voltage support, spinning reserves), often with faster start-up and ramp times than traditional generators, enabling them to provide these services without already running.107 Academic research also finds that a variety of storage technologies are able to perform ancillary functions, such as backup power, frequency regulation and starts without electricity.108
Battery prices have fallen by nearly 90 percent in the past decade, making them capable of competing with fossil fuels on price alone.109 After switching from gas generators to a battery storage alternative for multiple ancillary services, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) observed that the battery system provided a more rapid response and higher-quality service.110 In just two years, the battery system slashed grid regulation costs by over 90 percent, saving consumers more than $76 million.111
California’s Renewables Are Overshadowed by Our Oil Addiction
Nationally, California is the go-to example of environmental and climate action, both positively and pejoratively.112 There is some merit to these claims — the state produces the most solar power in the country and ranks near the top in renewable energy production as a percentage of generation.113 However, California is also the largest net importer of electricity, drawing partially on out-of-state coal power plants.114 The market-oriented bias of climate policy in California has left the state vulnerable to regulatory evasion tactics such as resource shuffling (the process of transferring dirty resources out-of-state and importing from dirty sources outside of the regulatory jurisdiction).115
Despite California’s environmental reputation, the fossil fuel industry has a large and entrenched presence. Yes, the state is a leader in renewables, but it is also the seventh largest oil producer in the country.116 In refining capacity, California ranks third behind Texas and Louisiana, with a huge apparatus set up to refine primarily imported oil.117
Much of California’s oil is produced using particularly water-intensive and environmentally destructive extraction measures such as cyclic steam injection, matrix acidizing and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).118 On average, oil produced in California is among the dirtiest sources in the world, resulting in higher lifecycle carbon emissions per barrel than other sources.119
Oil production also has a huge water footprint in California. Food & Water Watch found that from 2018 to June 2021, the oil and gas industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations that could otherwise have supplied domestic systems.120 The freshwater sucked up by the oil and gas industry since 2018 could have provided everyone in the city of Pasadena with the recommended amount of daily water for an entire year, or everyone in the city of Ventura for 16 months.121
Industry-backed decision makers and state agencies have enabled widespread drilling.122 Governor Newsom’s offer of a vague plan to end fossil fuel extraction by 2045 offers no guarantee that these fuels would stay in the ground.123 Instead of banning fracking now, Newsom plans to continue issuing fracking permits until 2024.124 These long time frames will doom climate policies, as fossil fuel producers can accelerate their production schedules to extract the reserves before the deadline.125 When producers anticipate an end to permitting, they stockpile and accumulate permits before the deadline hits, sometimes in quantities big enough to neutralize the policy.126
Cozy State Regulators Will Not Choose Renewables Over Fossil Fuels Unless They Have To
Loopholes help fossil fuels compete against renewables.
Curtailment in California
Building new renewable energy sources is often not enough to switch off fossil fuel power plants that were built before clean energy came online. In theory, electricity producers should choose power from renewable sources, which have no fuel costs (rather than paying to burn coal or natural gas).127 But in practice, renewable power plants are sometimes disconnected while utilities continue to burn coal and natural gas.128
This practice of reducing the amount of power supplied from renewables below the amount they are capable of producing is called curtailment. It is often done by disconnecting or reducing at the electrical converter level for solar and changing the blade angle for wind.129 A review of curtailment in four key solar-producing countries found that in 2018, 6.5 million megawatt-hours of solar was curtailed.130 That electricity could have powered all the households of a city around the size of Phoenix for year.131
California leads the nation in solar installation, but the state has largely failed to kick its dependence on natural gas.132 California uses more natural gas than any state other than Texas.133 Instead of building energy storage, California imports out-of-state power and turns to gas generation to fill gaps in solar generation.134 These imports hide the fossil fuel footprint of California’s electricity. Since 2015, natural gas-fired generation has declined by 29 percent in California, but it stayed the same overall in the western U.S. as out-of-state generators picked up the slack.135
Increased solar deployment in California has coincided with increased curtailment.136 From 2014 to 2019, curtailments nearly doubled each year.137 California curtails 2 to 3 percent of its renewable energy production.138 The group that oversees the electricity market and grid, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), has curtailed more than 5 million megawatt-hours of wind and solar electricity since 2015 (Figure 4).139 That is enough electricity to cover the needs of 740,000 Californian households for a year.140
Fossil Fuels Use Loopholes to Stave Off Renewables
Negative prices, or a surcharge to produce electricity, are a key mechanism to encourage curtailment in California. CAISO enables negative prices by adjusting the price floor to levels that will push out renewable generation.141 In 2017, wholesale prices of power in California hit negative levels.142 But these negative prices are not leading to cheap energy for consumers — Californians pay electricity rates that are among the highest in the nation.143
Negative pricing occurs when plants that are expensive to restart or shutdown continue to operate in anticipation of future demand.144 Pro-renewable policies can drive prices negative, but when fossil-fueled operators continue to run, this pushes prices to the point where renewables — which cost almost nothing to operate — lose money by selling electricity.145 CAISO has directly attempted to protect gas generators from negative prices by curtailing renewable energy.146 California also offers capacity payments for idling gas plants, creating a means for them to stay afloat amid negative wholesale prices.147 These flexibility payments are effectively a handout to gas generators.148
Negative prices reflect an uneven playing field that can favor fossil fuels over renewable energy. CAISO market rules in 2017 allowed natural gas generators to forgo curtailment by appealing to contract stipulations that do not match their technical capacities — in other words, allowing gas plants to pretend to be less flexible than they are.149 FERC even allowed CAISO to contract directly with fossil-fueled power plants that would otherwise be unable to compete with renewable energy.150
Transmission congestion is often cited as a rational for renewable curtailment in California.151 However, transmission capacity often goes unused while renewables are curtailed.152 Contracts signed by the big three California utilities restrict the use of transmission capacity to back up renewables.153 This leads to situations where California continues to import energy while curtailing renewables.154
Curtailment Is a Choice
Policy decisions impact price setting and direct grid investments, which determine the prices received by energy producers. Some level of curtailment may be inevitable in a completely renewable-powered grid at times of low demand, but curtailing renewables in favor of fossil fuels is not a reflection of that dynamic.155
Curtailment rates do not correspond to a proportion of renewables as a percentage of capacity and vary significantly among electricity markets.156 For example, Germany curtails far less than U.S. states with comparable levels of solar development.157 Texas substantially reduced curtailment of wind through public investment in transmission and market design changes to properly value wind energy.158 However, Texas curtailed 8.4 percent of its potential solar output in 2018.159
Investor-owned utilities have proved resistant to building the transmission infrastructure necessary to bring renewable electricity to distant markets.160 Private utilities have gone out of their way to design transmission investments in such a way as to benefit their existing fleets and bottom lines.161 Without significant reforms, these corporations will continue to use legal means to resist change, often with the help of in-their-pocket state governments.162
An electricity policy that prioritizes renewable energy and eliminating fossil fuels from the grid would go a long way to reduce curtailment. Incorporating storage and flexibility could significantly reduce curtailment in California.163 And while natural gas apologists argue that the flexibility of gas power plants enables renewables to run more frequently, non-fossil alternatives (such as demand response and storage) are more effective at reducing curtailment than natural gas generation is.164
Leaders Must Directly Confront Fossil Fuel Production and Use
Supply-side energy policy is crucial for our future.
Policy makers representing fossil fuel-producing regions have signaled willingness to embrace half-hearted market-based climate policies. Even major oil producers have signaled willingness to support a carbon tax.165 These policies pose no real threat to fossil fuel producers because they do not result in deep emissions reductions.166 Not only do fossil fuel pricing schemes create political cover, the revenue streams created by these programs can entrench these industries — leaving policy makers reluctant to cut back on production.167
In Pennsylvania, rather than enact regulations to respond to the dire social and environmental consequences of fracking, lawmakers enacted an “impact fee” that returns payouts from drilling to affected communities — a move welcomed by fracking companies.168 Pennsylvania gas companies supplement their tax contributions with voluntary charity to launder their image.169 The strategies appear somewhat successful. Surveys of Pennsylvania residents find that the popularity of fracking rises in tandem with the size of impact fees.170
Would-be frackers in the United Kingdom openly extol the importance of impact fees for generating the political will to frack. In a plan modeled on the United States, the U.K. chemical company Ineos offered broad-ranging voluntary community payments as part of a comprehensive strategy to push fracking — giving an activity that depletes the environment and erodes our climate future the false patina of social good.171
The following statement captures this gaslighting tactic:
Conclusion: Public Policy — Not Market Mechanisms — Is the Only Way Forward
The viability of renewable electricity provides an off-ramp from climate chaos, but if fossil fuel development continues unchecked, we will be locked in to decades of continued carbon emissions and climate crisis.173 Policies that address the fossil fuel supply are a vital component of any successful effort to address climate change. For example, reducing coal subsidies would have a much smaller impact on coal consumption than a ban on new coal mines.174
Limiting production is far easier to enforce than using market mechanisms to reduce consumption. Both carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes involve complex and detailed reporting and auditing at thousands of facilities — which creates a difficult job for the government agencies that oversee them.175 In addition to financial costs, complex administration can lead to under reporting and gaming between regulated and unregulated entities, resulting in emissions.176
In contrast, supply policies are easily observable and have predictable outcomes with minimal overhead.177 That is because supply policies impact a smaller number of firms and regulate easily observed commodities rather than the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.178 Moreover, in an alternate scenario where demand reduction works, supply controls would have no additional cost and merely act as an insurance policy.179
The United States is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, contributing 15 percent of total global emissions.180 However, some politicians argue that the country cannot substantially reduce global emissions because developing countries continue to increase their emissions.181 This is in part because the trade in carbon-intensive products has grown rapidly, undermining the effectiveness of domestic climate policy on the demand side.182 Many of these same politicians have supported lax trade policies that allow corporations to relocate to other countries to avoid complying with regulations.183 In some cases, countries export fuels that are used to produce products that they then import to consume.184
Even without global cooperation, removing the U.S. fossil fuel reserves from the world market would undermine fossil fuel generation globally.185 While investment and (to a lesser extent) labor can cross borders, fossil fuel reserves are immobile.186 By imposing limits on fossil fuel production within their own borders, countries can guarantee against the relocation of these fuels.187 International agreements that target the supply of fossil fuels are easier to negotiate, verify and enforce because they deal with fewer polluters.188
President Biden should use his authority to stop fossil fuel extraction on federal lands.
President Biden should use his authority to stop the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, including LNG exports, by denying the needed federal permits.
Congress should ban fracking everywhere.
Congress should pass legislation laying out a managed transition off fossil fuels that protects workers and communities that have depended on the industry.
We can shift right now to the power sources that will change the trajectory of humankind. It just takes the political will of clear-headed leaders working for the good of the people and not the profit margins of the fossil fuel industry.
Send a message to President Biden now. We must end fossil fuels before they end us.
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Aton, Adam. “Biden’s promise to unions: ‘I’m all for natural gas’.” E&E News. March 4, 2021.
Hughes, Siobhan and Aaron Zitner. “Democrats in oil country worried by party’s natural-gas agenda.” Wall Street Journal. June 29, 2021.
FWW. [Issue brief]. “The Case Against Carbon Capture: False Claims and New Pollution.” March 2020 at 3 and 6 to 8.
Ryser, Jeffrey. “Utility emissions, renewable goals accelerate, but coal retirements may be too slow.” S&P Global. February 25, 2021.
Naik, Gautam and Esther Whieldon. “Carbon offsets prove risky business for net zero targets.” S&P Global. May 12, 2021; Frazin, Rachel. “Major electric company sets goal for net-zero emissions by 2050.” The Hill. April 28, 2020; Whieldon, Esther. “Path to net zero: 70% of biggest US utilities have deep decarbonization targets.” S&P Global Market Intelligence. December 9, 2020; Danko, Pete. “Portland General Electric sets aggressive new carbon-reduction targets.” Portland Business Journal. November 18, 2020; Samuel, Molly. “Atlanta-based Southern Company commits to net zero carbon emissions.” National Public Radio (NPR). WABE–Atlanta, GA. May 27, 2021.
Schechner, Sam. “Amazon and other tech giants race to buy up renewable energy.” Wall Street Journal. June 23, 2021; Naik and Whieldon (2021).
Martz, Michael. “Dominion moves ahead with plan to build a pair of wind turbines off the Virginia coast.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. August 3, 2018.
Leonor, Mel. “Northam lays out renewable energy goals for Virginia, calls for carbon-free electricity by 2050.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. September 17, 2019; Penn, Ivan. “Atlantic Coast Pipeline canceled as delays and costs mount.” New York Times. July 5, 2020; Vogelsong, Sarah. “More delays, cost increases for Mountain Valley Pipeline.” Virginia Mercury. May 4, 2021.
Hammack, Laurence. “Gubernatorial candidates comment, or choose not to, on Mountain Valley Pipeline.” Roanoke Times. October 9, 2021; Wilson, Patrick. “Va. Senate democrats pass GOP bill to remove power of citizen environmental boards.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. February 14, 2022.
Schneider, Gregory S. “Virginia becomes the first Southern state with a goal of carbon-free energy.” Washington Post. April 13, 2020.
Virginia Office of the Governor. [Press release]. “Governor Northam signs clean energy legislation.” April 12, 2020; Dominion Energy. “Virginia Electric and Power Company’s Report of Its Integrated Resource Plan Before the Virginia State Corporation Commission and North Carolina Utilities Commission.” Case No. PUR-2020-00035. Docket No. E-100, Sub 165. May 1, 2020 at 2 and 18.
FWW. [Press release]. “Virginia House of Delegates committee votes down the New Virginia Economy Act.” February 8, 2022.
Hammack, Laurence. “Stream crossings continue to muddy the waters for Mountain Valley Pipeline.” Roanoke Times. June 28, 2021; Vogelsong (2021).
Vogelsong, Sarah. “Despite Clean Economy Act, Dominion forecasts a strong role for natural gas in Virginia.” Virginia Mercury. May 8, 2020; Virginia Office of the Governor (2020); Shepherd, Walton. Natural Resources Defense Council. “How to Rev Up Virginia’s New Climate Action Engine.” March 11, 2020; Tidwell, Mike. Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Virginia Clean Economy Act: A Big Step Forward on Climate Policy.” February 13, 2020; Francis, Lee. Virginia League of Conservation Voters. [Press release]. “Virginia News: Gov. Northam Signs Clean Economy Act.” April 13, 2020.
Dominion Energy (2020) at 28, 29, 83 and Appendix 2A.
Ibid. at 28 and 29.
Ibid. at 83.
Ibid. at 27 to 29.
Ibid. at 83.
Morehouse, Catherine. “Ex-FERC commissioners debate solutions to coal self-commitments said to cost millions.” Utility Dive. June 1, 2020.
“More green blackouts ahead.” Wall Street Journal. February 23, 2021.
Rossi, Jim. “Electricity charges, mandates and subsidies.” In Dernbach, John and Michael Gerrard (Eds.). (2019). Legal Transitions to Deep Decarbonization in the United States. Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute at 601.
Dominion Energy (2020) at 71 to 75 and 83.
Diesendorf and Elliston (2018) at 318 and 320.
Gifford, Raymond L. and Matthew S. Larson. Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP. “‘Around Market,’ ‘In Market,’ and FERC at a Crossroads.” May 2018 at 11.
Nemec, Rich. “California OKs PG&E plan to replace gas-fired power plants with battery storage.” Natural Gas Intelligence. November 19, 2018.
Campbell, Richard J. CRS. “Electricity Storage: Applications, Issues, and Technologies.” R45980. October 9, 2019 at 19.
Baumgarte, Felix et al. “Business Models and Profitability of Energy Storage.” Science. Vol. 23, Iss. 10. October 2020 at 6.
Trahey, Lynn et al. “Energy storage emerging: A perspective from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.” PNAS. Vol. 117, No. 23. June 2020 at 12551 to 12555; BloombergNEF. [Press release]. “Battery pack prices fall as market ramps up with average at $156/kWh in 2019.” December 3, 2019; Schmidt, Oliver. “Projecting the future levelized cost of electricity storage technologies.” Joule. Vol. 3. January 2019 at 81.
