In California: Big Win On Setbacks, Big Setback On Carbon Capture

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Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Tomás Rebecchi

As California continues to face record temperatures and a historic dry period supercharged by climate change, the state legislature passed a series of bills, called for by Governor Newsom, to address the climate crisis. The result, however, was a mixed bag. 

The good news? The legislature passed a bill requiring a 3,200-foot setback between oil and gas wells and homes, schools and other vulnerable sites. This is a significant win for communities that have been advocating for setbacks for years. 

And the bad? The legislature also advanced a bill to fast track carbon capture, a costly and unproven industry scheme that will extend our dependence on fossil fuels. It also moved to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. 

The Setbacks Bill Is A Huge Win For Communities Near Oil & Gas Operations

First, the good news (and it really is good news) — California passed a law (SB 1137) requiring a setback of 3,200 feet between oil and gas operations and sensitive locations like homes and schools. 

More than 2.7 million Californians live within 3,200 feet of an operational oil or gas well. For years, advocates have documented the public health impacts of these operations. 

The legislation would require a 3,200-foot buffer zone and prevent reworks of existing wells, providing a pathway for ending existing operations. 

This setback law came out of a multi-year campaign led by environmental justice coalition VISION. Thousands of Food & Water Watch supporters joined this effort through phone calls and written letters, hearings and rallies. 

Though Governor Newsom could have instituted a setback by executive action earlier in his term, this legislation is an unequivocal win for public health and communities. 

However, much work remains to protect communities from fossil fuel operations. Notably, the legislation didn’t include setbacks for polluting infrastructure like gas compressors or gas storage facilities. This is crucial for communities like Ventura, Playa Del Rey and Porter Ranch, where we are fighting dangerous SoCalGas facilities next to schools and homes. Stopping these operations must be a priority going forward. 

Legislature’s Embrace Of Carbon Capture Is A BigSetback for Climate Efforts 

Unfortunately, while advancing setbacks, Newsom also pushed legislation that embraces carbon capture, the climate scam backed by Wall Street speculators and polluting corporations

Currently, the California Air Resources Board is developing California’s climate plan according to the state’s climate change law. But CARB has drawn widespread criticism from environmental organizations for considering carbon capture. 

The media often talks about carbon capture as a proven technology, but most projects have under-performed and ended in failure. Projects rely on more fossil fuel power generation to run, and we can expect leaked emissions throughout the production and transportation. 

Taking this into account, capturing 90% of carbon emissions (which no plant has yet accomplished) means only 39% emissions reductions through the whole supply chain, from extraction to combustion. 

Widespread carbon capture comes with a host of other problems, from increased pollution to higher utility bills for ratepayers. 

But it all comes down to this: carbon capture will boost power demand, extending the life of fossil fuel power plants and extraction. That’s why the technology has been embraced by some of the world’s largest fossil fuel corporations. 

Newsom had previously called on CARB to prioritize carbon capture. After massive pushback on carbon capture through public comments to CARB, the governor turned to the legislature to advance SB 905. This bill would establish state policy to deploy carbon capture as a climate change strategy. 

While the bill prevents industry from using captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery (injecting the CO2 into wells to push out every last drop), it still advances carbon capture across the state. During debates on the floor this session, advocates of SB 905 have also made clear — they’re hoping to see carbon capture deployed statewide. 

Food & Water Watch partnered with Center for Biological Diversity and Indigenous Environmental Network to lead opposition to the carbon capture bill, though most organizations did not weigh in on it. Unfortunately, we saw even some of the state’s most progressive legislators embrace SB 905. 

California Needs Near Zero, Not Net Zero

Newson also advanced AB 1279, which sets a goal for California to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2045, rather than near zero emissions. With net zero, California subtracts things like carbon capture and offsets from their emissions calculations. This allows the oil and gas industry to keep emitting and polluting. 

But we can directly reduce emissions by phasing out fossil fuels completely. A rapid ramp-up of renewable energy coupled with a draw down of fossil fuels is more efficient and less expensive. And, it will bring an end to the pollution that has plagued Californians for too long. 

Along these lines, California legislators considered a bill that would have mandated an additional 15% emissions reduction by 2030 (from 40% to 55% below 1990 levels). But notably, that bill failed. 

Going forward, we have a lot of work to do to educate our decision makers on carbon capture’s insurmountable downsides, and our need for a fast and complete energy transition.

Newsom Dodges Renewables With A Nuclear Bailout

In addition to setbacks and carbon capture, Newsom called for a bailout and extension of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power facility. This session, the legislature advanced a bill to do just that. 

The dangerous facility sits near fault lines and was slated to close in 2025. The legislature postponed the date to 2030 and provided a potentially forgivable $1.4 billion loan to fund the extension. 

But rather than throwing money at nuclear power, the state should be pouring all available resources into developing solar and wind. 

In this session, Governor Newsom and the legislature took significant action to protect communities with setbacks. But “climate strategies” like carbon capture won’t address the scientific realities we’re facing. The state’s climate policy remains a far cry from strong climate leadership. Our elected officials need to be better educated on what we really need for climate change response. We need to collectively call, in no uncertain terms, for bolder action. 

For starters, spread the word on carbon capture — it’s a scam, not a solution.

Learn more about the carbon capture boondoggle and why we need renewable energy, fast.

Western Drought Isn’t Going Anywhere. It’s Time to Rethink Water Use.

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

You wouldn’t know it by the water use in much of the Western U.S., but the region is mired in its worst drought in over 1200 years. Driven by the climate crisis, more than half of the West is in exceptional, extreme or severe drought. Only 17% of the West is experiencing normal conditions. 

This is bad news for our water supplies. Reservoir levels in California and across the West have sunk to historic lows. For instance, the Colorado River system provides water for 40 million people. Its two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are just 26 and 27% full, respectively. 

This drought isn’t going away anytime soon. One study projects a 75% chance that it lasts through 2030. But if climate change escalates unabated, dry conditions could last even longer. 

It’s time for our elected leaders to take a hard look at the biggest water abusers and drivers of climate change. It’s time to take on big agribusiness and the fossil fuel industry. 

The Fossil Fuel Industry Drives Drought While Abusing Our Water

We know that climate change is driving drought and Big Oil drives climate change. Yet in the West, oil and gas keep flowing, as do permit approvals for more drilling. 

In California and New Mexico, for example, the very industries driving the drought continue to flourish. California is the seventh-largest oil-producing state. New Mexico, meanwhile, is the third-largest producer of oil and a top-ten producer of natural gas. 

On top of climate-changing carbon emissions, oil and gas production uses a huge amount of water. In California, the oil and gas industry has used over 3 billion gallons of water since 2018. That’s enough water for nearly 150,000 people for a year. 

Plus, wastewater from drilling can pollute limited fresh water supplies. The industry has even dumped its wastewater into clean aquifers. 

Thirsty Crops And Factory Farms Make Matters Worse

Another culprit behind the megadrought: Big Ag. In the West, thirsty farms abound. Agriculture makes up 80% of California’s water use, most of it industrial. We see this pattern in other Western states like New Mexico and Oregon, too. 

The West’s agriculture industries are so thirsty in part due to water-intensive crops that aren’t suited for our dry climate. Of California’s 80% freshwater used for agriculture, 20% goes to water-intensive tree nuts. 60% of these crops, like almonds and pistachios, are exported abroad.  

