Food & Water Watch Defends People and Planet in 2022

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo © Ken Schles
by Mia DiFelice

With each passing year, the stakes rise higher for clean water, safe food, and a livable climate. But with each passing year, Food & Water Watch gets stronger and our impact grows. 

That strength is only possible with our team of organizers, researchers, lawyers, policy analysts, and, of course, our members and volunteers. For the past seventeen years, Food & Water Watch has shown what’s possible with people power.

Our work has moved the needle on key issues, from national climate legislation to local fights against polluting corporations. We’re proud of all we’ve accomplished this year — especially these four victories in the fight to secure a livable future for all. 

1. We Stopped Manchin’s Dirty Deal

Many Democrats were thrilled when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) finally promised to support the Inflation Reduction Act, one of the landmark laws of the Biden Administration. But we soon learned that in return for his tie-breaking vote on the IRA, Manchin struck a dirty deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

That dirty deal would have fast-tracked fossil fuel projects across the country and gut a watershed environmental protection law. It also threatened to silence frontline communities and push through the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which had already been beaten down by community opposition and organizing. 

Manchin’s deal was bad news for both climate and communities, so Food & Water Watch and our allies acted fast. We

  • held rallies and sit-ins across the country,
  • helped more than 20 volunteers meet with or deliver letters to their lawmakers, to make their opposition clear
  • gathered signatures from over 400 scientists denouncing the deal because of its public health and environmental consequences, and
  • mobilized opposition against the deal in the House and Senate, especially amongst the representatives of Schumer’s home state of New York.

Then, on Capitol Hill in late September, 13 executive directors across our movement were arrested during a sit-in, including our very own Wenonah Hauter

And it all paid off. By the end of the month, Sen. Manchin had pulled the deal.

2. We Banned Fracking in the Parks of This PA County

Millions across Allegheny County, PA look to their parks as treasured sites of family, fun, and natural beauty. So when we saw how fracking devastated one County park, our PA organizers began mobilizing to ban future fracking in the rest of Allegheny parks.

We knew it wouldn’t be easy. Years ago, the current County Executive had vetoed a similar ban. But this time, we knew we had the people power and the support of other County Council members to make it happen. 

With our allies, we spent a year organizing, building on the work of those who came before us. In those efforts, we

  • arranged meetings between residents and their council members and helped deliver letters to members,
  • organized calls, coordinated door-to-door canvassers, lead rallies, and
  • collected petition signatures and helped dozens of residents make public comments. 

As expected, the County Executive vetoed the parks ban once it reached his desk, in the most underhanded way possible. But our allies on the Council rushed a special session and overrode the veto, picking up an extra vote of support along the way. Now, the landmark parks ban protects over 12,000 acres of beloved green spaces. 

3. We Shut Down Climate-Wrecking Crypto in New York

In recent years, millions of investors began jumping into the lucrative cryptocurrency market. But lurking behind new fortunes is a climate-wrecking technology we knew we had to stop.

Cryptomining (producing and verifying cryptocurrency) is extremely energy-intensive. It requires warehouses-worth of large computers running at full steam daily. As a result, the industry has resuscitated dying coal- and gas-fired power plants. It has also revved up production at plants once used only in emergencies or during peak demand.

While the crypto market has doled out heaps of cash to a lucky few, it threatens frontline communities with even more pollution and the planet with dangerous emissions.

By 2022, New York hosted at least one-fifth of all Bitcoin (the most popular type of cryptocurrency) mining in the country. More companies looked poised to pounce on the state’s dozens of retired power plants. So New York became the center of a campaign for a cryptomining moratorium. 

With our allies, we loudly supported the statewide moratorium (the first of its kind) every step of the way. By June, the needed bill passed the state legislature, only to languish on the desk of Governor Kathy Hochul. 

Finally, after months of organizing by Food & Water Watch and our allies, including a pivotal rally in November of this year, Governor Hochul signed the moratorium into law.

4. We’re Blocking Gas Infrastructure All Over the East Coast

Fracked gas harms people and the planet throughout its life cycle, and those harms are most devastating for the communities near polluting infrastructure. That’s why Food & Water Watch works with local organizations, leaders, and residents to stop new projects nationwide. 

Among other proposed projects, this year, we faced an expansion to a gas-fired power plant in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Our research found that if expanded as proposed, the Woodbridge site would become the largest source of climate emissions in the state. It would also spew toxic carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, lead, and more into the air.

Frontline communities, also disproportionately underserved, always bear the brunt of pollution like this. Around the Woodbridge site, every town within 5 miles is already overburdened with pollution, according to state criteria.

So we were elated when, this year, eight local government bodies passed resolutions to oppose the expansion. Four did so unanimously

The expansion’s fate is still dependent on an air permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection. But by organizing local governments and residents to speak out against the project, we’re building the diverse coalition and public pressure needed to get Governor Murphy to reject this polluting proposal.

We Have Plenty of Victories Ahead of Us

With every victory, Food & Water Watch continues learning and evolving. Other towns, other counties, and other states learn from our successes. Meanwhile, bigger and louder people power holds elected officials accountable to actually listen to their constituents. 

The road to securing a livable future is long and complicated, but we’re growing and gathering more support every day. Amid changing tides, polluting industries and corporate shills in office will continue clawing onto power. But we’re joining partners and frontline communities to go toe-to-toe with them, every step of the way.

In the new year, we will be working with our allies in offices across the country, at every level of government, to carry out our vision of a livable future for all. But we can’t do it without supporters like you. Because of your generosity, we have the resources to take on these crucial fights — and win them.

All Giving Tuesday gifts are now matched $4-to-$1. That’s five times the power to protect our planet in 2023 and beyond!

You Have the Power to Protect Our Planet!

Categories

Climate and Energy

Food & Water Watch is grateful for your commitment to protecting our food, water, and climate for today and tomorrow. Your generosity has led to significant progress in securing a livable future and we look forward to all that is possible with your continued investment in our work. 

You have the power to protect our planet!

This year’s giving guide features our bold and intrepid team members and their work. They represent diverse faces of activism – people from multiple disciplines, backgrounds, and life experiences who exemplify the tireless pursuit of Food & Water Watch’s mission. 

Their stories of triumph and tenacity are only possible because of you. Thank you for making all of this work possible. 

Below are two of the standout stories shared in this year’s giving guide to protect our planet.

Climate Warrior:
Megan McDonough

Pennsylvania State Director

When multiple fracking facilities began construction near the elementary school Megan’s niece attended, her niece became sick. So did every child in that school. Then Megan learned of plans for yet another fracked gas facility to be built nearby and she knew she had to act. Driven to protect her family, she rallied her community and led the grassroots effort to stop the plant – and won! 

This year Megan mobilized thousands of residents to demand a ban on fracking in all Allegheny County parks. The strong show of people power led to a landslide victory. A landmark bill now protects 12,000 acres of beloved parkland. 

Megan shows us that fracking is not invincible when you have people power. Food & Water Watch regularly shares success stories like Megan’s in our educational events and in each piece of communication we publish to empower and inspire others to fight for their own communities.  

In fact, Megan was featured in this year’s annual benefit, Against All Odds.

Your donation could fund our educational events and communication pieces for one year — so we can continue to showcase stories of climate warriors like Megan. Donate today and your gift will be matched 2 to 1!

Community Defender:
Tomás Morales Rebecchi

Central Coast Organizing Manager (California)

Tomás’ fight against the fossil fuel industry hits close to home. A SoCalGas compressor plant already looms large in his neighborhood in Ventura, CA. Last year, he discovered their plans to triple the size of the facility with intentions to build as close as two blocks of his home.

“Our community is over 70% Latino and we already have some of the highest levels of fossil fuel pollution in California. Gas compressors leak toxic gas, which has happened many times at this site.”

Tomás is in a drawn-out battle against a fossil fuel giant. After holding rallies and speaking at public meetings, the Public Utilities Commission paused the SoCalGas project – not a full victory, but it bought him time. Tomás is committed to protecting his community and will continue fighting until this fossil fuel project is canceled.

Your donation could provide Tomas with increased resources for one year – so he and his neighbors can continue fighting to protect their community. Donate today and your gift will be matched 2 to 1!


Together, we can protect our planet!

Your commitment to protecting our food, water, and climate powers the fights people like Megan and Tomás have dedicated their lives to. Your gift will allow them to continue protecting their communities and the environment.

Right now, you have the power to make twice the impact! Every dollar you give before December 31 will be matched $2 to $1!

Let’s unite to protect the planet we love!

Trump Announces 2024 Bid. We Stay Fighting For the Planet.

Categories

Food SystemClimate and EnergyClean Water

by Mia DiFelice

At a rally in Florida last night, former President Donald Trump announced his third bid for the White House. 

Given the former president’s track record, we’re just as concerned as you are. Trump’s threats to democracy are grave and well-known. Perhaps less-known are the many ways that Trump attacked our food, water, and climate. 

Throughout his four years in office, the former president rolled back regulations and gave handouts to polluting industries and greedy corporations. He gutted the EPA and blocked every effort on climate action, risking climate catastrophe for more and more communities. 

Along the way, Food & Water Watch took a stand against every one of those attacks. These three fights show what we’re up against if Trump spends another four years in the White House. But more importantly, they show how we stayed fighting, and will continue fighting, for the planet. 

Trump’s Attack on the Clean Water Act

In 1972, lawmakers passed the Clean Water Act to protect our waterways and wetlands from out-of-control pollution. But more than forty years later, the Trump administration proposed a new rule to erase one of the Act’s most important measures. 

The Act allows states to block federal permits for infrastructure that would break state laws by significantly impacting waterways within their borders. The states also get broad discretion in how they review such projects.

But the Trump administration proposed to shorten the time that states and tribes could review projects. It also proposed limiting the factors that state agencies could consider in their reviews. 

These rules paved the way not only for more polluted water, but also more oil and gas projects. So when the Biden administration directed the EPA to review the changes, Food & Water Watch submitted comments. And this year, the administration proposed a reversal of the Trump-era changes.

Trump’s Slaughterhouse Rollbacks Endangered Workers and Consumers

We know slaughterhouses are far from pleasant, and cutting corners can have dangerous consequences. That’s why, before Trump, federal inspectors looked for and removed fecal matter from hog carcasses. 

But Trump’s administration introduced rules allowing slaughterhouse employees to take on this responsibility. We knew this was bad news, and our analysis found that meatpacking plants piloting the new rules had double the violations of those still following the old rules. Those plants were also almost twice as likely to be cited for contamination. 

It’s a classic story of letting companies police themselves. These rules let numerous plants get away with releasing carcasses from the line that were contaminated with human pathogens, including Salmonella.

Additionally, the administration proposed rolling back line-speed standards at poultry plants. Though the USDA threw out the rule, it threatened to make poultry plants more dangerous for both workers and consumers. 

The new speeds would have made it even harder for inspectors to do their jobs thoroughly, risking more contamination and food-borne illnesses.

What’s more, faster speeds endanger workers on the floor. Speeding up work done with heavy, bladed machinery increases the risk of accidents. It also worsens repetitive stress injuries, already common in the industry, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Already, meatpacking has one of the highest injury rates of any industry in the country.

“Bomb Trains” Roll Through Neighborhoods on Trump’s OK

Before the Trump administration, liquid natural gas (LNG) couldn’t travel by rail — and for good reason. Doing so entails moving huge volumes of explosive chemicals under high temperature and extreme pressure. An accident can have — and has had — catastrophic consequences

But in 2020, Trump’s administration finalized a rule allowing LNG by rail, sending “bomb trains” through neighborhoods on aging rail lines. The rule also eliminated notice and comment requirements for LNG rail shipments, meaning frontline communities might not even know such dangerous train cars were rolling by.

The rules also allowed special permits for some LNG routes. So even when the Biden administration suspended the rule, companies with special permits carried on transporting LNG by rail. Those special permits include lines shared with passenger cars and lines running dangerously close to residential areas.

Food & Water Watch submitted comments on the rule and blocked new routes. Then, in 2022, we sounded the alarm when we found that half of South Floridians are at risk of evacuation — or worse — in the event of a blast on an LNG route. We also found that people of color and low-income communities are more likely to live in evacuation zones and even more likely to live in the “lethal zones” around routes.

Trump rollbacks like those around LNG transport aren’t only allowing climate-wrecking industries like fracking to continue polluting and profiting — they’re also risking the lives and livelihoods of already-vulnerable communities. 

We Know How to Fight Through a Trump Presidency

This year’s midterms proved Trump’s reign as kingmaker may finally be waning. Key endorsed candidates failed to clinch their seat, even in districts that should have been a given. This, along with the strong showing by Democrats in November’s election, shows us that another Trump administration is far from guaranteed. 

But if the former president returns to the White House, we’re prepared. We spent four years honing strategies and winning fights already. If Trump comes back in 2024, we’ll keep organizing and demanding bold action from our elected officials. With your help, we will continue the fight for safe food, clean water, and a livable climate — no matter who stands in our way.

We stay fighting, with your support!

How We Keep Fighting After the Midterm Results

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

The midterm results are in: Democrats have kept their Senate majority, and Republicans will likely have a narrow majority in the House.

Despite Democrats’ setbacks in the House, we still saw victories for food, water, and climate nationwide. At the polls, millions demanded a progressive future for our country; a future that puts people and the planet before greedy corporations

Food & Water Watch has moved the needle on these issues through our research, advocacy, policy work, and more. And so we knew that whatever happened the results of these midterms, we’d keep working to secure a livable future for all.

Against All Odds, We Have So Much to Celebrate

Food & Water Watch has an unwavering, transformative vision for our collective future; one that delivers clean water, safe food, and a livable climate for everyone. But during this year’s midterms, that vision was on the line.

Extremists, climate-deniers, and corporate-backed cronies flooded the ballots. On top of that, the odds were stacked tall against Democratic candidates. Historically, the party of the president in office rarely keeps both houses in Congress during the following midterms.

Pundits expected a “red wave” through Capitol Hill this year. But that widely predicted “red wave” evaporated into a puddle.

The Democrats’ Senate majority stayed afloat, with a chance to strengthen it in Georgia’s December runoff election. Meanwhile, Republicans can expect to squeak in a House majority by the smallest of margins. With these results, we can still advance a climate agenda in the next two years.

Democratic Wins Defend Democracy and Planet

To realize that agenda, it’s become increasingly clear that we need bold action. We’re not only fighting for lower emissions and a healthier environment — we’re fighting for a world that puts the needs of workers and families above corporate profits. 

Under the Trump administration, we fought a long line of rollbacks, corporate handouts, and advancing emissions. But in 2020, Democrats gained a three-part majority (House, Senate, Presidency), and we finally saw progress. 

Over the past two years, we saw growing regulations for toxic chemicals, huge deployments of clean energy funds, and new emissions controls. We had leaders who took environmental injustices and the threats of corporate greed more seriously. 

The energy behind these policy wins has grown, helping to propel progressive victories this November. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, Summer Lee won on a platform that included a fracking ban in the second-highest gas-producing state in the country. In Florida, Maxwell Alejandro Frost won on promises to take on corporate price-gouging and work toward a Green New Deal.

What’s more, local wins promise even more progress. For instance, in Iowa, State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott won her redistricted seat on a platform that included moratoriums on factory farms and on carbon pipelines permitted under eminent domain. In three Midwest states, Democratic governors beat Republican challengers who threatened state emissions goals and other climate policies.

Wins like these bring us closer than ever to huge climate action. They also show that leaders with bold visions, advocating for bold solutions, can and do win. Nationwide, progressive victories sent a clear signal that voters want real change, now.

Beyond These Midterms: How We’ll Keep Fighting

We’re taking a moment to celebrate the victories, but we know the fight is far from over. Every day, the planet becomes more unlivable. Every day, industries spew pollution into our air and our waterways. Corporate greed still has a stranglehold on our economy; prices continue to rise and company profits are reaching historic highs. 

With so much on the line, we’re jumping right back into the fray. First, we’ve already begun working with allies in the House and Senate to keep extremism in check. Just as importantly, we’ll continue working with frontline communities to block fossil fuel projects and keep oil and gas in the ground.

We’re also mobilizing people across the country to push President Biden toward decisive action. His executive authority can move us forward on addressing the critical threats we face. From cutting down climate pollution, to protecting our water, to holding corporations to account, Biden has the power to deliver for everyday people. 

In the weeks, years, and months ahead, Food & Water Watch will work tirelessly in support of leaders and policies committed to a livable future for all. 

At this moment, we cannot do anything less.

With your help, we can take on what comes next.

Seven Victories for Democrats to Build On

Categories

Food SystemClimate and EnergyClean Water

by Mia DiFelice
Editors note: A version of this content first appeared on Food & Water Action’s website, our affiliated organization

For the past two years, Congress has been divided by the narrowest of margins. During those years, a few conservative Democrats dictated the terms of legislation, slowing down our climate agenda. But even with that narrow Democratic majority and a moderate Democratic president, we’ve made important progress.

That progress is a testament to our movements’ organizing efforts. We’ve pushed our leaders in Washington and nationwide to hear us on clean water, safe food, and a livable climate. 

The victories of the past two years are a starting point. Many have gone under the radar, but they were only possible because of the Democrats in national office. Moving forward, here are seven victories for us to build on:

1. Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics on Public Lands

In June, the Department of Interior issued an order to phase out single-use plastics on public lands by 2032. Plastics are almost entirely derived from fossil fuels and only 10% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. Moreover, plastics break down in our soils and wash into our waterways, polluting our environment, our food and our bodies.

This order will help protect our national parks and wildlife refuges from toxic plastic pollution, while reducing demand for plastic nationwide.

2. An Unprecedented Deployment of Clean Energy Funds

Under the Defense Production Act, Biden authorized the Department of Energy to grow U.S. production of clean energy technologies. This includes tech for both renewable power and conservation, like heat pumps and insulation. 

Biden’s use of the Defense Production Act signals that the executive branch is finally prepared to treat climate change as it is: an existential threat to be met with a whole-of-government approach. And it recognizes that an energy transition is too dire to leave to private corporations and a wily market.