Australian Energy Market Operator. “Initial Operation of the Hornsdale Power Reserve Battery Storage System.” April 2018 at 7 and 8; Parkinson, Giles. “How Tesla’s big battery is bringing Australia’s gas cartel to heel.” Guardian. February 2, 2018.
Thornhill, James. “Two years on, Elon Musk’s big battery bet is paying off in Australia.” Bloomberg. February 27, 2020.
DOE EIA. “California: State Energy Profile.” February 18, 2021.
Cullenward, Danny. “How California’s carbon market actually works.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Vol. 70, Iss. 5. 2014 at 38 and 39.
DOE EIA (February 18, 2021).
Long, Jane C. S. et al. California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Prepared for the California Council on Science and Technology. “An Independent Scientific Assessment of Well Stimulation in California: Summary Report.” July 2015 at 3, 5, 16, 18 and 20; Hanzlik, E. J. et al. “Forty years of steam injection in California — The evolution of heat management.” Society of Petroleum Engineers International. Paper No. SPE-84848-MS. 2003 at 1; California Department of Conservation (DOC). “Analysis of Oil and Gas Well Stimulation Treatments in California — 6. Overview of California’s Oil and Gas Resources.” June 2015 at 6-1, 6-12, 6-14 and 6-16; California Department of Conservation (DOC). “Oil and Gas Production: History in California.” 2005 at 7.
Stark, Kevin. “’Bottom of the barrel’ California oil can be far more carbon intensive than what state imports.” NPR. KQED–San Francisco, CA. June 28, 2021.
FWW analysis of CA DOC. California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM). WellSTAR, Well Injection Data (BQ), 2018 — June 2021. Available at https://wellstar-public.conservation.ca.gov/General/PublicDownloads/Index. Accessed July 2021. Note: FWW calculated water injected into California wells from 2018 through June 2021 using any water source and domestic water systems (source code 03). Water volume converted from barrels to gallons.
FWW analysis of Ibid. and U.S. Census Bureau (USCB). Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in California: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019. Available at https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-total-cities-and-towns.html. Accessed May 28, 2021. Calculation example: 3,017,856,156 gallons of freshwater injected by oil and gas operations (2018 — June 2021) / water recommendation (55 gallons/day/person) / 141,029 Population of Pasadena = 389 days.
DOC (2005) at 2 and 8; California Department of Finance. “California Budget 2019-20, Natural Resources Budget.” January 2019 at 53.
Gardiner, Dustin. “For environmentalists, California’s Legislature has been ‘a bloodbath’ this year.” San Francisco Chronicle. June 5, 2021; Bowman, Emma. “California Governor moves to ban fracking by 2024.” NPR. April 23, 2021.
Sinn, Hans-Werner. “The green paradox: A supply-side view of the climate problem.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy. Vol. 9, Iss. 2. Summer 2015 at 239 to 244; de Sa, Andrade Saraly and Julien Daubanes. “Limit pricing and the (in)effectiveness of the carbon tax.” Journal of Public Economics. Vol. 139. July 2016 at 29 and 30.
Magill, Bobby. “Oil, gas industry stockpiled drilling leases before Biden ‘pause.’” Bloomberg Law. January 28, 2021.
Bird, Lori et al. DOE NREL. “Wind and solar energy curtailment: Experience and practices in the United States.” NREL/TP-6A20-60983. March 2014 at 2; O’Shaughnessy, Eric et al. “Too much of a good thing? Global trends in the curtailment of solar PV.” Solar Energy. Vol. 208. September 2020 at 1068.
Trabish, Herman K. “Prognosis negative: How California is dealing with below-zero power market prices.” Utility Dive. May 11, 2017.
Denholm, Paul et al. DOE NREL. “Overgeneration from Solar Energy in California: A Field Guide to the Duck Chart.” NREL/TP-6A20-65023. November 2015 at 1.
Walton, Robert. “California solar spike leads to negative CAISO real-time prices in March.” Utility Dive. April 10, 2017.
DOE EIA. “Rising solar generation in California coincides with negative wholesale electricity prices.” Today in Energy. April 7, 2017.
Roselund, Christian. “California’s solar and wind integration challenge.” PV Magazine. July 30, 2018.
Paulos, Bentham. “Too much of a good thing? An illustrated guide to solar curtailment on California’s grid.” Greentech Media. April 3, 2017.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Docket No. ER19-1641-001. Dissent. September 27, 2019 at 1 to 3 and 5; FERC. Docket No. ER19-1641-001. Order Accepting Tariff Revisions. September 27, 2019 at 1 and 2;
Bird et al. (2014) at 4.
Denholm, Paul et al. (2015) at i and 4.
Sun, Yinong et al. DOE NREL. “2018 Renewable Energy Grid Integration Data Book.” 2020 at 10, 24 and 27.
O’Shaughnessy et al. (2020) at 1070.
Bird et al. (2014) at 9.
O’Shaughnessy et al. (2020) at at 1069.
Peskoe, Ari. Harvard Law School. “Is the Utility Transmission Syndicate Forever?” Working Paper. February 16, 2021 at 2 and 3.
Ibid at 2 and 75.
Denholm, Paul et al. (2015) at iii.
Ibid at 8; Dominion Energy (2020) at 71 to 75 and 83.
Climate Leadership Council. “The Consensus Climate Solution.” Wall Street Journal. Paid Advertisement. June 20, 2017 at A6B; Mufson, Steven and Joshua Partlow. “Oil, gas industry says it will support carbon pricing.” Washington Post. March 25, 2021; Gray, Boyden C. “The misguided ExxonMobil climate change inquisition.” Forbes. February 11, 2016.
Green, Jessica F. “Does carbon pricing reduce emissions? A review of ex-post analyses.” Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 16, No. 4. March 2021 at 2.
Prasad, Monica. “Taxation as a regulatory tool: Lessons from environmental taxes in Europe.” In Balleisen, Edward J. and David A. Moss (Eds.). (2010). Government and Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation. New York: Cambridge University Press at 370 and 371.
Wilber, Tom. “Impact fees buy goodwill in drilling communities.” USA Today. November 22, 2015.
Paydar, Naveed H. et al. “Fee disbursements and the local acceptance of unconventional gas development: Insights from Pennsylvania.” Energy Research & Social Science. Vol. 20. October 2016 at 1.
Tovey, Alan. “Ineos offers £2.5bn to communities disrupted by shale gas.” Telegraph. September 28, 2014.
Ineos. [Press release]. “INEOS plans £2.5 billion shale gas giveaway.” September 28, 2014.
Lazarus, Michael and Harro van Asselt. “Fossil fuel supply and climate policy: Exploring the road less taken.” Climatic Change. Vol. 150. August 2018 at 4.
Mendelevitch, Roman. German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin). “Testing Supply‐Side Climate Policies for the Global Steam Coal Market – Can They Curb Coal Consumption?” DIW Discussion Papers No. 1604. 2016 at 1.
Green, Fergus and Richard Denniss. “Cutting with both arms of the scissors: The economic and political case for restrictive supply-side climate policies.” Climatic Change. Vol. 150. 2018 at 77.
Collins, Kim and Roman Mendelevitch. DIW Berlin. “Leaving Coal Unburned: Options for Demand-Side and Supply-Side Policies.” DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus. No. 87. December 2015 at 3.
Green & Denniss (2018) at 77.
Asheim, G. B. et al. “The case for a supply-side climate treaty.” Science. Vol. 365. Iss. 6451. July 2019 at 326.
Pierre-Louis, Kendra. “Greenhouse gas emissions rise like a ‘speeding freight train’ in 2018.” New York Times. December 5, 2018.
Johnson, Luke. “Marco Rubio on climate change: ‘The government can’t change the weather’.” Huffington Post. February 13, 2013; Jaipuriar, Rashika and Sarah Bowman. “New GOP-only caucus explicitly acknowledges climate change, but keeps fossil fuels on its list of solutions.” Detroit Free Press. June 25, 2021; Friedman, Lisa and Coral Davenport. “Amid extreme weather, a shift among republicans on climate change.” New York Times. August 13, 2021.
Andrew, Robbie M. et al. “Climate policy and dependence on traded carbon.” Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 8. 2013 at 1.
Ahlvik, Lassi and Matti Liski. Norwegian School of Economics and Aalto University. “Carbon Leakage: A Mechanism Design Approach.” October 2017 at 2; Friedman & Davenport (2021); Office of U.S. Senator Mike Braun. [Press release]. “President Trump is closing a China trade deal that’s four decades overdue.” May 16, 2019.
Asheim et al. (2019) at 325; Barret, John et al. “Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: A UK case study.” Climate Policy. Vol. 13, No. 4. June 2013 at 451 and 452.
Sinn (2015) at 239 to 244.
Asheim, Geir B. “A distributional argument for supply-side climate policies.” Environmental and Resource Economics. Vol. 56. 2013 at 252.
It’s the middle of the California rainy season, but the last 50 days have been bone dry. San Francisco, which usually gets at least 4 inches of rain by now has seen less than a quarter-inch. Los Angeles has followed suit and the Sierra snowpack — providing much of California’s water — is 66% of its normal volume. Our main reservoirs hover between 50-80% of historic averages. These challenges come in the midst of a historic 20-year climate change-driven drought — the worst in the last 1200 years.
It’s not just California — most of the western United States is experiencing this historic megadrought. States like Oregon, New Mexico, and Montana are having conditions even worse than California. It’s a good reason to reexamine water use regionally and take on some of the most water-intensive and climate-polluting industries. That means taking on big agribusiness, factory farms, and the fossil fuel industry.
Big Agribusiness Consumes Huge Amounts Of Water And Profits At The Expense Of The Environment
Government attention and media coverage about drought focuses on things individuals can do to save water. It ignores the fact that agriculture uses the most water. And the vast majority goes towards big agribusiness including growing water intensive crops like almonds and alfalfa. In California 80% of our water goes toward agriculture and 20% of that goes to tree nuts. Around two-thirds of these nuts are exported overseas, leaving massive profits for corporate titans but less water in California. Another 15% is used for alfalfa, a water-intensive crop used to feed cows on factory farms or for export.
These crops have increased through the 20 year drought and have no business being grown to this scale in our arid climate. This is especially true as salmon die and over a million Californians lack access to clean water, in part due to sinking groundwater tables.
Saudi Arabia has a law that prohibits the growth of alfalfa because of the lack of water. That’s no problem for a Saudi company that gained access to water rights in California. It exports alfalfa grown here back to Saudi Arabia to support its mega-dairies. Saudi Arabia also imports hay from drought-stricken New Mexico for the same purpose. This should not be possible, but no action has been taken to stop it.
Factory Farms Use And Pollute Water While Driving The Climate Crisis
Factory farms are a huge driver of climate change. Out of all the things humans do, livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of total greenhouse emissions. At the same time, factory farms consume tremendous amounts of water — especially big dairy operations. California is home to nearly 1.7 million dairy cows, which are largely part of mega-dairy operations. In addition to the water used for alfalfa, mega-dairies use 142 million gallons of water a day. That’s more than the daily recommended water usage for San Jose and San Diego combined. This is in addition to all the water polluted through runoff and waste.
New Mexico, Oregon, and other western states have similar mega-dairy operations even as drought persists and water resources run low.
The Fossil Fuel Industry Continues To Use And Pollute Water While Driving Climate Chaos
The largest driver of climate chaos is the fossil fuel industry. Maddeningly, the industry continues to operate extensively in California — using and polluting vast amounts of water. Between January 2018 and March 2021, the industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent of 120 million showers for California housholds. At the same time, fossil fuel operations have polluted California’s aquifers with dirty wastewater.
Governor Newsom Could Take Action To Rein In These Industries. He’s Yet To Do So.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Governor Newsom is promoting a tunnel to bring more water from Northern California to support industrial agriculture in the Central Valley. Instead he should rein in polluters making massive profits while the environment suffers and over a million Californians can’t access clean water. He should exercise his authority to stop new factory farms, almonds and alfalfa, and oil drilling. He can use his power to roll back these industries. We should all do our part to save water, but the real focus should be on the biggest water abusers.
We know Governor Newsom is responsive to public pressure. He has shown this with his recent moves to ban fracking and stop new drilling near homes and schools. It’s up to us to move him and other state leaders. They must take our water situation seriously, and boldly rein in these water abusers who are driving the climate crisis.
Tell Governor Newsom to act now to save California’s water!
Mega-dairies, a type of factory farm, produce enormous amounts of manure. Instead of dealing with this problem head-on, mega-dairies are now rebranding their waste as sustainable by creating factory farm gas. When a factory farm gas operation sets up shop in Oregon, it is required to become permitted as a way to track and enforce air quality standards.
Threemile Canyon’s “biogas” operation repeatedly violated its Oregon air pollution control permit throughout 2019 and 2020 by spewing illegal amounts of dangerous fine particulate pollution into the environment.
Recently, Food & Water Watch filed a letter with the California Air Resources Board (CARB). In it, we demanded CARB take enforcement action against Oregon’s largest mega-dairy, Threemile Canyon, over illegal air pollution from its factory farm “biogas” operations. Threemile profits off of CARB’s “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” program, receiving lucrative credits for its supposedly renewable factory farm gas.
CARB should never have approved Threemile’s participation in the program to begin with — now it must act to hold Threemile accountable.
Tell regulators to rescind the credits given to Threemile Canyon, and take strong actions to enforce their rules!
These documented violations are actually just the tip of the iceberg. The larger issue we face is the public funding of factory farm gas. It relies on keeping both massive factory farms and oil and gas infrastructure around for decades.
Factory Farm Gas Won’t Help Us Solve The Climate Crisis
Factory farm gas is created when mega-dairies dump their massive amounts of manure into digesters. Bacteria then break down waste to produce gas that is primarily composed of methane. This gas can then be mixed with fracked gas and transported through dangerous pipelines. Because of this, factory farm gas ensures our continued reliance on pipelines and fossil fuels, distracting from real climate solutions in Oregon and nationwide.
Oregon’s Governor Brown has ambitious climate goals, working to reach an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. But her administration has failed to take meaningful action against factory farms. Instead, she allowed them to profit off their enormous greenhouse gas emissions by creating so-called “renewable” natural gas. Factory farm gas is expensive, inefficient, and limited. At the highest projections, it could only replace 1% of US natural gas use. Our leaders are investing massive amounts of public dollars into this false climate solution when they should be supporting proven and scalable solutions like wind and solar power.
These subsidies are so important that Threemile Canyon’s previous general manager said factory farm gas was “the most valuable product that we have out there.” When we say factory farm gas threatens to incentivize mega-dairy expansion, this is what we mean. Threemile is already one of the country’s biggest mega-dairies. If factory farm gas is their most profitable product, why not expand the number of cows in their confinement so they have more manure from which to create gas?
Factory Farm Gas Serves The Interests Of Fossil Fuel Companies And Big Ag
Factory farm gas gives a green light to the “get big or get out” model of agriculture that propelled mega-dairies forward and has helped fuel the climate crisis. It makes a perfect bedfellow for fossil fuels. As activists are pushing for 100% clean energy, factory farm gas provides a surefire way to keep fossil fuel pipelines in use for decades to come.
So how can we make real, long-lasting change? Our elected officials must face this issue head on by stopping the expansion of mega-dairies and by pursuing real climate solutions. While the industry is working to market their way out of their problems, our leaders have the opportunity to stop the pollution at its source.
Mega-dairies in Oregon pose innumerable problems already:
They pollute our air with fine particulate matter and nitrous oxide, ranking as one of the largest emitters of ammonia statewide.
They warm our climate, releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
They use up and pollute our water – the state has pointed to Threemile Canyon mega-dairy itself as a contributor to nitrate contamination in Eastern Oregon’s groundwater.
And they harm our communities, driving out family farms, extracting resources and threatening public health.
If we continue to fund factory farm gas, these issues will only intensify.
We Need Your Help To Get A Mega-Dairy Moratorium
Governor Brown must establish a moratorium on mega-dairies here in Oregon. A moratorium would cut off the supply chain for factory farm gas by preventing more waste from new mega-dairies. But, it could also be a game-changer for the health of our communities. We can only work to clean up the harm mega-dairies have already caused if we stop digging ourselves into a bigger hole. That starts with halting the expansion of mega-dairies in Oregon and calling on our elected leaders to abandon the false solution of factory farm gas.
Help us take the first step today.
Send a message urging regulators to take strong action, including the reversal of Threemile Canyon’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits!