Similarly, 16% of that agricultural water goes to growing alfalfa — another water intensive crop, some of which is exported. In New Mexico, it’s the same story: Big Ag uses scarce water resources to grow alfalfa for hay, 30% of which it exports. 

Much of what Big Ag doesn’t export, it uses to support factory farms. These operations also suck up large amounts of water while causing massive amounts of water and air pollution. 

In Oregon, there are 11 mega-dairies with over 2500 cows each. Combined, they consume 8.2 million gallons of water a day just for drinking and washing. This doesn’t even include the water used to grow feed. All this water could meet the average daily indoor water needs of over 124,000 Oregonians. 

In New Mexico, mega-dairies (500 head or more) use over 32 million gallons a day. And in California, mega-dairies use a whopping 142 million gallons a day. That’s enough water for every resident of San Diego and San Jose combined. 

At the same time, factory farms produce huge amounts of waste, polluting air and water and contributing to climate change. Those 11 Oregon mega-dairies produce emissions equivalent to that of 318,000 passenger vehicles

Agriculture is critical and we need to produce food to feed people. But we also need a sustainable food system that works in our current environment.  

Droughts Hurt Communities, Especially Those Already Disadvantaged

These water abuses and the droughts they cause are hurting communities across the West. For example, the drought has caused salmon runs to collapse in California. This significantly impacts the Indigenous communities that have long relied on salmon fisheries. The devastated fisheries, along with limited water and disputed allocations, hits these communities especially hard.

Moreover, the drought contributes to the water scarcity crisis that threatens access to clean drinking water. Hundreds of wells are running dry, while water pollution intensifies. These two factors threaten the human right to safe, accessible, affordable water. In California alone, over a million people lack reliable access to clean water. 

We Need Accountability For Water-Abusing Corporations. Not More Energy-Intensive Projects.

To meet our water needs, elected officials and their appointees must take on these industries. They must also reform water rights and allocations to prioritize the human right to water and protect our water as a public trust resource. 

Moreover, elected officials can conserve our water supplies by stopping permits for new fossil fuel projects and factory farms. Rules and legislation can further rein in senseless water uses in a dry climate that will only get drier. 

Many of the West’s water systems, from California’s aqueducts to the Colorado River system, were established during historically wet conditions. Now, we have swung in the other direction. 

Our governors, state legislators and Congressmembers will need to revisit old assumptions and adapt to our new reality. That means moving toward renewable energy and sustainable farming, while centering water as a human right. 

Unfortunately, some are doing the opposite. Governor Newsom in California, for example, just announced his water plan. While it contains some good measures around stormwater capture and water efficiency, it doubles down on an industrial model. It calls for more dams, a costly and destructive water tunnel and a buildout of ocean desalination plants by gutting regulations. 

These facilities are not only unnecessary — they’re energy-intensive and bad for the ocean environment, too. 

This approach also sidesteps the root of the problem: big corporate water abusers. We won’t see improvements in our water crisis until those in office face down water abusers and rebalance our water system. 

We don’t need energy-intensive and expensive industrial tech fixes. Rather, we need to aggressively transition off fossil fuels and factory farms and towards a renewable and sustainable future. 

Spread the word: A sustainable water future means stopping abuses by Big Ag and Big Oil!

After WV v. EPA: 5 Ways We Keep Fighting For The Climate

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Tarah Heinzen

Last week, the Supreme Court rounded out a term full of extremist rulings with West Virginia v. EPA. The court ruled that the EPA can’t mandate an energy sector transition from coal power to less polluting energy sources. This gift to the fossil fuel industry is a major blow to federal efforts to address the climate crisis. But we can’t let the corporatist Supreme Court push us over the climate cliff. Instead, we need to redouble our efforts. There is still so much we can do — at the federal level, in the courts and in states and municipalities across the country.  

Here are five ways we can fight for and win a livable planet: 
1. Pressure Our Other Branches Of Government Toward Climate Action

WV v. EPA pulled one tool from the EPA’s toolbox, but President Biden and his agencies still have plenty of options. Biden could declare a climate emergency, allowing him to, among other things, halt fossil fuel exports. He and his agencies could also stop approving new fossil fuel projects and new drilling on federal lands. They could stop advocating for industry scams like carbon capture, which will prolong our fossil fuel dependence. And Biden could use his bully pulpit to rally governors, state and local officials and heads of state toward bold climate action. 

Even after the Supreme Court’s decision, the EPA can still take meaningful action. It can adopt rules that will ratchet down climate pollution at fossil fuel plants. It can target other dangerous co-pollutants, leading to reduced climate pollution as well. And, while WV v. EPA focused on Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA can use Section 112 to classify carbon emissions as hazardous. This would open doors to further regulation. Food & Water Watch filed a petition calling on the EPA to do just this in 2019. 

Meanwhile, Congress still has the power to act decisively. We need to continue to work with and cultivate climate champions within Congress. Those champions can pass legislation that will confront the fossil fuel industry, stop fracking, ban fossil fuel exports and advance our transition to renewable energy.

2. Continue Taking The Fossil Fuel Industry To Court

Despite WV v. EPA, we have other options for holding our government and fossil fuel interests accountable in court. By law, agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must consider the environmental impacts of projects like pipelines before approving them. These impacts cover climate change, air pollution and environmental justice. If FERC fails to fully consider them, courts can — and do — strike down approvals as unlawful. This can delay and sometimes kill projects altogether. 

Litigation is also key to adopting and protecting a wide range of Biden administration rules, including rules to strengthen these environmental reviews. Proposed rules could restore states’ rights to block infrastructure projects that will harm their environment. They could also require climate change disclosures and stop oil and gas leasing. 

With our allies, Food & Water Watch is on the front lines of these legal fights. We’re holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for violating existing laws. We’re also pushing the federal government to finally start accounting for climate change and stop greenlighting polluting projects. All of this work helps to stop fossil fuel companies from locking us into decades more climate emissions. 

3. Organize For Aggressive Action At The State And Local Level

Beyond federal action, we have many options for action at the state and local level. For example, California is currently considering its near-term climate plans. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, the Golden State has a huge influence on the future of our climate. 

Food & Water Watch and over 150 of our allies recently submitted comments calling on Governor Newsom and the California Air Resources Board to chart a bold path. That includes a rapid transition off oil and onto 100% renewables, as well as a ban on all new oil drilling and gas infrastructure.

From Pennsylvania to Iowa, Oregon to Florida, we’re working with communities against fracking and factory farms, pipelines and power plants. We know firsthand that when communities organize and come together, we can win real change. 

4. Expose The Illegitimacy Of Today’s Reactionary Supreme Court And Fight For Court Reform 

The rightwing supermajority on the Supreme Court is the result of years of organizing by the Federalist Society and rightwing activists. The Court is now executing its reactionary agenda in a way that undermines environmental protections, civil liberties and ultimately, our democracy.

It’s no coincidence that five members of this majority were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote in their elections. This majority has advanced deregulatory and dangerous agendas, while straying further from public opinion. On top of that, this fall, the Court will hear a case that could take away the people’s power to decide elections. Instead, it could place that power in the hands of state legislatures. Election protections and accountability have never been more important.