3. The House Holds Big Oil Accountable for Its Lies

For decades, fossil fuel corporations have grown profits by spreading lies about the climate crisis. But in September 2021, the House Oversight Committee began investigating their history of deceit. 

The Committee, led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), will finally hold the industry accountable for profiting billions of dollars off lies that have kept us dependent on their climate-wrecking products. 

4. Biden’s EPA Starts Regulating Toxic PFAS

In 2022, the Biden administration set new advisory levels for several PFAS chemicals. PFAS are toxic and don’t break down in the environment. Yet, manufacturers have produced products with PFAS in them for decades. 

The EPA’s long-awaited advisory levels come closer to the research that maintains no level of PFAS are safe. While we face a long road ahead to tackle our PFAS problem, the EPA has taken vital first steps.

5. Proposed Rule Will Tighten Emissions Controls

In November 2021, the EPA proposed a new Clean Air Act rule to tackle climate pollution from the oil and gas industry. The rule would restrict emissions of not only new oil and gas projects, but — for the first time ever — existing ones as well. 

The rule particularly targets methane emissions, which is integral to fighting climate change. The methane emitted from U.S. fossil fuel industry has a greater climate impact than all greenhouse gasses emitted by 164 other countries combined. Additionally, the EPA’s new rule targets toxic air pollution like volatile organic compounds. Such pollution disproportionately sickens low-income communities and communities of color.

6. Assistance for Environmental Justice Communities

During the first half of Biden’s term, the administration grew funding for environmental justice communities historically excluded from federal assistance. It created the first-ever Environmental Justice Advisory Council and announced the Justice40 initiative. The initiative commits 40% of benefits from federal climate and sustainability programs to EJ communities. 

These commitments have already led to on-the-ground change. For example, the USDA and EPA are working on a new guidance and pilot for rural wastewater projects. 

7. Biden Takes Action Against Monopolies and Corporate Greed 

In 2021, an executive order outlined 70 federal actions to foster competitive markets. As Food & Water Watch and our allies reported, just a few corporations hold outsized market power in our food system. And this market power enables unjust practices to thrive.

But now, the Biden administration is targeting this market power with investigations, regulations, and legislation. For instance, the USDA proposed changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act that would give them more tools to stop meat corporations’ abusive practices. These changes would also strengthen rural economies, ensure food security, and empower family farms.

We Can and Will Move Further on Food, Water, and Climate

Democrats have achieved a lot in the past two years, but we have a long road ahead of us. To build on these victories, Food & Water Watch is working through multiple angles.

We’re shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure, supporting frontline communities, and taking polluting industries to court. At the same time, we’re publishing hard-hitting research while working with lawmakers (local, state, and federal) to craft bold legislation. 

Most importantly, we’re doing what we do best — building people power to fight for a livable future for all. With strong grassroots organizing, we will continue to move the needle.

When it comes to the climate crisis, clean water, and a sustainable, just food system, we need bold action. That requires leaders who will take on the fossil fuel industry and big agribusiness. And it requires leaders who will use their power to bring about meaningful and lasting solutions. 

We must continue pressuring our leaders to be bold. That’s the only way we’ll see more and greater victories like these. 

With your help, we’ll have plenty of wins ahead of us!

This Grocery Merger Would Be Bad News For Food Prices and Families

Categories

Food System

by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization).

We have enough to worry about these days, from conflict abroad and at home, to climate-fueled natural disasters. Going to the grocery store has become yet another daily anxiety for more of us than ever, as prices rise higher and higher

But if a proposed merger between two grocery giants goes through, prices will rise even more. 

In October, media outlets began reporting merger negotiations between Kroger and Albertsons, two of our country’s largest grocery store chains. The deal would net Kroger a cool $24.6 billion, with big payouts to the Albertsons CEO and its private equity owner. Meanwhile, the resulting Kroger behemoth could wield its new power to squeeze working families and entire communities.

Grocery Stores Gobble The Market Through Mergers

Already, a handful of corporations dominate the grocery sector. Currently, over two-thirds of grocery sales in the U.S. go to five corporations, and a Kroger-Albertsons merger would make that four.

These corporations hide their outsized power in the market from consumers by buying up subsidiaries with different names. While you can shop at a Ralph’s, a Food 4 Less, or a Smith’s Food and Drug, the profits funnel into the same company—Kroger.

In recent years, mergers and acquisitions have become more outrageous. But judges and the federal agencies charged with protecting consumers seem not to care. In the past decade, they gave a pass to some of the largest mergers in history. Now, food giants tower over those of the trust-busting era that gave rise to our consumer protection agencies in the first place. 

Grocery Monopolies Choose Profit Over People

The U.S. first began busting trusts, or monopolies, back in the early 1900s because it recognized how they harm the economy. Market power allows corporations to profit at the expense of smaller companies, consumers, and regional economies. 

For instance, when grocery corporations grow, they often become the biggest or only buyer in a region. Grocery giants can name the price they pay for goods, ripping off farmers and manufacturers, who must accept whatever they can get to stay afloat.

On the other side of the grocery aisle, these giants can raise prices for shoppers with impunity. Last summer, Kroger’s CEO Rodney McMullen even bragged about hiding behind inflation to raise food prices and boost profits.

At the same time, superstores like Kroger and Walmart beat out smaller, local businesses by lowering prices on key items. These small stores, unable to compete, are forced to shutter.

However, the low prices don’t stick around. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission found that growing market concentration actually leads to higher prices. But by then, consumers have no other choice but to shop at the superstores.

The arrival of such a superstore can have other ripple effects throughout a region. It can lower wages by introducing its own rock-bottom pay schedules to the local labor market. And by shuttering competitors, it can reduce food access to just a single superstore. This especially impacts access for low-income city residents, who are less likely to own cars, as well as far-flung rural communities. 

Not Just Groceries — Monopolies Threaten Our Entire Food System

The Kroger-Albertsons merger is only the latest in a long string of threats to consumers throughout our food system. For instance, during the pandemic, meat corporations boosted retail prices while paying farmers less. One meat corporation even lied to the public about meat supplies to keep workers in plants — and money coming in — during the worst of the pandemic. 

While clerks and meatpackers risked death by COVID in their workplaces, many corporations limited hazard pay. Instead of keeping workers safe or compensating them fairly, they invested in stock buybacks to generate more cash for shareholders.

Meanwhile, food manufacturers have also consolidated. When it comes to the products we buy at the store, companies like Kraft-Heinz (the two merged in 2015), General Mills, and Campbell Soup dominate multiple food categories like soft drinks, yogurt, and baby food.

And market power goes all the way to farm. A handful of corporations have taken over seeds, fertilizers, tractors, and more. At every step in our food system, from factory farm, to factory floor, to our kitchen tables, a handful of companies make the rules. 

This not only affects the prices at the grocery store, but conditions for workers, the quality of our food, and the sustainability of our climate.

We Can Stop the Advance of Prices and Market Power 

Even though the grocery giants say that the merger will help them lower prices for consumers, we know that this merger will only hurt consumers and their communities. 

Not only must the Federal Trade Commission throw out the Kroger-Albertson merger — we need to stop corporate greed and consolidation throughout the food system. We need agencies that properly enforce our antitrust laws. We need greater laws that reform our antitrust framework and work to re-envision our food system, like the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium Act and Farm Systems Reform Act.

These are the first steps to achieving a food system that works for everyone, not just corporate giants.

Everyone needs to know: we can tackle rising grocery prices by taking on corporate consolidation.

Our New California Organizing Director on Fighting For the Future

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mia DiFelice

This summer, Food & Water Watch welcomed a new California Organizing Director, Chirag Bhakta. Digital copywriter Mia DiFelice sat down with Chirag to talk about organizing, water issues, and what lies ahead for California. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Welcome to Food & Water Watch, Chirag. I want to start by asking about your background. How did you get into organizing and environmental issues?

Before Food & Water Watch, I was the director of an organizing center here in the Mission District of San Francisco. We focused on developing and training local leaders to become community organizers. Helping folks who are usually counted as numbers, or relegated to outreach work, to lead their own campaigns, so they can organize for the future of their own communities. 

Before that, I worked at an organization focused on affordable housing and anti-gentrification, through a similar lens of How do we gain community control of our futures? How do we fight for a future that’s still open ended? 

For me, as someone who grew up here in San Francisco, an open-ended future is one that allows poor, marginalized, and mostly immigrant communities to have a secure place in the city. One that isn’t precarious to political power or how the city decides affordability. We need to solidify that for us, because otherwise, if the market dictates the future, that future doesn’t include us. 

And that, I think, is the same for climate issues, for food and water issues. But on a scale that’s a lot larger in terms of basic livability. The issues I’m now working on are so fundamental to how we wish to exist on the planet, or how we expect to exist with the planet. 

What drew you to Food & Water Watch, especially from an organizer’s perspective? 

Food & Water Watch centers the hard decisions we need to make as a society. It doesn’t shy away from saying “We need to ban fossil fuels,” or “We need to ban fracking.”

Even now as the climate issue becomes more mainstream and centrist, Food & Water Watch has stayed firmly with its values, on the correct side of the issues.

And it also focuses on how we collectively need to make those decisions. It’s not pushing for a closed-door committee to solve the climate crisis. Food & Water Watch is working to democratize how we’re gonna exist on this planet. 

With other organizations in this space, the how-to is different. The level of trade-off when you’re embedded with the powers-that-be is different. If we’re gonna do this work, why would we capitulate? And why would we let our capitulation define the solutions for everybody else?

If we want a future that looks any different than it does now in terms of climate and power, we have to fight for it ourselves, together. 

When it comes to California, what are you most excited about and what are you most concerned about?

California is a defining policy entity on climate. That gets me excited because there’s a lot of potential here for California to be a real leader. A lot of states, even countries, can take stances on climate change, but when California takes a stance, the markets move. We can actually develop a future that’s possible for the rest of the planet. 

We have all of the resources to do so. What we need is the political will. And we have an opportunity to build that political will in California. Some of that is going to come up in future work we’re planning, focused on the water crisis and drought in the state. 

The water issues in California affect everyone. We all know about the drought, but less so about the why. It’s related to climate change, but a major impact comes from resource exploitation. I think that’s what’s been missing in the narrative around water in California. I’m excited to bring that into the picture.

What has me concerned: the work’s gonna be difficult and the stakes will be big. People’s everyday issues are gonna get bigger and bigger. Rent, food, gas, jobs — people are feeling the strain of our failed economics deeply. That comes before the next rain, the next flood, the next drought, the next wildfire season.

Oftentimes, we speak on these issues on a grand scale, so a lot of people won’t see them as dinner-plate issues. However, for most, these are dinner-plate issues. That’s just not the narrative that’s out there. But we have the opportunity to connect Food & Water Watch’s issues to folks’ dinner-plate issues. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do more in this movement?

Get involved in our volunteer network! We’re gonna be doing a lot of fundamental organizing and exciting movement work in California, especially in 2023. We’re gonna have so many opportunities and actions for folks to be involved in, as climate leaders and champions, in California. 

The advice I have — Don’t think you can’t. If we can shift that mindset, from thinking you can’t to thinking you can, that will fundamentally shift the victories that are possible for us. Our belief in ourselves and each other is a powerful motivator.

Connect with people in your community, find out what’s happening. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard, whether it’s with local government, state government, or at the national level. The future is yours and you should have a say in defining that. The planet is ours and we need to have a say in defining that.  

Learn more about joining our work, in California and beyond!

This Bill Will Help Lower Gasoline Prices By Banning Gas Exports

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization).

Gas prices have been top-of-mind and top-of-newsfeed for months now, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supply shocks in the wake of the pandemic shook up the market. More recently, international oil cartel OPEC+ announced plans to lower production to keep prices high.

But few outlets have pointed to one of the key drivers of our pain at the pump — greedy oil and gas corporations that would rather send our supply abroad for maximum profit than serve customers at home. 

Our researchers have dug through the data, and we’ve found damning evidence of corporate greed. Oil and gas companies have been exporting historically high amounts of finished gasoline, squeezing domestic supply and sending high prices even higher.

But now, Rep. Rho Khanna (D-CA) has introduced new legislation to end gasoline exports.

Our Gasoline Export Boom is No Coincidence

Our latest analysis shows that in the first six months of 2022, gasoline exports jumped nearly 9% compared to the first six months of 2021. And 2021 was already a huge year for gasoline exports. The U.S. exported over 12 billion gallons, 1.5 billion more than 2020. That gasoline could have fulfilled the needs of 30 million American drivers for a whole year. 

These exports put pressure on our domestic supply of gasoline. Because of the supply squeeze, corporations can boost prices — and profits. Shell’s profit margins from refining alone have tripled in this year’s second quarter, to the tune of billions of dollars. Chevron and Exxon’s refining profits have also surged by the billions since this time last year.

In October, the U.S. Department of Energy pointed out that these profits are possible because gasoline companies have failed to manage their domestic supply. But while we suffer at home, those very same companies are exporting gasoline at historic levels.

This is only the latest in a long line of corporate greed that takes advantage of crises for profit, while hurting workers and families. In the past few years, lying meat corporations have hidden behind the pandemic to price-gouge us at the grocery store. Meanwhile, fracked gas companies jumped on Europe’s energy crisis to build out polluting infrastructure in our communities. 

Without government action, we can’t expect corporations to give up on their dirty tactics.

We Can Lower Gas Prices By Banning Gas Exports Now

Political pundits have taken the Biden administration to task for not drilling. But not only did Biden ramp up drilling well before our gasoline price hikes — this false claim distracts from the real issue of gasoline exports. Moreover, more drilling for crude won’t help gasoline supplies when refineries are already running on all cylinders.

Over the past few years, Food & Water Watch has thrown a spotlight on the role of corporate greed in rising prices. This week, we finally have action in Congress. The Gasoline Export Ban Act, introduced by Rep. Khanna, would require the president to ban exports when gasoline prices rise above $3.12 for one week. 

Today’s gas prices show yet again that corporations can’t be trusted to keep the interests of their customers in mind. Rather, they’re happy to pursue any path that will bring them more profits. We need the Gas Export Ban Act to reign in Big Oil and lower the prices on this essential fuel for working families.

Ask your Congress member to support the Gas Export Ban!

The Dirty Side of “Green” Hydrogen

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Jasmin Vargas and Mia DiFelice

The City of Angels is abuzz with what proponents hail as the new frontier of clean energy: hydrogen. This year the region’s utility, SoCalGas, unveiled plans to develop green hydrogen pipelines attached to a regional hydrogen hub.

Los Angeles is only one city of many that have announced their intentions to build hydrogen infrastructure. The buzz comes after the Biden Administration announced an avalanche of cash to develop it; notably, through the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act

The industry depicts hydrogen as a miracle power source that will help us fight climate change while keeping the lights on. However, it hasn’t mentioned the massive obstacles ahead, nor their costs to us.

But we know a pivot to hydrogen stands to harm vulnerable communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, while siphoning resources from proven climate technologies.

Green Hydrogen Isn’t So Green

Companies like SoCalGas insist that their hydrogen will be clean, but that’s a lofty promise to make when currently 95% of hydrogen energy comes from fracked gas. The other 5%, called “green” hydrogen, comes from splitting water molecules with electricity from renewable energy.

But even if industry could produce “green” hydrogen at scale, it would still be wasteful and inefficient. Compared to renewable-powered batteries, which are 80% efficient, hydrogen fuel cells are only 30%. That makes hydrogen far more expensive than renewable-based electric power.

What’s more, hydrogen is a thirsty power source. Throughout its life cycle, each megawatt-hour of “green” hydrogen consumes at least 5,000 liters of water. Compare that to solar, which uses 20 liters per MWh, or wind, which uses just 1 liter per MWh.

Climate change already threatens our water supplies. L.A. and the rest of California is in the midst of a megadrought. A huge hydrogen buildout will only make things worse.

We can’t even be sure that “green” hydrogen will actually create no emissions. Hydrogen is a very small molecule, making it more likely than methane to leak. But if it does, we are in trouble. Hydrogen molecules have a global warming potential 11 times greater than carbon dioxide. 

Moreover, SoCalGas, the utility behind L.A.’s hydrogen plans, has a scary track record when it comes to leaks. In 2015, it subjected L.A. to the largest methane leak in U.S. history.

The utility’s Aliso Canyon storage facility leaked for 100 days. SoCalGas failed to monitor the facility properly or immediately report the leak to officials, leading to the evacuation of thousands of residents. Now consider this: hydrogen leaks are even less regulated than methane leaks.

Green Hydrogen Risks Dangers in Our Homes and Backyards

Hydrogen poses other health and safety risks to communities. It’s volatile and flammable, even more so than fracked gas. Hydrogen pipelines have already caused explosions, posing major dangers to communities near that infrastructure. Moreover, hydrogen is currently stored as ammonia, a hazardous chemical that can cause death in high concentrations.

Public health risks go beyond pipelines and facilities and into homes. Utilities have proposed blending hydrogen with methane in power plants and utility lines to burn for home heating. 

Not only is this wildly inefficient compared to electric heating — burning hydrogen can lead to nitrogen oxide pollution six times greater than burning fracked gas. Such pollution is an ingredient for particulate matter and ozone, which cause respiratory illnesses that already plague frontline communities. 

These communities, disproportionately home to people of color, have been sacrifice zones for decades of industrial activity. Hydrogen will only entrench this environmental racism. 

Dirty Energy Companies Hide Behind Green Hydrogen

It’s no coincidence that some of the dirtiest polluters are heavily investing in “green” hydrogen. Too often, they use these projects to greenwash the expansion of pipelines or power plants. 

There’s no way we can take these companies seriously when they say they’re fighting climate change. Dirty energy utilities have hidden the dangers of climate change for decades. SoCalGas even spent ratepayer funds to lobby against climate action. And utilities are widely stalling on their climate promises: all talk, no walk. 

We can’t trust companies like SoCalGas with our clean energy future. If allowed, they’ll gobble up our tax dollars through hydrogen subsidies and raise rates to help cover the expensive projects, too.