In New Mexico, there’s a big opportunity to strengthen water pollution standards for factory farms on the horizon. A Clean Water Act permit for the state’s concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) is up for renewal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It’s known as a general permit, which safeguards the state’s scarce water resources by dictating what standards factory farms must follow to control their pollution. We’re advocating long-term for a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies. But this is an important opportunity to protect New Mexico’s waterways from factory farm pollution in the short term.
We want EPA to issue the most protective permit possible, and are ready to fight it if they don’t.
What Is a General Permit And Why Does It Matter?
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that requires EPA or state permitting agencies to regulate water pollution sources through National Pollutant Elimination Discharge (NPDES) permits. The goal of this system is to reduce — and ultimately eliminate — dangerous pollution discharges into our rivers, lakes, and streams. Permits accomplish this goal by capping the amount of pollution a facility can discharge, and then requiring specific pollution controls. They also require discharge monitoring, to ensure polluters meet those limits. This permit program is responsible for dramatic improvements in water quality across the U.S. over the past 50 years.
Most states issue their own NPDES permits. But New Mexico is one of the few places where EPA still administers the permit program.
Under the federal law, EPA can issue permits in two different ways:
On a polluter-by-polluter basis, known as an “individual permit,”
Or a “general permit,” which applies the same pollution standards and requirements across an entire category of pollution sources.
A general permit has a broader impact. Instead of applying to one factory farm, it should apply to all New Mexico factory farms discharging pollution into waterways.
The General Permit Process Can Score Statewide And Even National Victories For Clean Water
When a General Permit is issued, the public is entitled to comment on the permit. They also get to fight it when it fails to adequately protect waterways or otherwise violates the Clean Water Act. Since it’s broadly applicable to many polluters, successfully strengthening a general permit through public participation can have broad, positive impacts. This is especially true in states where EPA issues the permit. When EPA issues a general permit, rather than the state, citizens can challenge it in the federal court of appeals. In that setting, the case has the potential to set a national precedent.
Food & Water Watch recently challenged just such a general CAFO permit in Idaho. We contested its failure to require CAFOs to monitor their pollution discharges. Discharge monitoring requirements are crucial for ensuring compliance with pollution limits, and their absence clearly violated federal law. We brought our case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and won! The court found that a general permit without monitoring requirements violated the Clean Water Act, and struck down the permit. But even more importantly, the court’s ruling is relevant everywhere factory farm permits take the same illegal approach.
Why We Have Our Eye On New Mexico’s Permitting Process
The New Mexico general permit process is a prime opportunity to win stronger regulation of the industry’s polluting impacts. Factory Farms in New Mexico, particularly mega-dairies, pose a constant threat to the state’s precious water resources. These factory farms use immense amounts of water in their daily practices. Additionally, the colossal amounts of manure they generate can run off into nearby waterways, and leach into groundwater. This waste can and does contaminate drinking water supplies for nearby communities with toxic nitrates. Especially given New Mexico’s historic climate-change-fueled drought, it can’t afford further degradation of this limited resource. Our long-term focus is on winning a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies in New Mexico. But a stronger general permit could result in significant improvements in the short term.
That’s why it’s vitally important that we make sure the upcoming general permit is strong. It should apply to as many factory farms as possible and impose stringent requirements to protect New Mexico waterways. It’s EPA’s job to update this permit every five years, and New Mexico’s general permit was up for renewal in August. However, we haven’t heard a peep out of EPA for the past four months.
We submitted a FOIA request to find out why, and hold the agency accountable to its Clean Water Act obligations. We’ll be tracking EPA’s actions, and engaging citizens to participate in the process when the time comes.
Tell New Mexico’s leaders it’s time for a moratorium on factory farms!
More than ever, people of childbearing age are choosing not to have children. There are a variety of factors that go into this choice — wage stagnation, the housing market, civil unrest, COVID-19. But a common denominator heard among many in their 20s and beyond is grave concern over our climate trajectory. They’re not wrong to be worried about what kind of climate and resources would be available for their potential kids. Climate justice is a crucial part of reproductive justice.
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective includes in its definition* of reproductive justice “the human right to … parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” That is a key connection with climate change. A safe environment in which to have and raise children is a basic human right — violated by the climate crisis. From pregnancy to childhood, climate change threatens people’s reproductive health.
“…the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
*SisterSong’s Full Definition of Reproductive Justice
Climate Change Puts Pregnant People At Risk
Higher temperatures are an immediate symptom of the climate crisis. Hot weather is obviously uncomfortable for pregnant people, and it can shift quickly from discomfort to danger. Researchers in California found that for every increase of ten degrees, the risk of premature birth goes up by 8%. Air pollution has also been linked to premature birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth. Extreme climate events also have a negative effect on pregnant people’s health. After Hurricane Sandy in New York, emergency room visits for pregnancy complications increased by nearly 17%.
The U.S. already has a horrific racist parental health crisis. Black and Indigenous birthing parents and babies die during birth, or soon after, at much higher rates than white parents. The climate crisis compounds this, and pregnant Black and Indigenous people face disproportionately high reproductive threats from climate change. Redlining is reflected in higher temperatures, lower air and water quality, and fewer trees in predominantly Black neighborhoods. This translates to poor health outcomes in pregnancy and birth. These examples of environmental racism also harm children of color after they are born, like high asthma rates among Black children.
Climate Change is a Danger to Reproductive Health and Justice
It stands to reason that the option to raise children in a safe and sustainable environment is a human right. Therefore, climate change and the threat it poses to pregnant people, babies, children, and families constitute a human rights violation. As is so often the case, the individuals who face these threats are not the people who caused them. Careless and greedy fossil fuel CEOs have caused a public health crisis, and it’s long past time for their destruction to be stopped. The well-being of current and future generations requires nothing less.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long history of failing to adequately regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. That’s why Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper filed suit against the EPA in the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for issuing a permit for Idaho factory farms that contained essentially no pollution monitoring, as required by the Clean Water Act. And we won, with the Court sending the permit back to EPA to add monitoring because there was no way to know whether a factory farm was violating the Clean Water Act without monitoring in place.
This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit is meant to ensure that factory farms comply with pollution restrictions that protect waterways for recreation, fishing, wildlife, and other uses. In Idaho alone, there are several hundred factory farms that produce vast quantities of pollutants like E.coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. This industry, which has largely avoided any regulation by federal environmental laws, has contributed to the 2,000 miles of streams and rivers that are now considered impaired by pollutants commonly associated with factory farm waste. The Clean Water Act is meant to control this kind of pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) and other “point source” dischargers, and that system relies on the monitoring that factory farm permits habitually lack across the country.
While this is an Idaho-specific permit and an important win on the path to accountability in the state, the Court’s ruling should also have national impact. The lack of monitoring problem is pervasive across Clean Water Act permits for factory farms, and this case dispels the myth that it’s okay for regulators to just assume compliance with our bedrock water protection laws.
Following this critical win, we will continue fighting for stronger regulation and enforcement across the country to protect our rivers, lakes, and streams from factory farm pollution.
We don’t shy away from the right fights.Make a donation today to fund work like this in the future!
A special project at Food & Water Watch focuses on the people living near natural gas power plants, who tell a different story than the fossil fuel industry does when it comes to harmful effects.
2: The Fight Against Fracked Gas in New York
Mark Sanchez-Potter is a Newburgh, NY resident concerned about the Danskammer Energy Center.
3: A California Community Member Becomes An Advocate
Kitty Merrill’s fight against the proposed Puente Plant in Oxnard, CA led her to become an environmental activist.
4: The Ripple Effect of People Power in New Jersey
Bill McClelland has become a seasoned veteran in the battle between concerned residents and persistent power plants in New Jersey.
Our future depends on us creating the political will to ban fracking and stop the buildout of more fossil fuel infrastructure.
A special project at Food & Water Watch focuses on the people living near natural gas power plants, who tell a different story than the fossil fuel industry does when it comes to harmful effects.
Our dependence on fossil fuels is destroying our climate and eroding the health and safety of everyone who lives in this country. Natural gas, produced primarily from fracking (hydraulic fracturing) — a dangerous form of drilling, is being touted as a “cleaner” fossil fuel by the industry and its supporters.1 But the experiences of those on the frontline show that it is anything but clean or safe.
At a time when we need to be shifting away from fossil fuels, more and more natural gas power plants are being proposed in communities across the United States. These plants prop up the toxic fracking industry and emit significant amounts of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, particulate matter and other pollutants.2 It is a public health and climate nightmare.
You can enter your zip code in this map to see the natural gas power plants — already built or being proposed — near you.
In this special project connecting our research with stories from the frontlines, Food & Water Watch interviewed the people living near these facilities. These stories uncover the plight of pollution plaguing communities, the health issues suffered and the victories from those who have been brave enough to fight against climate-polluting corporations.
The interviews took place in late 2020. In October 2021, New York Governor Kathy Hochul rejected a key permit that effectively blocks the proposed Danskammer Energy project, underscoring the importance of citizen activism.3
Following section divider photo credit: Gilles Uzan
The Fight Against Fracked Gas In New York
Mark Sanchez-Potter is a Newburgh, NY resident concerned about the Danskammer Energy Center.
Nestled in a New York suburb some 60 miles from Manhattan lies the diverse community of Newburgh, which is largely made up of Black and Hispanic people.4 Newburgh is also home to Danskammer Energy Center, a seldom-used natural gas power plant that has been the center of widespread opposition and rising tensions in the community. While New York is one of the only states to ban fracking, a dangerous proposal to turn Danskammer into a full-time fracked gas power plant would endanger the community in Newburgh and others nearby.5 The potential perils from this facility have sparked residents’ fears that the state is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to mitigating climate change.
Among these concerned residents is native New Yorker Mark Sanchez-Potter, who lives four miles from the plant in Newburgh. Mark’s involvement in volunteer work with Food & Water Watch and environmental activism naturally developed as he witnessed his community devastated by corporate pollution and, as he puts it, by “neglect” from every level of government.
For years, a military base polluted Newburgh’s main water supply with firefighting foam, and the area is now considered a Superfund site.6 Analyses found PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are toxic waste from chemical manufacturing and related products) in the community’s water— highly toxic forever chemicals that have been linked to medical issues like cancer. Outrageously, after these tests were run, state officials failed to warn residents not to drink the water.7 At the time of the interview, Mark said the community was getting its water trucked in from the Catskill Aqueduct.
The proposed expansion at Danskammer would have compounded the health and safety threats already plaguing the community. “These corporations don’t give a shit about Black and Brown folks and Indigenous folks, and that’s why they put these projects in these communities, and you know they wouldn’t put something like this in a white area of Westchester,” Mark lamented. The proposed plant would have run year-round and processed fracked gas from Pennsylvania.8 “It’s a bridge fuel to nowhere,” he says.
From being a former coal plant and now running on natural gas, Danskammer has historically polluted the community. Mark says residents have dealt with high rates of asthma and compounded pollution from vehicles and other modes of transportation. Between 2011 and 2013, the city of Newburgh had more than two times the number of hospitalizations for asthma as the entire state of New York.9 “Old folks, undocumented folks that we’ve talked to … understand ‘I don’t want to breathe that.’ So, it’s not the jargon of environmental science and the environmental movement that they understand, it’s the impact.”
The majority of the Newburgh community is staunchly against the facility’s expansion, but there are communal tensions between the plant’s union and its members that support the plant. The potential of new jobs in the area is enticing to blue-collar union members, but Mark says, “you know who these jobs are going to be for? They’re not going to be for the Black and Brown people in the city of Newburgh. They’re going to be for people outside of Newburgh who don’t have any connections or who don’t care about their company’s polluting.”
It’s safe to say the community won’t go down without a fight. Mark has been involved with various advocacy efforts in Newburgh, from bird-dogging elected officials to participating in a die-in (a visually stunning public action where participants represent the deadliness of a public health issue). He emphasized the importance of putting pressure on former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Governor Cuomo says he’s a climate leader, but I feel like he’s wishy-washy with a lot of climate issues.” Mark adds, “He has the executive power to stop the application process and … the plant. He has the ultimate authority.”
“We have to think of renewable energy,” Mark affirmed. “We need to be investing in renewable energy with an emphasis on a just transition for union workers.” New York has legislation in place to get the state to 70 percent renewable energy by 2030 (although 100 percent would be optimal). Former Governor Cuomo himself had been vocal about shifting the state to renewables, while creating clean energy jobs for New Yorkers.10 But to communities like Newburgh, it seems like lip-service. According to Mark, “our energy needs will be met without Danskammer. We don’t need it.” Governor Hochul’s October denial of the Danskammer permit in October 2021 shows what real climate leadership looks like. The next step for her administration is to halt all fossil fuel development.
You helped us stop Danskammer. Let’s beat the next environmental threat in NY, too! We need a ban on cryptocurrency mining powered by fracked gas!
Kitty Merrill’s fight against the proposed Puente Plant in Oxnard, CA led her to become an environmental activist.
Kitty Merrill lived peacefully on the south end of Oxnard, California with her family for decades, completely oblivious to the “chemical soup” of pollution all around them. “It had this really charming feel,” Kitty described first moving to Oxnard. “You could drive and smell the strawberry fields, it’s just really cool.” And then, one day, a text message from her adult daughter changed everything.
“Did you know you’re in one of the most polluted areas in the region?” the text message read. Oxnard, California is flanked with contamination from mega agricultural operations, power plants, a wastewater treatment facility and a Superfund site — marking a history of pollution.11 “We get particulate matter from power plants; there was a recycling plant that turned out to be a Superfund site with toxic waste,” says Kitty. The strawberry fields that once enticed Kitty and her family turned out to be heavily sprayed with pesticides. “I realized this really wonderful environment that we sought out to raise our kids was really a toxic one.”
In an area that is predominantly Hispanic and lower-income, residents are faced with terrible air quality and asthmatic conditions.12 In 2013, Oxnard had some of the worst air quality scores in all of Ventura County,13 and residents have reported feeling symptoms consistent with asthma.14 Kitty said she started hearing about asthma in the community and realized that her daughter first got asthma in elementary school. A lot of her daughter’s friends are also asthmatic. “It’s not just a statistic, it’s something that I was seeing in the real world, on a day-to-day basis.” She admits, “it never clicked with me that there was a connection.”
The pollution in the area often goes unacknowledged by the wider community, becoming an invisible threat. “People don’t really discuss pollution issues,” says Kitty. At the community college where Kitty worked, she was surprised that her students were not more passionate about the environmental issues in the community. “They were more concerned about bread and butter,” she recalls. The students “had parents that were agricultural workers” with “different levels of documentation,” which made it hard for them to focus their energy on the less obvious environmental dangers in the community. “They weren’t at the level where they could afford to start thinking about the health effects and the things … that are less immediate.”
At the same time, the community’s health issues were being exacerbated by the high concentration of existing natural gas plants in the area and threatened by repeated proposals for new ones, including power plants along the local beaches. When the Puente Plant was proposed for Oxnard, a coalition of fed-up locals, including Kitty, started rallying against the highly contentious facility.15 She began speaking out against the plant at community meetings, which was something she “had never done before.” “It was something I really felt strongly about, and I wanted to make sure that I could do what I could for my community.”
Ultimately the Puente proposal was knocked down after widespread opposition, but as California continues to be ravaged by larger and larger wildfires each year, it becomes all the more crucial to move away from fossil fuels in general. In fact, the state’s demand for electricity has declined in the past decade.16 “We’re at a point where so many things are changing in technology, that locking our community into fossil fuels for 20, 40 years … was just ridiculous.”
Kitty continues to push for clean energy measures in her community, working alongside organizations like her local 350.org chapter, the Ventura Climate Hub, Food & Water Watch and other California organizers. “We’ve been putting our energy into county-level things.” She hopes that small changes on the local level will have a ripple effect at the state level. “I think that time is on our side, and in the same breath I can say time is against us because climate change is clearly here.” Despite it all, Kitty remains hopeful about “the possibility of change in our future.”
You can stand with us. Urge Governor Newsom to stop all new fracking and drilling permits in CA!
Bill McClelland has become a seasoned veteran in the battle between concerned residents and persistent power plants in New Jersey.
Despite the political clout and deep coffers of the fossil fuel industry, the collective action of the people can be even more powerful. Sometimes all it takes is a dedicated and passionate community unwilling to compromise. Bill McClelland has watched this play out in his diverse community in Hudson County, New Jersey where he has lived for the past four decades. “Obviously the goal is to ban and stop all fossil fuel projects,” Bill says.