Our elected leaders cannot just accept this rightwing hijacking of the judiciary. Instead, they must fight back with every tool at their disposal. This means publicly attacking the legitimacy of these decisions. It means pushing to restore balance by expanding the number of justices on the Court. Food & Water Watch has joined coalition efforts to reform the Court. This must be a priority if we are to preserve our democracy.

5. Vote Like We Live Here

Finally, we need more people engaged in elections at the local, state and federal level. People need to register to vote and engage their friends, family, and neighbors — especially those who haven’t voted before. We need to generate a massive turnout at the ballot this November and at every ballot moving forward. 

To beat back the avalanche of corporate money shaping the courts and controlling legislatures, we need an overwhelming show of people power. We can’t win alone. It’s going to take all of us fighting like we live here to win the livable climate and just society we all want and need. 

The fight is far from over. Help us spread the word!

California’s Climate Mirage: How Newsom’s Blueprint Falls Short

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Jessica Gable

While struggling through a historic drought, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is drafting its plan for addressing climate change. The Board took comments on the plan in June and thousands of Californians submitted comments calling for aggressive action. But the draft plan dodges any real action on climate change. Instead, it opts for a “carbon neutrality” deadline of 2045 while relying on industry schemes like carbon capture to get there.

Governor Gavin Newsom likes to characterize California’s climate leadership as bold and aggressive, but this plan is neither. To really lead, Newsom must tell CARB to go back to the drawing board. The governor appoints most of the board’s members. That means he can show leadership by demanding real solutions and a quick timeline in line with science. 

California must move off fossil fuels by 2035; 2045 falls far short

Climate scientists are clear that we need to immediately stop expanding fossil fuel production and infrastructure. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report warns that with any delay, we risk missing “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” 

In response to the CARB plan, we’ve partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Center for Biological Diversity to organize a letter to Newsom and CARB calling for bolder action. Signed by more than 150 organizations, the letter calls for California to reach near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. It also calls for a completely green electric grid by 2030. Finally, it demands faster timelines in transportation and buildings and a rejection of industry schemes like carbon capture.

Climate Leadership Means Rapid Action on Transportation and Infrastructure

Any serious plan to address the climate crisis needs to aggressively address transportation and infrastructure. This means big investments in public transportation and requirements for all new car sales to be electric by 2030. At the same time, we need goals for trucks and faster electrification of trains and ports. These will make sure that we reach 100% electric by 2035. 

A meaningful climate plan must also take on gas infrastructure in buildings. Many California cities have already passed bans on gas in new buildings. Now, we need state mandates to immediately end the use of fossil fuels in new construction and require electric appliances for all new buildings by 2025. These requirements must come with support for low- and moderate-income households in the transition. 

Climate Leadership Means Rejecting Industry Scams like Carbon Capture

Most glaringly, the proposed plans rely on industry schemes like carbon capture. Yet carbon capture is expensive and unproven. It’s a boondoggle that will only serve to lock in fossil fuel use for years to come. Other scams like offsets, factory farm gas and hydrogen power are packaged in ways that sound good. But they won’t do a thing to help the climate or communities. 

“Governor Newsom has an opportunity to change [California’s] destructive legacy by revising the 2022 draft Scoping Plan to stop the release of fossil fuel emissions at the source and end carbon neutrality mechanisms that prop up industry scams like carbon capture techno-fixes, carbon trading and offsets, hydrogen and bioenergy. These are not real solutions that will halt the devastation of fires and extreme water shortage. The time is now for the California Air Resources Board to put our communities first; before the polluting corporations.”

Thomas Joseph, Hoopa Valley Tribal member, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, and co-author of our coalition letter

Current plans fall far short of what we need to address the climate crisis, but Governor Newsom still has time to act. He should urge CARB to return to the drawing board and come back with a plan that rises to the challenge. He could make a real and rapid transition off fossil fuels the centerpiece of his administration’s agenda. And, he could use the power of his office and bully pulpit to move a bold agenda. This would show real climate leadership — leadership that could move other states, the country, and other nations. 

In the coming months, we’ll see whether Newsom and CARB are serious about the climate crisis, or if all their climate talk is just a mirage in the drought. 

Spread the word: California deserves better climate action!

Big Water Abusers Ignored As California Drought Persists

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California’s crushing drought continues and urban water usage increased 19% in March compared to 2021. Yet, Governor Newsom has only done more of the same. He called for increased voluntary conservation by residents and pledged an ad campaign to encourage conservation. But hoping voluntary measures will avoid the impacts of this climate change-induced drought is just wishful thinking. And it gives a pass to the largest corporate water abusers in the state. 

Most Water Use is by Big Agribusiness

Eighty percent of California water goes to agriculture, with most going to big agribusiness. For example, almonds and other tree nuts use 20% of that agricultural water. Most almonds are exported by large corporate interests overseas for massive profits. The Wonderful Company is one such corporation, and its billionaire owners contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Newsom’s campaigns. The acreage of these thirsty crops have only grown since our last drought. 

Mega-dairies, which help drive climate change and water pollution, are also big water abusers. California mega-dairies suck up 142 million gallons of water every day to operate. That’s the same amount needed to supply every person in San Diego and San Jose with their needed daily water.

During droughts, these big interests draw massive amounts of groundwater, which is still largely unregulated in the state. Over-withdrawal of groundwater causes the land to sink, leading to a litany of problems. For example, people who rely on well water for drinking will find it harder to reach and use, and some of their wells will go dry. 

Meanwhile, over a million Californians lack access to clean water. Tulare County houses the most mega-dairies of any CA county. Half of its water supplies are predicted to go dry this year. Governor Newsom could show leadership by working to fast track ground water regulation and stopping the expansion of these industries. 

The Oil and Gas Industry is Also a Big Water Consumer and Polluter

From January 2018 to March 2021, oil and gas companies used more than 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. This same amount of water could sustain everyone in the city of Ventura, for example, for 16 months. At the same time, oil and gas development pollutes and threatens California’s finite freshwater resources. Some corporations have routinely injected oil wastewater directly into the state’s aquifers.This toxic wastewater contains fracking fluids, contaminants, brines and radioactive materials. Newsom should stop new drilling permits and aggressively accelerate our transition off oil and gas. 

In response to the drought, Governor Newsom has largely ignored these large corporate water sources. Instead, he has taken small measures aimed at the most wasteful of urban water uses, asked for voluntary conservation and championed climate-intensive and destructive desalination projects (thankfully, the Coastal Commission has the good sense to reject this proposal). This is a mistake that will end up costing Californians. It’s up to us to make sure he hears loud and clear that the time for voluntary measures is over. For our water future and current needs, Newsom must take on Big Ag and Big Oil, while mandating reductions for urban water use as well. 

Demand that Newsom hold big water abusers accountable.

Scientists To Biden: Don’t Ramp Up Fossil Fuels

Categories

Climate and Energy

By Mark Schlosberg

In recent weeks President Biden and his administration have moved to increase fossil fuel production and infrastructure. These actions fly in the face of climate science, which mandates a transition off of fossil fuels right away. Now scientists are speaking out, imploring President Biden to follow through on his commitments. As a candidate, Biden promised to listen to science, but his recent actions suggest the opposite.