Green Hydrogen: Coming to a City Near You

In May, Los Angeles began applying for hydrogen hub funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The City Council’s motion to authorize the applications initially included guardrails to ensure hydrogen infrastructure wouldn’t support dirty energy. 

However, these guardrails disappeared before the motions was even introduced. As our senior organizer Jasmin Vargas warned: “Hydrogen is being used by fossil fuel interests to maintain their dangerous pipeline and energy infrastructure.” 

In New York, construction on a “green” hydrogen plant has already broken ground. Huge hydrogen projects are heading for Texas, Louisiana, Florida and beyond. 

We can’t let hydrogen continue to grow. Instead, we should be investing in community-driven solutions and shutting down this dirty infrastructure in a just transition to 100% clean energy.

We Know How To Fight Climate Change. We Don’t Need “Green” Hydrogen to Do It.

Hydrogen power may make sense for a few niche uses, but using it for power is a non-starter. We are facing a massive buildout that aims to make hydrogen a major U.S. power source. That buildout means sprawling new facilities and pipelines — and more of the community sacrifice zones that always follow. 

These projects are multi-billion-dollar distractions from the clean energy deployment we’ve been calling on for decades. We know that demand response, energy efficiency, and wind, solar, and geothermal electrification will fight climate change. Not only will they do so more cheaply, more efficiently, and with far less public health risks — they will create thousands of new clean energy and climate jobs.

The truth is, the climate crisis is here, and dirty energy companies want to make billions pretending to be part of the solution. We can’t let this happen. We must fight for a 100% renewable energy transition, in which no one gets left behind.

Spread the word: “green” hydrogen could be headed for a city near you.

The Factor in Food Prices No One is Talking About: Wall Street

Categories

Food System

by Mia DiFelice

Over the past year, we’ve seen our grocery bills rise and rise. Our newsfeeds tell us it’s caused by a variety of factors, like the invasion of Ukraine or supply chain problems. We can blame monopolies, market power and price gouging, too. 

But there’s another player in this game that has gone mostly under the radar. And that’s investment banks on Wall Street and their subsidiaries. 

How Investors Profit Off Food They Don’t Sell

In commodity markets, buyers and sellers can make contracts (also called futures) with each other. A buyer agrees to purchase a farmer’s goods (for example, grain) sometime in the future for an agreed-upon price. That price is locked in, even if the market price of the good changes after the contract was signed.

In theory, these contracts should help growers manage the risk of changing supply and demand by guaranteeing a future price. But there are other kinds of financial tools in commodity markets.

For example, swaps are essentially a bet on how the value of a commodity will change from Date A to Date B. They don’t require any buyer to actually pick up goods at the end of the swap period — making it a prime tool for investors looking to make a quick buck.

In fact, these financial tools (also called derivatives) have grown beyond the domain of growers, food manufacturers and their buyers. They are now also a route for investment banks to make money. And that’s where speculation comes in. 

Speculation is the trading of commodities for profit. And the more wildly commodity prices swing, the more money speculators can make on those price changes through swaps. 

Because of this, speculation can affect the real-life prices for food — in this case, driving them up. The actual buyers and sellers of the goods become more irrelevant to the price. And now, deregulated speculative activity is responsible for an estimated 10-25% of our current food prices.

Food Speculation Has Deadly Consequences

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the harmful effects of commodity markets. Economists have pinned swaps as the main driver of the 2008 financial crisis.

Moreover, during that time, the world was growing more food than ever before. But food prices were nevertheless skyrocketing. We can trace those higher prices directly to commodity markets.

Now, shocks to the global food supply, from COVID to the war in Ukraine, have become blood in the water for the sharks on Wall Street. Speculators have rushed into the grain market, worsening any existing supply shocks. Meanwhile, the financial sector quickly blamed prices on supply shocks only — neglecting to mention how speculation shakes up an already unstable market. 

The result: low-income families struggle more than ever to afford food for their families while hunger rises at home and abroad.

We Can Fight High Food Prices By Reining in The Banks

In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, the federal government tried to reform the financial sector. But the heavyweights in the industry lobbied hard to shut down even the most common-sense regulations. The recent flurry of activity in grain markets came on the heels of recent regulatory rollbacks won by the financial lobby. 

The U.S. has so far failed to reign in the speculators wreaking havoc on the food system. That’s because these banks have huge lobbying powers and market power. The four largest banks in the U.S. — Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America — control 90% of the U.S. swaps market.

Wall Street needs to get its hands off our bread. We can’t afford more price hikes on groceries because big-wig investors want a few extra millions in their pocket. The regulating agencies must be able to meaningfully regulate their charges. And we need an end to speculation on commodities like grain, full stop.

We can’t let Wall Street off the hook. Spread the word on how speculation grows our grocery bills!

How We Organized Against Manchin’s Dirty Deal

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo by Eman Mohammed | Survival Media Agency
by Thomas Meyer and Mia DiFelice

Tuesday evening marked one of Food & Water Watch’s — and the whole climate movement’s — most exciting victories of the year. After failing to secure enough votes, Senator Joe Manchin asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to withdraw his permitting bill from a government funding package. 

This was only possible because of outrage and organizing across the country. We quickly mobilized with environmental and civic groups, Congressmembers and voters. And we’re prepared to do it again and again — whatever it takes to defend our communities and a livable future.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Thursday, September 22, 2022. Climate and Environmental justice activists protesting the Manchin’s dirty pipeline deal at the entrance of the Hart Senate Office Building. Photo by Eman Mohammed | Survival Media Agency

A Fossil-Fuel-Filled Future On The Line With Manchin’s Bill

Manchin struck his dirty deal with Democratic leadership this summer in exchange for his support for the Inflation Reduction Act. But the deal brought a bill filled with concessions to the fossil fuel industry — and penned with the industry’s help. These concessions were incomprehensible when we know we need a clean energy transition, now. But it all became clear when a draft was leaked that actually still had the watermark from American Petroleum Institute.

The bill would have fast-tracked fossil fuel permitting and gutted the environmental regulations that keep our communities safe. It would have ensured the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, blasting past years of opposition from communities along the pipeline’s path. And it would have cleared the way for even more dangerous pipelines and polluting infrastructure.

An Out-Pouring of People Power Stopped Manchin’s Bill in Its Tracks

As our executive director Wenonah Hauter said, Manchin’s withdrawal “marks a huge victory against dirty energy — and also against dirty backroom Washington dealmaking.” This bill was the result of secret deals and bending the knee to fossil fuel lobbyists. So as soon as we heard about it, we knew we needed a flood of people power to remind lawmakers who they really represent.

Working with our allies in the People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition, we recruited over 700 organizations to oppose the deal. Activists hand-delivered a letter signed by these groups to their Congressmembers throughout August and September. 

At the same time, our volunteers started texting and calling thousands of people. They helped generate over 10,000 calls to Congressional offices from our supporters and allies!

This complimented efforts on Capitol Hill. Our policy team helped organize hundreds of meetings with Congressional offices and supported the “No Sacrifice Zones” lobby day September 8th. We worked with dozens of national, local and environmental justice organizations to get nearly 80 Representatives and 8 Senators to publicly oppose the deal. 

We also knew that when it came to the bill’s climate and public health impacts, science was on our side. So we organized a letter from 400 scientists, doctors and nurses who opposed the deal.

We also held dozens of events, working with allies to pressure key targets across the country. That included Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his fellow New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. To that end, we mobilized 27 elected officials in New York to declare their opposition to the deal.

In early September, we joined with allies for a huge grassroots lobby day and rally in Washington D.C. There, we demanded that Congress oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline and stop Manchin’s dirty deal. We also coordinated sit-ins in Seattle, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.. And on September 22, our executive director Wenonah Hauter was arrested with 11 other directors from the climate movement for protesting the deal at the U.S. Capitol.

We’re Not Done Yet — Manchin Will Try Again

Before Tuesday, Manchin’s bill seemed to many like a done deal. It had been attached to a must-pass bill, with a vote scheduled just days before the government funding deadline on September 30. But people power prevailed! 

While Manchin couldn’t get the votes to pass his bill this week, we know he’ll look for new avenues. Even worse, Republicans have come up with their own permitting bill, which gives even more handouts to the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil fuel expansion is unacceptable at any time, but it’s especially outrageous to consider while devastating hurricanes are hitting Florida and Puerto Rico. Climate disasters are intensifying, and we must do everything we can to protect our communities and end the era of fossil fuels.

As this year’s session continues, we can expect more attempts to pass so-called “permitting reform” that would expand fossil fuels and harm communities. But Food & Water Watch will be standing by, ready to organize to strike down whatever dangerous legislation comes next.

We can’t do this work without your support!

This article was updated September 29 regarding our lobby efforts and the climate catastrophes in Florida and Puerto Rico.

Oil Undercover: The Sneaky Ways Big Oil Pushes Its Interests

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

Last month, the residents of Allegheny County, PA were fighting to ban fracking in their parks. It came down to a special meeting, where County Councilmembers would vote whether to override a veto by the Council Executive.

The special meeting was held in front of a packed house. But many of the attendants weren’t interested Allegheny County residents. They were folks sent by industry groups and the fracking company that would benefit from the ban’s veto. 

This strategy is representative of decades of deceit from fossil fuel corporations. 

The industry has lied to us for as long as they’ve had something to lie about. First, about the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change; then, about their own actions (or rather, inaction) to help mitigate the climate crisis. 

To pull off this level of deceit, fossil fuel execs know they have to be sneaky about it. They know that while they have plenty of power to wield themselves, they’ll be far more effective if they can win hearts and minds. And oftentimes, that means going undercover.

Big Oil’s Undercover Ops Began as Soon as They Knew About Climate Change

As early as the 1980s, Big Oil’s own scientists knew that fossil fuels were a main driver of climate change, and that climate change would become a huge problem in the years to come. But Exxon executives, for instance, continued saying that climate science was “inconclusive.”

To make their claims seem credible, they hired an outreach team of five scientists who could declare independence in the climate “debate.” These scientists became the face of “unbiased” climate denialism, and the results of their work persisted for decades. 

For example, just five years ago, 97% of climate scientists thought global warming was likely due to human activity. Yet at the same time, more than half of our Representatives and Senators were climate deniers.

Big Oil continues to use these strategies, even as the worsening perils of our fossil fuel dependence become clearer. Big industry players are still hiring scientists to sow doubt and push their agenda. And they’ve added more tools to their arsenal — Ivy League universities, research institutions, PR firms and even fake “grassroots” campaigns.

Big Oil Goes “Grassroots” in New York And California

Astroturf groups, or front groups, look like grassroots groups at first glance. They talk about dangers and benefits to the consumer. They call for reasonable things like “affordable energy” and “energy solutions.” But under the hood, they’re funded and directed by dirty energy companies that have a vested interest in passing policy. 

These front groups work from the local to the national level. Take the example of SoCalGas in 2019. That year, California’s Public Utilities Commission began setting policies to decarbonize buildings. As part of that process, SoCalGas, a major gas company in the state, was set to testify to the Commission. A group called “Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions” (C4BES) also petitioned to be at the table.

But then, environmental groups exposed the truth — SoCalGas established and funded C4BES. By sneaking C4BES in front of the Commission, SoCalGas essentially gave itself two voices in the discussion, with C4BES posing as the interests of everyday Californians. 

Such groups ran rampant in California. In 2017, reporters uncovered 16 front groups run by the Western States Petroleum Association — the largest lobby group for Big Oil in the West. A leaked presentation by WSPA’s president revealed that the Association was using these fake organizations to create the illusion of public opposition to climate policies.

The Oil Slick in The Halls of America’s Universities

Big Oil money saturates nearly every energy institution in academia. For instance, the Marcellus Shale Coalition funded much of the research on fracking out of Penn State University. The Coalition includes huge gas companies such as Chevron and Sunoco. 

Our 2013 report — in the middle of the fracking boom — found that fracking companies had their hands in university studies across the country. Researchers hid previous ties to the industry; companies funded professor positions and improvements to university buildings.

They also funded research that blew through peer review processes; a University Texas panel declared that one industry-funded study “fell short of contemporary standards for scientific work.” Such research has claimed fracking was getting safer (even when it wasn’t). One study even successfully advocated for tax policy that would benefit the industry.

This is an endemic problem, from our country’s biggest research universities to its most prestigious Ivy Leagues. The gradual withdrawal of public funding for education has driven universities into corporations’ willing arms, which are all too happy to pay for research supporting their products and profits.

By funding and swaying university research, Big Oil’s supporters can point to respected and “independent” sources — when these sources are actually on Big Oil’s payroll. 

We Can Take The Power Back From Big Oil

Fossil fuel corporations have gotten away with misleading us for so long because of their money and power. They’ve used their resources to recruit public relations firms, trade groups, front groups and researchers. These folks in turn leverage their influence to sway courts, lawmakers and public opinion in Big Oil’s favor.

But climate change and its effects continue to worsen. Climate action becomes more urgent every day. We can’t afford distractions. In a fight of fact versus fiction, one of our best defenses is exposing deception. Once we reveal the disguises and the deceit, we see the only way forward must be 100% renewables and the end of the fossil fuel industry.

Knowledge is power. We can take it back from the fossil fuel industry!

We Have a Right To Water. The U.S. Has Not Delivered.

Categories

Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice and Mary Grant

Now more than ever, access to clean water is top of mind. Climate chaos continues to harm communities nationwide, disproportionately Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. It’s bringing droughts, floods, sewage spills, wildfires and destruction. For many, supplies are diminishing and water quality is deteriorating.

The devastating water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi has left the city’s 150,000 residents without water for a week and without safe water for months. As will happen in many other cities, the climate crisis collided with decades of intentional disinvestment and structural racism. 

But at the same time, Big Ag and Big Oil continue guzzling water and wreaking havoc on the climate. Corporations have used tons of toxic chemicals like PFAS that end up in our waterways. Such abuse to our water and water systems has led to deadly pollution and our nation’s current lead crisis. It has ruined water resources that everyone should be able to use and enjoy. 

Our access to clean, affordable water faces threats on so many fronts. And we have a framework to begin solving these problems, but our government has yet to use it.

The U.S. Shows The Consequences of Ignoring The Right to Water

Twelve years ago, the United Nations officially recognized the human right to water. The resolution, signed by 122 countries, changed the conversation for policymakers and activists around the world. Since then, 39 countries have enshrined the right to water in legislation or their constitutions. 

The United States has failed to follow suit. In fact, the U.S. abstained from the UN vote that made water a human right. It even argued that water was not a human right, despite being necessary for survival, health and human flourishing.

This bears out in our policies and our communities, and it must be fixed. 

Thanks to corporate greed, the prices of necessities are skyrocketing at record rates. The privatization of utilities will make matters even worse. The corporations capturing public goods and services have long put profits before public interest. As a result, folks with privately held water pay an average 59% higher bills than those with public providers. 

We are facing an affordability crisis that puts people’s right to water at risk. Millions in the U.S. struggle to pay their utility bills. For the low-income participants in one federal program, a third skip filling prescriptions or grocery store trips to pay for utilities. If families can’t pay, utilities can force people from their homes or cut off these essential services. 

The U.S.’s failure to recognize and fulfill our human rights to water and sanitation is connected to so many other problems we face. It’s connected to the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic, our failing infrastructure and our country’s past and present of racial and economic injustice. 

The U.S. Must Recognize Water As a Human Right Now

On Thursday, Reps. Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman introduced a resolution to recognize the human rights to water and sanitation. The resolution would also recognize our rights to other utilities essential to health, safety and human dignity. These rights include the right to electricity, heating, cooling, broadband communications and public transportation.

To protect people and planet, the resolution calls on the House of Representatives to commit to ensuring these rights. It lays the groundwork for utility services that are accessible, safe, sustainable, affordable and reliable for all. 

If passed, the resolution would commit the House to, among other things:

  • Guarantee service for all by ending violent collection practices, including shutoffs;
  • Support public control of utilities by banning water privatization and commodification, expanding public electricity and opening up broadband service to public providers; 
  • Provide grants to environmental justice communities and create well-paying union jobs;
  • Address our climate crisis with justly sourced renewable energy;
  • And ensure utility services are safe and accessible for all, including unhoused folks.

The Right to Water Will Have Tangible Benefits For Communities

When people have the right to water, they have legal support to claim that right and the government must respond. A legal right reaffirms that water is not a commodity on which big corporations can profit from. Rather, water is a natural resource that we are all entitled to access safely and affordably.

California was the first U.S. state to recognize the human right to water. Since passage in 2012, the law has begun working its way through state agencies, prompting studies and regulations.    

Last year, New York voted overwhelmingly to incorporate the right to water in the state constitution. We await to see how this affects state policy, but the state has taken other actions to affirm the right to water and protect water as a public resource. 

Two days after the vote, Governor Hochul established two public water authorities in Nassau County. The authorities replaced private company American Water, restoring water provision to the public trust.  

More than 200 organizations support the rights to water in the United States. Food & Water Watch will continue to fight, alongside our allies, for the right to clean, affordable and accessible water for all.

Our government must recognize our right to water and other necessities. Tell Congress to support the resolution recognizing our right to utilities. 

Fighting Water Privatization in Pennsylvania And Beyond

Categories

Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In July 2022, the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority shocked residents when it rushed an unannounced vote on a deal with Aqua PA. The deal would have allowed Aqua PA, the local arm of $12-billion corporation Essential Utilities, to exclusively negotiate a purchase of the County’s sewer system. 

The vote came after months of backroom dealing, following Aqua’s unsolicited offer during the height of the pandemic. Residents worried how Aqua would raise rates, as the company’s average rates are double the region’s. 

If passed, the sale would have been the largest of its kind in the U.S., with $1.1 billion on the line. And it would have handed a public resource to a corporation with a driving priority: profit.

Water and sanitation should be managed in the public interest. That’s how we’ll secure the human right to clean, affordable and accessible water for all. But private corporations don’t see water as a right. They see it as a commodity they can profit from. 

And nowhere is it easier for corporations to swoop in and gobble public water systems than in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Law Lets Water Corporations Get Away With Too Much

Across the country, about 1 in 10 people get their drinking water from private companies. But in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, it’s 1 in 3. Water corporations have descended on Pennsylvania in recent years, thanks to legislation that greases the wheels on these deals. 