Having lived in New Jersey for so long, Bill is familiar with the pollution that has plagued the state and his neighborhood in Hudson County. He says that over the decades, industrial development has resulted in “all sorts of environmental problems,” from “illegal dumping” to chromium pollution. Bill’s community is home to a large Superfund site, where for decades an oil processing plant spewed millions of gallons of contaminants into the soil and wetlands — including lead.17 “These industries, because they are in such isolated areas, can get away with anything.”
Historically, Hudson County has had air quality issues, receiving an “F” rating from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution from 2016 to 2018.18 Air pollution has also been linked to environmental justice issues in New Jersey, and one study found that particulate matter, a major natural gas plant pollutant, is associated with higher mortality among Black and lower-income residents.19 Notably, natural gas plants are a major source of particulate matter pollution.20 Yet the industry claims that these plants are “clean” and has been trying to push for new natural gas-fired power plants in New Jersey for years.
When the North Bergen Liberty Generating (NBLG) natural gas power plant was initially proposed in 201821, the community began fighting against its development. According to Bill, the plant would have been located in a pristine wetland called the Meadowlands, close to homes and a school — all of which prompted outcry from residents. Bill participated in a protest that was organized by students called March for Our Lungs, where “hundreds … maybe even a thousand people showed up,” he said. “We marched from the high school down to the site where this power plant was supposed to be.” Community organizing successfully led to the defeat of those plans at the end of 2020.
On the heels of the NBLG win, the community found itself fighting yet another natural gas plant, this one proposed by New Jersey Transit. “Along came the proposal by New Jersey Transit to build another huge fracked gas power plant on the other side of the Meadowlands.” These plans were also quickly shot down after the community stood against the proposal.22 “You’ve got to be persistent and … you can’t be intimidated by these people just because they have power,” Bill emphasizes. “We’ve had two major victories in the last year, and … everyone is just high.”
What makes Bill’s story so inspiring is that he is a passionate resident committed to a better planet. “You know, I’m not a scientist — I’m a musician.” Bill’s interest in environmental advocacy started in the late 1980s when New Jersey first passed a mandatory recycling law. “I called the town, totally out the blue … and said ‘you need any help?’” The rest is history. As only a volunteer, Bill helped start up the state’s recycling program; he’s worked with North Bergen’s assemblymen on environmental issues over the years, and now stands with his community against natural gas power plants.
“A lot of these power plants … go on forever, long past time of usefulness, and they just get dirtier and dirtier and cause more problems.” But Bill remains motivated to continue to fight these natural gas proposals. “Our primary goal is to stop construction of any new power plants that plan to burn fossil fuels.” Riding the high of these wins, Bill and other community organizers and organizations are committed to banding together to fight other proposals around the state. He is now assisting in efforts to stop New Fortress Energy’s proposal for an LNG export terminal known as the Gibbstown Facility.
“I hope others seeing this say ‘wow it can be done,’” Bill says. Although it can be daunting to directly address the powers that be, the communities in New Jersey have proved to be fearless. And while he’s not sure he’ll be around long enough to witness a less-exploitive world, Bill remains hopeful for the future.
Help Bill keep NJ free from new fossil fuel infrastructure. Your voice makes a difference!
Our future depends on us creating the political will to ban fracking and stop the buildout of more fossil fuel infrastructure.
Our current energy system is unsustainable and dangerous to communities and people all across the United States. The continual push for more fracking has only further propped up the toxic oil and gas industry, with little regard for the communities carrying the burden of these consequences. The time for an energy system overhaul is now, and the good news is that people power can work with time and dedication. We need to ban fracking and make the shift to clean, renewable energy — because the health and safety of our communities and our very futures depend on it.
For clean energy to heal our planet, we must also ban fracking.
Fard, Reza Fouladi et al. “The assessment of health impacts and external costs of natural gas-fired power plant of Qom.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research. Vol. 23, No. 20. August 2016 at 20922; Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. “Environmental Impacts of Power Plants.” June 2015 at 5.
McKenna, Chris. “DEC rejects key permit for proposed Danskammer power plant in Newburgh.” Times Herald-Record (NY). October 27, 2021; FWW. [Press release]. “NY Governor Hochul rejects applications for Danskammer and Astoria fracked gas plants.” October 27, 2021.
TRC. Prepared for Danskammer Energy, LLC. “Preliminary Scoping Statement, Danskammer Energy Center.” Case No. 18-F-0325. February 2019 at 5-11.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “What is Superfund.” Available at https://www.epa.gov/superfund/what-superfund. Accessed May 2021.
McKinley, Jesse. “Military base near Newburgh is made a Superfund site over tainted water.” New York Times. August 12, 2016.
Bellamy, Lana. “Danskammer Energy looks to hydrogen for future power; activists claim company is ‘greenwashing’.” Times Herald-Record (NY). August 31, 2020; FWW. “Twenty cities and towns in New York unite to oppose Danskammer fracked gas plant.” June 22, 2020.
New York State Department of Health (DOH). “City of Newburgh: Health Equity Report.” February 2017 at 16 and 20.
Walton, Robert. “New York expands state clean energy standard, moves to boost renewables use in the Big Apple.” Utility Dive. October 16, 2020; New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). [Press release]. “Governor Cuomo announces new competitive program to retain New York’s existing renewable energy resources.” January 22, 2021.
Boyd-Barrett, Claudia. “As California’s ports expand, neighboring communities fight back against pollution.” California Health Report. March 18, 2019; Homefacts. “Ventura County, CA Environmental Hazards Report – Superfund Sites.” Available at https://www.homefacts.com/environmentalhazards/superfunds/California/Ventura-County.html. Accessed January 2021.
“Environmental report shows Oxnard has worst score in the county.” Ventura County Star. April 23, 2013.
Dignity Health St. John’s Hospitals. “Oxnard, California Latino Community Health Needs Assessment.” April 2014 at 11 and 26.
Weikel, Dan. “Oxnard residents are fighting slag heaps, power plants and oil field that mar the town’s beaches.” Los Angeles Times. July 9, 2017.
Penn, Ivan and Ryan Menezes. “Californians are paying billions for power they don’t need.” Los Angeles Times. February 5, 2017.
D’Auria, Peter. “Who will foot $24M bill to clean up one of Hudson County’s most polluted sites?” Jersey Journal. October 8, 2020.
American Lung Association. “State of the Air: 2020.” 2020 at 121.
Wang, Yan et al. “Estimating causal effects of long-term PM2.5 exposure on mortality in New Jersey.” Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 124, No. 8. August 2016 at 1182.
Massetti, Emanuele et al. Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Prepared for DOE. “Environmental Quality and the U.S. Power Sector: Air Quality, Water Quality, Land Use and Environmental Justice.”. ORNL/SPR-2016/772. January 4, 2017 at vii and 15.
Heinis, John. “DEP grants first land use approval for $1.8B North Bergen electricity plant.” Hudson County View. July 6, 2018.
Johnson, Tom. “NJ Transit opts for green energy, ending plan for gas-powered plant.” NJ Spotlight News. October 23, 2020.
Image above: Ventura County March. Photo by Hannah Benet
by Mark Schlosberg
Water shutoffs in economically challenged areas, power plants in communities of color already overburdened by environmental pollution, a proposed factory farm gas plant in a town already blighted by a superfund site. While climate change and environmental pollution impact everyone in the United States, not all of us are impacted the same way or to the same degree. Across the country, lower wealth communities and Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution, a lack of access to clean water, and the impacts of climate change.
Food & Water Watch has been fighting against environmental injustices alongside community partners since our inception; the fight continues today.
Environmental Justice Has Been Woven Into The Fabric of Our Early Work
Food & Water Watch’s earliest campaigns were efforts to stop water privatization and strengthen public water infrastructure across the United States and in the global south. We partnered with local groups by bringing national research and organizing resources to defeat water privatization, which disproportionately threatens lower-income communities, in dozens of cities including Milwaukee, Chicago, and Akron. We also worked with water justice movements internationally to move the United Nations to recognize the human right to water.
In subsequent years, we continued to support community-led efforts to protect water and local environments from the threat of factory farms, fracking, pipelines, power plants, and other polluting fossil fuel infrastructure.
We devoted significant resources to these campaigns and in support of our community partners because we believe in the core values of justice for all, economic fairness, and human dignity. But we also understand that to win bold, urgent, and meaningful changes at the federal level to protect our food, water, and climate we must also work to end historic and ongoing discrimination. We must uplift, support, and strengthen a diverse and robust movement for justice.
To that end, we can sometimes provide legal support or research, like the work we did to expose how Flint residents paid the highest water rates in the country at the height of the water crisis there. And exposing the funders behind the Dakota Access Pipeline as the Indigenous community was organizing opposition at Standing Rock is another example of how our strategic, groundbreaking research made a difference.
Our On-The-Ground Work With Coalitions And Partners is at The Heart of Our Mission
Often we are on the ground, working with grassroots environmental justice groups to protect water access and stop dirty energy projects. In doing so, we prioritize building meaningful partnerships and developing smart, strategic campaigns that not only win real improvements in people’s lives but also strengthen our grassroots partners. This approach succeeded in many communities across the country.
The stories below go deeper into the fights we’ve taken on with partners and coalitions all over the country.
Baltimore, MD:Water Justice In An Affordability Crisis
When Pastor Mark James saw a notice on the front door of his church in March 2016 that there was an impending foreclosure, he was shocked. His small congregation, founded by his late mother over 30 years ago, had paid off their mortgage and had made a payment plan with the city for their outstanding water bill. But it was the balance on the water bill combined with an old citation that had forced his church onto the tax sale foreclosure list. A lien on his property was auctioned off by Baltimore City to an out-of-state investor in California.
But Pastor James wasn’t willing to give up his community’s beloved church without a fight. He partnered with State Senator Mary Washington, Food & Water Watch and the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to not only save his church, but also prevent thousands of families and congregations from facing the threat of tax sale foreclosure over our most basic necessity: water.
Baltimore And The Nation Face A Water Affordability Crisis
According to the United Nations, water is affordable when it is no more than 3% of a family’s income. Nearly half of Baltimoreans are billed more than 3% of their household income for water, with some being billed up to 10%. When families inevitably couldn’t afford to pay these bills, like Pastor James, they faced potentially losing their homes through the tax sale foreclosure – for as little as $750 in unaffordable water bills. Coupled with billing errors that sent many incorrect, inflated bills – some as high as $86,000 – that took years to resolve, thousands of Baltimore families and congregations faced the tax sale foreclosure process for water bills each year.
Tax sale foreclosure for unaffordable or incorrect water bills disproportionately impacted lower wealth people, people of color, and seniors. According to Senator Washington, seventy percent of those impacted were Black or people of color, forty percent were disabled, and eleven percent were veterans. The practice of foreclosing was a water injustice, a health injustice, a housing injustice, and a racial injustice. Pastor James was swept into this harmful system because the practice also applied to houses of worship.
Food & Water Watch’s Partnerships Against Water Injustice In Baltimore
Prior to learning about Pastor James’ case, Food & Water Watch had already been working to stop this unjust practice. We had started working on water affordability issues in Baltimore in 2015 after seeing how significant an issue water rates were in the community. The average bill had doubled since 2010 and we heard horrifying stories of people faced with losing their homes or places of worship, or facing water shutoffs due to inability to pay.
We reached out to leaders in the community and community organizations, and helped form the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to fight for water justice. The coalition includes dozens of organizations, including Jews United for Justice, Public Justice Center, University of Baltimore-Community Development Clinic, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Pro Bono Resource Center, and Homeless Persons Representation Project, as well as Pastor James and other religious leaders. Senator Washington (then-Delegate) had sponsored legislation to remove water bills from the tax sale process, and knew that our growing coalition could bring the people-power to win.
With Help From Allies, We Were Able To Help Pastor James Save His Church And Help Others
For two years, Pastor James spoke out against the grave injustice of families losing their homes and churches for unaffordable or incorrect water bills. While in the middle of the fight to keep his church, he spoke out and testified to the legislature and in the media about the importance of the human right to water, and the urgent need for legislative change.
His story humanized this complex and sometimes complicated process, and showed Baltimoreans just what the tax sale process does to community members. He was dedicated to the greater good, and we were dedicated to working with him. Through the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, we helped find legal counsel to represent him and his church while we continued to fight together for legislation to end this practice.
At the 11th hour — just fifteen minutes before the eviction was set to begin — Pastor James won legal reprieve. It was a moment of joy and relief. He would keep his family’s church. But he knew it was not a complete victory until we ensured that families and communities of worship across the city wouldn’t have to face the same battle as he did. Pastor James continued to fight with us to successfully pass state legislation that prevented tax lien sales due to inability to pay water bills and the bill was signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan in 2019.
The campaign succeeded because of a number of factors, but most significant was the strong community partnerships that were formed, and the impacted community members like Pastor James who were willing to share their stories. For Food & Water Watch, it was critical to build trust with local leaders and allies. We showed up and listened to people’s concerns. We participated in their events and actions. We worked hard to build consensus within the coalition and we all worked together towards a common strategy and goal.
Joining Forces To Elevate Voices Of Impacted Community Members Fuels Justice
According to Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer Rianna Eckel, developing strong partnerships and elevating stories about people who were being directly impacted were critical. “My approach was to cast a wide net to groups that were already organizing and working directly with impacted community members,” said Rianna. “We have really strong partnerships with legal aid organizations who are able to bring in experiences and stories of people who are impacted by water injustices in our city. Everyone in the city knew that water affordability was a real problem. We had the capacity to build the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, bringing together the advocates to come up with solutions, and building the power to get them passed .”
In passing the legislation to stop tax lien sales over unaffordable or incorrect water bills, we all celebrated the significant victory, but the fight for water justice was far from over. While the campaign helped thousands of Baltimore residents, it also shifted the political dynamic around the issue, and brought water justice front and center. During the time of the state legislative effort, we successfully passed a local measure that prohibited water privatization in Baltimore and in late 2019, we passed the Water Accountability and Equity Act through City Council to ensure that water is affordable and accessible to all Baltimoreans. None of this would have been possible without strong and enduring partnerships with grassroots allies that continue today and with whom we continue to fight for water justice.
Learn more about the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition by following the coalition on Facebook.
Kearny, NJ: Coalition Was The Key To Fighting Pollution
Fracked gas power plants pose a significant threat to our global climate, but they also produce emissions that threaten local environments and public health. That would have been the case in Kearny, New Jersey, if Food & Water Watch and our grassroots partners had not mounted an aggressive and coordinated campaign to pressure Governor Phil Murphy to put the brakes on what would have been a grave environmental injustice.
Kearny, New Jersey is a small, working-class, largely Latinx community on the Hackensack River. As the home of a superfund site at the location of a former oil reprocessing facility, the area is overburdened with environmental pollution. It’s also surrounded by some of the state’s largest cities that are heavy sources of pollution, the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, the Port of Newark with thousands of diesel truck trips occurring daily, and a trash incinerator in Newark just across the Kearny border.
We Engaged Organizations Locally When We Heard About A Proposed Gas Power Plant
When we heard of plans by New Jersey Transit to place a 140 megawatt gas power plant in the community, we knew the environmental and health impacts on this overburdened community would only increase. We had just celebrated a significant win with a robust coalition in defeating a proposed power plant ten miles up the river, so we decided to engage in this fight too.
Our first step was to reach out to the local impacted community. We knew many of the leading environmental justice organizations from our previous work on power plants and fighting water privatization. Many were overstretched with existing work and were glad to have our expertise and participation. We formed a coalition that included leading environmental and social justice groups including Ironbound Community Corporation, La Casa de Don Pedro and Newark Water Coalition, a local environmental justice group that was working largely on issues around lead pipes but saw the connection between these issues.
According to Anthony Diaz, Co-Founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “Transit headquarters is in Newark and we’re constantly being impacted by a sludge facility, an oil plant, and incinerators…We have to draw the line somewhere. Becoming a part of this coalition allowed me to take the hyper-local fight we were involved in and apply it to the statewide level and even the global level and I’m really really thankful for that.”