The increased drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods that we’ve experienced recently would have been reason enough to curb this plan. But the Ukraine crisis has brought into full view the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels. Europe is planning for dramatic cuts in Russian gas and looking toward new sources. Rather than going all-in on renewable energy, Europe wants increased U.S. gas imports — for over a decade to come. This is a recipe for climate disaster. 

A Broken Promise — President Biden Moves to Increase Fossil Fuel Production and Infrastructure

When President Biden ran for office, he pledged to listen to science. He also pledged to stop new drilling on federal lands, and initiate a transition off of fossil fuels. He was already falling massively short on these promises before the Ukraine crisis, but now he has reversed course completely. He and his administration have urged increased fossil fuel production, rush approvals of its infrastructure, and ramped-up exports to Europe. And his plan envisions a huge increase of gas exports by 2030 — more than tripling a big increase this year.

“Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterre

What these exports mean for the U.S. is more drilling, fracking, pipelines through communities and massive, polluting industrial facilities. These come with a litany of safety risks and local pollution, which have devastating environmental justice and health impacts. 

It also will have monumental climate impacts, according to the most recent IPCC scientific report. Global emissions continue to increase and the very narrow window to avoid even 2 degrees of warming is rapidly closing. Building more infrastructure will certainly lock us into decades of more emissions. 

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said upon the release of the IPCC report: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

Failing on Climate: Lies From Leaders Will Be “Catastrophic”

The Biden approach to climate is, unfortunately, not unique. As the IPCC report highlights, governments worldwide have broken prior commitments even though those fell far short of requirements. 

“Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic.”

United Nations Secretary-General Guterres

The only way to avert even worse impacts is to embrace scientific reality and adopt policies matching the rapidly escalating climate emergency. This means confronting hard truths and paying the crisis more than lip service. The only way to really achieve energy independence and security is to move off of fossil fuels. That means making quick, bold investments in renewable energy and immediately halting and rolling back fossil fuels and its infrastructure. To do otherwise fails to confront what is happening. Secretary-General Guterres said: “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another…Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic.”

Scientists Implore Biden to Reverse Course Before It’s Too Late

While President Biden has charted a perilous course, there’s still time to reverse and confront the reality of the climate crisis. Over 275 scientists wrote Biden to implore him to act. This is directly in response to his announced plans to double down on fossil fuels and the IPCC report release. They urged him to instead take bold action to move off fossil fuels and infrastructure and reject the mad dash to increase production and exports. 

The initiative for this letter is led by scientists Bob Howarth,  Mark Jacobson, Michael Mann, Sandra Steingraber, and Peter Kalmus. The message is prophetic and clear in its call to action. It concludes:

“As scientists who look at data every day, we implore you to keep this promise and listen to what the scientific community is saying about fossil fuels and the climate crisis. Do not facilitate more fuel extraction and infrastructure. The impacts of climate change are already significant and we have a very narrow window to avoid runaway climate chaos. We urge you to lead boldly, take on the fossil fuel titans, and rally the country towards a renewable energy future.”

Help amplify this call to action. Join them, and all of us at Food & Water Watch in calling on President Biden to reject fossil fuels — now.

Tell President Biden to reject this mad dash toward more fossil fuels.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill’s Best And Worst Features

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed has hidden and disguised provisions that could lock us into continued fossil fuels. We should celebrate the increased funding of some good programs, but the sneaky giveaways for fossil fuels are downright ugly. This piece breaks it down. 

The Good  

Increased Funding for Water Infrastructure, Lead Pipes, and Rail — But Not Enough

The infrastructure bill contains about $50 billion for our nation’s water and wastewater systems over 5 years. This includes $15 billion specifically for lead pipe replacement and $10 billion to address PFAS forever chemicals. Funding for water is critical as pipes across the United States are crumbling. This is evidenced by many well documented water failures in Flint, Michigan; Martin County, Kentucky; East Chicago, Indiana; and Benton Harbor, Michigan. Significantly, we won a major fight in removing language that would have promoted water privatization. That language is not in the final bill following objections from Food & Water Watch and hundreds of other organizations.

While this spending is certainly good, it does not go nearly far enough. The $15 billion for lead pipe replacement, for example, is only about a third of what is needed. Also only 49 percent of funding will be grants — the rest is loans. While $50 billion over 5 years sounds like a big number, it is far short of the $35 billion per year that is needed. This is the level of funding contained in the WATER Act, which Food & Water Watch worked to introduce the last few congresses. 

Finally, the legislation also increased the ability of federal regulators to approve new transmission projects. These are necessary to sustain a buildout of wind and solar power. It removes the ability of states to block these necessary projects. 

The bill also contains $60 billion for rail — necessary funding as public rail must be part of our transportation future. But again, this number is far short of what is needed. It is not even enough to modernize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in North America. It is nowhere near the levels that could radically transform American transportation and avert climate disaster.  

The Bad  

The Infrastructure Bill Ensures Money for Pipelines and Petrochemicals and Weaker Environmental Review

There are several provisions of the infrastructure bill that are clearly damaging to the environment and promote fossil fuels. For example:

  • Specific funding for loan guarantees for a natural gas pipeline in Alaska; 
  • A billion dollars to support the development of a petrochemical hub in the Ohio River Valley; 
  • Provisions that weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, reducing public participation and making it harder to stop fossil fuel projects. The bill enshrines into law some provisions of a Trump executive order that rushed environmental review.  The order was reversed by Biden but now some of its terrible provisions are back in play. 

The bill also continues to prioritize investment in roads and highways over public transportation. Instead, we need to massively invest in public transportation and transit-oriented development to move away from fossil fuels. 

The Ugly  

This Infrastructure Bill’s Sneaky Subsidies For Carbon Capture, Hydrogen, and  Fossil Fuels

The bill’s most damaging provisions are wrapped in clean energy language, yet lock us into decades more of fossil fuels. There are over $25 billion in subsidies for carbon capture and hydrogen. Framed as climate-friendly, these provisions essentially subsidize the fossil fuel industry, which stands to benefit from them. At the same time, Congress left in place existing subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

There are specific provisions, for example, for “regional clean hydrogen hubs.” Sounds good right? It’s ‘clean!’ Except the details state that two of these hubs must be in areas with the “greatest natural gas resources.” The plan is to increase fracking for the production of hydrogen, through steam-methane reforming. This ignores the fact that fracking releases massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, driving climate change. 

Support for hydrogen and gas is littered throughout the bill. Even the somewhat touted provision for funding for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations is polluted with these industry-friendly provisions. The funding isn’t just for EV charging, but for EV charging, as well as hydrogen and natural gas fueling stations. 

Biden and Congress Must Step up To Take on Fossil Fuels

While there are provisions in the bill that make some positive changes, for the climate, it is a net negative. The infrastructure bill further locks us into a fossil fuel future and does little to promote renewable energy. It is incumbent on Congress to act swiftly to pass legislation to really take on the climate crisis and on President Biden to use his executive authority. Rather than catering to the corporations that are driving us over a climate cliff, Biden must act to halt fossil fuel expansion.

Your friends should know more about this.

California’s Water Can’t Be Squandered On Wasteful Abuses Anymore

Categories

Clean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California remains mired in an awful drought in spite of the recent atmospheric river — a narrow band of concentrated, copious moisture — that brought a deluge of rain and snow to the state. This winter is projected to be a dry one and as climate change accelerates, California’s long-term water situation will continue to deteriorate. Governor Newsom recently issued a state of emergency and implored Californians to conserve water.