In 2016, Pennsylvania’s Act 12 allowed corporations to buy public utilities for more than their regular book value. Corporate proposals aren’t limited by the value of the system’s infrastructure. Now, they can approach municipalities with hugely inflated offers. And they do this because they can recover the acquisition’s full cost, plus 10-11% profit, by raising rates. 

After Act 12 passed, New Garden Township, PA, became the first municipality to agree to sell its sewer system. The result — rates jumped 30% when the acquisition was first announced, then an additional 37% after it was completed. 

Corporations Are Exploiting Federal Disinvestment 

With privatization deals, corporations exploit federal disinvestment in water infrastructure. Since 1977, federal funding for municipal water systems plummeted 77%. Disinvestment is one of the driving factors for water crises across the country. Many localities, especially in low-wealth and redlined communities, struggle to fund needed improvements when their residents can’t afford higher bills. 

We see the consequences now in Jackson, Mississippi. Following the recent water crisis that came to a head after decades of environmental racism, the corporate water lobby is now preying on Jackson to promote privatization and rationalize their unaffordable water bills in the media. 

However, privatization deals don’t usually fund infrastructure improvements. The sale becomes a backdoor to use water rate money for other purposes. That includes pet projects, paying off debt or avoiding property tax hikes. This practice isn’t just nontransparent — it’s fiscally irresponsible. It trades the permanent sale of a major asset for a one-time flood of cash.

And when privatization deals go through, ratepayers are hit hardest. Private water utilities typically charge 59% higher rates than public utilities. They’re also less likely to place protections against moratoriums on water shutoffs and less likely to have conservation programs (i.e., help their customers save money). 

In this way, privatization exacerbates our nation’s water affordability crisis. In the U.S., one in three households struggle to afford their water bills. Each year, an estimated 15 million people experience a water shutoff over unaffordable water bills. 

Water is a Right — Not a Profit Center

Running a water system comes with huge costs. The infrastructure and maintenance is expensive. Water systems are one of the most capital-intensive utilities. Because of this, water systems are natural monopolies. They face no competition. 

Privatization makes these monopolies dangerous, as private corporations are accountable first and foremost to their stockholders — and the pursuit of profit. They have less incentives to consider the wide-ranging effects of their rate hikes and infrastructure decisions. 

On the other hand, with local control, public institutions can check water system monopolies. Residents can vote in or out the public officials who oversee the utility. They can pressure their elected officials. They can share their concerns at public meetings. 

Ultimately, water service is not a tradable good that can be sold on a market. Rather, it is a public service that is essential for life. Privatization threatens our right to water with price hikes, service shut offs and decisions that put profits before people. 

A Victory Against Privatization in Pennsylvania

When news of the Bucks County deal first broke, residents went to work. Local group Neighborhoods Opposing Privatization Efforts organized to make their dissent clear. They mobilized for opposition from municipal leaders and pressured the Bucks County Commissioners to oppose the deal. Finally, in September 2022, the chair of the BCWSA confirmed that the deal was off — the sale wouldn’t go through.

As our Eastern PA organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerslake put it:

“This was a backroom corporate deal from the start, and it only stopped because local residents started to ask questions, voice their concerns, and hold their elected commissioners who have the power to change the BCWSA’s charter accountable. Getting the board to see the light and slam the brakes on this terrible deal is a huge win for clean water, public input, and democracy itself.”

The efforts of the residents of Bucks County show the power of people in the face of corporate takeovers. And it shows the value of public systems in which those most affected by changes have a voice in them. As the fight against privatization heats up in Pennsylvania and beyond, we’ll be standing with communities every chance we get. 

Right now, the Pennsylvania State Assembly is considering a bill that would make privatization even easier. You can help us stop the bill and defend against water privatization in PA.

Pennsylvanians: tell your representative to reject this water privatization bill!

Carbon Capture & Storage Explained: The New Fossil Fuel Frontier

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

We’re running out of time to fight the consequences of our fossil fuel dependence. Everyday, we face headlines on raging wildfires, parching droughts, devastating hurricanes and other climate disasters. Experts have made it clear: we should have plugged carbon emissions yesterday. 

But what if we could only take emissions out of the fossil fuel equation?

That’s the fantasy that industry leaders and many politicians are pushing above anything else. But it’s just another scam that will boost profits and double down on polluting industry, with disastrous consequences for communities already sickened by air and water toxins from dirty energy power plants.

This fantasy goes by the name of carbon capture and storage. It refers to technologies designed to trap and remove carbon emissions from smokestacks or the atmosphere itself. And it’s gotten a lot of buzz lately. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated billions of dollars to develop and deploy carbon capture. The Inflation Reduction Act will send billions more. 

But carbon capture isn’t a solution to climate change. In fact, it will entrench and grow the pollution that has already plagued frontline communities for decades. 

Here’s how it works, and what the industry and its hacks won’t tell you.

Carbon Capture Technology is Dangerous, Expensive — And it Just Doesn’t Work

The industry claims that carbon capture technology stores carbon deep underground, forever. But corporations don’t have a good track record when it comes to pumping stuff underground. 

Oil and gas companies routinely inject drilling wastewater deep into the earth, and even wells deemed safe at the outset have leaked. Pumping wastewater underground has contaminated well water and even disrupted local geology, causing earthquakes.

Even if this end-use were foolproof, it’s not the one the carbon capture facilities actually use. In fact, 95% of carbon currently captured is used for enhanced oil recovery. That means the carbon is injected into old oil and gas wells to push out every last drop — contributing to our vicious cycle of fossil fuel dependence. 

Moreover, carbon capture is incredibly energy-intensive. That, combined with the emissions of the fossil fuels they perpetuate, has meant that U.S. carbon capture projects have actually led to a net increase in emissions, not a decrease.

And we are paying a lot for these emissions. Failed carbon capture projects have cost us billions in taxpayer dollars and will cost us billions more. We are paying through the nose for projects that don’t work, yet allow coal and other dirty energies to persist.

Carbon Capture is a Multi-Purpose Boondoggle

This climate scam will be used to greenwash a variety of dirty energy sources — for example, ethanol. Industry has touted ethanol made from growing corn as a “renewable” fuel source. But corn ethanol is actually an estimated 24% more emissions-intensive than gasoline. It also causes a host of other problems, from higher corn prices to entrenching industrial agriculture practices. 

Carbon capture stands to entrench the corn ethanol industry by green-washing it even more. The rush to get CCS technology into ethanol has already begun. Thousands of miles of pipelines planned for Iowa would transport CO2 from ethanol and fertilizer facilities to injection sites.

There’s hardly a dirty energy that carbon capture doesn’t prop up. The fossil fuel industry plans to use it to revive dying coal and fracked gas plants. If allowed, they’ll attach it to hydrogen power generation derived from fracked gas.

Across the dirty energy sector, corporations plan to use carbon capture as a cover to continue emitting, polluting and threatening our health and safety. 

Carbon Capture Entrenches Dangerous Industry in Vulnerable Communities

If industry execs get their way, carbon capture will subject frontline communities to more pollution. We already know that children playing near fossil fuel power plants are at greater risk for asthma and other respiratory illnesses. We know that fracking operations leak toxic chemicals into our air and water

Carbon capture would also require a huge infrastructure buildout with devastating consequences for those nearby. 

For example, carbon pipelines would turn a hefty profit for the same pipeline companies that have already wreaked havoc with oil and gas lines. From past experience, we can expect them to disrupt fragile ecosystems and threaten vulnerable communities. 

Carbon pipelines carry odorless, colorless CO2 that can displace oxygen and suffocate people to death. In 2020, a carbon pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi. The CO2 stopped emergency vehicles in their tracks, as it displaced the oxygen needed for fuel combustion. It sent 49 people to the hospital, and many victims still experienced symptoms months later.

We’ve already seen dangerous oil and gas pipelines leak, rupture and pollute. A carbon capture future means a future with even more deadly illnesses and accidents.  

We Won’t Let The Fossil Fuel Industry Get Away With Its Latest Scam

Compared to a full green energy transition, carbon capture doesn’t add up. We know renewables are proven, safer and cheaper. Unlike carbon capture, we don’t need more demonstration projects or research and development to see if renewables actually work.

Fossil fuel corporations are waving the illusion of carbon capture in our faces, distracting us from the energy transition we know we need. If allowed to continue, they’ll use it to double down on dirty energy, saddling the rest of us with more pollution and even more emissions. And there isn’t a region of this country CCS won’t touch. Projects threaten states across the country, from California to New Mexico to Ohio

With the flood of public funds rushing into the carbon capture industry, it’s more important than ever to take a stand against these projects. In the coming months, Food & Water Watch will be keeping you up to date with new proposals and new scams. 

When the fracking boom hit, we quickly recognized that this new “bridge fuel” would be a bridge to nowhere. That it would harm communities and fail to fight climate change. Now, we see the fossil fuel industry playing the same game with carbon capture. We can’t and we won’t let them stall us on real climate action.

Knowledge is power. Share it with your friends and family!

Protecting Our Parks: A Win in PA Against Fracking

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photos by Volinic Visuals

by Mia DiFelice

When you think of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, you may think of our sports teams, our rivers or the steel that helped build our country. But we have other gems, and these are emerald green. 

Our County parks are huge and densely forested, the kind you can get lost in. They are oases of nature among the county’s highways and Pittsburgh’s city streets. College students lounge in the shade between classes; curious children learn about the natural world; families hike, picnic and kayak.

That’s why, this summer, the threat of fracking in county parks struck fear and anger among residents. In the culmination of years of organizing, Food & Water Watch worked with residents and local groups to pass a ban on fracking in the parks. And the long, winding fight made the victory all the sweeter.

Your support makes victories like this possible! You can hear more about this win — and what’s next — at Against All Odds, our annual benefit to protect our planet. 

We Know What Happens When You Frack In Allegheny

Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and more than 100 other municipalities, is no stranger to polluting industry. The county has been a center for coal extraction, oil and gas, steel, cokeworks and most recently, fracking.

As early as 2013 Allegheny residents were fighting fracking in our parks. Grassroots organization Protect Our Parks collected 2,000 signatures toward a moratorium on fracking in these green spaces. A bill even passed through the County Council. But our then- and current-County Executive, Rich Fitzgerland, struck it down with a veto.

In 2016, the County leased Deer Lakes Park to drilling corporation Range Resources. Range Resources has a record of environmental crime, including spills and leaks at fracking sites. So it was devastating, but not surprising, when a 2019 water quality assessment found chemical contaminants associated with fracking.

The Parks Bill Gets A New Lease On Life

After the Deer Lakes lease, the dream of a fracking ban in our parks didn’t die. Food & Water Watch organizers picked it up again in 2021 and began planning. We started a coalition of old supporters and new. We connected with state groups like PennEnvironment and local groups like Protect Franklin Park. A new bill was written to target industrial activity in the parks, including fracking.

We then turned to Allegheny County Councilmember Bethany Hallam to sponsor the bill. From years working with Hallam, all the way back to her campaign for councilmember-at-large, we knew she would be the champion we needed. 

In March 2021, the bill headed to the Parks Committee, where the chair — a longtime friend of Executive Fitzgerald — let the bill die. But we didn’t lose hope.

We turned to Anita Prizio, another climate champion, to host the bill in her committee. The bill returned to the Council at the start of 2022 and was voted into Councilmember Prizio’s committee. We finally had an opportunity to get it passed.

Mobilizing Residents To Keep Fracking Out

By that time, we had already gathered a strong base of supporters and allies. In the months before the vote, we collected petition signatures and arranged meetings between residents and their councilmembers. We turned out calls, personal letters and door-to-door canvassers. We held rallies and helped dozens of residents make public comments. Ultimately, we mobilized thousands of residents in this fight.

The Parks Bill was finally introduced in Council in early July. And thanks to our strong show of people power, the ban passed by a landslide, with 11 votes out of 15.

But we knew the fight wasn’t over yet. We knew County Executive Fitzgerald, who vetoed the last Parks Bill, would do so again. Only this time, he had some tricks up his sleeve. 

While Fitzgerald signed his veto on July 6, he didn’t deliver it until a week later. This cut down the already-short deadline to hold an override vote. It also forced the vote to occur during summer recess, in a special meeting. 

Luckily, the bill’s cosponsors were absolute champions, and they ensured the special meeting would happen. They scheduled it a week after Fitzgerald delivered his veto. 

The special meeting opened to a packed house. Industry lobbyists descended onto Pittsburgh. Having been silent the entire campaign, they were suddenly eager to tout the benefits that fracking would bring. It was clear they didn’t think the bill would advance as far as it did — and it was clear we had them worried. 

The special meeting stretched over three hours. Thirty people spoke out in favor of the bill. And then finally, the Councilmembers cast their votes. 

Winning A Ban On Fracking In Our Parks

We only needed 10 votes to strike down the veto, but at the 11th hour, a final vote “yes” came through. To our surprise, we had flipped Councimember Bob Macey, a longtime friend of the industry. The final count was 12 votes to override, meaning that we had done it. We had passed a fracking ban in Allegheny County Parks.

The Pittsburgh Parks ban showed the power of the people to hold their elected officials accountable. At least three councilmembers did not personally support the ban, but said they voted for it because of the flood of comments from their constituents. 

It also showed the advantages of our strategy. Not only did we help supporters connect with their councilmembers; we also worked with councilmembers like Hallam, whom we had long relationships with. The support, trust and open communication we’ve built with them made this bill possible.

What’s Next For Southwestern Pennsylvania

The fracking ban in Allegheny parks is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, a state where the industry wields a lot of political power and is used to getting its way. The ban sends a clear message: Fracking is not invincible. The tide is turning.

We will no longer let polluting industry run rampant in our communities. And Food & Water Watch will be fighting with communities until we’ve banned fracking everywhere. Our Allegheny win has given us strategies and inspiration to replicate our success in municipalities across Pennsylvania and beyond.

Learn more from our PA organizer, Megan McDonough, at our annual benefit on September 29th.

The Poultry Giants Are Abusing Growers. USDA Can Stop Them.

Categories

Food System

by Mia DiFelice

In July 2022, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit and proposed consent decree against three poultry processors for alleged antitrust violations and unlawful labor practices.

Once the federal court signs off, the $84.4 million settlement would end a long-running conspiracy between Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms and Cargill Inc. The three allegedly worked together to suppress worker pay at poultry processing plants.

The settlement would also address the companies’ abuses against contract poultry growers. These contract growers raise and care for the companies’ chickens before slaughter. 

As part of the settlement deal, Sanderson and Wayne agreed on a guaranteed base payment to their growers. The deal also requires them to give growers more information about the risks involved in contracting with these mega-corporations.

These disclosure requirements mirror a new rule USDA proposed in June. The rule would aim to increase transparency in the notoriously unfair “tournament” payment system widely used throughout the poultry industry.

The new rule is the first in a series of anticipated USDA actions meant to strengthen protections for farmers and growers. These actions are sorely needed. But alone, this transparency rule won’t come close to fixing our broken system.

How The Poultry Giants Dump Costs On Their Contractors

From feed to egg to chicken, to the packages we see at the supermarket, just a few players call the shots. Those players are the processor giants like Sanderson and Cargill. They’re also called integrators because they bring nearly every link in the supply chain under their control. 

Rather than raise chickens and market to consumers, integrators found it’s much cheaper to have others do it for them. Even better — they can force growers to take on huge debt to build out single-purpose chicken houses designed to the integrators’ exact specifications. A typical operation with four chicken houses can cost $1 million to build. That doesn’t include costly upgrades that integrators frequently demand growers make to keep their contracts. 

And even better for integrators, they place all risk of environmental and public health impacts on growers. They shield themselves from the pervasive harm caused by the practices they force growers to adopt. 

Though they avoid the biggest costs, the processor giants maintain tight control over how chickens are grown. Through contracts, processors provide — and control — the chicks, the feed and the veterinary care. 

This system has hurt poultry growers for decades. Within it, integrators reap all the rewards without bearing the risks or costs. They force the public to cope with the industry’s polluted air and water. Meanwhile, growers’ livelihoods depend on an unpredictable, unfair and abusive payout system.

Enter, tournaments. 

In Poultry Tournaments, Processors Don’t Play Fair

Once the flocks are ready for slaughter, the integrators survey the weights of all the birds for every grower in a tournament group. (The integrator decides who is in which group.) They take the average, and then dock pay of growers below the average. What they dock, they add to the payouts for above-average growers. 

The actual quality of a grower’s work is not what determines their pay. Rather, their pay is strictly a matter of where a grower falls compared to the other tournament group members. 

Because of this, a grower can almost never estimate their payout at the end of each flock. This is especially true because the integrator-controlled inputs can vary in quality, with big impacts on flock performance. In other words, integrators shift all the risk of substandard inputs onto growers. The growers then suffer in the tournament due to variables they have zero control over. 

Moreover, integrators keep growers in the dark about input variability. This allows integrators to retaliate against growers who speak out against the integrator. Growers who do so have been known to receive low quality inputs, ensuring they do poorly in the next tournament.

Together, these practices lead to wildly volatile incomes for growers. In fact, the range of incomes across U.S. poultry growers is wider than that among all other agricultural sectors and among U.S households. 

Poultry tournaments are a zero-sum game for growers, where there are always winners and losers. But like a rigged casino, the integrators always win. Because integrators transfer pay from below-average to above-average growers, they’re only ever paying for the average rate per flock. Integrators have profited handsomely from their growers’ precarity.

USDA’s Proposed Changes Fall Short Of Needed Systems Change

This year, USDA aims to tackle tournaments by strengthening its rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). Congress passed this century-old legislation to protect farmers and prevent abusive and monopolistic practices by meat processors. 

However, outdated regulations, incorrect interpretations in court and lax enforcement have weakened the PSA. As a result, exploitative practices have persisted throughout the industry, especially in the poultry sector.  

As part of these improvements, USDA has proposed a new rule meant to foster greater transparency in poultry contracts and tournaments. If issued, the rule would require integrators to disclose more information at the time of contracting. 