Food & Water Watch Finds Ways To Be Of Service To Those We Partner With
Food & Water Watch contributed organizers, research capacity, online tools, and the strategic experience we gained from previous campaigns. Our community partners provided leadership with on-the-ground knowledge of the community and executing key campaign tactics. Together, we built a formidable coalition with more than 60 organizations opposed to the power plant and successfully passed 16 municipal resolutions opposing it including major impacted communities of Newark, Kearny, Jersey City, and Hoboken. We also went door-to-door in the nearby community, informing residents of what was being planned and engaging them to take action.
Significantly, the campaign was diverse in nearly every way. Of particular importance was the intergenerational aspect of the effort. There was an incredibly strong contingent of young leaders who worked alongside seniors and colleagues of all ages. All the work resulted in a decision by New Jersey Transit to stop the gas power plant and instead invest in what will be the largest renewable energy microgrid in the world.
“Working with Food & Water Watch undoubtedly you will get shit done. I’ve seen from the sign- on letters to the direct actions to the door-knocking,” said Anthony Diaz. “There are few organizations that I’m out with heavily and I admire, and it’s a very, very short list I assure you…And I would say FWW is one of those few folks that I do trust.”
Our Partnerships Grow As We Fight The Next Gas Power Plant Together
In the ever-evolving world of politics and government, almost all our victories are incomplete or temporary. While we defeated the gas power plant, we still need to see the renewable energy plans completed. And months following our victory, we learned about plans for another gas plant just two miles away. But we’re in an even better position to defeat that one due to the victory in Kearny, and the organizations we partnered with in the fight are also stronger and many of them are with us again in this next campaign. We are all in a better position to build on our wins to deliver even bigger and more significant change in the years to come.
Learn more about the Newark Water Coalition and how to support their efforts by visiting their website.
Delmarva Peninsula: Fighting Injustice In Our Food System
The food system in the United States is industrialized, consolidated, and rooted in inequality and racism. Stemming from a system based on stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen resources, our food system perpetuates injustice. This is most apparent on factory farms, with farmers often locked into abusive contracts, local environments overrun with pollution, and low wealth communities and communities of color bearing the burden.
Chicken Factory Farms On The Eastern Shore Poison Air and Water
Since our start, Food & Water Watch has worked at the national level to fight an unjust food system and for the bold changes needed for sustainability and justice. An area of focus for us for nearly a decade has been the industrial poultry operations on the Delmarva Peninsula – on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware where massive factory chicken farms poison the air and water.
The factory farm industry is massive in relation to the population and size of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The millions of “broilers” – chickens raised for eating – produce hundredsof millions of pounds of excrement resulting in air and water pollution and related public health impacts. In 2017, factory farmed broilers were responsible for 560 million pounds of waste and in places like Somerset County —which is 43 percent African American and has the lowest average household income of any county in Maryland — factory farm chicken waste is produced at three times the rate of human waste.
Public Health Impacts Are Worst For Vulnerable Communities Near Chicken Factory Farms
The impacts of these factory farms on public health are staggering. Somerset County has some of the worst health outcomes in the state including some of the highest cancer rates.The counties with large numbers of factory farms also have some of the highest rates of lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes in the state. In some parts of the region, up to one in four children suffers from asthma.
The impacts of factory farms fall disproportionately on poor and Black communities due to how and where these facilities are placed. In Wicomico county, for example, the industry tried to site what would have been the largest chicken operation ever — a ten-house complex holding 483,000 chickens — in a community that is 80% African American. Food & Water Watch has partnered for years with the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, Wicomico County NAACP and other local groups to fight proposals like this and pass state legislation requiring the state to monitor air pollution from chicken factory farms, assess health risks to people living nearby, and require transparent recommendations to lawmakers to improve air quality.
We Joined Forces With The Community To Combat A Major Polluter And Won
In addition, communities are also impacted by the processing plants and biogas facilities that take on the waste from both the growing and processing of poultry. In Delaware, we worked with Gina Burton, the granddaughter of a sharecropper who lost her son due to environmental pollution caused by mega poultry processor Mountaire. Mountaire moved into Millsboro, Delaware promising to bring good jobs and be good neighbors. Instead, they brought polluted air and dirty drinking water. A significant number of wells in nearby communities had such high levels of nitrates that citizens were at risk of serious health problems, including “blue baby syndrome,” some forms of cancer and autoimmune disease.
With the help of organizations like the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Gina and her neighbors started to mobilize their community and reached out to Public Justice and Food & Water Watch for legal, organizing, and media support. Food & Water Watch worked with Public Justice to put Mountaire on notice that we would sue them under federal law if they didn’t clean up their act. We also helped the community to reach media outlets, and we set up meetings for them to pressure some of the most powerful decision-makers in Delaware, including Senator Tom Carper.
Due to this pressure, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control entered into an agreement with Mountaire including much of what Millsboro citizens were seeking in their lawsuit. Mountaire must now provide clean drinking water to the community, build a state-of-the-art treatment plant to deal with the plant’s waste and to ensure third-party monitoring of groundwater and spray fields to ensure proper compliance with the law.
This victory proves that when communities come together they can take on moneyed interests and win. One of our strongest partners who is on the front lines in Delaware is Maria Payan, Southern Region Coordinator with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-chair of Sussex County Health and Environmental Network. Maria works closely with communities fighting factory farms and we have worked together for over a decade. She was instrumental in the Mountaire fight, and she’s also one of the leaders in the fight against the latest destructive industry proposal – a massive factory farm gas facility in her county.
Defeating Pollution Multipliers Like Biogas Schemes Are A Big Focus In Our Partnerships
The factory farm gas proposal, from the firm Bioenergy, would build a large anaerobic digester to generate methane from over 200,000 tons of waste from factory farmed chicken growing and processing –the manure and also the blood, guts, and feathers left over from slaughtering. The project is slated to be placed in a community that has twice the number of people of color and is twice as poor as the rest of the surrounding Sussex County and residents will be forced to bear the brunt of the inevitable air and water pollution from the plant and the constant truck traffic that goes along with it.
This project will also drive even more expansion of factory farms, as Bioenergy has already contracted with mega grower Perdue for their waste. Further, the factory farm gas is essentially methane – a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 years period. Leaks through the production and transportation process will help accelerate climate change.
Strong Partnerships Are How We Win Against Factory Farms And Biogas Schemes
Defeating the Bioenergy project – like our efforts to rein in factory farms on Maryland’s eastern shore and the fight against Mountaire – is an uphill battle. Industry has massive amounts of money and political connections. But we know from our previous success banning arsenic in chicken feed in Maryland several years back and our recent success in Delaware battling Mountaire that we can win when we are able to build strong partnerships with regional, state, and grassroots allies on the ground.
We have spent years developing strong relationships in Delaware and Maryland with grassroots partners based on mutual trust and support. According to Maria Payan, the partnerships work because of our approach. “When Food & Water Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in the communities and advance something, but those local groups have a seat at the table and that’s so important. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something on and go on their own and do it…It is the community fighting their fight with the assistance of Food & Watch.”
As we move forward to ensure that Mountaire complies with its settlement agreement and to fight the factory farm gas plant in Seaford we are continuing that approach, reaching out to local leaders for advice and partnership. We have an organizer on the ground in Delaware working with residents and local leaders to re-energize and build upon the powerful coalition and campaign started against Mountaire to stop the factory farm gas facility from ever being built.
It will take a tremendous effort from a broad cross-section of organizations at the federal, state, and local level to bring justice to our food system. Food & Water Watch is committed to working with community partners across Maryland, Delaware, and the rest of the country for the long haul to make this transformation happen.
Learn more about the Sussex County Health and Environmental Network and how to support their efforts by visiting their website.
Ventura County, CA: Coalition Work Wins The Day
Just off the California coast between Malibu and Santa Barbara, Oxnard is an often overlooked community of 200,000 largely working-class people. The city — seventy-five percent Latinx — is the largest in Ventura County and spans from the coast inland, bordering a big agricultural region where strawberries are grown, among other crops. Oxnard’s piece of the iconic California coast is dotted by fossil fuel power plants and its residents have suffered environmental injustices at the hands of the fossil fuel industry.
How We Got Started In Oxnard
Food & Water Watch had engaged in a limited way in Ventura County early on in our campaign to ban fracking in California. But in 2014, we placed a full-time organizer there because the county is a large oil and gas producing region; helping curb the fossil fuel industry there would have significant impacts across the state.
We planned on working to stop fracking and drilling, but we quickly learned that the more immediate fight in the community centered on a proposed fracked gas power plant that would further harm residents. Many parts of Oxnard already have asthma rates above the 90th percentile in California, and Oxnard has more power plants along its coast than any other city in California. Members of the community and grassroots organizations told us that this was a major priority. We clearly saw the connection between fracked gas infrastructure and the need to stop drilling altogether.
Joining Forces With CAUSE And Other Allies In Ventura County
Food & Water Watch leapt into action, partnering with Central Coast United Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), the lead grassroots group organizing the fight against the power plant. We helped petition, make calls, organize rallies, conducted trainings and hired interns for the campaign. We engaged people by going door to door and talking with people about the power plant, its impacts, and what people could do about it. With CAUSE, we built a coalition around defeating the power plant with dozens of groups. Our coalition met monthly to plot strategy and develop tactics. We merged our campaign expertise from running dozens of campaigns across the country with the local knowledge and experience of our partners.
According to Tomás Rebecchi, Central Coast Organizing Manager at Food & Water Watch, a key to building these strong partnerships was being intentional and putting in time to develop relationships. “You can’t just drop in and say this is what we’re doing. Food & Water Watch had our back and gave us space and time to build those relationships. Building trust and relationships take time but by showing up, lending support, and listening, we were able to build a powerful campaign and coalition which has changed the face of Ventura County.”
The campaign also prioritized justice and impacted residents. We worked hard to give all members of the community the tools they needed to speak out at City Council meetings, including language access through translation which was not previously provided. We had to fight for that, but in the end, some decision-makers said those comments helped impact their decision the most.
Showing Each Other Winning Is Possible Through People Power
All of this resulted in a historic victory for the people of Oxnard against the fossil fuel industry. After four years, we defeated the proposed power plant. More significantly, we shifted the balance of power in a county that had been dominated by oil and gas interests for years. Prior to the power plant campaign, fracking and drilling permits were rubber-stamped and environmental and health concerns were always set to the side. But this campaign showed people what’s possible through organizing.
“Food & Water Watch has led so many campaigns that have put Ventura County on the map about pushing back against oil and gas. There is so much work to do but our organizations are… working together to transform what our communities look like and transforming them to serve our frontline communities,” said Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE. “That’s what keeps me in this work – the partnerships and the folks that we work with together — we’re really making these changes and bringing in the most impacted communities to be part of the fight, and Food & Water Watch is very intentional about that.”
The power plant campaign spun off other related efforts. We worked – also in partnership with CAUSE and other community allies – to block dozens of new proposed oil wells and win a setback — the strongest in the state — to prevent oil drilling near homes and schools.
None of this would have happened without strong partnerships with local community allies. Learning from local leaders, honoring their local knowledge, and respectfully partnering with them to advance their priorities was critical. Our work in Oxnard and Ventura County is far from done, but we are now stronger than ever and our collective power is apparent.
The Work Continues In Ventura County To Beat Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
SoCalGas recently announced plans to double the size of a toxic gas compressor across the street from an elementary school in a disadvantaged community, but we were ready with our coalition of allies to fight back and protect our communities. Defeating that project is the next step in our efforts going forward as we work towards a more just, healthy and environmentally sustainable Ventura County.
Learn more about CAUSE and how to support their efforts in Ventura by visiting their website.
Water Justice In Baltimore
In Baltimore, we’ve worked for more than a decade on issues related to water access and privatization. When Pastor Mark James was threatened with foreclosure on his community’s church, Food & Water Watch partnered with him and other local and state allies in the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to pass legislation that would prevent foreclosures and tax sales for failure to pay water bills. For a city with significant poverty where thousands of people are burdened by unaffordable bills, this was a major victory. Pastor James’ Barnes Memorial Church faced imminent foreclosure, but Food & Water Watch assisted him in finding legal counsel, and together we worked to get the law changed. It was a successful and fruitful partnership that resolved the foreclosure action, but also led to statewide legislation impacting thousands of people. According to Pastor James, “the work that Food & Water Watch does really is a model to be studied…It’s a trend setter to watch how they operate and how they communicate and how they with little means can be so effective.”
The Fight Against Fracked Gas Plants In Oxnard, California
In Ventura County, California, Food & Water Watch has successfully partnered with local allies to stop a polluting fracked gas power plant in the largely Latinx and environmentally over-burdened community of Oxnard. Our partnership with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which began in 2015, resulted in not only the defeat of the power plant, but subsequent wins blocking proposed oil drilling and water privatization. As Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE said, “Working with Food & Water Watch is like working with community. There are two forms of power out there. There’s the power of money and there’s the power of community — the power of organizing…Food & Water watch brings…their state relationships with reporters and organizations and lawyers and resources… [they are] such a vital partner of ours and we’re so happy to be working on these campaigns together throughout the years and throughout our communities, because when we’ve worked together, we’ve had very real success…”
New Jersey Coalition Work Has Been Crucial In Stopping Fracked Gas
In New Jersey, we have worked to build strong coalitions to fight against power plants near Newark and Jersey City. Working closely with the Newark Water Coalition and others from 2019-2020 when we defeated the proposed New Jersey Transit fracked gas power plant in a largely Latinx community in Kearny, New Jersey, that was impacted by several other sources of industrial pollution. Not only was the campaign successful, but the Newark Water Coalition was stronger as a result of the campaign. According to Anthony Diaz, co-founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “the coalition fight against this power plant legitimized Newark Water Coalition on the statewide level, allowed us to have so many connections, and join a world that historically as an activist and organizer I was never part of.”
Factory Farm Fights In Maryland and Delaware
On the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland and part of Delaware, communities are overburdened by the impacts of factory farms – the waste from over 300 million chickens that in some places is so bad that one in four children have asthma as a result. Food & Water Watch is partnering with groups to stop a massive factory farm gas facility in Delaware that would drive further expansion of factory farms and have significant local impacts in a lower income largely Latinx community that is already burdened by a superfund site. Maria Payan, co-founder of Sussex Health and Environmental Network is glad to have Food & Water Watch in the fight because “when Food & Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in communities. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something, and go on their own and do it.”
Building strong community partnerships to advance environmental justice doesn’t happen by accident. It flows from our organizational values, intentional interaction with partners, listening, supporting, and showing up. Working to build the power needed to win campaigns against powerful adversaries isn’t easy, but we know that to win at the local, state, or national level, we need to center justice, work to strengthen local organizations, and build powerful diverse coalitions.
Local, Grassroots Work Is Integral To State And National Campaigns
These partnerships lead to winning campaigns, but they have also helped advance state and national efforts. Championing water access in Baltimore was critical to advancing state legislation and supports the call for national water legislation, which we are pursuing through the WATER Act. Fighting power plants in Ventura and New Jersey supports broader statewide efforts to get two key Democratic Governors to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the national campaign to ban fracking everywhere. Working to stop a major factory farm gas facility in Delaware and factory farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland help elevate the need to ban factory farms at the national level through the Farm System Reform Act and for President Biden to reject factory farm gas as part of our national energy program – especially important as his home state is Delaware.
Ultimately, Food & Water Watch wants to help drive systemic changes that will lead to economic, environmental, and racial justice. That means building power so that we can hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make and push them to advance the bold change we need.
To win real improvements in people’s lives and build the kind of society we want, we must engage in districts where there are key members of Congress and places that will be important to move our elected officials. We’re not a large organization. That means we have to be strategic about where we engage to make the most progress in stopping destructive measures and passing the legislation that will create the country we want.
At a time of great racial and economic inequality, we reaffirm our values and continue to strive to improve how Food & Water Watch works alongside and in support of our allies. One thing we are certain of is this: to win long term and meaningful solutions to our food, water, and climate challenges, we must continue to support communities that have borne the brunt of environmental pollution and continue to build meaningful and lasting partnerships, so we can be more powerful together and win the fundamental changes that are so badly needed.
Spread the word: California deserves better climate action!
Over 100,000 legal claims from consumers finally prompted Bayer to announce last month that it will remove glyphosate from its residential-use weed killers, including Roundup, beginning in 2023 (newsflash: still not soon enough). Bayer (which now owns Monsanto) said it will replace glyphosate with a different alternative.