Newsom is right to declare a state of emergency. However, there is much more to be done than asking California’s residents to voluntarily conserve. Vast amounts of water are consumed by large corporations that benefit from water rights and allocations developed in wetter times. It’s time for Newsom to use his executive authority, given the state of emergency, to rein in these big corporate water abusers.

California Water Gets Wasted Egregiously By Non-Essential Industries

On October 12, Food & Water Watch released a detailed analysis outlining some of the biggest corporate water abuses in California. The abuses run the gamut from vast almond operations to factory farms, oil and gas to exported alfalfa. Together they account for more than enough to provide for many Californians without access to clean water and for the environment. Here are some of the findings.

California Water Goes Overwhelmingly To Non-Essential Agriculture
  • Almonds: Tree nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts are incredibly water-intensive. They accounted for over 20% of California’s 2013 agricultural water use (agriculture accounts for 80% of all California water). While some almonds are grown on sustainable family farms, a few megacorporations control large amounts of production in the dry west San Joaquin valley. Most of these almonds are exported and profit more large corporate interests overseas, essentially exporting water out of our state. While California has experienced severe droughts over the years, almond production continues to increase. Between 2010 and 2021, almond acreage exploded by nearly 73%. 
  • Alfalfa: Accounting for over 15% of California’s annual agricultural water use, much of the state’s alfalfa feeds factory farm cows or is exported. In one bizarre example, Fondomonte Farms, a Saudi-owned subsidiary, grows and exports alfalfa back to Saudi Arabia to feed dairy cows. Why? Because the Saudi government has rightly deemed it irresponsible to grow alfalfa in an arid climate, yet the company has access to ample California water. 
California Water Gets Sapped Up By Destructive Industries
  • Factory Farms: The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture reported nearly 1.7 million cows on factory dairy farms in California. Mega-dairies push out smaller family-scale dairies, generate large amounts of waste, and also consume a lot of water. Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 142 million gallons of water daily to maintain the cows on California’s mega-dairies. That more than covers the daily recommended water usage for every resident of San Jose and San Diego combined. 
  • Fossil Fuel Industry: Fossil fuels drive the climate crisis — leading to drier conditions — but the industry also uses huge amounts of water. Between January 2018 and March 2021, the oil and gas industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. That water could otherwise have supplied domestic systems. That is the equivalent of around 4,570 Olympic-sized pools or more than 120 million showers for California households. 

In normal times, these water abuses wouldn’t make any sense. But in the drier, warmer future ahead of us due to climate change, they are unacceptable. While Californians can and should conserve more, bold action is needed to go after the largest water users and abusers. 

Newsom Must Use The State Of Emergency To Stop Corporate Water Waste

To ensure enough water for all Californians and the environment, Newsom should use the state of emergency to take executive action. He should stop the expansion of almonds, alfalfa, factory farms and oil and gas. He should declare that these massive water abuses are not a beneficial use of our precious water resources. And he should work to rebalance water allocations in the state. 

It’s important that Governor Newsom hear from Californians that his leadership is needed. He must address the current drought as well as our long-term water future. Tell Governor Newsom the time to act is now — rein in the big water abusers to protect our water future.

[email protected] CA needs your leadership. Water-hogging industries that hurt our long-term resources must be shown the door. We’ve let them take too much for too long. #stateofemergency #waterforall

Contact Governor Newsom on Twitter.

Your voice makes a difference.

Fossil Fuels Were Dealt A Big Blow On Both Coasts. We Couldn’t Be Prouder.

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo by Hannah Benet

by Mark Schlosberg

In mid-October the climate justice movement scored major victories in California and New York. California Governor Gavin Newsom released a draft rule banning new drilling within 3200 feet of homes, schools, and other sensitive sites. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul rejected two new fracked gas power plants. These victories are huge and did not happen spontaneously. They only happened because of years of organizing and they mark a continuing shift in the political dynamics of fossil fuels.

A decade ago, these wins would have seemed impossible. Fracking in New York appeared inevitable. Then-Governor Cuomo had convened a task force that included some leading environmental groups to discuss how to regulate it. In California, then-Governor Jerry Brown was a friend to the oil and gas industry. He famously went on national television in 2015 to defend fracking and increasing oil production in California. 

Fossil Fuel Interests In New York Were Strong, But People Power Is Stronger

In spite of powerful adversaries, communities organized. Food & Water Watch joined with other grassroots organizations to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking. This coalition to ban fracking grew into a broad-based, diverse, and powerful force. Actions across the state targeting Cuomo were non-stop. Following his underwhelming 2014 re-election, Cuomo had enough and announced a ban on fracking

But the movement was not done. Various coalitions and grassroots organizations continued to fight pipelines, export facilities, and power plants, toppling one after another. The result has been a shift in the political dynamics of the state — fossil fuel projects are no longer politically tenable. Governor Hochul cited New York’s climate law when she rejected the Danskammer and Astoria fracked gas power plants. She also promised more action to come. 

Our Movement’s Work In California Paved The Way To Newsom’s Fracking Setbacks Announcement

Unlike New York, California is a major oil-producing state. For many years it was among the top four oil-producing states in the country. The oil industry is entrenched there and politically powerful. Former Governor Jerry Brown was adamant about protecting the state’s oil industry. He even fired the head of the state’s oversight agency in order to expedite oil permitting. 

But in parallel with New York, communities organized and the dynamic has started to change. Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Center on Race, Poverty & The Environment along with others launched Californians Against Fracking. Through the coalition, we directly challenged Governor Brown across the state and also organized several winning local campaigns. The anti-fracking movement passed fracking bans in Monterey, San Benito, Butte, Mendocino, Alameda, and Santa Cruz counties.

In 2018 groups working on these issues expanded and refocused into the Last Chance Alliance. LCA demanded Governor Newsom stop all new oil drilling, institute setbacks, and rapidly phase out all oil production. Environmental Justice groups formed a coalition that year as well, VISION, to provide essential leadership in pushing statewide setbacks. 

The Most Recent Urgent Pressures That Pushed Newsom To Act

More wins followed. Food & Water Watch partnered with local allies to block hundreds of proposed new oil wells in Santa Barbara and Ventura County. We supported successful community efforts to stop all new oil drilling in Los Angeles County — the city must still act to do the same. 

Governor Newsom faced increasing pressure from our movement to go beyond symbolism and take real action to stop fossil fuel expansion. He started to deny fracking and drilling permits and announced he would ban fracking by 2024 and phase out oil production by 2045 — falling far short of what is needed. As California’s drought deepened and wildfires raged across the state, pressure continued to mount. Ultimately, Newsom released his plan to stop new drilling within 3200 feet of sensitive areas.

Fossil Fuels Have Got To Go, So Our Work Continues And We Need Your Support

Neither of these actions go far enough. Governor Hochul must stop other fossil fuel projects, support efforts to ban gas in new construction, and accelerate plans to phase out existing fossil fuel plants as New York state ramps up renewable energy. In California Newsom must stop all new fossil fuel projects including gas in new buildings, shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, and expand his proposed rule to shut down existing neighborhood drilling. He also must aggressively work to expel fossil fuel money from the Democratic party as the oil and gas industry continues to block legislation in the Capitol. 