This essential information would include realistic ranges of expected earnings and minimum flock placements. Knowing these factors would help growers better understand what they’re signing up for. They could better decide whether to enter or remain in this risky and often abusive system. 

The rule would also require integrators to provide information about the variability and quality of inputs. That could help growers identify when inputs are being distributed in unfair, unjustly discriminatory or unduly preferential ways. 

But the proposed rule is not enough. Simply requiring integrators to disclose their control over a grower’s success will not stop their patently abusive contracting practices. USDA must also follow through on its commitment to prohibit the harmful practices themselves, as the PSA empowers them to do.

Moreover, processors have been able to abuse growers for so long in large part due to their extreme power over local and regional markets. Until recently, the four biggest poultry giants held 50% of the national market.

In response, the USDA has proposed a $200 million lending program to support small processors and increase competition. But $200 million will not make a dent in the market power held by the country’s poultry giants. This July, Cargill and Continental Grain (which owns Wayne Farms) announced they acquired Sanderson for $4.5 billion. Now, we can expect the Big Four’s market share to increase to 60%, tightening their grip on growers.

Food & Water Watch Is Fighting Big Poultry

Hyper-concentrated markets, like we have in factory farming, hurt farmers and families. Across the meat industry, growers’ share of profits have fallen while meat and poultry have become the largest contributor to our rising grocery bills. Giants like Cargill and Continental Grain rack up more cash while squeezing every penny from small growers and families. 

While greater transparency in the poultry industry is a welcome first step toward addressing these problems, USDA can and must do more. 

The Department has signaled its intent to issue future rules on the tournament system and on specific practices that violate the PSA. In the months to come, our lawyers will be working to ensure that USDA issues strong rules that actually protect growers. We submitted our comments on the proposed transparency rule in August, and will continue engaging in the public process on other PSA updates throughout the fall.  

Everyone needs to know: Poultry giant shouldn’t get away with abuse.

On Desalination And Drought With Activist Conner Everts

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Leah Garland and Mia DiFelice

This May, a coalition of water advocates won a victory against the Poseidon desalination plant planned for Huntington Beach, California. As part of the 22-year effort, Food & Water Watch helped to shut down plans for the plant. If it had been approved, Poseidon would have wreaked havoc on marine life and driven up community water rates. At the same time, the plant would have bypassed more cost-effective, more sustainable and more just conservation solutions. 

Our Manger of Individual Philanthropy Leah Garland sat down with Conner Everts, long-time water activist and consultant. They discuss the Poseidon fight, the dangers of desalination and the future of water in California. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Activist Conner Everts and interviewer Leah Garland.

Laying The Groundwork Against Desalination

You have been Food and Water Watch’s Water Consultant since we were founded in 2005. How did you become a water consultant?

I think of myself more as an elder advisor on water because I’ve been doing it for so long. And I come from it the old-fashioned way. I was a fisherman, and so I loved rivers, and I could see the impact of what was happening. So I decided to focus on water back in the ‘80s.

When Wenonah Hauter started Food & Water Watch, I began consulting with them. The two issues I focused on were Cadiz, a desert-mining water project in the Mojave, and desalination, not just with Poseidon but with all the plants up and down the coast.

We hear a lot about how desalination is good for other places, like Israel, to provide clean water in dry areas. So why is desalination not good for California?

In California, it’s a case of “technological fix.” The water industry and cities are asking, “How can we maintain our level of water waste and our lifestyle without changing it?” 

But before Israel, Spain or Australia did desalination, they got their per capita water use down to 40 gallons a day. In California, we’re at about 80-90 gallons in residential areas. Instead of conservation, much of the state’s basic water management policy is to pray for rain at this point.

We over-allocate the amount of water we have at least five times. And that was before climate change. Water is a finite resource. Until we treat it like that, we’re not dealing with reality. 

A Hard-Won Victory Against Desalination in Huntington Beach

How did the campaign find success in its most recent battle with Poseidon?

When Poseidon started in Huntington Beach, they found a lot of political resistance. So they went to San Diego and managed to get the Carlsbad plant through, in the midst of fires and a dry time. 

But that plant has provided less water than they would have by reducing their demand, at a far greater cost. And Poseidon got a take or pay deal, meaning that whether people need the water or not, they’re going to pay for it. And that made it good for Poseidon, but not the ratepayers whose water rates went up and up. 

So when Poseidon came back to Huntington Beach, opposition against them had grown. We had all the resources we needed from tribal and environmental justice groups, and a UCLA report calling for a human right to water — affordable, safe and clean water for all.

I think that was a key issue: Can a private company essentially industrialize the ocean and make a profit off of it, while ignoring the public trust?

Poseidon said they weren’t going to take any public money, but they went for money that should have been going to affordable housing through state agencies. We found we were part of a much more complicated financing issue, where corporations take money that’s available — that should be used for pollution control and affordable housing — and they try to apply it to a private project. We gave them a lot of heat for that.

The fight ended with a unanimous decision against the plant, from the now majority-women Coastal Commission with tribes and environmental justice organizations leading the way.

What has Food & Water Watch’s role been in the movement against desalination?

For a long time, Food & Water Watch was the only one fighting desalination work. And they don’t mind going after the Governor, or making the connection between energy and water. Some groups are more siloed, but Food & Water Watch wasn’t. 

The model we used was working with local groups, helping them build up their own capacity. We were able to mobilize people and bring them together. Food & Water Watch had a big voice there. It wasn’t an “It takes a village” moment, but rather “it takes a large regional metropolis” to find solutions because water should be a regional issue. 

It shouldn’t be dictated by state policy or water agencies. It shouldn’t be dictated by engineering firms or private speculators like Poseidon. It should be dictated by all the people impacted. 

Continuing The Fight For A Better Water System

What does California need to do to protect its water considering our water situation right now and the worsening effects of climate change?

We’re faced with these, what I call, “zombie boondoggle water supply” options. They’re these pipe-dream fantasies of how we’re going to provide water. Yet we know we can do more with less water if we use it efficiently.

But if you really want to have equity in water, those who use the least should pay the least. That would support the human right to water. 

Also, desalination plants need power, and if you’re running a power plant on the coast 24 hours a day, that impacts the air quality of the people living inland. But desalination benefits coastal development, like beachfront roads and hotels. Expanding that is going to raise water rates. And that’s going to impact people who can’t afford water, who live in hotter inland areas. 

At the same time, are we going to allow the extinction of salmon, steelhead and sturgeon? Those fish are the bottom of the food chain, and those are dying off. That impacts fish, seals, orcas and the salmon runs. And that impacts Indigenous communities, who are dependent on the salmon runs in their culture, not to mention for their food. 

If you get into the details of water, it’s not as simple as “Well, just build a desal plant.” But it can be simple if we continue to reduce our demand and acknowledge the people who need it most. We can reduce our use. We can break the cycle of repeating these issues over and over again. 


We’ll Break The Cycle With Your Help

The battle against desalination is far from over. In August 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new water plan that includes measures to grow and fast-track desalination in California. 

In the months ahead, the state faces additional desalination proposals in Orange County and Monterey. Meanwhile, Newsom has pushed to reopen the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant with desalination infrastructure. 

California doesn’t need desalination. It needs water conservation, a fast transition off fossil fuels and a system that guarantees safe, clean and affordable water for all. We have the power to push for the sustainable and equitable future of water we deserve.

Everyone must know: California deserves better than desalination!

Manchin’s Dirty Deal Must Be Stopped

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

On August 18 on both coasts, Food & Water Watch organizers took action with our allies in New York City and Seattle. The goal: to demand that our leaders stop the dirty fossil fuel deal proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin around the Inflation Reduction Act.

In New York, 12 activists were arrested for a peaceful sit-in in Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office. In Seattle, 8 were arrested for a sit-in at the office of Sen. Patty Murray, assistant Democratic leader in the Senate. 

In both cities, dozens of activists gathered outside to protest the deal that, as our National Organizing Manager Thomas Meyer said, is “nothing more than a wish list from Big Oil.” So far, neither Sen. Schumer or Sen. Murray have responded. 

The details of this dirty deal will come into focus when the Senate returns to D.C. in September. We still have time to kill this deal, and we’re only just getting started.

The Inflation Reduction Act Came With Strings That Need Cutting

In the final weeks of negotiations on the Inflation Reduction Act, Sen. Schumer struck a deal with Sen. Manchin. Or, we might say, Sen. Schumer struck a deal with Sen. Manchin and his corporate fossil fuel donors.

In exchange for the $370 billion bill, Sen. Manchin secured a promise to introduce legislation that would fast-track permit approval for dangerous new fossil fuel infrastructure. 

The bill, which we can expect when Congress returns in September, is an outrageous concession to the fossil fuel industry. If passed, it would lead to more pollution and other hazards from oil and gas projects, many in communities that are already harmed by fossil fuel projects. And it would silence those communities’ voices in the process. 

Food & Water Watch stands with our allies outside of Sen. Murray’s office in Seattle, protesting Manchin’s dirty deal.

The Side Deal Will Silence Communities And Fast-Track Fossil Fuels

In August 2022, a one-page summary of the deal leaked, and it isn’t pretty. The one-pager outlines changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. This Act has protected communities for decades by requiring developers to assess potential environmental impacts for major projects and gather community input. 

With these changes, the bill would gut environmental protections, endanger public health and sidestep community say. 

The one-pager also references the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a fracked gas pipeline that would cut through hundreds of miles of Virginia and West Virginia. The surrounding communities have fought the pipeline in court for years, and courts have struck down multiple permits granted to the project. The pipeline would cross almost 1,000 streams and wetlands and would spew emissions equal to 26 coal-fired power plants.

The measures in the leaked one-pager would tighten the timeline for NEPA review and put even more strain on taxed federal agencies. As Appalachian Voices points out, this could force agencies to take reports by developers at face value, rather than doing their due diligence to fact-checkclaims. 

Soon after the one-pager leaked, a draft of the legislation followed, bearing the watermark API — as in the American Petroleum Institute, the industry lobby group.

The draft legislation would require the President to create a list of 25 projects with “strategic national importance” to be fast-tracked through the permitting process — and at least 5 of those items must “produce, process, transport, or store fossil fuel products.”

Additionally, at least 2 must be for bogus carbon capture scams. This would lead to more pollution, and more dangerous carbon pipelines like the ones we’re fighting in Iowa

A Side Deal With Big Oil Isn’t Democracy

Manchin claims he’s serving the interests of his constituents, but that’s hard to believe when West Virginians have fought this pipeline for so long. 

It’s even harder to believe when Manchin has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests over the course of his career. He has received more campaign cash from the industry than any other sitting Senator, Republican or Democrat. This election cycle, gas pipeline companies gave Manchin $331,000.

Additionally, NextEra Energy, a major stakeholder in the project, has donated to both Sen. Manchin and Sen. Schumer. Clearly, this deal is yet another case of monied interests wooing our elected officials, at the expense of constituents. 

We’re Fighting This Deal Till The End

The bill will benefit oil and gas corporations at the expense of community voice, health and safety. And it will make it even easier for corporations to destroy local environments and worsen our climate crisis. 

We can expect Schumer to attach the bill to a must-pass budget bill in September. Until then, we have to continue to make it clear to our elected officials: our communities will not allow this legislation to move forward. Our climate cannot afford it. We need to stop Manchin’s dirty deal.

FWW is working tirelessly to fight this deal and stand in solidarity with the frontline communities it will harm. We’ve joined 650 other organizations in a public letter calling on Democratic leadership to stop the deal. And we’ll be making noise until leadership knows this deal is poisonous to its base and the communities they serve.

Tell your rep to oppose this dirty deal!

Corporations Add Fuel And Fan Flames In Our Wildfire Crisis

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

Deep in an old growth forest some 100 miles from the Pacific coast, a storm is brewing. First the thunder, then the lightning. Deer run for cover. Birds shield their chicks in their nests. A fork of lightning taps the top of a Douglas fir older than anyone alive in the town just a few miles away. 

In a few minutes, a single lick of flame will turn into an inferno. In less than 24 hours, thousands of acres will have turned to ash. 

We know wildfires are unpredictable, scary and devastating. We also know exactly who’s behind the crisis that millions of folks in the West and across the country face each year. 

Water-hungry and climate-wrecking corporations are turning our forests into tinderboxes. One of the drivers is Big Oil. And if the industry is allowed to continue, we’re looking at a much hotter, more dangerous future for our forests and our communities.

Unprecedented Wildfires Extend Their Reach

Megablazes, the kind of fires that take out more than 100,000 acres, used to be a once-in-a-career event for firefighters. But now, “during the summers we are seeing them on a weekly basis,” a program manager in the U.S. Fire Administration told the Guardian. 

In 2021, California saw 2.6 million acres lost to fire, blowing past the previous five years’ average of 1.4 million acres. Across the country, 70,000 communities are at risk for devastation by wildfire. 

Wildfires are growing across both space and time. Fire seasons that were once contained in the late summer and fall are now stretching earlier into the summer and later, even towards winter. 

On top of that, fires are becoming harder to fight. The high winds and dry conditions create fires that behave unpredictably and thus more dangerously. If we continue emitting at our current pace, climate models show the risk of large wildfires will grow 600% by 2050. 

Climate Change Adds Fuels To Forest Flames

The story behind today’s wildfires begins centuries ago. Once, indigenous communities purposely lit and managed fires. This prevented devastating fires by thinning out trees and shrubs, which would fuel a large flame. 

By the early 20th century, federal forest policy aimed to put out any fire as quickly as possible. Fuels like shrubs, dead plants and fallen branches built up for decades. More fuel means any spark — lightning, downed power lines, campfires — can turn into an intense and fast-moving inferno. 

But the problem has gotten far worse due to climate change. Climate change means less snow and rainfall, more high winds and more hot, dry weather. The forest has less moisture, and fuels become drier and more flammable. 

Climate change has more secondary effects, as well. For example, in West coast forests, bark beetles have grown more active thanks to the milder winters and drier trees.

The beetles bore into trees, killing them. Though the trees’ sap can push the beetles out of their bore holes, less moisture in the environment means less sap. The dry, dead trees then provide even more fuel for flames. 

Large fires also create climate feedback loops. The smoke sends more emissions into the air, which worsens climate change. This creates ideal conditions for wildfires, which send more emissions into the air, and so on. 

Big Oil Is Turning Up The Heat

California has been front and center in the news on wildfires for the past several years. But despite the state’s twin crises of drought and fire, it’s still our country’s 7th largest producer of crude oil. This is a recipe for worsening disaster.

The fossil fuel industry contributes to the state’s climate crises in several ways. It pumps carbon emissions into the air. It’s also an incredibly thirsty industry that threatens the entire region’s water cycle. From January 2018 to March 2021, fossil fuel companies in California used 3 billion gallons of water for drilling. 

When it’s not sucking up water, Big Oil is polluting it. For decades, oil corporations have gotten rid of their wastewater by injecting it deep underground. They also inject water into oil wells for enhanced oil recovery, a method for pushing out the last stubborn dregs of oil from a well. 

California is home to 1 in 3 U.S. oilfield injection wells, numbering int he tens of thousands. Every barrel of oil drilled results in 15 barrels of wastewater, which is full of salt, trace metals and toxic chemicals like benzene. 

The wells that hold this wastewater are poorly regulated and often leak, threatening groundwater supplies. Oil corporations have even injected wastewater directly into drinking water aquifers. 

If allowed to continue, the state’s fossil fuel corporations will continue worsening the drought. Less water in the environment means less rain and drier conditions — the key ingredients for wildfire.

We Know How To Reduce Our Wildfire Risk

Industry has run roughshod over our water supplies and our environment for too long. Big Oil and Big Ag are driving the climate crisis and fueling growing wildfires. If we are to slow down climate change, reduce wildfire risk and save millions more acres from a blaze, our elected leaders must act now. 

Currently, California is laying out its plans to address the climate crisis through a process at the California Air Resources Board. The board, appointed largely by Governor Newsom, will be setting the state’s strategy for addressing climate change. 

It’s critical that this process directly confronts the fossil fuel industry and that Newsom and CARB act with urgency. This means stopping new permits for drilling and fossil fuel infrastructure, phasing out all fossil fuel production by 2030 and rejecting industry scams like carbon capture that will only extend our dependence on fossil fuels.

In doing so, Governor Newsom could show real climate leadership — while addressing the wildfire crisis threatening communities in California and across the country.

Learn more from our allies in the Last Chance Alliance. This clip breaks down the factors behind California’s wildfires and how you can help tackle the industry responsible.

People power is our greatest tool to tackle climate change and the resulting wildfires. Help us build it.

On The Right To Water With An Activist On The Front Lines

Categories

Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

This week marks the 12th anniversary of the United Nations’ recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation. To commemorate the anniversary, Digital Copywriter Mia DiFelice sat down with Maude Barlow, FWW board member and long-time international water rights activist. In this interview, Maude talks about her experiences fighting for the right to water, the current challenges we face and her hopes for the future. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Journey To The United Nations

How did you come into the water movement?

I came out of the women’s movement here in Canada, and I came into water absolutely by accident. Back in 1985, Canada negotiated a free trade agreement with the U.S. I was concerned about its effects on social security for women. All these goods would be subject to new rules of trade that basically said, “Government is hands-off, the corporations get to decide.” But when I read the annex at the back of this agreement, it listed all of the goods under the new rules, like running shoes, cars and so on — and there was water in all its forms.

I remember thinking, I don’t understand this at all, how is water a tradable good? Water is a public trust! And that’s what set me on a journey. I realized that there were corporate interests that recognized before most of us that the planet was running out of clean, accessible water. They saw we were taking it for granted, we weren’t treating it well. They saw that anyone who controlled it was going to be both powerful and potentially wealthy.

In the run up to the UN’s recognition, you were the Special Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly. What were the high and low points of that experience? 

In 2008, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann took over as president of the UN General Assembly. He called me and said, “Come work with me, we’re going to do this together. We’re going to make water and sanitation a human right.” We put our heads together with other activists and put the question to the General Assembly on July 28, 2010. I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it. My country [Canada] was leading the fight against the human right to water. The U.S. was opposed, Great Britain was opposed. The World Bank was opposed, all the big water companies were opposed, etc.