In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen but Monsanto — as the company was then known — initiated a PR blitz to contradict that finding. This included paying scientists to conduct an “independent” review of glyphosate to give the toxic chemical a bill of good health, and wooing officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tasked with reviewing the pesticide’s cancer effects. This interference heavily muddied the waters and likely influenced EPA to find that glyphosate didn’t pose a cancer risk to humans.
But what a government agency that is supposed to protect us didn’t do, and what a corporation hellbent on protecting its profits wouldn’t proactively do, thousands of costly lawsuits finally accomplished. Still, this voluntary removal of glyphosate from residential-use products doesn’t go nearly far enough, and we won’t rest until the EPA bans glyphosate altogether.
Here’s a brief history of how Monsanto/Bayer has manipulated science and government agencies in order to keep selling their deadly money-maker.
Court Documents Revealed Monsanto’s Playbook To Obscure Roundup’s Cancer Link
In March of 2017, a federal judge unsealed court documents that detailed the lengths Monsanto went to twist the public narrative and EPA review in order to continue selling glyphosate under the claim that it was safe.
For instance, an internal PowerPoint outlines Monsanto’s strategy for countering the damning classification as a probable carcinogen. One suggestion was to publish a paper analyzing the animal data that the WHO used in its cancer assessment, noting that the “majority of writing can be done by Monsanto, keeping OS$ [costs] down.” It suggested recruiting external scientists like Helmut Greim, who co-authored a Monsanto-funded analysis the following year that — unsurprisingly — concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic to laboratory animals.
They also ghost-wrote papers and paid “independent” scientists to put their names on them, and stopped working with scientists who wouldn’t present findings the way they instructed.
EPA’s framework for assessing the public health risk posed by pesticides like Roundup relies heavily on industry-funded science, which makes the process vulnerable to this kind of predetermined conclusion-driven approach. It is also why advocates worry that glyphosate’s replacement could have its own health risks, but still be given the green light by EPA.
Injured Users Of Roundup And Advocacy Groups Like Food & Water Watch Took Action When EPA Did Not
For years while we’ve been waiting for EPA to do the scientifically sound thing by banning glyphosate, we also sounded the alarm ourselves, publishing research and educating citizens about its danger.
We compiled data that showed glyphosate:
Is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormone levels, even when glyphosate residue on foods is present below allowable thresholds;
Is probably carcinogenic, linked strongly to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer — whose assessment has underpinned many of the lawsuits filed against Monsanto/Bayer;
May contribute to antibiotic resistance in certain bacteria;
May be linked to reproductive issues and birth defects; and
Is widely present in our food — meaning this voluntary suspension of consumer-level Roundup sales does not go far enough and we still need EPA to act.
It’s Time For EPA To Do Its Job To Protect The Public And Ban Glyphosate
Bayer’s press release announcing the move to eventually pull glyphosate from their products confirms that they have no plans to stop selling it for large-scale agricultural uses — which is the path by which it ends up in so many of the foods in our grocery stores:
This move is being made exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns. As the vast majority of claims in the litigation come from Lawn & Garden market users, this action largely eliminates the primary source of future claims beyond an assumed latency period. There will be no change in the availability of the company’s glyphosate formulations in the U.S. professional and agricultural markets.
This statement implies that Bayer/Monsanto has no qualms about continuing to cause harm to consumers, as long as they feel adequately shielded from liability for that harm.
This is why we can’t rely on corporations to do what’s right, and we must insist the EPA do its job and ban glyphosate everywhere, for good.
Humanity received a stark warning this week. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released on August 9, 2021 and it was a grave moment of recognition for those who are paying attention to climate change. Like previous reports, but in more urgent and clear terms, the scientific report was a devastating account of the impact of fossil fuels on our climate, and what the future holds if we do not radically shift course.
While the key messages from the report are far from new (scientists have been warning about the impact of human activity on the climate for generations), the urgency of the writing and call to action — as we are in the midst of climate change supercharged fires, droughts, extreme heat, and an impending hurricane season — was more clear than ever.
As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, the report “is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
The report is long and detailed — the summary version alone is 42 pages — with lots of interesting, devastating, and somewhat depressing scientific reality. Ultimately, though, that reality shows us why we must act now. Here are five key takeaways you should know about.
1. Climate Change is Here, Escalating, and Being Driven by Fossil Fuels
The report lays out in great detail the scientific consensus that not only have fossil fuels driven the climate crisis, but that because of the tremendous amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere, 1.5 degrees of warming is already a certainty, regardless of what policies we enact. According to the report, “many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”
This does not mean action is futile — to the contrary the report highlights how much worse things will get if we continue on our present course and how much destruction will be avoided if we make major changes now. But in the short term, droughts, fires, extreme heat, and other climate impacts will continue to increase. As climate scientist Michael Mann said in response to the report, “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here.”
2. Methane in Particular is A Key Driver of Climate Chaos
In addition to the need to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, the report also focused on the need to slash methane emissions. Methane is the core component of natural gas and as a greenhouse gas is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. Fracking and factory farms have been key drivers of methane increases — it’s no coincidence that these are the two bans we’ve been calling for nationally.
Food & Water Watch has been warning about the impact of methane from fracking and fracked gas infrastructure for years and the IPCC concurred. According to the report, “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 (methane) emissions” would help limit warming and improve air quality.
As IPCC report reviewer Durwood Zaelke told Reuters, “cutting methane is the single biggest and fastest strategy for slowing down warming.”
3. We Can Still Avoid the Worst Impacts of Runaway Climate change, But We Must Act Now
Despite the bleak outlook, the report does have one silver lining and that is if we act now — and act boldly — we can still avoid a much worse climate future, which will make a tremendous difference in how livable our planet is and in the lives of millions of people.
According to the report, “with every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger.” We have a chance to significantly limit warming if we act now to rein in fossil fuels. It will make the difference between 1.5 degrees of warming and 4.4 degrees. In practical terms, this will mean significantly less drought, extreme weather, fires, flooding, and overall destruction.
4. We Must Immediately Stop Subsidizing the Fossil Fuel Industry and Halt New Fracking, Pipelines and Other Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
There is a clear path back from the climate cliff, but it will entail bold action at every level of government. It will mean we stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, ban fracking, halt new fossil fuel power plants, pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure, ban factory farms and transition away from industrial agriculture, and make bold investments in renewable energy, regional sustainable agriculture, and invest to make our water systems, housing, and other infrastructure climate resilient.
Meaningfully taking on and dismantling the fossil fuel industry as we transition to a 100% renewable energy system must be a core focus. As the United Nations Secretary General said on the release of the report, “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021… Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.”
5. Biden Must Take Bold Action to Lead Us Back From the Climate Cliff
The climate crisis requires bold leadership. The United States has been responsible for more emissions than any other country on earth and is the largest economy in the world. President Biden could use his platform and executive powers as President of the United States to rally the global community to take on this crisis head on.
He could look at the science and call for an immediate halt to new fossil fuel projects, he could call for an immediate ban on fracking to tackle the methane issue head on, and he could lead a quick and immediate transition away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, President Biden, despite calling climate change an existential threat, continues to advance half measures and in many cases continues to approve oil and gas projects. We have been tracking the moves by his administration and they include approving massive amounts of fracking and drilling permits, backing the dirty and destructive Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines, promoting fracked gas exports, and supporting a project in Alaska that will produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day for 30 years.
Taking action against these projects does not require congressional approval. They are all within President Biden’s executive authority.
The day the report was released, Biden tweeted, “We can’t wait to tackle the climate crisis. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting.” We couldn’t agree more. President Biden needs to lead with his actions and it’s up to us to compel him to do it.
Your friends need to see this and we all need to demand more of President Biden.
The Salesforce Business Analyst participates in all phases of our Salesforce processes including requirement documentation, user stories, solution design, unit testing, and project management. The solutions provided can vary from creating/updating approval processes, workflows, validation rules, managing third-party AppExchange products, fields and page layout, and various other Salesforce configurations. They have an advanced understanding of the Salesforce capabilities to ensure the best solution is provided to the stakeholders.
This role requires organization, initiative, creativity, and the ability to act as a solution consultant for internal stakeholders leveraging our Salesforce technology and digital solutions. This person is responsible for working with users from all programs/departments internally at all levels within Food & Water Watch. They are able to speak about and present both strategic and tactical items; they liaison with programs/stakeholders to help translate their requirements into technical solutions. They collaborate with developers to test and verify that solutions meet the business requirements and participate in key meetings with stakeholders including requirement sessions, system demos, user acceptance testing, and end-user training.
The ideal candidate has prior experience in the Salesforce ecosystem, Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), Nonprofit processes, and has a desire to learn about our Salesforce ecosystem and internal processes.
Essential Duties and Responsibilities
Supervise and manage staff charged with designing and developing business intelligence and reporting solutions for complex analysis.
Gather, understand, and define program business requirements, business processes as well as documenting the programs objectives, use cases/stories, business requirements, and system specifications.
Develop/enhance user stories and to-be process flows to support the design and development of Salesforce solutions
Work collaboratively with team members to design a solution that meets a program’s business requirements and fulfill user stories.
Collaborate on the configuration for user stories within Salesforce, AppExchange products, or other cloud-based technologies.
Collaborate with developers to test and verify that solutions meet the program’s business requirements.
Troubleshoot and resolve basic and advanced support issues as needed when an issue is escalated.
Other duties as assigned.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent experience required
Excellent interpersonal, writing and verbal skills are required
Passion for the mechanics of fundraising and building a culture of philanthropy
Approach interactions with donors and supporters with a customer-service mindset
Ability to work well with a wide range of people, under pressure in a fast-paced environment
Ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously with close attention to detail
Good computer skills are required, including strong proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite and Google Docs
Experience with Salesforce or similar database, or a demonstrated capacity to learn new technology quickly and effectively
Strong interest in and commitment to promoting the goals of Food & Water Watch
QUALIFICATIONS: To perform this job successfully, the person in this position has a high degree of contact with Salesforce, Marketing Cloud, and Related Application Users; a moderate degree of contact with other staff; and a low degreeof contact with Non-Salesforce Users.
The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.
Bachelor’s Degree (BA, BS, etc.) and 4-6 years of fundraising experience in a relevant field or program. We are seeking an individual who has:
Bachelor’s degree in a technology field preferred.
Experience with Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) and Nonprofit processes preferred.
Salesforce Admin (ADX201 and ADX211) certified preferred.
Experience with Salesforce technical solutions such as workflow rules, process builder, flow designed, validation rules, custom fields, page layouts, Lightning designer and working with AppExchange products.
2+ years’ Business Analyst experience or focus on project/program management.
2+ years’ experience leveraging and configuring the Salesforce platform to develop a solution.
1+ years’ experience soliciting, gathering, and analyzing user input and requirements.
1+ years’ experience documenting user stories and creating to-be process flow diagrams.
Compensation is dependent upon experience and based on labor market.
Computer Skills: The incumbent must work in a computerized environment and have adequate knowledge of word processing, email, internet, and spreadsheet software; have coursework or certification in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and proficiency with all other Microsoft Office products.
Click here to apply. Please include your resume, cover letter and three professional references to be considered.
We will review your application and if we feel that your knowledge, skills and abilities are potentially a good match for our organization, we will be in contact with you. Please include a Cover Letter with your submission. Position open until filled. Incomplete applications will not be considered. Food & Water Watch (FWW) strives for a diverse work environment and encourages women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and individuals with disabilities to apply.
Food & Water Watch is committed to the health and safety of its staff members. Moreover, FWW, as an organization, promotes science-based policy. Science clearly shows that unvaccinated populations drive the spread of the coronavirus and the emergence of new variants, and that unvaccinated people are more likely to contract COVID and experience severe symptoms. Effective immediately, prospective new staff members are required to provide proof of vaccination or request a waiver as a condition of their offer of employment.
President Biden has promised to address the climate crisis, which he has called the “existential threat of our times.”
His administration claims to be pushing to achieve carbon-free power by 2035, and has set a goal of having a “net zero” economy by the year 2050. And he repeatedly vowed that he would stop fracking on public lands: “No more fracking on public lands. Period. Period.”
And when Biden signed his climate-focused executive orders in January, he declared: “It’s not time for small measures. We need to be bold.”
But do his administration’s words and actions meet his promises? In short, no. We have receipts and we’ll keep tracking them — check them out below.
During a Senate confirmation hearing, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm argued that fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere: “If we are going to get to net carbon zero emissions by 2050, we cannot do it without coal, oil, and gas being part of the mix.”
When announcing his executive order on public lands drilling, Biden declared:
“Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up: We’re not going to ban fracking.”
Joe, we already know you don’t support a ban on fracking. You should.
In written answers submitted as part of her Senate confirmation hearings, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm promotes the export of fracked gas as a clean energy solution:
“I believe U.S. LNG exports can have an important role to play in reducing international consumption of fuels that have greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.”
Swapping one form of dirty energy for another is not progress.
Tell the Biden Administration that our future MUST be fracking-free. Our existence depends on it.
E&E News reports on an Oval Office meeting with labor leaders, one of whom recounts their conversation:
“I brought up natural gas specifically to him, we spoke about pipelines … and he says, ‘I’m all for natural gas.'”
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm touts the potential of carbon capture — a false solution that only perpetuates dirty energy and fossil fuel profits:
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that you can’t get to net-zero carbon emissions without carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). We are excited about that. Obviously, it’s still nascent technology in capturing CO2 emissions, but we’ve got to do it on all types of fuel, if we’re going to get to net zero. I’m really excited about it, especially for communities in transition. You think of Appalachia, for example: They have coal; they have natural gas. Those workers, if they’re interested, could shift skills to be able to do installation of this technology. The CO2 pipelines that will be necessary for it could put lots of people to work, so I think it’s a big job opportunity, I think it’s a big carbon reduction opportunity, and we’re going to be bullish about it.”
Many billions have been spent on carbon capture — with essentially zero to show for it. The only people more excited to tout CCUS are the fossil fuel corporations who use it in their greenwashing ads.
Despite his vow to rein in fracking on public lands, Argus Media reports that the Biden Interior Department “has approved 200 drilling permits over the past two weeks… The surge in activity brings the number of approved drilling permits to 229 since Biden took office.”
Reports surface that White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy met privately with oil industry representatives to discuss “shared priorities.” The White House declined to provide a list of the attendees, but did explain that McCarthy “made clear that the Administration is not fighting the oil and gas sector,” and asked the oil industry representatives to present “ideas for addressing the climate crisis and reducing emissions.”
Climate envoy John Kerry tells a finance group:
“No government is going to solve this problem…The solutions are going to come from the private sector.”
He added: “What the government needs to do is create a framework within which the private sector can do what it does best, which is allocate capital and innovate.”
Kerry was also quoted as saying, “I think we’re on the cusp of a massive transformation… And ultimately, the market is going to make the decisions, not the government.”
Of course, decisions made by the market are what created the problem in the first place.
In a court filing, Biden’s Army Corps of Engineers re-affirms its opposition to shutting down the controversial oil pipeline while a court-ordered environmental review is underway. In response, Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman said, “It’s baffling that when it comes to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Biden’s Army Corps is standing in the way of justice for Standing Rock by opposing a court order to shut down this infrastructure while environmental and safety consequences are fully evaluated.”
The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are appealing a court ruling that found the government failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of issuing new fracking leases in Wayne National Forest in Ohio. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity told Reuters:
“There’s a wide and dangerous chasm between the Biden administration’s climate rhetoric and its defense of unlawful fracking.”
“We want to be a partner. And first, let me be clear, in our position as a global supplier of crude oil and natural gas and other forms of energy, that traditional fossil energy is going to remain important, even as we work to reduce carbon emissions.”
Under the headline “Biden’s Drilling Moratorium Is Not A Moratorium,” the Daily Poster reports:
“the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has already broken Biden’s campaign promise by approving more than five hundred new drilling permits for previously existing leases since Biden took office.”
According to E&E News, the Interior Department has “issued dozens of oil leases sold in the final weeks of the Trump administration — and could issue over 200 more — drawing the ire of an environmental group that argues the move is a violation of the Biden administration’s leasing freeze.”
Jeremy Nichols of the group WildEarth Guardians told the outlet that a lawsuit is “definitely on the table.”