Though there’s more to do, these actions are real wins that will have a meaningful impact on people’s lives and our climate. They are a sign of what is possible when we organize. They show how together, we can change the political dynamic and our future. And they prove that elected leaders will respond to public demands if we are consistent and powerful. 

While heads of state debate how to address the climate crisis in Glasgow, these two wins are a great reminder that we do have the power to compel the changes that are needed. And it is a reminder that the only way we will be able to avoid runaway climate chaos is by growing an even bigger, more powerful, and uncompromised movement for change.

Will you stand with us and power more wins like these?

Your involvement adds up and makes a difference in our climate future.

Here’s How Biden Could Make History at COP 26

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

As world leaders head to Glasgow for the UN Climate Conference (COP 26) the perilous state of our climate is clear. The UN Secretary-General called the most recent climate science report “code red for humanity.” The hurricanes, fires, drought, and floods of the past year are only a glimpse of what’s in store if we do not take bold action now.

Deadly wildfires are just one of the climate catastrophes that have become frequent and rampant.

Often these conferences are marked not by what is accomplished, but what is left undone. What endures is not the leadership of heads of state from across the globe, but the paralysis of inaction. Past decades of international climate conferences have left a trail of unfulfilled promise. There is every reason to expect that the upcoming climate conference in Glasgow will be equally underwhelming. 

But it doesn’t have to be. 

COP 26 Could Be A Turning Point If Biden And Others Answer The Climate Change Call

Imagine a world where President Biden took his pledge to “follow the science” seriously. Where he listened to hundreds of scientists calling for a halt to fossil fuel projects and industry delay tactics. One where he heeded hundreds of Indigenous-led climate activists arrested in October calling on him to declare a climate emergency. 

One where President Biden’s executive order directed federal agencies to use their powers to stop the expansion of fossil fuels. Imagine a world where his order declared a national climate emergency. That he redirected funding for unnecessary and destructive projects toward building a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy. Imagine President Biden rejecting shoddy industry schemes like carbon capture, net-zero, offsets and blue hydrogen. Imagine President Biden taking these actions, and then challenging global leaders to join him in moving the planet off fossil fuels and onto a renewable energy future. 

The About-Face On Climate And Fossil Fuels At COP 26 Should Be Led By President Biden

Taking bold actions like these would put tremendous pressure on other countries to act. Moreover, it would be especially significant coming from the United States, the largest contributor to global warming. Eighty percent of US emissions come from fossil fuels. Taking action would show that the United States is serious about the climate crisis and show the rest of the world a path forward. 

“Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity.  The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable…”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

While this vision may sound fanciful given President Biden’s approach, which Food & Water Watch has documented for months at Biden Climate Watch, nothing is stopping the President from doing this. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently used his executive authority to block new drilling within 3,200 feet of homes and schools. New York Governor Kathy Hochul took action to reject two new fracked gas power plants. Both of these governors have much more they can and should do, but their recent moves highlight what is possible with executive action.

Some of President Biden’s agenda requires Congress, but no Senator prevents him from taking executive action to rein in the fossil fuel industry. There is no group of Congress members who can prevent him from asserting this leadership. 

The only thing that prevents President Biden from charting such a course is President Biden. 

We Can’t Lower Our Expectations For COP 26 Because Of Its Past Futility — It’s A Crucial Opportunity

There are many reasons to doubt whether the Glasgow conference will have a significant impact in addressing climate change. It very well may not. But that should not be a reason for us to lower our expectations of what our elected leaders could or should do. All that is needed is the political will. It is up to us to show President Biden and all elected leaders the path that is possible. We must continue to remind them through phone calls, emails, letters to the editor, social media posts, rallies, and other actions that it is their obligation to lead. That they must really take on the fossil fuel industry and move us rapidly to a 100% renewable energy future — for this generation and those that follow. 

Help us send this message to President Biden by tweeting at him now.

I want @POTUS to lead at #COP26Glasgow — diverting us boldly away from fossil fuels ASAP and into 100% renewable energy, which is ready for our use NOW. Reject fossil fuel projects and declare a #ClimateEmergency 💪 Be a strong leader!

Tell President Biden it’s time to be the leader we need on climate change.

It’s Time For An Urgent Intervention In The Food System Ruining Our Climate

Categories

Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

Wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes and droughts: the deadly impacts of climate change are becoming more intense and devastating. While the transition to a real, renewable energy system is imperative to a livable climate future, it’s just as urgent to address the destructive impacts of our industrial food system. The current system is highly concentrated and exploitative, and it’s driving climate change and water shortages.

To address the climate crisis we must break up the big food monopolies and stop the practice of concentrating large numbers of animals on factory farms. The first step is passing the Farm System Reform Act. 

The Relationship Between Factory Farms and Climate Change

Factory farms drive climate change. Raising livestock on factory farms accounts for 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contribution coming from producing corn and soy to feed factory-farmed animals. In fact, the top 20 meat and dairy corporations together contribute more greenhouse gases than the entire country of Germany, and together the top five contribute more than fossil fuel giants Exxon, Shell, or BP. These meat and dairy corporations are pushing factory farm expansion, further driving up greenhouse gas emissions, while family-scale livestock farms struggle to survive. 

Further, while factory farms drive water shortages through climate-induced droughts, they also directly poison vast quantities of freshwater across the country through the waste they produce. 

Agriculture is the leading known cause of pollution in U.S. rivers and streams and is the second-largest known contributor to the contamination of wetlands. Pollution from animal feeding operations threatens or impairs over 13,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams and 60,000 acres of lakes and ponds. In one stark example, nearly 500,000 dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California produce more manure waste than the human residents of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. 

We need to break this vicious cycle of factory farms polluting water and driving climate change, which causes water crises for people and the environment. 

An Even More Urgent Case For a Ban on Factory Farms 

Food & Water Watch called for a ban on factory farms in early 2018 because we knew the fragility of our food system. For years, our team has been educating and organizing against extensive corporate control and how it harms family farmers, rural communities, food chain workers and consumers. We knew that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must address industrial agriculture. 

Less than two years later we were proud to work with lead sponsors Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna to introduce the Farm System Reform Act in U.S. Congress, a visionary bill that includes a ban on new and expanding factory farms and a phaseout of existing facilities by 2040. Originally introduced in the Senate in December of 2019 and in the House in March of 2020, the Farm System Reform Act helped people to see that a better way is possible — and in fact critical — if we are to protect our water and climate as well as protect food chain workers, and ensure a safe and plentiful food supply. 

And now we’re doing it again — even bigger and bolder than last time.

Introducing the Farm System Reform Act in 2021

In July 2021, Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act in the new Congress with three original Senate co-sponsors and a number of new House co-sponsors. The bill is endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations including Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Family Farm Action, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Over 100 individual farmers have also already signed a letter in support of the bill, with more joining every day.

This groundbreaking bill has quickly become the north star of the movement to ban factory farms and end corporate control of our food system and should be a key pillar of national efforts to address climate change. In addition to an immediate ban on new and expanding large factory farms and a phase-out of existing facilities by 2040, the Farm System Reform Act would also: 

  • Create a transition program to allow farmers to escape the contract model and shift to more sustainable forms of agriculture
  • Enact a series of market reforms that would make it possible for small growers to compete
  • Hold corporations responsible for their pollution 

The Farm System Reform Act is a bold and yet commonsense approach that would move us toward a food and farm system that works for us — instead of wealthy corporations only concerned with their own bottom lines. It would help to build the kind of resilient, regionally-based food system that we advocate for in our new report, Well-Fed. It would level the playing field for family-scale farms and help rebuild rural America. And it would provide a real solution to addressing the climate impacts of industrial agriculture — instead of more false solutions like factory farm gas (biogas) or carbon markets.