But during the campaign, we brought people in to tell their stories to the United Nations. When Pablo Sonam, the ambassador to Bolivia, stood before the General Assembly on July 28, 2010, he had a report in his hand from the World Health Organization. He read from the report, which said that every three and a half seconds, somewhere in the Global South, a child dies of waterborne disease. And he held up one finger. And then another. And another, and then just half a finger — and you could have heard a pin drop in the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was so powerful. 

The Importance Of The Right To Water

How has the UN’s recognition of the human right to water changed the playing field for activists, especially here in North America?

The right to water matters, even though some people say, “Well, everything didn’t change the next day.” Because rights turn it into an issue of justice, not charity. 

Since 2010, over four dozen countries have either amended their constitution, or introduced new legislation to guarantee the human right to water. Once it’s in the constitution of a nation state, it becomes the right of the citizens of that state, and those citizens can use it in legal cases. I’d like to see it more widely understood and widely used. But it was a really important beginning. And I consider it an evolutionary step forward for humanity.

In Canada, we launched this Blue Communities project where municipalities pledge to protect water as a human right, to not allow privatization and to start phasing out plastic bottled water on municipal premises. That’s been tremendously exciting. It’s now hit 337 municipalities around the world, including big ones like Berlin and Paris. 

Los Angeles became a blue community a couple of years ago. And you might think, Well, Los Angeles is so wealthy, why would they need to do this? But in the Greater Los Angeles area, there are a million people without proper access to water and sanitation. So people who think this is just an issue in the Global South are wrong. I want to disabuse us of this notion that it’s only in some poor countries, although, of course, the crisis is much more stark in some places than others. 

The Fight Ahead For The Right To Water

What do you see as the next steps and challenges in the fight?

I worry about the financialization of water, which is something Food & Water Watch is leading the fight against with legislation and with public outcry. I worry about the commodification of water in different ways. For example, in the Western United States, water markets are opening up and farmers can sell their excess water, like a cash crop. 

We are facing what I call “the perfect storm” of declining water sources, either polluted or decimated. We’re pulling water faster than it can be replenished by nature. The demand for water on our planet is going straight up and the supply is going straight down. It is absolutely startling. There’s also growing inequality within and between countries. And then there’s the rising cost of water, particularly when it’s privatized. 

Protecting and restoring watersheds, forest soils and wetlands is absolutely crucial. Yet we continue to take those forests and wetlands down as we build more stuff and we trade more stuff. We have this notion of unlimited growth. But we don’t yet understand how sacred water is and that water is life and that we’re part of water, we’re part of nature, we’re not separate from it.

What has helped you persist in what looks and feels like a very uphill battle?

The wonderful people in our movement, including Food & Water Watch and the leadership of Wenonah Hauter and others, gives me tremendous hope. And meeting young people from around the world who care and are doing something. 

I’ve just finished a new book called Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. In the book, I share that you never know where the wind is going to come from. As Rebecca Solnit wrote, “History is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways.” 

We can’t control the outcomes. But my definition of hope is a commitment to protecting all that is good for future generations and the planet, knowing that you can’t control the outcome. But you have faith that what you do matters. So you put your hand out and you touch the web of the universe, wherever you are. You can’t control everything else, and you’re not sure what others are doing. But you have to have faith that others are doing something. And that together, you’re moving forward. 

That’s the definition of what American spiritual leader Joan Halifax calls “wise hope.” I love the concept of wise hope. It’s not, “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry, be happy.” No. Having wise hope means knowing we have serious problems. But we look them in the eye, and we deal with them. 


What You Can Do: Volunteer To Turn Your Community Blue!

Hearing from Maude makes it clear how important it is for everyone to act locally to protect their resources. Communities around the world have passed local resolutions pledging to promote the human right to water and sanitation. These blue communities reject water privatization and promise to keep water in the public service. They also say “no” to bottled water in public buildings and events. With every blue community, we come closer to realizing our human right to clean, affordable water.

Learn how to advocate for your community to turn blue!

We’re Shipping Fracked Gas Abroad, Killing Our Wallets and Our Planet

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we are yet again reminded of the dangers posed by our dependence on fossil fuels. Companies and countries too easily manipulate the market for profit and political gain.

Following new European sanctions against Russia, American fracked gas companies were only too happy to take advantage of the crisis. They’re touting fracked gas as an alternative to Russian fossil fuels. But if allowed to continue, the industry will lock in huge profits — as well as a supercharged trans-Atlantic fossil fuel trade and continued U.S. and EU dependency on fossil fuels. 

To export fracked gas, companies liquefy it and ship it overseas — such gas is known as liquefied natural gas (LNG). America began exporting LNG thanks to the glut of gas brought by the fracking boom, starting about eight years ago. In that time, the U.S. has gone from importing gas to, this year, becoming the largest LNG exporter in the world. We cannot allow this growth to continue.

Fracked Gas Companies Plan To Profit While Prices Hurt Families

At the moment, global prices for LNG are nine times more than they were just two years ago. Those prices, in energy terms, are comparable to a $200 barrel of oil. (Even now, with oil prices in the news daily, a barrel of crude has hovered around $100.) The new demand from Europe disrupted fracked gas markets, and prices rose as more competitors vie for supplies. 

That includes prices here in the U.S. The growth of LNG exports caused the soaring home heating prices that slammed low-income families last winter. In June 2022, an explosion at a Texas LNG export facility took 20% of U.S. export capacity offline. The result: market prices for fracked gas dropped in just a few hours. The explosion stopped exports that would have gone abroad. That unexpected supply flooded U.S. markets, and U.S. prices fell. Exporting domestic supply to the highest bidder has clear impacts on our energy costs at home.

The growing export industry has allowed U.S. LNG companies to pull in millions of excess profits from these high prices. In 2022’s first quarter, four of the biggest gas companies reported growing sales, profits and stock buybacks. This year, Cheniere, America’s largest LNG company, reported double the revenues compared to last year.

At the same time, exporters are using the crisis in Europe as an opportunity to build out infrastructure on our shores. In February, Cheniere’s CEO said to investors, “…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.” 

Yet, these new export terminals won’t help Europe much when there isn’t enough infrastructure there to move fracked gas. On top of that, a May report by E3G found that the EU’s energy sector can transition off Russian gas by 2025 without the need for any new LNG infrastructure. Renewables are the clear winner when it comes to securing energy security.

Fracked Gas Presents Terminal Health Risks To People And Planet

LNG isn’t nearly as climate-friendly as its proponents want us to believe. LNG exports require liquifying, regasifying and transporting processes, which are energy-intensive and create more pollution. Plus, LNG creates pressure in the tanks it’s stored in, making it necessary to vent some gas. The resulting leaks make LNG more damaging for the climate than coal. The emissions of all these processes nearly equal that of burning the gas itself — in other words, exported LNG has double the climate impact of fracked gas used domestically. 

Fracked gas infrastructure also comes with a host of health and safety risks for nearby communities. Every step of the supply chain, from drilling, to pipelines, to transport, comes with risks of explosion. Between 2010 and 2019, our government recorded 1,226 gas pipeline safety incidents, including fires and explosions. These incidents killed 25 people, injured 108 and caused $1.3 billion in damages. But only 5% of fracked gas pipelines must report incidents. The number of casualties is surely higher. 

One region threatened by proposed new LNG infrastructure is the Gulf coast. The projects there are set to decimate wildlife habitats, desecrate Indigenous historical sites and disproportionately impact marginalized communities with toxic pollution. This pollution can create smog, cause asthma and damage lungs. The risks are disproportionately borne by people of color. 

Fracked Gas Exports: No Quick Fixes, Only Long-Term Consequences

Anything corporations do to expand LNG today will not change prices or stop shortages in the months to come. In fact, pipelines and export facilities take years to come online.

The industry shows its hand as it pursues long-term contracts. This isn’t about helping other countries in a short-term crisis — it’s about locking in decades of business at the expense of marginalized communities and planetary wellbeing.

Any investment in expanding fossil fuels is wildly out of step with the current science on climate change. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that any such expansion “will rob us of our last chance to avert climate chaos.” 

And LNG infrastructure is no minor investment. A single export plant costs billions to build. If the industry has its way, the U.S. risks squandering enormous sums on a market that will likely dry up in a few years. The future of LNG is clear — billions wasted on stranded assets and ever more dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels. 

We already have the tools to face down climate change. The Future Generations Protections Act will stop fracked gas exports, among a host of other climate-saving measures. If we are to secure a brighter, greener future, we have to stop LNG exports now.

Tell Congress to support the Future Generations Protect Act.

Futures Trading: Another Threat To Our Right To Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In late 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) launched the first water futures market, called the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index Futures. This market allows financial speculators to literally gamble on the price of water. But how does that actually work? And what are the consequences?

Water Futures Open Water Rights To Gambling 

First, let’s start with water rights. Generally, states west of the Mississippi allocate water resources through a water rights system based on the doctrine of “first in time, first in right.” Because of the history of the West, those with the most senior water rights are usually those who use it for agricultural purposes. 

These rights are appropriative. Those who hold them have the legal right to divert water from its natural flow; for example, via crop irrigation. In California, as in other western states, rights holders can sell or lease the rights to use the water to others. 

The index that Nasdaq Veles created is a single number that estimates the prevailing price of water in California. This number changes as water prices change. It’s based on an algorithm and a supposedly representative list of transactions — both of which Nasdaq Veles keeps confidential.  

CME’s new market allows investors to bet on changes in the index. Investors do this by entering a futures contract. The buyer and seller of the contract bet on how the index price will change by a predetermined date in the future. The financial speculators who sell futures contracts hope the price goes down, so they get paid at that date. Those who buy futures contracts hope the price goes up, so they get paid at that date. 

When the contract period ends, neither the buyer nor seller will get any water or rights to water. Instead, the “winner” gets cash. They “win” the difference between the index price at the start of the contract and the price at the end. So if no actual water is changing hands, what harm can it do? Turns out, a lot.

Water Futures Are Bad News For Real-Life Water Access

Proponents of the market say that rather than a casino, the futures contracts will function more like insurance. Farmers who participate in the market can insulate themselves from volatile changes in water prices by securing another source of income.

But the water futures market has inherent risks. It opens up the doors for further commodification and privatization of water. It can reframe water not as it is — a basic human right and resource that should remain in the public trust — but rather as greedy speculators would like it to be — something to bet on, like oil or gold. And, in doing so, it opens up water to excessive speculation and market manipulation, with consequences on the price of actual water.

First, investors, especially if they have huge contracts and stand to make or lose a lot of money, may try to profit from the futures market by manipulating the underlying market for real-life water. A single investor is allowed to buy water futures contracts equal to 31% of the average annual water rights transactions. Market manipulation is rampant in other futures markets that are based on price indices. 

California is particularly vulnerable to market manipulation because it lacks price transparency for water rights transactions. This is even more concerning considering that the CME can keep the data and algorithm of its index secret, calling it “confidential business information.” The public has no way of knowing if the index is accurate.

Excessive speculation is the second way that the water futures market could lead to real world price hikes. The presence of many large speculators on the futures market could send price signals that the price of water will increase. So rights holders of real-life water may hoard their water in response. This would cause prices for water to rise. 

“You can’t put a value on water as you do with other commodities. Water belongs to everyone and is a public good. It is closely tied to all of our lives and livelihoods, and is an essential component to public health.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

If prices rise, small farmers will be among the hardest hit because agricultural users are the largest sellers of water rights. High prices would make irrigation unaffordable for many small farmers. They’ll close up shop and sell their land, usually to big agribusinesses. That means more farmland consolidation and more profits and power to big corporations.

We Need The Future Of Water Act To Protect Our Water

Financial speculators should not be allowed to gamble on and profit off of drought in California. As droughts, wildfires and climate chaos threaten our water supplies, we need to protect this invaluable resource as a public trust, managed in the public interest.

Water futures will incentivize the rich to protect their interests in water. Meanwhile, everyone else will face increasingly scarce and unaffordable water. 

Fortunately, in March 2022, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced legislation to ban water futures trading. The Future of Water Act will ensure water is not a financial toy for speculators to play with, hurting families and small farmers in the process. Passing this legislation is an essential step to secure our human right to water.

Tell Congress to cosponsor the Future of Water Act!

Why Food & Water Watch Works: Victory for GasFreeNYC

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

In New York, buildings are the top emitters of greenhouse gasses. Real estate moguls and Big Oil and Gas have spent big to keep it that way. But in 2021, Food & Water Watch joined local organizations to fight for a ban on gas hookups in new construction. We had 10 months to pull it off.

Here’s how we did it.

Choosing The Right Target

Then-Mayor Bill DeBlasio supported the ban, which was helpful politically. But what really mattered was getting the City Council on board, because that’s where the ban would be passed. Food & Water Watch joined New York Communities for Change (NYCC), NYPIRG and WE ACT for Environmental Justice in the #GasFreeNYC coalition. Together, we went to work. 

GasFreeNYC’s strategy focused on key decision-makers who had the most power to get a gas ban on the books. In New York City, the City Council Speaker is crucial to introduce and move bills through the Council. At the time, that was Council Member Corey Johnson, who was coincidentally running for city-wide office as comptroller. The first step was getting the speaker to allow the bill to be introduced. The coalition gathered volunteers for a huge call-in campaign to his office, funneling more than 100 calls in one day. It worked — Johnson introduced the gas ban bill in City Council.

Next, as Johnson campaigned for comptroller, FWW and our allies began showing up at his events. For instance, we held a rally in front of the Rockefeller Center as the comptroller electoral debate took place inside. 

When we still didn’t have Johnson’s commitment on the bill, we turned to other council members. GasFreeNYC mobilized constituents to contact their council members again and again, racking up cosponsors on the bill. We held “street lobby” days, speaking with members on sidewalks as they headed into Council meetings. We even held a die-in outside City Hall to mourn those who died from flooding during Hurricane Ida — yet another storm supercharged by climate change. The result of all this organizing: more than 20 council members cosponsored the bill by mid-September. By the end of the month, Johnson stated publicly that he supported the bill. 

Getting The Ban On The Books

Now, GasFreeNYC had to fight for a public hearing. Without a public hearing, the bill would fade, but with a hearing, it would almost surely pass. We needed to convince the Council’s Environmental Committee Chair to schedule the hearing. Chair Jim Gennaro’s election to City Council was supported by significant contributions from the real estate industry, which opposed the bill. Needless to say, Gennaro was a hard sell.

After two months of pressing the council member, though, a flip switched. While we can’t know for certain why he changed his mind, it’s clear that the bill would not have passed without the support of the Mayor, the Speaker and thousands of mobilized constituents.

Getting to the public hearing was one of the most important steps in the fight, and GasFreeNYC didn’t hold back. Before the hearing, over 100 supporters and elected officials gathered at a virtual rally. Then, five-hours-worth of testimony from GasFreeNYC activists, industry professionals and everyday residents brought the bill to final negotiations. 

Finally, all parties met at the negotiating table. 

Staying The Course In The Homestretch

FWW has a long history of pushing political boundaries and steadfastly sticking to its positions. It’s a bold strategy that few other national environmental organizations have used, but it’s won us vital victories — perhaps most notably, New York’s fracking ban. 

On the gas ban campaign, that strategy worked once again. We stopped eleventh-hour loopholes pushed by opponents. All the months of organizing proved to council members that GasFreeNYC’s line had public attention and power. They knew that if GasFreeNYC wasn’t happy with the final bill, it wouldn’t pass. 

At the council’s final meeting of the session, Food & Water Watch and the GasFreeNYC coalition won a gas-hookup ban for all new construction and retrofits. That ban means 2,000 new buildings per year will be fossil fuel free. 

Why We Won

The GasFreeNYC campaign worked because it represented the communities at stake. Local activists and residents of color were integral to the fight. We also centered housing and justice issues in the conversation. The arguments and members of the Coalition showed that this was a movement of everyday New Yorkers, not elites or outsiders.

Additionally, activists and residents were committed to people power. They showed up at rallies, protests and events. That showed council members how important this issue was to voters, and it garnered media attention that propelled the movement further. 

As a large organization with its own base in different states, FWW prioritizes organizations on the ground. It leverages its national donor base and its resources, while centering the voices of those closest to the issue. In NYC, this meant contributing organizers and a large group of activists with long histories of fighting fossil fuel interests in New York, through pipeline and power plant projects, all the way back to the original ban on fracking. 

GasFreeNYC showed the power of real grassroots organizing — Food & Water Watch’s bread and butter. No amount of behind-the-scenes lobbying or dark money donations could win against constituents demanding change, en masse, from the representatives they elected. 

We win with help from supporters like you.

Big Oil’s Bet On Plastic Is Gambling With Our Future

Categories

Climate and Energy

CC BY 2.0, Dying Regime / Flickr
by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

Although we have a long fight ahead of us to transition off fossil fuels, the tide is turning. Consumers around the world are demanding greener power and more action on climate change. 

Big Oil has read the writing on the wall and has added a new tool to its arsenal — plastics. While public opinion turns against dirty energy, corporations are pushing petrochemicals to keep us hooked on fossil fuels.

Big Oil Is Betting Billions On Plastic

In the 2010s, the fracking boom created such a glut of natural gas that the industry scrambled to find new markets for it. Petrochemical companies were happy to step in. Ethane, a main raw material in many plastics, has doubled production in the U.S. from 2013 to 2021. Desperate to offload the surplus, U.S. companies send it around the world, often at bargain-bin prices. Ethane exported from the U.S. has gone from nonexistent to 300,000 barrels a day. The result — an explosion of plastic. Now, experts expect plastic production and consumption to triple by 2060.

The construction planned to expand the industry needs to stay in the blueprints. From cracker plants to pipelines, this infrastructure is expensive and dangerous. If all the planned projects are completed, emissions from plastics will double by 2050. These projects include 350 chemical plants that would introduce health risks to nearby communities. But since 2010, petrochemical companies have already spent $200 billion to expand plastics manufacturing infrastructure. 