E&E News reports:
The Biden administration yesterday advanced a proposal for oil and gas exploration on the back steps of the Dinosaur National Monument, sparking criticism from Utah public land advocates.
The permits were approved two years ago, but thanks to pressure from environmental groups the Trump administration remanded them for additional environmental analysis.
The Biden administration is defending a huge Trump-era oil and gas project in the North Slope of Alaska designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, despite President Biden’s pledge to pivot the country away from fossil fuels.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited a hydrogen facility in Texas to promote fossil fuels:
“We want to be able to promote and sell clean technologies… That could be natural gas that has been decarbonized, or that could be natural gas where the methane flaring has been eliminated.”
This rhetoric is basically indistinguishable from industry PR.
According to statistics from the Bureau of Land Management, from the start of February to the end of April, the administration approved 1,179 drilling permits on federal lands, not far from the four-year high of nearly 1,400 approved over a similar three-month period at the end of Trump’s term.
While national media cover a series of intense grassroots actions demanding that the White House stop the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, the administration studiously refuses to comment. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that a group of oil executives was having a private meeting at the White House with climate advisor Gina McCarthy.
Speaking at a nuclear industry conference, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm calls nuclear power “an absolutely critical part of our decarbonization equation” and touts the administration’s nearly $2 billion nuclear power budget request. “The administration is ready to walk the walk,” she added.
“Advanced nuclear holds so much potential,” she said, adding that she envisions small nuclear reactors working with renewables and carbon capture as part of a zero-carbon grid of the future.
The Washington Examiner reports that Andrew Light — Biden’s nominee to be the deputy assistant secretary for international affairs at the Energy Department — wants to see more fracked gas exports:
“My job in this role is to make sure U.S. gas is competitive around the world…Russia has the dirtiest source of gas right now. We’ve got to make sure ours is cleaner and that ours fill those markets around the world. That’s what I intend to do.”
He added that he seeks to make the United States the leaders in “abated natural gas technology around the world.” Fracking without the pollution — what a concept. Too bad it’s fiction.
Gizmodo reports that the administration is nominating Neil MacBride for Treasury general counsel — who recently sued the Treasury Department on behalf of Exxon.
Reporting from a G7 summit focused on climate action, Politico reports that the Biden administration helped to block more forceful action on phasing out coal:
“The Biden administration — fixated on cultivating the Democrats’ razor-thin Senate majority and the coal mining sympathies of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin — was wary of any language specifically clamping down on coal.”
The Energy Department announced $12 million to fund ‘direct air capture’ projects, which it touted as a chance to remove 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. DAC is a highly expensive and mostly theoretical enterprise, but to put this in perspective, the largest corporate polluter in 2018 was responsible for 119 million tons of CO2 equivalent.
Speaking about the White House’s vision for a clean energy standard, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that fracked gas would qualify if paired with some form of carbon capture:
“I think that if you combined natural gas with carbon removal so that it was really clean and that you had zero carbon emissions.”
There is no such technology to remove emissions from gas power plants. And even if it did exist, that would still leave all of the other associated problems with fracking — methane leakage, water contamination and pollution at the well sites — as well as the other air pollutants created by gas-fired power plants.
At a House committee hearing, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told lawmakers,
“I don’t think there is a plan right now for a permanent ban” on oil and gas drilling on public lands. Those comments directly contradict Biden’s repeated promises to ban fracking on public lands.
Haaland added that “gas and oil production will continue well into the future.”
A growing, powerful grassroots movement is demanding that President Biden stop the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline under construction in Minnesota. The White House responds by filing a brief backing the Trump administration’s approval of the project. The Justice Department, as Gizmodo reported, “asked the court to reject any more arguments from environmental and Indigenous groups and allow the pipeline to move forward.”
The case, brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, seeks to challenge a US Army Corps of Engineers water permit. As Tara Houska of Giniw Collective put it, “This is a horrific failure of the government’s duty to tribal nations, to climate science, to the sacred.”
In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm boasts that the White House support for “significant” carbon capture research funding is good news:
“These kinds of technologies will help for the oil and gas sector to be able to ramp up production, but in a way that’s clean.”
This is welcome news for the fossil fuel industry — which loves to tout carbon capture as a climate solution, even though there’s basically no such thing. Granholm is correct that this could easily ramp up oil and gas drilling — which is the opposite of what we should be doing right now.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality submits a report to Congress laying out the ways it could support the fossil fuel industry’s carbon capture plans. The report envisions an array of options, including efforts to streamline permitting for carbon storage facilities and new pipelines.
White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy released a memo that was intended to demonstrate the Biden administration’s commitment to its climate and clean energy goals. But the memo actually does the opposite. Instead of explicitly supporting a bonafide standard for clean, renewable energy, the memo touts the leveraging of ‘market signals’ and other technocratic rhetoric that is decades out of date.
According to a report from Bloomberg Government, a draft of a long-awaited White House report on fracking on public lands “falls short of the outright ban,” promised during the campaign, and will only recommend changes to the royalty rates paid by drillers and other minor tweaks. Increasing royalty rates for drilling only entrenches our dependence on fossil fuels.
The Associated Press reports that “approvals for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. public lands are on pace this year to reach their highest level since George W. Bush was president.” The Interior Department approved about 2,500 permits to drill on public and tribal lands in the first six months of the year — more than 2,100 drilling approvals since Biden took office on Jan. 20.
DeSmog publishes a lengthy investigation into Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s blueprint to build a massive new network of carbon dioxide pipelines, a plan that is being promoted within the Biden administration, with Deputy Energy Secretary Dave Turk appearing at the launch event to offer supportive commentary.
As DeSmog notes, building a vast array of new pipelines and storage facilities will be a boon to fossil fuel polluters “by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.”
Nonetheless, the report impressed Turk who said the report “is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress.” Turk added that the administration was pushing for billions of dollars to fund carbon capture: So we’ve got some tools on the table right now at the Department of Energy but we’re really hoping and it’s encouraging to see the bipartisan support for CCUS up on the Hill.”
Climate envoy John Kerry gives a speech in London where he endorses the argument that we do not need to build any new fossil fuel infrastructure — which is a welcome message indeed. But he also endorsed some much less worthwhile ideas:
“We’ll also need to develop the equivalent of installing the largest carbon capture storage facility currently in operation, but we have to do that every 9 days through 2030.”
Given that such facilities basically do not exist, we shouldn’t be building a new one every week or so. This kind of carbon capture rhetoric exists to lengthen the life of fossil fuel corporations, instead of ending the dirty energy era.
In an E & E News piece about how Biden’s EPA still does not have a clear policy on regulating power plant emissions, climate adviser Gina McCarthy applauds the utility industry’s various ‘net zero’ plans and voluntary emissions reduction goals (which critics have derided for being weak).
“They’re doing it because they’re good capitalists … They know where the money is. They know where the future is.”
E&E News/Politico reports that the White House is doing favors for a major coal operator:
“The Biden administration this spring cut the royalty fees a mining company is required to pay on coal dug up at two major operations on public land in the West, an Interior Department database shows.”
The requests came last year for two of the company’s mines. The report suggests the Biden administration slashed the royalty rate to 2% at the Coal Creek mine in Wyoming. Arch did not comment on the decision, but the company’s latest earnings report showed them posting a net income of $30 million in the second quarter.
Another coal company — Peabody — is awaiting word on its own application for royalty relief from the Biden administration.
The Intercept reports that the White House-backed Senate infrastructure plan “would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.” That total does not include the existing $15 billion in fossil fuel subsidies, and would serve to lay the groundwork for a major expansion of polluting petrochemical facilities.
E & E Daily reports that the Biden administration remains steadfast boosters of carbon capture. Speaking at an industry roundtable event, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm reiterates that the White House-backed infrastructure plan could “kick carbon capture development and deployment into high gear.” She adds that the White House is looking to “turbocharge” carbon capture and “press hard on the accelerator.” Secretary Granholm touts carbon capture as a way to involve the “fossil energy communities that have powered this nation for over a century,” and went on to say, “Once we can get these technologies out of the lab and into the real world, it will be a game-changer for the climate.”
The problem is that carbon capture has been in the ‘real world’ for a long time — and the dismal results speak for themselves. Carbon capture isn’t a ‘game changer’ at all, and any climate policy that relies heavily on its success should be considered game over.
Just 2 days after the release of a IPCC climate report that urges an immediate shift away from fossil fuels, the White House announced that it is calling on OPEC+ nations to increase oil production.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is asked this question:
“How does this White House square a push for OPEC — or Saudi Arabia — to increase production of oil, which is a fossil fuel, with your climate change agenda, which is basically to get away from fossil fuels?”
“Well, first I’d say that experts have consistently debunked the notion that efforts we’re undertaking to transition to net zero by 2050 and a clean power sector by 2035 are related to domestic production at home. I would just note. I know that wasn’t exactly your question, but I wanted to get that in there.”
Whatever the intent, It’s nonetheless revealing that the White House seems to be saying that domestic production of fossil fuels can continue no matter what. ‘Net zero’ goals mean very little if the administration does not plan to rein in the production of dirty energy.
The Guardian reports on new research, co-authored by Food & Water Watch board member and Cornell professor Robert Howarth, which shows that the Biden-backed plan to promote so-called ‘blue hydrogen’ will produce climate pollution on par with burning coal. The production of blue hydrogen relies on splitting gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, with the goal of capturing that CO2. But this process releases substantial methane, and will require an enormous amount of energy. As Howarth puts it, “Blue hydrogen is a nice marketing term that the oil and gas industry is keen to push but it’s far from carbon free.” The Biden-backed infrastructure plan would devote $8 billion to supporting this fossil fuel-friendly technology.
Max Moran writesin the American Prospect about President Biden’s decision to appoint Amos Hochstein as the State Department’s senior adviser for energy security. As Moran writes, this could be a re-run of Hochstein’s role in the Obama administration:
“Back then, his title was ‘Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs,’ but his actual job was essentially to be the point man for securing American access to foreign oil fields. Hochstein’s devotion to planet-killing fuels hasn’t wavered in the years since: He spent all four of the Trump years as a marketing executive for Tellurian, a fossil gas company.”
The White House announced that it will appeal a federal judge’s decision to block the administration’s pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands. But in the meantime, the Interior Department will issue new leases as the legal case unfolds. Politico sums up the shift with the headline “Unpausing the Pause.” In a statement, House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva says, “Holding more lease sales under today’s outdated standards is economically wasteful and environmentally destructive, and everyone not sitting in a fossil fuel boardroom knows it.”
The White House announces that it will use its power at the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to vote down financing plans for fossil fuel projects. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin says these are “bold, proactive steps to address the climate crisis,” but the policy includes numerous exceptions. Carbon capture projects could still be financed, and The Hill reports that “the guidance said that the administration will oppose financing production, but may support its transportation and distribution.” These details led Friends of the Earth International Policy Campaigner Luisa Galvao to say, “The Treasury guidance leaves loopholes for continued fossil fuel financing that are so big, you can drive an LNG ship through them.”
Jeff St. John digs into the details of the Senate infrastructure plan for Canary Media and finds some alarming cuts to clean energy funding. While the White House had initially touted $73 billion for grid upgrades and transmission, a subsequent fact sheet pegged that funding at $65 billion to ”facilitate the expansion of renewable energy.” But that total is misleading, since it includes billions for nuclear power, carbon capture and hydrogen. The actual funding for new transmission is closer to $2.5 billion — a small fraction of what will be necessary to achieve the administration’s stated clean energy goals.
White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy is asked about the role of fracked gas in the administration’s energy plan, and she gives this response:
“The president’s plan is an all-of-the-above’ strategy and we are looking at every opportunity, of course, to get renewable energy into the marketplace as fast as we can but we are not picking and choosing winners. We are investing in every winner we can find.”
When it comes to climate action, leadership requires making choices. Fracked gas is a loser.
The Biden administration announces that it will undertake a review of the federal policies that govern the leasing of public lands for coal extraction, similar to the review of the oil and gas leasing program they launched shortly after taking office. But as the Washington Post reports, the administration will not put the coal program on hold in the meantime:
“While previous reviews of the federal coal program under Presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon resulted in pauses on leasing, the Biden administration will continue to hold coal auctions and issue permits.”
E&E News reports that the Biden administration has once again slashed royalty rates for a coal company. This time around the break went to the Deseret Power Electric Cooperative company, to help with production at one of its Colorado mines. While underground mines typically pay an 8 percent royalty rate, Biden’s Bureau of Land Management agreed to a 2 percent rate. Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians tells E & E that the move “highlights the economic lunacy of the federal coal program and the shameful willingness of the Bureau of Land Management to bend over backward to give the coal industry handouts.”
Reuters take note of the Biden administration announcement that it
“would take steps to restart the federal oil and gas leasing program in the next week and plans to hold a Gulf of Mexico auction as soon as October.”
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is asked if the administration’s clean energy standard would allow for “high efficiency natural gas plants without carbon capture systems — something oil lobbyists are pushing for — in that program.”
“You can incentivize utilities to do natural gas with carbon capture. That would be clean. But for no carbon capture and allowing methane to be flared, that would not be incentivized.”
In reality, neither option is ‘clean.’ Gas-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture — which do not exist, despite heavy subsidies and years of research — would still require new fracking wells and new pipelines, which will all result in new methane emissions. And capture technologies do not address any other air pollution linked to power plants.
The Interior Department announces a massive sale of leases in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Reuters, the 90 million acres could yield “up to 1.1 billion barrels of crude oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.” To add insult to injury, the administration’s announcement found that the climate threat of this new drilling “does not present sufficient cause” to revise the Trump administration’s environmental analysis of the offshore drilling leases.
Earthjustice files suit against the plan, arguing that the plan violates federal law by failing to account for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all of this new drilling. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out,“The environmental analysis of the proposed sale relies on improper modeling to conclude that not having the lease sale will result in more greenhouse gases.”
The Energy Department announces the nomination of Brad Crabtree as Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm calls Crabtree “one of the nation’s top practitioners on carbon capture and storage and carbon utilization,” and the department’s press release touts his role as Vice President for Carbon Management at the Great Plains Institute (GPI), where he “helped launch the State Carbon Capture Work Group, a 16-state initiative… to foster commercial deployment of carbon capture and CO2 transport infrastructure.”
Carbon capture has quickly become one of the industry’s most popular talking points, as dirty energy corporations look for ways to fool the public into thinking they care about the climate crisis. The White House appears determined to help them.
The White House announces that it will nominate Willie L. Phillips to fill the vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an agency that wields enormous power over approving new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Phillips, who currently serves as chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, has worked for electric utility giants and the oil and gas industry.
Climate and community groups actively campaigning for a climate champion at the agency were disappointed. As Food & Water Watch’s Mitch Jones says, “Unfortunately, nothing in Phillips’ career thus far has shown that he will be that champion; in fact, quite the opposite.”
The Washington Post reports on the ‘lobbying frenzy’ around the climate provisions of the Senate reconciliation proposal, and notes that top Biden officials
“have been working behind the scenes to broker deals between key industries and congressional leaders. Last week, White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and her deputy Ali Zaidi traveled to Colorado Springs to meet with scores of top utility executives at their trade group’s board meeting.”
The report added that the pair “spoke to about 100 people” at the industry meeting, and had many “one-on-one conversations, where they took notes about what the administration could do to cement the utilities’ support.”
The Biden administration announces a methane pledge with the European Union that aims to achieve at least 30 percent reductions by 2030 (compared with 2020 levels). These proposed cuts fall short of what many experts believe are possible in the short term. As Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said,
“We know that more aggressive cuts in methane are well within reach over the next decade, and are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis. There are also serious concerns about how to gauge progress, since agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency have continually underestimated methane emissions.”
In comments to reporters, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks about the importance of “balance” when it comes to fossil fuel drilling on public lands. The Hill quotes Haaland saying that taxpayers “haven’t necessarily been getting a fair return on their investment in these public lands.” The implication, once again, is that the Biden administration is moving away from their calls for an end to fracking on public lands, and will instead support policies to change what companies are charged to drill on such lands.
As The Hill also reports:
“Asked Thursday if her call for balance implied that oil and gas would still be part of the equation, Haaland reiterated past comments that oil and gas will ‘continue for years to come.’”