Do you share our vision for a just food system? Send a message to your Senators and Representatives today.

Political leaders need to hear from you. Send a quick message!

Unbelievable: We Subsidize The Very Fossil Fuels That Are Ruining Our Planet

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

As climate change accelerates, the science is clear that we need to move off fossil fuels in the next decade if we hope to avoid runaway climate chaos. It is critical that Congress pass a robust infrastructure package that invests in renewable energy, but in order to facilitate a rapid transition off oil, gas, and coal, the package must also include provisions that halt current massive subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. We simply cannot afford to keep subsidizing an industry that is poisoning our climate and communities — congress must pass the End Polluter Welfare Act either as a stand alone measure or as part of Biden’s infrastructure package.

Handouts Help Fossil Fuel Corporations Expand Their Footprint

The federal government currently provides about  $15 billion in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry each year in the form of tax breaks, loans and loan guarantees, research and development and aid for dirty energy projects abroad.  These corporate handouts are driving an unprecedented expansion of U.S. fossil fuel development – over the next 10 years, the U.S. is on track to account for 60 percent of global growth in oil and gas production — and every dollar the federal government spends to support dirty energy makes it more difficult to achieve the 100% renewable energy future we need to avoid climate chaos. 

Some examples of the special tax breaks that oil and gas companies receive include:

  • Deduction of costs for new drilling: Oil and gas companies can deduct the majority of costs associated with drilling new wells. Eliminating this tax break would save $13.3 billion over 10 years
  • Deduction of royalties paid as foreign tax:  U.S. companies that pay royalties for leases abroad are allowed to deduct that cost as a foreign tax. In 2009 Exxon Mobil paid zero federal income taxes, in large part by taking advantage of this tax break. 
  • Percentage depletion: Companies are typically allowed to deduct depreciation of certain assets over time, but fossil fuel companies are able to deduct a set percentage from their taxable income that is not related to the capital costs. This can allow deductions that exceed the total capital costs. Eliminating percentage depletion would secure $12.9 billion over a 10 year period. 

Our Tax Dollars Fund Loans For Their Research Into Perpetuating Dirty Energy

In addition these fossil fuel corporations also receive assistance and support for research, development and deployment of their projects through the Department of Energy, including $8 billion in loans for fossil fuel projects to avoid the release of or to sequester carbon and $2.66 billion for research and development projects between 2001 – 2017, 91% of which went to coal projects. 

As a candidate, President Biden promised to end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and recently the American Petroleum Institute testified that fossil fuel corporations wanted to be treated like any other industry. It’s time for Congress to do just that and end special subsidies, both direct and indirect, for fossil fuels. Congress can fulfill this promise by passing the End Polluter Welfare Act

More people need to know about this.

Is Oregon Environmentally Friendly? Governor Brown’s Inaction Casts Doubt.

Categories

Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

Oregon has a reputation as a progressive and environmentally friendly state. In reality, however, it has a dirty factory farming problem that is polluting its rivers, streams, and groundwater, threatening public health in rural communities and contributing to climate chaos. This legislative session we made progress towards stopping an expansion of these mega-dairies, but bold action is needed from Governor Kate Brown to combat this growing problem.

The Transition Away From Family Farms In Oregon Has Been Disastrous

Oregon has long been a dairy state, and small and mid-sized farms have been a lifeblood of rural Oregon. But while the number of dairy cows in the state increased fourteen fold between 2007 and 2017, those cows are largely concentrated in enormous operations with thousands or even tens of thousands of cows. The resulting flood of cheap milk has made it difficult for small and mid-sized family farmers to compete, forcing them out of business. This rapid transition from family farms to mega-dairies has been a disaster for Oregon’s communities and environment.

In 2019 alone, large dairies in Oregon produced almost 6.5 billion pounds of manure — twice the waste produced by the entire Portland metropolitan area’s more than 2 million residents. But while waste from Portland residents is treated, mega-dairies dump their waste into large “lagoons,” where it can leach into drinking water aquifers. They then dispose of it — untreated — on cropland, often in far greater quantities than can be absorbed by crops. This results in runoff into local waterways that threatens aquatic ecosystems and recreation with pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and algae-causing nutrients. 

Oregon’s Mega-Dairies Are A Significant Contributor To Climate Change

Mega-dairies also drive climate change by emitting huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere. Corresponding with an explosion of factory farming across the country, U.S. methane emissions from manure management increased 60% between 1990 and 2018. Just as we cannot afford to keep expanding fossil fuel production, we cannot afford to keep building new factory farms.  

That’s why Food & Water Watch is working with the Stand Up to Factory Farms (SUFF) coalition, a diverse range of organizations committed to stopping the spread of mega-dairies across Oregon. 

Governor Kate Brown Fails The Leadership Test On Our Mega-Dairy Moratorium Bill 

In 2019 SUFF first introduced legislation to place a moratorium on mega-dairy expansion in the Oregon Senate. In the two years since, our campaign’s momentum has grown, and in the 2021 session we got our bill introduced in both houses with an increased number of sponsors. Our bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, and we organized to pressure chair Lee Beyer to move the bill out of committee. Despite hundreds of calls and emails to Beyer’s office and over 130 people submitting testimony in favor of the bill (with only 16 against), Beyer refused to schedule the bill for the required work session in order to pass it out of committee.

Governor Kate Brown, who has the authority to unilaterally put a pause on approval of mega-dairies, was silent on the bill, despite her call for bold actions to combat climate change “in all policy decisions.” She clearly continues to look the other way when it comes to factory farms.

Kate Brown’s Pattern Of Inaction When It Comes To Mega-Dairy Scandals 

Take for instance the specific permit application currently pending before her Department of Agriculture by Easterday Dairy. Easterday is an entity with no dairy experience, yet seeks to operate a 30,000 head mega-dairy on the site of the disastrous Lost Valley Farm. Lost Valley was cited with over 200 environmental violations including overflowing lagoons that threatened water supplies. Only after pressure by Food & Water Watch and our allies in SUFF, the state finally revoked its permit in 2018. 

Oregon regulators and elected officials have claimed that Lost Valley was simply one bad actor, but recent events have proven that to be false: the Easterday family and its companies were recently caught up in a modern day cattle rustling scandal, and Cody Easterday recently pled guilty to federal fraud charges for ripping off Tyson Foods for the feed and care of cattle that didn’t actually exist — to the tune of $244 million. Two of Easterday’s companies have declared bankruptcy, and Cody Easterday could face up to 20 years in prison. Was Lost Valley Farm a lone bad actor? Clearly not.  

Brown’s response to these huge red flags? Her administration has “paused” processing the Easterday permit, but has remarkably refused to deny it outright despite clear authority — and good reason — to do so.