At the same time, public opinion is getting hip to our plastic problem. Cities and states across America are banning certain kinds of single-use plastic. On a global level, Canada, India, France, and many other countries have placed their own bans just this year. Such measures predict shifting prices and future failure. Big Oil’s bet on the industry will entrench billions of dollars into infrastructure that will likely become unprofitable in a few years. 

Plastic Pose Growing Public Health Problems

If allowed to grow, the plastics industry stands to harm our families and communities in so many ways. For one, plastics release toxic chemicals all throughout their life cycle. From volatile organic compounds emitted during fracking, to heavy metals released during recycling, we absorb these toxins by breathing, eating or simply touching them.

Then, there are the pipelines. To make plastics, companies first extract ethane from natural gas liquids. Moving those NGLs requires miles of new pipelines. But NGLs are volatile and flammable, meaning pipelines have a host of health, safety and environmental risks. Yet, most of these lines aren’t regulated, sited or permitted by the federal government. Many states don’t step in, so miles and miles of hazardous pipelines have no oversight at all.

On top of that, the petrochemical industry has a long history of environmental racism. Companies have often cited polluting plants near low-income communities and communities of color. In Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” dozens of petrochemical plants dapple the shores of the Mississippi for 80 miles. The emissions from those plants rain yellow droplets of pollution and kill birds mid-flight. The mostly black and brown residents in the region have some of the greatest risks for cancer in the country.

Despite What Big Oil Tells Us, Recycling Doesn’t Work

For decades, petrochemical companies — often owned by the same oil and gas giants — touted ad campaigns (to the tune of $50 million a year) to keep us buying more plastic. They funded projects and created regulations, signaling that we could solve our plastic problem with some blue bins. But most of what we throw in those blue bins will never see a recycling facility. Only 1 in 10 plastics made from 1950 to 2015 have been recycled. In 2021, that number dropped to 1 in 20. 

Even the plastics that make it to a recycling center can’t be properly recycled. Instead, they’re downcycled, or turned into a lower-quality plastic. After that, they can only be downcycled once or twice more before they have to be tossed into a landfill. 

The newest flavor of the recycling myth goes by “advanced recycling,” which uses chemicals and high heat to break down plastics. The process, which is expensive and emissions-intensive, usually just results in a low-grade fossil fuel. Advanced recycling actually creates more greenhouse gasses than sending the plastic to a landfill or incinerating it. 

Yet, the plastics industry has pushed several states to loosen advanced recycling regulations, or even subsidize them. Taxpayers are funding Big Oil’s schemes to make plastic socially acceptable — when in fact, they’ll just create more problems and worsen climate change. 

We Can’t Let Big Oil Get Away With Plastics

Plastics are a danger to human health and climate. While they have a few important uses, Big Oil is pushing way more plastic than we need. The lie of consumer demand needs to be unraveled. In reality, packaging makes up 40% of produced plastics — which consumers have little say in.

The more Big Oil builds out its infrastructure and floods the market with plastics, the bigger the problem becomes. 

We can stop them in their tracks, starting with:

  1. Banning single-use plastics. These include water bottles, packaging and utensils, and they make up most of plastic waste. They end up in landfills, incinerators and our waterways. Like all plastics, they break down into microplastics, where they move much more easily and stealthily. Now, we find plastic in our sea salt, seafood, beer, honey, sugar and so much more.
  2. Banning fracking and new petrochemical facilities. We’ve known for years that fracking does irreparable damage to our environment and our communities. Petrochemical facilities are just as harmful. They’re also feeding the plastic problem, and stand to make it much, much worse. 

We need all hands on deck to stop Big Oil’s Plan B.

Drilling Won’t Lower Gas Prices. Here’s What Will.

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this content originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

It’s the hallmark experience of summer 2022. You’re rolling down your local street, heat waves shimmering off the asphalt, breeze blowing through open car windows. But when you stop at the light, an impossible number catches your eye. Huge and stark, the sign proclaims “REGULAR: $4.95.” It was $4.70 just last week!

Gas prices have been rising for months. Experts first pointed to an unexpected, rapid demand as global COVID lockdowns lifted. Oil and gas corporations saw bankruptcies and negative gas prices in the worst months of the pandemic. But rather than respond to returned demand, industry titans doubled down on profits.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, countries around the world began sanctioning Russian oil. Eye-watering gas prices have piled onto a seemingly endless list of crises and pain points for consumers. 

So of course, gas has become a political tool that Republicans use to condemn the climate policies of the Biden administration. Pointing at the president is a convenient pretense as they defend the interests of fossil fuel corporations.

But media coverage of gas prices swings between incomplete, misleading and downright false. The truth is, gas prices have little to do with White House decisions, and there are few quick fixes.

Consumers — especially the most vulnerable — need relief. But that won’t come from more drilling, as many politicians are demanding. In fact, more drilling would keep us at the mercy of future oil shocks. And it would attach our economic and environmental health to an industry with a long history of volatility and corporate greed.

Let’s break it down. 

White hand pumps gas into a white car.

More Drilling Is Not A Quick Fix For Gas Prices

Citing economic principles of supply and demand, political pundits call for Biden to increase the U.S. oil supply — that is, to drill more. We need more gas than we’ve got, the logic goes. Prices have risen. If supply grows to meet demand, prices will drop.

This argument misses key facts. First, Biden is not blocking the flow of American oil. In fact, he’s opened the tap more than Trump. The current administration issued more than 3,500 drilling permits in 2020 alone; that’s a third more than during Trump’s first year. And under Biden, U.S. oil production has grown from 9.7 million barrels a day to 11.6 million.

Yet oil and gas corporations are staying away from new drilling projects. Currently, 4,400 approved and drilled wells have yet to produce oil. Oil and gas executives show no sign of ramping up production. 

High Gas Prices Are A Boon For Investors

Oil executives themselves have revealed the reason for their inaction — profits. The oil and gas industry is seeing record cash flow. In the first quarter of 2022, the five biggest fossil fuel companies made their highest profits in more than a decade. Last year, four major companies (Shell, BP, Chevron and Exxon) made $75 billion. 

Their investors are demanding more of that windfall. So, instead of investing record profits in more drilling infrastructure, oil corporations are sending money back to investors through stock buybacks and payouts. In a March poll, 59% of oil executives admitted that investor pressure for profit, not government regulation, is the real reason they’re not drilling.

But blabber about drilling misses the mark. And it’s not like we usually use lots of Russian oil that we’re now missing. Of all the petroleum products used in the U.S. in the last decade, only 2% were Russian imports. So how do Russian sanctions affect U.S. gas prices?

The Oil Market Is A Complex Rollercoaster

Oil is a global market, which means prices are set by global supply and demand. The market could be rocked by tons of factors outside of U.S. control. Factors like natural disasters near production centers, the whims of oil-producing states and war. Such events create uncertainty about the future of supply and demand, which leads to more volatile prices. On top of that, speculators and their fleet of AI routinely bet on the future of the oil market. When prices go up, investors see dollar signs — and the more money they put down, the higher prices fly. 

In 2021, the U.S. exported more oil than it imported for the first time. Our crude oil production is soaring to record highs. Yet the price we pay for oil has still fluctuated wildly over the past few years. We are still vulnerable to oil price shocks.

The additional drilling pundits have proposed are a drop in the bucket of global supply. Far more influential are international disasters that clog supply chains, worry investors and prevent new development. Domestic production won’t insulate the U.S. from the global oil market. In fact, if more of our economy ran on fossil fuels, it would make us even more vulnerable to turbulent markets.

Price Controls and Renewables Are Real Solutions to Rising Gas Prices 

In the short-term, our government can help consumers with two tools. First, price controls would keep gas prices low, especially for those who need it most. Our country’s dirty oil addiction should not hurt workers and families. Second, we need an export ban on gasoline and other fuels. Despite the current crisis, U.S. exports on gasoline and diesel are nearing record-highs. With such exports, corporations send our domestic supply to the highest bidder. This ramps up market prices for everyone — including those of us who depend on gas for daily life and work.

Looking ahead, we need long-term solutions that will get us off the oil market rollercoaster. That means ramping up renewable energy. Renewables will insulate us from global oil shocks much more than domestic drilling ever could. But we have to pick up the pace of development while stopping new oil and gas. Our infrastructure and investment decisions today will have ripple effects for decades. More drilling won’t help struggling Americans tomorrow or even this year — but it will lock us into a future of dangerous emissions, climate disasters and high prices. 

Help us fight misinformation on gas prices.

This Climate Case Confirms: The Supreme Court Is On A Dark Path

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice and Angie Aker

Since the 1970s, the Clean Air Act has protected us from a host of environmental pollutants. Does the Clean Air Act allow the EPA to create rules that reduce carbon emissions from power plants? It’s an easy “Yes!” for most of us, which is why the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan to transition away from dirty power plants in 2015. But it’s a resounding “No” from an industry that prefers to run unchecked. That’s why a group of attorneys general sued over it, and the Supreme Court shelved the Plan before it could even go into effect. 

This June, the Supreme Court issued a decision in West Virginia v. EPA. The case took on the never implemented and now irrelevant Clean Power Plan. The Court ruled that the EPA cannot use the Clean Air Act to regulate power plants’ climate emissions by mandating an industry transition to cleaner energy. In its ruling, the conservative supermajority on the bench has yet again shown their hand. These activist justices are using their position to push corporate interests, while eliminating a vital tool against climate change.

The Court’s Decision Is A Threat to Climate Action

Laws like the Clean Air Act are intentionally broad to allow expert agency regulators to adapt to new issues and tackle new problems. This is especially important for issues like pollution and, of course, climate change. Our recent history has made it clear — climate action is now too urgent to wait on action from a gridlocked Congress. 

The fight for sweeping climate action is far from over, but WV v. EPA will make such action all the harder. The ruling endangers the Biden administration’s goal to decarbonize U.S. electricity by 2035. This is especially concerning because power plants are our second largest source of climate pollution. On top of that, our largest emitter, transportation, can only decarbonize if we have the clean electricity to power it. This decision makes emissions regulations — as well as other, future environmental regulations — all the more vulnerable to judicial overreach.

“The court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decision maker on climate policy.

I cannot think of many things more frightening.” 

— Justice Elena Kagan in her dissenting opinion.

We Have Major Questions About The Court’s Logic

The Court justified its decision by relying on the so-called “major questions doctrine.” This doctrine suggests that regulations are invalid if they address “major” political and economic issues and Congress has not explicitly told agencies how to act. By relying on this doctrine, the Court’s decision in WV v. EPA signals that future EPA rules — and actions from any other agency — are at risk.

But the major questions doctrine has a murky history and a supreme lack of logic. It flies in the face of so-called “textualism,” which conservative judges have relied on for decades to justify strict readings of statutes. This framework for interpreting law focuses on the text of the law itself. But as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion on WV v. EPA, “The current court is textualist only when being so suits it. When that method would frustrate broader goals, special canons like the ‘major questions doctrine’ magically appear as get-out-of-text-free cards.”

The doctrine also lacks any kind of test or threshold. And since the Court has not agreed on what counts as a “major question,” legal scholars point out that anything can be a major question if the justices on the bench deem it so. In short, the doctrine is a judicial power grab, encroaching on both Congress and the Executive branch. It threatens agencies’ ability to do their jobs — that is, implementing our most important laws.

Conservatives Captured The Court, And They Won’t Let Go Anytime Soon

For decades, conservative groups and funders — many backed by fossil fuel money — have worked to transform our judicial landscape. The same groups and funders supported the attorney generals suing in WV v. EPA; the campaigns that helped nominate and confirm five of SCOTUS’s current conservative supermajority; and dozens of other federal cases against climate policies. 

One such group is the Federalist Society, a national radical rightwing legal organization. All of the Republican-nominated justices on the bench have been either members of the Federalist Society or endorsed by it. The Society is funded by the likes of Chevron, Koch Industries and an array of conservative billionaires. Likewise, WV v. EPA was supported by the Republican Attorneys General Association, which is funded by our country’s biggest fossil fuel companies and coal executives.

WV v. EPA is the latest in a string of Supreme Court decisions from the Republican-nominated majority on the bench. These decisions quash Constitutional rights, public health and safety measures and decades-old precedents. WV v. EPA is part of the same antidemocratic judicial movement that has devastated our fundamental rights to bodily autonomy, our Fifth amendment rights, states’ ability to enact gun violence protections and more. 

And it likely will not be the last; legal experts expect that WV v. EPA will affect regulations on everything from consumer protection, to workers’ safety, to public health. When the Court returns to session in October, it will decide a slate of environmental cases through the same lens — further jeopardizing our right to a livable planet.

Our Fight For The Climate Is Far From Over

WV v. EPA underscores our urgent need for climate policies and federal action. The decision, while distressing, does not eliminate the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Biden Administration must issue the strongest rule possible to regulate climate pollution. Congress must also step up to the plate to stop oil and gas exports and new fossil fuel development. At the same time, states must pursue the strong climate policies that we need.

Food & Water Watch has been in this fight for 17 years. We will continue pressuring agencies and elected officials at all levels of government for climate action. We cannot afford to do anything else.

Everyone needs to know what’s at stake.

We Need To Get The Lead Out. Now.

Categories

Clean Water

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0© Theen Moy / Flickr.com
by Mia DiFelice and Mary Grant

We’ve heard this story so many times, it’s lost its shock. Lead found in our cities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our plumbing. Since the scandal in Flint, Michigan came to light in 2016, lead in our water has been a running story in our newsfeeds. And no wonder — every state in the country has lead service lines. 

A reminder: there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and it’s especially dangerous for children. It can lead to developmental disorders, damage to the nervous system and blood cells, and more. In 2021, out of a million children in the U.S. tested, half showed detectable levels of lead in their blood. Lead exposure is much more likely for poorer children and children of color, reinforcing historical inequities. 

Replacing lead lines is a human rights issue, a public health issue and a social justice issue. Yet, our elected officials have dragged their feet on full funding to fix this problem. Meanwhile, corporations are targeting municipal governments for privatization — which only stands to worsen the crisis.

The Link Between Lead And The Loss Of Local Control 

Flint’s lead crisis began when a state-appointed emergency manager took control of the city and changed its water source, supposedly to cut costs. Then-Governor Rick Snyder used the state emergency manager law to strip majority Black cities of democratic decision-making. This put money for bondholders before the health and wellbeing of residents. Immediately after the switch, residents raised the alarm about the gross, discolored water. The state emergency manager’s response? To repeatedly insist that the water was safe to drink. 

In 2014, Veolia, the world’s largest water corporation, was hired to study Flint’s water system and offer advice. It told the city that the water was safe. Now, the company faces a lawsuit from Flint children who were poisoned. It wasn’t until October 2015 that public health community organizing and advocacy got the emergency manager to switch the water supply back.

After Flint’s crisis came Pittsburgh’s. Pittsburgh also relied on a deal with Veolia that failed to protect public safety. As in Flint, the City was strapped for cash. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the City needed billions of dollars to get its water system up to snuff. So Pittsburgh called on Veolia to cut costs and manage the system. 

Veolia’s contract with Pittsburgh, as with many of its other clients, paid the company a percentage of the savings it touted. This explicitly incentivized Veolia to cut costs as much as possible. One of the items on the chopping block during its tenure was water treatment. The system switched to a cheaper corrosion control chemical — a change made without necessary state approval. And the consequences, as in Flint, were dire. Lead contamination surpassed the EPA’s action levels, or the level at which water systems must take action. It blew past the level of contamination deemed safe by public health officials — that is, zero. 

We Need Clean And Affordable Water

Nationally, privatization is wreaking havoc on our water supply. On average, utility bills are 59% higher for those on private systems versus public. At the same time, the incentives for quality plummet. Cutting costs for profit means cutting corners. Ultimately, residents pay the price.  

This summer, Rep. Rashida Tlaib led a tour of Michigan for the “Get The Lead Out” Caucus. The caucus is digging deeper into the issue of lead in our drinking water through research and conversations with residents on the ground. As they prepare recommendations for the House, we need to make clear our demands for clean, affordable, lead-free water. 

Get the lead out in…

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In 2016, 17% of Pittsburgh houses were turning up with lead contamination above the EPA’s action level. Since then, the local water authority has replaced 52-miles-worth of public and private lead service lines. However, the City has much more work ahead of it. About 8,000 service lines still need to be replaced, with aims to finish by 2026. Meanwhile, about 400 children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in the City each year.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

The Wet Well is where all of the wastewater enters the plant. CC BY-SA 2.0; 90.5 WESA, Flickr
Get the lead out in…

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.’s lead crisis began in November 2000 when the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority changed a water treatment chemical. Lead rose to dangerous levels among the city’s 25,000 residences with known lead service lines. The DCWSA tried downplaying the risks of lead. They knew the lead levels were elevated in 2002, but the public didn’t know until the Washington Post published an exposé in 2004. By failing to properly notify the public, DCWSA violated our national lead-in-water rule. Now, twenty years later, NRDC estimates that D.C. has almost 32,000 lead service lines. The District’s officials and utility company have taken little action to address the ongoing threat.

Construction workers check on progress inside a CSO tunnel for the Clean Rivers Project in D.C.
Get the lead out in…

Benton Harbor, Michigan

Since 2018, lead testing has revealed dozens of homes in Benton Harbor with dangerously high levels. Last fall, a coalition petitioned the EPA for emergency action to bring those levels down. In response, the Governor signed an executive order to give residents alternative water and filters. It will cost $30 million to replace the City’s service lines, as nearly all were confirmed to have lead or could possibly have lead in 2020. By June 2022, two-thirds of the city’s lead service lines had been replaced. Residents continue to call for a stronger response to the crisis, including faster assistance to replace all lead service lines.

Get the lead out in…

Flint, Michigan

Eight years have passed since Flint’s water crisis shone a national spotlight on the lead in our pipes. Yet, Flint residents still struggle with untrustworthy water and unaffordable water bills. In 2015, tests showed that Flint’s water exceeded 25 ppb of lead in most samples, with some reaching over 100 or even 1,000 ppb. City and state officials repeatedly insisted the water was safe to drink, but local organizing forced the emergency manager to switch back water sources. Flint is aiming to finish all lead service line replacements by September 2022. 