The Financial Times reports that gas shortages and price spikes in Europe are good news for the fossil fuel industry, since it is likely to boost political support for the construction of LNG export terminals in the United States. One of the key decision makers is Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. He is quoted in the Times as being supportive of the need to build new gas facilities (while also speaking of the need to transition away from fossil fuels).
Hochstein, for the record, worked for the Obama administration boosting fossil fuel development, and then took a lucrative marketing job at the fossil fuel company Tellurian, a key player in the fracking exports business. Hochstein also reported income from a consulting gig with an Emirati gas company.
Mother Jones reports that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has continued the Trump administration’s opposition to a European Union agriculture program to reduce carbon emissions from food production.
Vilsack is quoted (from an appearance at a Big Ag industry conference) saying that “a market-oriented, incentive-based, voluntary system is effective” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to the more stringent requirements being pushed by the EU.
University of Iowa researcher Silvia Secchi has this to say about the administration’s plan to ally with Brazil on these issues: “It’s appalling that for all its purported concern about climate change, this administration has aligned with a government that has wrecked policies put in place to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.”
The Hill reports that the administration has formally announced the date of oil and gas drilling lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, which will “comprise about 15,135 blocks in a range of 3 to 231 miles offshore and depths ranging from 9 to more than 11,000 feet.”
The move led Center for Western Priorities Deputy Director Aaron Weiss to say, “President Biden is doing Donald Trump’s bidding today. This lease sale will be devastating for the Earth’s climate, and set America back years on our path to a climate solution.”
Two environmental lawyers write in The Conversation that the Biden administration is squandering a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help Puerto Rico transition to a greener and more resilient energy future.” Despite new laws that call for a shift away from fossil fuels, which provide that vast majority of power on the island, Biden’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is allowing Hurricane Maria relief money to “underwrite a rebuild of the old fossil fuel system.”
The authors, Patrick Parenteau and Rachel Stevens, write that they are “surprised to see FEMA move forward on a path that runs directly counter to the White House’s energy and climate policy.” They note that FEMA failed to conduct an adequate environmental review, and did not engage in meaningful dialogue with impacted communities — a move that “directly contradicts Biden’s order to place environmental justice at the center of federal energy and climate policy.”
Responding to a question about energy supply problems creating price spikes around the world, Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that fossil fuels are the answer to the problem with fossil fuels:
“There’s a natural gas shortage around the world, hence the need for the United States to continue to export natural gas.”
The spike in gas prices stems from a variety of factors, including the slow recovery from a deadly global pandemic. Whatever the cause, the answer to dramatic increases in fossil fuel prices is not to deepen our reliance on fossil fuels.
Asked about the People vs Fossil Fuels climate mobilization outside the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki responds by saying,
“I would encourage anyone out there, or not, to look at what the President is proposing, what he’s trying to push across the finish line at this point, which is an enormous investment and commitment to addressing the climate crisis. That’s in his legislative agenda that’s currently working its way through Congress now. It doesn’t mean his climate commitment ends once he signs this into law; it just means that’s what our focus is on now, and it will have a dramatic, important impact.”
Of course, the issue for the People vs Fossil Fuels mobilization was to urge President Biden to take the necessary steps that do not require Congressional approval — including ending drilling on public lands, stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure projects and declaring a climate emergency. It’s not that the movement is not paying close attention to what Biden is ‘proposing.’ We want much more.
Politico reports that the White House is working with Democratic lawmakers to water down climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act in order to woo West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin: “The changes under consideration could make it easier for coal and natural gas power plants to receive billions of dollars in financial incentives for clean energy.”
Of course, these moves are deemed necessary to win approval of the entire spending package. But can it still be called a climate plan if it props up climate-destroying fossil fuels?
As behind-the-scenes negotiations over the White House’s Build Back Better Act continue, Democratic holdout Senator Joe Manchin tells reporters that he is not willing to consider a carbon tax. Nonetheless, Reuters reports that the administration is still hanging onto it
The White House on Tuesday said it has not ruled out a carbon tax as a possible option for fighting climate change, even though U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a critical holdout in the closely divided Senate, said he was not discussing the topic in talks about U.S. spending and infrastructure bills.
“I’m not taking any options on or off the table,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told a briefing when asked about a carbon tax.
A carbon tax should not be seen as a reasonable compromise here — it would represent a total capitulation to the fossil fuel industry, which by and large supports taxes over more meaningful action.
At his Senate confirmation hearing to become a new commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Willie Phillips tells Senator Joe Manchin:
“I believe in an all-of-the-above strategy with regard to the work of the Commission. I know that FERC is an economic regulator, they do not pick winners and losers.”
In energy circles, “all of the above” is an outdated concept that rejects a break with fossil fuels in favor of allowing various destructive practices to continue to flourish. It was the kind of rhetoric that accompanied the fracking boom under the Obama administration. We don’t need more of these failures.
Brad Crabtree, Biden’s nominee to lead the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, appears before a Senate committee considering his confirmation.
As reported by Politico, Crabtree tells lawmakers that the record of carbon capture technologies has been “quite positive.” He adds that it is “long proven and widely commercially deployed across the world,” and should in fact receive even more government subsidies.
The record on carbon capture is actually a string of false promises, wasted money and massive failures. Crabtree’s views are no surprise; after all, right before the White House announced his nomination he was the director of the Carbon Capture Coalition. It is a distressing sign that the White House is adopting the energy industry’s deceptive carbon capture campaign as its own.
The Center for Biological Diversity issues a press release warning that the Biden administration is set to approve a right-of-way-through the Ashley National Forest in Utah, a project that would aid construction of a railway crucial to the expansion of the crude oil industry.
The group reports that the railway would increase oil production to 350,000 barrels a day and would create 53 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution, “equivalent to the emissions from six of Utah’s dirtiest coal plants.” The Forest Service’s support for the project “undermines President Biden days before the administration heads to Glasgow to demonstrate U.S. leadership on the climate emergency,” said Deeda Seed, senior public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. The release also notes: “The Forest Service has not responded to a letter and meeting request from 30 environmental and conservation groups to discuss the environmental harm that will be inflicted by the proposed railway.”
As White House officials prepare for the international climate summit in Glasgow, the New York Times reports on the irony of President Biden sounding the alarm about the climate crisis while simultaneously “urging the world’s largest oil producers to pump more of the fossil fuels that are warming the planet.”
Biden tries to explain away the issue by saying that “everyone knows that the idea we’re going to be able to move to renewable energy overnight is just not rational.” Of course, no one is suggesting an overnight clean energy miracle; the issue is that any actions that prolong the fossil fuel era are fundamentally at odds with our climate goals.
“The Biden administration is planning to sell oil and gas leases on huge tracts of public land in the U.S. West, despite the Interior Department’s conclusion that doing so could cost society billions of dollars in climate change impacts, according to government documents.”
The administration’s decision affects leases across a number of states in the West. The AP also notes that “similar determinations that U.S. fossil fuel lease sales should not be restricted over global warming concerns were made under former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama.”
Bloomberg reports that the White House’s Build Back Better infrastructure proposal could deliver “billions of dollars in extra tax breaks” for coal plants, thanks to an increase in the tax credits awarded for so-called carbon capture schemes. An analysis from the Sierra Club finds that a single 1,000 megawatt plan could receive $6 billion over 12 years, an extraordinarily generous lifeline to dirty energy operators.
The language of the credit would allow coal plants to qualify for the credit so long as they planned capture operations to be under construction by the year 2032. In some cases, coal plants have already used existing the credits program to delay closure, as operators weigh the benefits of actually installing capture technology (which, it should be said again, does not actually work). Lukas Ross of Friends of the Earth calls these provisions a “total disaster” and “an astoundingly regressive approach to climate policy.”
Dozens of countries used the COP summit to announce an agreement to phase out coal, leading summit organizers to declare that “the end of coal is in sight.” The Biden administration did not join the pledge. The New York Times reports that government officials decided not to join the pledge because doing so would anger West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is heavily invested in the industry.
The New Republic’s Kate Aronoff reports on the ways that Biden officials attending the COP26 summit have spoken favorably about working with private interests. John Kerry, for one, spoke about the need to create clean energy policies that would “blend the finance, de-risk the investment, and … create the capacity to have bankable deals.”
At one event, White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy enthused: “I’m so excited that the private sector is here with such vibrance. There’s no question any more that this is a catastrophe and we have to fix it. The question is, how do we do it in a way that captures the economic value associated with that?”
She added that we must “turn this challenge into a creative opportunity. And all that will make money. And God bless America.” That’s the kind of talk you’d expect from an oil company CEO.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s main message at the COP climate summit was to tout the administration’s support for carbon removal schemes that do not exist:
“By slashing the costs and accelerating the deployment of carbon dioxide removal, a crucial clean energy technology, we can take massive amounts of carbon pollution directly from the air and combat the climate crisis.”
Granholm told the conference that she is “really excited” about the bipartisan infrastructure plan that spends billions of dollars on direct air capture, in addition to the billions that will be spent on carbon capture projects. Make no mistake — these are subsidies to fossil fuel polluters, intended to extend the life of dirty energy under the guise of climate action.
At the COP summit, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was asked if the Biden administration would take any actions to stop the massive oil and gas export facilities on the Gulf Coast. Granholm’s response was puzzling: “That’s not my lane, stopping oil and gas exports.”
But as Kate Aronoff points out in the New Republic, “under the Natural Gas Act, the Department of Energy has the exclusive authority to approve whether companies can import and export gas.” While oil exports are not covered by the Department of Energy, they are still very much within the administration’s purview. President Biden could reinstate the crude oil export ban that was repealed in 2015 by President Obama—a move that led to massive growth in the export of oil around the world. There is plenty the Biden White House could do, if it wished to make policies that matched the administration’s climate rhetoric.
The Huffington Post notes that just days after the COP26 climate summit closed, the Biden administration is shifting its focus as it “prepares to hold the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history on Nov. 17.”
The report adds this context:
The Department of the Interior will offer up more than 80 million acres — an area larger than the state of New Mexico — of the Gulf of Mexico for drilling. It is bigger than any lease sale conducted under President Donald Trump’s fossil-fuel-friendly administration, and Interior estimates it will lead to the production of an additional 1.1 billion barrels of oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over several decades.
While the White House claims its hands are tied by a court ruling, many legal experts argue that there are several avenues the administration could take in order to stop this drilling scheme.
In a piece detailing the Biden administration’s public lands drilling policies, reporter Adam Federman describes another disappointment that has not received as much attention. He writes that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management
“has renewed the leases of 18 coal mines this year, allowing operations to continue for at least another decade, while granting 13 requests to reduce the royalty fees that coal mines pay the federal government to operate on public lands, which environmentalists view as an unnecessary subsidy helping to keep the industry afloat.”
The day after Thanksgiving, the White House quietly released a long-delayed report on public lands oil and gas drilling. During the campaign, President Biden was clear about wanting to ban fracking on public lands. This report, however, merely recommends that polluters pay slightly more to drill wells.
As Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones put it, the report is “a shameful attempt to hide the fact that President Biden has no intention of fulfilling his promise to stop oil and gas drilling on our public lands…This shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters is a clear sign that, when it comes to climate action, the White House does not actually mean what it says.”
Speaking at a Reuters conference, White House climate envoy John Kerry delivered a strikingly sanguine assessment of the battle against the climate crisis: “There’s a great deal of money chasing good projects and good deals. I believe the private sector has the ability to win this battle for us.”
He added: “This is doable. It doesn’t have to be frightening.”
What’s frightening is believing that corporate polluters can become climate champions.
The Washington Post reports on a new Public Citizen study of the Biden administration’s record on oil and gas leasing, which found that the White House
“has approved more oil and gas drilling permits on public lands per month than the Trump administration did during the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
As the Post notes, the new analysis found that the Bureau of Land Management has “approved an average of 333 drilling permits per month. That figure is more than 35% higher than Trump’s first year in office, when BLM approved an average of 245 drilling permits per month.”
Speaking to the National Petroleum Council, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm assured the oil industry that the administration would not reinstate a ban on crude oil exports, as some lawmakers and climate advocates had been pushing.
“I do not want to fight with any of you… I do think it’s much more productive to work together on future facing solutions,” she told the assembled executives. Granholm added that the administration would like to see companies increase their drilling: “I hope you will hear me say that please, take advantage of the leases that you have, hire workers, get your rig count up.”
E&E News reports that the White House is reiterating its support for a 88-mile rail line to carry crude oil and sand for fracking, part of which would pass through a national forest in Utah. The message came via a letter from the Forest Service to the Center for Biological Diversity, which alludes to the administration’s desire to “rebuild our infrastructure for a sustainable economy.”
As the Center for Biological Diversity had argued previously, trains operating on the new rail line could carry as much as 350,000 barrels of crude oil every day. The group also noted: “Conservative estimates of carbon pollution from this expansion of fossil fuel extraction equal to up to 53 million tons of CO2, 6 times more than the annual emissions of the dirtiest coal plant in Utah.”
While Congress continues to struggle with passage of the Build Back Better Act, E&E News reports on new research showing that the new bipartisan infrastructure law could actually increase emissions. While the White House touts its carbon reduction possibilities, the problem is how much of the infrastructure funding would go towards building roads and highways. A study from the Georgetown Law Center finds that such scenarios could increase emissions by 1.6 percent in a decade.
President Biden’s executive order calling on the federal government to reach the goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 was celebrated as a major step in the right direction. But there is one massive exception. As E & E News reports,
the executive order exempts anything related to national security, combat, intelligence or military training.
That means Biden’s order covers only a fraction of federal emissions. While military leaders insist they share the president’s decarbonization goal, there is no plan for them to meet it.
This is no mere footnote to the broader goals; some studies find that the military accounts for over 70 percent of the government’s total energy use.
It’s a New year, but the same old policies are still in place, as the Bismarck Tribune reports:
The federal Bureau of Land Management is planning a lease sale for the first quarter of 2022 with 6,850 federally owned mineral acres up for grabs in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
Tell the Biden Administration that our future MUST be fracking-free. Our existence depends on it.
At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. The virus tore through production lines, where vulnerable employees work shoulder to shoulder for hours on end, and sickened thousands across the country.
Concerned with protecting their bottom lines, meatpacking companies utterly failed to protect their workers from this life-threatening situation, and deceived the American public about it. In particular, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processing company in the world, repeatedly lied to consumers about the state of our country’s meat supply, and the steps it was taking to ensure the health and safety of its workers.
In 2021, Food & Water Watch filed suit on behalf of the general public in the D.C. Superior Court for Smithfield’s violations of D.C. consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit.
Our complaint documents the numerous false claims Smithfield peddled to the public, designed to increase profits and salvage its image. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned consumers that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging to record highs. And government data showed that the country had huge stores of pork held in cold storage warehouses that could have kept grocery shelves stocked for months.
Smithfield also repeatedly assured consumers that the company was keeping its workers safe. But congressional reports, government safety citations and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers show that Smithfield failed to provide personal protective equipment or distance its workers, promoted a work-while-sick culture, and actively stymied the efforts of state and local health authorities aimed at protecting plant workers.
In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage, jeopardizing workers and lying to the public in the process. Our lawsuit exposes Smithfield’s outrageous and illegal conduct. We’re asking the court to order Smithfield publicly retract its lies, and potentially pay a hefty penalty for its deceit.
This week, Sussex Health & Environment Network, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement, and Food & Water Watch, filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against Sussex County to the Delaware Department of Justice. For months, we have been closely following Bioenergy DevCo’s plans to construct an industrial factory farm biogas operation to produce dirty gas for insertion into regional pipeline networks. The project poses direct threats to public health and safety, and exacerbates these problems in an environmental justice community already dealing with nearby Superfund sites and polluting poultry factory farms. Despite these threats, we have had to fight alongside other County residents to even get public input in the project.
To understand the roots of our FOIA Complaint, we need to go back a few weeks. On April 21, our organizations and our allies discovered something unexpected on the agenda for the April 27 meeting of Sussex County Council — a vote to approve up to $60 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction of the Bioenergy DevCo biogas project near Seaford. Despite our months-long attention to the biogas scheme, we had not heard anything about county bonds or tax-exempt funding for the project, until now.
So, we contacted the Sussex County administration for information on where and when the bond issuance had been discussed. The answer provided us with yet another surprise. According to Finance Director Gina Jennings, the county’s Industrial Revenue Bond Committee had held a “public hearing” on the bonds on March 17. This answer s