Help Motivate Governor Brown To Do Right When It Comes To Easterday And More

Oregonians need real leadership from Governor Brown. Between now and the next legislative session, we’ll be working with our allies across the state to continue to build an even more powerful movement to stop mega-dairies in the state — demanding both the Governor and legislative leaders stop giving this polluting industry a free pass. If Governor Brown is serious about addressing the climate crisis, she must use the power of her office to stop the expansion of these dirty factory farms and support our small and mid-sized farmers. And she must order the Oregon Department of Agriculture to deny the Easterday Farms mega-dairy permit outright to prevent another disaster like Lost Valley. 

Urge Governor Kate Brown to deny permitting to Easterday Farms.

The Fossil Fuel Industry Spent $3.3M In New Mexico To Undermine Climate Action

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

The powerful fossil fuel industry flexed its significant muscle in New Mexico this year, blocking a bill which would have paused new fracking in the third largest oil producing state in the country. Yet despite this setback, anti-fracking voices continued to make progress this legislative session.

Fossil Fuel Interests Unleashed A Tidal Wave of Money On Elections In New Mexico

It is hard to understate the influence of fossil fuel money on politics in New Mexico. According to a report from New Mexico Ethics Watch, the fossil fuel industry spent $3.3 million on elections in the state in the 2020 cycle and leadership of both parties accepted significant campaign contributions from them. For this reason, when state Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a bill to pause fracking this year, few gave it much of a chance of passing out of a single committee, let alone the legislature.

Still, Food & Water Watch and our allies across the state rallied around Sedillo Lopez’s bill, generating hundreds of emails and phone calls to legislators as well as significant media coverage. The result was the bill passing out of the Conservation committee. Though the bill ultimately died in the Judiciary Committee when Chair Joseph Cervantes refused to bring it forward for a vote, the fact that it passed out of its first committee showed the growing strength of the anti-fracking movement in the state. It was not surprising that Cervantes killed the bill as he received 17% of his campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. 

This legislative battle highlighted both the growing anti-fracking movement in the state as well as the power of the oil and gas industry. This year we worked to help bring together diverse groups to support the fracking pause bill in the legislature. Bringing together a statewide coalition effort is an important step in building a more powerful presence in New Mexico. 

The State of New Mexico Must Reduce Its Dependence on Fossil Fuel Revenue So They Can Adapt

At the same time, it is clear that the oil and gas industry continues to run politics in New Mexico, thanks to their significant political spending and also the way New Mexico funds its governmental operations. Approximately a third of the New Mexico state budget comes from revenue from the oil and gas industry. This state dependence on fossil fuels gives industry an extraordinary amount of political power and leverage in addressing legislation. It is therefore critical that New Mexico diversify its revenue streams and economy if the state is ever going to move off fossil fuels. 

For this reason, we are heartened by passage of SB 112, which for the first time creates a task force to study how to advance this critical economic diversification. While the bill is much needed, we remain skeptical about how much progress will be made, as the bill still allows the oil industry to have a seat at the table and the person in charge of the taskforce — Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham — took over $50 thousand in oil money during the 2020 election cycle. 

Time Will Tell If Governor Grisham Is More Than Just Talk On Clean Energy 

This task force will be a key test for Lujan Grisham. The Governor has called climate change an “existential crisis” and said we need a “clean energy revolution,” yet has spoken out against Biden administration plans to halt leasing for oil and gas on federal lands and continues to take money from dirty energy interests. How she guides the task force will be a key indicator of whether she is really interested in a renewable energy future or just interested in window dressing for the fossil fuel industry.

As we move forward, we will continue to pressure Lujan Grisham to end the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, as well as take on the factory farm industry which continues to pollute New Mexico’s environment. At the same time, we will continue work to protect the greater Chaco region from fracking, in concert with our partners in the Chaco coalition. 

New Mexico is a big oil state and change here will not come overnight. Still, the 2020 legislative session represents progress and we are well positioned to work with our allies across the state to build on the progres from this session as we work to advance a clean energy future.

Your friends need to see this.

5 Big Misconceptions About President Biden’s Fracking And Drilling Orders

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

President Biden’s early climate actions signal a welcome shift from Trump’s radical, fossil fuel-driven agenda. However, thus far they fall short of what he promised during his campaign and — most importantly — what is needed to avert climate chaos. When it comes to fracking and fossil fuels, confusing and inaccurate reporting on what Biden ordered abounds. 

Biden’s executive orders have been referred to as a “moratorium on oil, gas drilling on federal land,” and “drilling moratorium,” and halt to “far-reaching suspension of new oil and gas development on federal land.” In reality, it is none of these things. Here is a breakdown on what Biden has done, and what he hasn’t done.

Biden Did Not Ban Fracking and Drilling on Federal Lands

Biden promised during the campaign to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands,” but this is not what his executive order does. It merely pauses new leasing of federal lands for oil and gas development for an undetermined period of time, while his administration conducts a review. Following his executive order, Biden’s Interior Department clarified this stating that “the targeted pause does not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved.” During his press conference, Biden also doubled down, stating his opposition to a fracking ban. He said this despite his promise that he’ll listen to science and the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing that fracking is dangerous to human health, water, and the climate. 

Make your position on this clear to President Biden.

Fracking and Drilling Permits are Also Not Temporarily Halted

It was also reported that the Interior Department had put a 60 day halt on all drilling and fracking leases and permits through a secretarial order issued on January 20th. This is false. The moratorium only applies to the agency’s civil service staff issuing permits. Permits can still be approved by Biden’s political appointees, and it appears some permits have been issued for existing leases. 

Aside From Keystone, Biden Did Not Block or Delay Any Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Biden made big news with his day one order blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, an important step and the result of years of organizing by Indigenous leaders and many allied organizations. However, none of his actions do anything to stop or delay any of the other many fracking pipelines, power plants and export facilities which are moving forward across the country. These include the Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3, both of which are also opposed by powerful Indigenous-led campaigns.

Biden Didn’t Declare a Climate Emergency

In issuing his executive orders, Biden said we face a “profound climate crisis,” and said addressing it was “more necessary and urgent than ever.” Still, he did not declare a climate emergency, which has been a top climate movement demand and would trigger additional powers that would allow Biden to halt oil and gas exports, a critical step to moving off fossil fuels. 

There Remains Plenty of Land That Big Oil and Gas Can Drill and Frack

Despite the actions taken by Biden to temporarily halt leasing of new land for oil and gas production, there is still plenty of additional damage that fossil fuel companies can do utilizing existing leases and permits. As the Department of Interior pointed out in their release the same day, “the oil and gas industry has stockpiled millions of acres of leases on public lands and waters.” The release notes over 13.9 million unused acres leased on federal lands and approximately 7700 permits to drill on federal lands and waters. All of these can continue to be developed under Biden’s orders.

The Department of Interior release noted “a fire sale of public lands and waters,” under the Trump administration, of which 5.6 million acres were purchased. This is a lot of acres, but — it’s worth noting — not that much more than the nearly 5 million acres that were leased for oil and gas under the second term of the Obama-Biden administration. 

Biden has taken some good first steps, but it is going to take much more to undo the damage of not just the Trump administration, but the last several decades of political inaction on climate change. It will take nothing less than a ban on fracking and related infrastructure and a bold plan to build back fossil free that centers a fair and just transition to 100% renewable energy. Urge President Biden to take an unmistakable step with a permanent ban on fracking federal lands.

Our planet can’t wait. Urge Biden to ban fracking on federal lands for good.