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; George Thomas, Flickr

A Strong Lead-in-Water Rule

By October 2024, President Biden’s administration has promised a stronger Lead and Copper Rule. For years, community groups have urged action to fix the broken lead-in-water regulation. Our government needs to lower the action level as close to zero as possible, improve sampling and require full lead service line replacement within a decade. These changes will help ensure that we get lead out of our water. 

At the same time, communities must get the funding they need to ensure everyone can access clean water — water that isn’t poisoned by lead.

A Solution In The WATER Act

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill directed $15 billion a year for lead service line replacements. It distributes about half of that through loans instead of grants dedicated to disadvantaged communities. This is not enough. In fact, it’s only a quarter of what the water industry says we need to replace every lead service line in the country. 

We have another option — the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act led by Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Ro Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders. This legislation has more than 100 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 6 in the Senate. The WATER Act would dedicate $35 billion each and every year to update our water systems, including replacing lead service lines. It would send $1 billion a year specifically to schools to improve water pipes and fixtures. And, the WATER Act is the only water funding proposal that explicitly calls for water to remain in public hands.

Call on Congress to support the WATER Act.

Big Oil’s Lies Are Killing Our Planet — And Us

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

For decades, the fossil fuel industry has lied to us and covered up their climate impacts. Thankfully, Big Oil is finally facing consequences. Several cities and states have sued fossil fuel corporations for their lies. For instance, Massachusetts’ attorney general alleges Exxon broke consumer protection laws and lied to investors about the risks climate change poses to their business. 

But as the industry faces new heat, it’s turning to new lies to keep us hooked. Here are five myths Big Oil is pushing on us, and the reality they don’t want us to know.

Lie #1: Good Food Needs Gas

The best cooking is done on an open flame. This line has been pushed by the natural gas industry for decades. Gas stoves have become symbols of food and family, hearth and home. But whatever merits gas has for cooking, they don’t outweigh its dangerous health and climate impacts. 

Just an hour of running a gas stove and oven creates unsafe pollutant levels in the whole house, not just the kitchen. Nitrogen oxides, a family of such stove-emitting pollutants, are linked to heart and respiratory problems. In fact, children in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to have asthma than those in homes that use electric. And a whopping 10% of all U.S. emissions come just from burning gas in commercial and residential buildings. 

Despite these hazards, new single-family homes built with gas hookups increased by 20% from the 1970s to 2019. That’s because the gas industry has flooded our airwaves, our magazines and even our social media feeds with ads. For example, the American Gas Association’s #cookingwithgas campaign pulled chefs from around the country to drum up support. It’s also paid influencers to “gush” about gas stoves on Instagram. 

The fossil fuel industry has a vested interest in keeping gas in our homes. But the fact is electric stoves are way more efficient, less polluting and kinder to the planet.

Lie #2: “Natural” Gas Is Our Bridge To Clean Energy

When the fracking boom arrived in the 2010s, the industry claimed that gas would be a bridge to clean energy. By replacing dirty coal, the story went, gas could get our emissions in check while renewable technology grew cheaper and scalable. 

But fracked gas has barely tipped the scale on emissions. In the past ten years, emissions from coal and gas fell by only 10%. Methane leaks from fracking infrastructure counteracts any claim of a benefit. In 2020, we did the math and found that if gas remains our dominant source of electricity, emissions will actually rise in the coming decades. Meanwhile, we know that renewables are ready to scale, affordable and critical to eliminating fossil fuels in the electricity, building and transportation sectors. We just need the political will to build them as quickly as possible.

As fossil fuel companies build out new fracking infrastructure, they’re locking us into gas for another generation at least. The average lifespan of a gas power plant is 4 to 5 decades. By investing in new gas plants, we’re either dooming the Earth to runaway climate change or wasting billions (often subsidized with public money) on facilities that must be decommissioned in just a few years. 

Lie #3: More Fossil Fuels = More Jobs

Opponents to decarbonization love to say that slashing fossil fuels will slash jobs. In 2021, the American Petroleum Institute claimed 2.5 million people work directly in oil and gas. But we checked their work and found that their report double-counted and overcounted by over 2 million jobs. 

Moreover, fossil fuel companies are not genuinely concerned with preserving employment. Even as production and profits increased in the U.S. over the years, the industry has hemorrhaged jobs. This is because oil and gas companies eagerly pursue automation to cut costs.

On the other hand, growing green industries like efficiency, ecosystem restoration and renewables will create more jobs than doubling down on fossil fuels. Fossil-fuel reliant communities shouldn’t be tied to dying industries that’ll leave pollution for decades to come. Rather, they need — and demand — a just transition that creates good jobs in clean energy. 

Lie #4: Carbon Capture Will Solve The Climate Crisis

The new darling of the fossil fuel industry is carbon capture and storage, which pulls carbon out of power plant emissions. Proponents say this will change the game on lowering emissions, as it prevents emitted CO2 from ever reaching the atmosphere. CCS has received a lot of press recently — and a lot of cash. The Biden administration has dedicated more than $10 billion of taxpayer funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build out CCS infrastructure. 

But CCS demonstration projects have already received $6.9 billion of our money. And these projects actually proved that carbon capture is not a viable climate solution. Plagued with budget overshoots and underperformance, by 2016 only 4% of planned CCS capacity saw operations.

We’ve seen plenty of proof that these projects require new, expensive infrastructure and way too much energy to justify ever building them. Carbon capture systems essentially need a whole new power plant to fuel them. As a result, CCS projects in the U.S. have been net emitters, rather than reducers. And, in an outrageous turn of events, much of the carbon captured in CCS is used for enhanced oil recovery. This practice injects carbon into wells to help extract even more fossil fuels.

Ultimately, the best and fastest solution to decarbonize is to transition to 100% renewable energy. This, plus energy efficiency and rolling back demand, are our best bets to soften the blow of climate change. Oil companies saying otherwise are trying to distract us from the solutions that threaten their bottom line.

Lie #5: Oil & Gas Wants To Help Us Get Green

Since the Paris Climate agreement was signed in 2015, Big Oil has spent hundreds of millions of dollars rebranding itself. They’ve touted algae biofuels, recycling programs, clean energy investments and more to portray themselves as partners in a green transition. But while they loudly talk the talk, they, unsurprisingly, have failed to walk the walk. 

This year, researchers dug into the financial statements and annual reports of four major oil companies. Even though the companies sprinkled reports with phrases like “low-carbon energy” and “clean-energy transition,” they’ve actually increased fossil fuel production and barely dipped their toes in clean energy investments. 

Instead, as another report found, the five biggest oil and gas companies spent $200 million a year lobbying against climate legislation in the five years after Paris.

To make matters worse, the 12 largest oil and gas companies have committed to pouring $387 million a day on oil and gas extraction through 2030. Their planned projects (60% of which have broken ground) total 646 billion tons of emissions. That doesn’t sound like a “clean-energy transition” to us.

Big Oil’s Lies Are Ugly, And The Consequences If We Believe Them Will Be Uglier

Big Oil is trying to paint itself as part of a new, green future. But the industry has not substantially pivoted to clean energy, halted development or meaningfully reduced emissions. Instead, it’s doubling down on fossil fuels while pushing false narratives and pretending to develop “solutions.” 

We have to make it clear that Big Oil can no longer get away with misleading us. Our planet don’t need expensive technology or feel-good stories. It needs us to abandon fossil fuels now.

Knowledge is power.
Take it back from Big Oil.

PFAS: No Sticking, No Staining … And Not Going Anywhere

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

By Mia DiFelice

The story begins in 1938, with the accidental invention of Teflon. Made famous by the miraculous “nonstick” cookware, Teflon flooded American kitchens in the 1960s. But Teflon’s stick- and stain-fighting power comes from the chemical PFOA. As Teflon sold the miracle of PFOA to consumers, new, similar chemicals flooded the market. Those chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are showing up in our baby clothes, our burger wrappers, our blood. And they’re not going away any time soon.

Is That a Bad Thing?

Very — and PFAS manufacturers have known this for a long time. In 2005, the EPA fined Dupont, the maker of Teflon, $16.5 million. The fine penalized Dupont for covering up decades of studies that linked PFOA to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. Dupont and 3M, the maker of another PFAS chemical, knew back in the ’60s that these substances could be dangerous.

Now, we see studies linking PFAS to thyroid disease, decreased fertility, endocrine disruption, cognitive problems and immune system impacts (for example, reduced response to vaccines). There is even evidence linking PFAS exposure to greater risk of COVID and more severe COVID symptoms.

Despite this research, the U.S. still lacks federal regulations for PFAS. Chemical companies can keep information on PFAS close to the chest, so we often can’t know if a product we purchase contains the chemicals. Our federal government does not regulate all industrial PFAS wastewater discharges, either. On top of that, it has not designated PFAS as hazardous substances, which would help clean up contamination sites.

Where Do We Find PFAS?

In short, everywhere. If a product is labeled non-stick, stain-resistant or water-resistant, there’s a good chance it contains PFAS. And once PFAS are in the environment, they spread and persist. When we toss garbage with PFAS in it, the chemicals leach from the landfill into our air, water and soil. Then they can get into the groundwater. Scientists have even found PFAS in places thought to be undamaged by humans, like the Arctic and the deep ocean. In the U.S., researchers estimate they’re in 97% of people’s blood.

And PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” are nearly impossible to get rid of. If a manufacturer stopped using PFAS right now, they could still find traces in products coming out of that plant a decade later.

The Stuff We Buy

Stain-resistant and water-resistant fabrics usually have PFAS. For instance, a recent study found 60% of fabrics used in children’s products labeled “waterproof” or “stain-resistant” contained PFAS. When PFAS-treated upholstery or carpeting wears down, we inhale the dust. We can eat PFAS when they slide off our water-resistant food packaging. They’re also in our cosmetics and our toiletries, where they are most likely to get into our systems through our eyes.

The Food We Eat

When we flush products with PFAS down the drain, the chemicals build up in our sewers. Many wastewater treatment plants filter out the solids and clean the water. But those solids have to go somewhere, and often, they go to farms. Farms have long-used sewer sludge as fertilizer. As a result, the Environmental Working Group estimates that 20 million acres of US cropland could be contaminated with PFAS. The chemicals now appear in the crops of PFAS-affected farmland — and in the meat and milk of animals that eat those feed crops.

The Water We Drink

In 2021, EWG found PFAS contaminants in the public and private water of all 50 states. We might drink from the tap several times a day, so if PFAS are in the water, our bodies are continuously contaminated. Researchers have found PFAS in the drinking water of towns near factories that work with the chemicals. They’ve found the chemicals in the drinking water of towns near military bases, which use PFAS-laden firefighting foam for training exercises. We depend on water to survive — our government should not allow it to be laced with toxic forever chemicals.

What Can We Do About PFAS?

Many companies have voluntarily phased out PFAS, especially in the last twenty years as their dangers came to light. However, the EPA has not set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water, nor required manufacturers to help clean up contamination.

In 2021, the agency released its “PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” committing the agency to several measures to combat PFAS in the next few years. And just this week, it designated $1 billion of Infrastructure Bill funds to help local communities address PFAS. In the same announcement, the EPA published health advisories on four major PFAS chemicals — but this is out of thousands in the family.

While these are important steps in the right direction, the advisories aren’t enforceable, and communities have already waited decades for action. There is so much more work to be done. 

Food & Water Watch calls for:
  1. PFAS to be regulated as a class of chemicals, not on an individual level. Much of the work on PFAS so far has focused on PFOA and PFOS, allowing dozens of other PFAS to come onto the market with little scrutiny. When PFOA came under fire, Dupont was quick to replace it with GenX, shorter-chain compounds that share many of the same toxic traits as its sibling chemicals. But GenX may be even more toxic and could be more difficult to remove from drinking water. Without addressing PFAS as a category, the EPA will continue playing whack-a-mole with the thousands of varieties.
  2. Enforceable national drinking water limits, not only for legacy PFAS chemicals but all the chemicals in the family.
  3. Hazardous substance designation under the Superfund law for PFAS as class to jump start the cleanup of contaminated areas. 
  4. Passage of the WATER Act, which provides greater support for local water systems to test and treat for PFAS in drinking water and wastewater systems. This support must reach both public water utilities and household wells. If remediation isn’t possible, Congress must provide support to connect communities with contaminated water  to new, clean water sources. 

We need more funding and better policy for PFAS. Tell Congress to pass the WATER Act!

Whistleblowers Say EPA’s Toxic Management Greenlights Toxic Chemicals

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In the 1960s, the United States was drowning in pollution. Air pollution killed hundreds of New Yorkers, towns stank with sludge and smog, an Ohio river burst into flames. In response to public fears and public pressure, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since then, the EPA has committed to “protecting human health and the environment” with regulations, education and funding for state and local programs. It claims to rely on “best available scientific information” to promote clean air, land and water for everyone. Yet, the agency has failed to keep up with emerging threats — in part because of industry sway.

Big corporations have made it their business to co-opt agencies meant to guard us from danger. Now, rather than fulfill its mission, the EPA too often protects the interests of polluting corporations instead. Nothing makes that clearer than information coming straight from four whistleblowing scientists. In July of last year, scientists from EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety shared evidence alleging abuse and corruption that give toxic chemicals a pass onto the market.

“The depth of it is pretty horrifying. I don’t sleep at night knowing what I know from the whistleblowers.”

Kyla Bennett, New England director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Their attorneys represent the whistleblowers.

The Office of Chemical Safety Does Not Stop all Unsafe Chemicals

Companies are constantly introducing new chemicals for manufacturing, construction, agribusiness and more. EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention studies these chemicals and keeps dangerous ones off the market. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

In 2021, whistleblowers revealed how management undermined scientific findings and pressured scientists to change their reports for numerous chemicals. Or, perhaps worse, supervisors changed the reports’ conclusions without scientists knowing until after the fact. These scientists detailed a culture of intimidation, corruption and retaliation, which allows thousands of toxic chemicals into our homes and workplaces. Chemicals that were given a pass have been linked to cancer, developmental disorders and neurological effects, among other health risks.

It looks like the executives hired to protect the public are more worried about protecting the profits of chemical companies. And these whistleblowers say they’re willing to cheat, bully and lie to their staff to do so.

Is the EPA Loyal to Chemical Companies Over Public Health and Safety?

Throughout these instances of pressure and abuse, whistleblowers report, management often prioritized the chemical companies submitting chemicals for assessment. They emphasized how upset companies would be if the work was too slow. They even dangled the threat of lawsuits over scientists’ heads, if the assessment came out unfavorably. Moreover, according to one toxicologist at the agency, “It is the unwritten rule that to get promotions, all pesticides need to pass.”

All this happens because EPA management routinely jumps into the chemicals industry after leaving the agency. In fact, since 1974, all seven former EPA pesticide directors who continued working after their time at the EPA did so at pesticide companies. Other EPA officials have gone on to work as consultants and board members at agrochemical companies. 

This revolving door has devastating impacts for our health and our environment. For instance, from June 2016 to July 2021, 3,835 new chemical applications were submitted to the EPA. Not a single chemical was kept off-market. This included 40 PFAS compounds. Studies that companies submitted linked these chemicals to neurotoxicity, cancers, convulsions and more. Yet, all 40 PFAS chemicals have been allowed, largely unregulated, onto the market.

PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” do not break down naturally but will persist in the environment. By siding with the chemicals industry, senior officials put short-term career ambitions before the forever effects of toxic chemicals. 

This Isn’t the EPA’s First Alleged Chemical Cover-up

The EPA was already in the spotlight in 2018 for its inaction on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller. Bayer-Monsanto, owner of Roundup, has faced hundreds of thousands of lawsuits by people alleging a link between their cancer and Roundup. Contrary to warnings from the World Health Organization and numerous scientific studies, the EPA insists that glyphosate is not a human carcinogen.

Yet, in 2016, the agency had done an internal analysis on glyphosate linking the chemical to cancer. But it kept the study under wraps. Instead, drafts of the EPA’s human risk assessment for glyphosate (first published that same year) gave the chemical the lowest possible cancer rating: “Not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  

In a common industry strategy, Monsanto ghostwrote research and paid academics to put their names on it. The EPA used this scientifically dubious research, as well as dozens of other industry-funded, unpublished studies, to reach its equally meritless conclusions on glyphosate. 

Interestingly, Bayer-Monsanto has announced it will stop selling glyphosate-based products for home use, but not because the EPA stopped them. It seems entirely prompted instead by the tidal wave of lawsuits the corporation has faced. The EPA should have stepped in long before that point — and banned all uses of glyphosate. 

The EPA’s Two-Pronged Problem Puts Us All At Risk

EPA managers putting their thumb on the scale of critical scientific assessments threatens our health, safety and environment. And it will only get worse as corporations strengthen their influence. The market for glyphosate is expected to grow by billions of dollars in the next few years, despite the controversy. And researchers have found PFAS everywhere from widely used pesticides to children’s clothing and everything in between.

Making matters worse, the EPA struggles with severe lack of resources, funding and staffing. Administrator Michael Regan told Congress that the agency has only 50% of what it needs to “review the safety of new chemicals quickly in the way that the law requires.” Monsanto-Bayer spent more cash defending glyphosate in court than the entire budget of the Office of Pesticide Programs. The EPA does not have the capacity to stand up to chemical companies or even do its job correctly. Besides vulnerability to corruption, this results in backlogs of work, rushed assessments and hurried acceptance of industry “science.” 

Even with the EPA’s recent change of hands in the Biden Administration, the agency faces deep-rooted cultural problems that will be hard to shake off. In 2022, an internal survey showed that EPA scientists in the New Chemicals Division still suffer from burnout and fears of retaliation. Staff reported that a culture of fear, retribution and abuse at senior levels remains common. 

EPA executives are wooed by corporate influence at the top, while scrambling to make do with scarce resources from below. The result? An agency that is failing to protect us from the toxic threats seeping into our everyday lives. 

Food & Water Watch won’t stop fighting to hold EPA accountable to public health and the environment — not corporate profits. We can’t do it without you.

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