Dangerous Hog Slaughter Self-Inspection Program Should Be Stopped, Advocates Tell Court

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Food System

National food-policy and consumer organizations filed a motion asking for a federal court to rule in a case that could have major ramifications for food safety.

The case, filed in 2020 (Center for Food Safety, et al. v. Sonny Perdue, No.4:20-cv-00256-JSW (N.D. Cal) ) concerns the implementation of the USDA’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS), a Trump administration rule that greatly undermines the ability of federal inspectors to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses. 

In the brief to the US District Court for the Northern District of California, the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch and the Humane Farming Association argue that the 2019 rules violate the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), one of our country’s cornerstone food safety laws.

“The Trump administration implemented this outrageous self-policing initiative that hands over inspection duties to meat companies themselves — even though 48 million Americans get sick every year due to foodborne illness,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Attorney for Food & Water Watch and lead counsel in the case. “Enough is enough. We are asking a federal court to throw out the unlawful rules the Biden administration continues to defend.”

The NSIS program relies in large part on meat company employees conducting inspections instead of government inspectors, a radical departure from long-established practice. The brief argues that this raises significant dangers to public health: for example, an examination of USDA data showed that the plants that had piloted the new system had significantly more regulatory violations for fecal and digestive matter on carcasses than traditional plants. Since the government projects widespread adoption of the NSIS rules (plants producing over 90 percent of the U.S. pork supply), these policies will greatly impact consumers.

“The powerful meat processing industry wants to turn back time to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but Congress required federal inspectors to ensure that meat processing is safe for the public,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety. “USDA’s new rules gut that assurance of safety and allow the fox to guard the henhouse.” 

“Turning over meat inspection duties to the regulated industry flies in the face of federal law and consumer safety,” said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association. “The Biden Administration’s refusal to reverse this Trump era rollback poses a significant danger to public health and animal welfare.”

The industry push for ‘self-regulation’ goes back decades, and in the 1990s the USDA began moving in that direction. This eventually led to the creation of a pilot program; 15 years later, government investigators found major problems, including lack of proper oversight and persistent regulatory violations. Whistleblower employees also came forward to document serious violations, and called for a halt to the program.

Despite these issues, USDA has continued to move forward with the NSIS program. As the filing documents, a Clemons Food Group plant in Coldwater, Michigan, was granted a waiver in 2017 so that it could begin to operate with these relaxed inspection rules. Despite a series of well-documented and serious problems, USDA decided to allow the plant to continue operating under the NSIS rules. 

The brief showed that employees in plants such as the one in Coldwater repeatedly could not perform newly assigned inspection tasks, such as slicing and feeling lymph nodes, that are  critical to identify animal conditions and diseases. These are tasks that are usually the responsibility of trained federal USDA inspectors. Employees in these plants also regularly missed fecal matter on carcasses, contamination that contains dangerous pathogens that can make people sick. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness each year, while 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from it.

The motion notes the widespread opposition to the NSIS rules. The vast majority of the over 80,000 comments filed on the program — from consumer groups, animal welfare groups, and dozens of members of Congress — were critical of the proposal. 

PVSC, Governor Murphy Postpone Vote on Dirty Newark Power Plant Scheme

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Climate and Energy

Faced with deep community opposition, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) pulled a planned vote to begin construction on a new $180 million gas-fired power plant at the agency’s sewage facility in the Ironbound section of Newark.

The move came at the request of Governor Murphy, who released a statement saying that “it is imperative that the project adheres to the Administration’s core values on environmental justice.” The governor’s statement calls for “a more thorough environmental justice review and robust public engagement process, ensuring that the voices of the community are heard.”

“Governor Murphy has reaffirmed his commitment to Environmental Justice by canceling today’s vote,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, Director of Environmental Justice and Community Development with Ironbound Community Corporation.  “Our community needs a real process to evaluate alternatives to the power plant like the one NJTRANSIT has initiated for their resiliency project right next door in Kearny. We need to bring in real resources and experts to find a solution that does not hurt the lungs of our children and in no way contributes to climate change. Even though we cut it close, I’m proud of the work being done in New Jersey to safeguard Environmental Justice and look forward to more partnership between our communities and the Governor of this great state.”

The shift comes after nearly a year of community-led opposition to this project, which would worsen air quality in a region overburdened by fossil fuel pollution. Approving the project would undermine Governor Murphy’s professed commitment to phase out fossil fuels, as well as a new state law intended to protect environmental justice communities from new sources of pollution.

“Delaying this project is the right thing to do because new facilities should serve and protect overburdened communities—not increase harm and pollution,” said Cynthia Mellon, Co-Chair – City of Newark Environmental Commission. “We need a real process that centers robust community engagement to achieve a solution that protects public health today and a safe environment for future generations.”

“Governor Murphy this morning has demonstrated real environmental justice leadership, thank you! Newark residents have been heard,” said Kim Gaddy, Clean Water Action National Environmental Justice Director and the founder of Newark’s South Ward Environmental Alliance.  “We have had enough. We cannot afford any new industrial smokestacks. Whatever their other intentions, they unavoidably poison our already too poisoned lungs and add to the climate emergency. There are better options out there for our lungs, our jobs, and our Newark Bay. We look forward to working with PVSC, the Murphy Administration and appreciate this pause to ensure we have the right process and get to the right result. Today’s meeting shows we still have a long way to go.” 

“Today’s decision to cancel the vote is a critical first step towards fulfilling Governor Murphy’s commitments to protect clean air for all New Jerseyans,” said Matt Smith, NJ State Director of Food & Water Watch. “But at today’s meeting PVSC continued to greenwash their dirty power plant. In light of PVSC’s remarks today and their action to date, we need a strong public commitment from Governor Murphy that he will not issue the air permit for the polluting power plant plant, and instead order PVSC to re-design the resiliency project in a way that brings no further pollution to Newark and neighboring communities.”

More than 100 Groups Call on CFTC To Shut Down Dangerous ‘Water Futures’ Market

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Clean Water

A national advocacy organization, along with 138 other organizations, petitioned the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today to suspend the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s water futures market, which is based on the availability of water rights in California. 

The letter from Food & Water Watch details a range of serious problems with Nasdaq Veles California Water Index Futures, which were self-certified by the CME before their launch one year ago. It is the world’s first market for water futures contracts. The comment was co-signed by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Southern California Watershed Alliance, FLOW (For Love of Water), Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, National Family Farm Coalition, Public Citizen, and more than 130 other organizations.

It argues that the ‘commodity’ in question — water rights in a state grappling with a serious drought — and the price index for such rights are not commodities at all, and their trade in a futures market undermines state law and does not conform to CFTC regulations.

It also points out that the agency’s regulations strictly prohibit CME from allowing trades of futures that are “readily susceptible to manipulation of the price of such contracts.” The fact that the market was self-certified means that the commission has not appropriately evaluated whether the futures contracts violate this standard.

“Water is necessary and essential for life and is simply not a commodity,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Attorney for Food & Water Watch.  “The Commission should reject this shoe-horn attempt to drive investor profit under a federal law never meant to apply to a common public resource managed by the state for the public welfare.”

“The radically deregulatory Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 allows exchanges to self-certify that new futures contracts comply with CFTC rules and core regulatory principles,” said Dr. Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “Self-certification has been applied to minor changes to contracts. The CME water futures contract, however, is a novel contract and a new asset class for which the CFTC must not allow self-certification. CFTC staff should heed and further the analysis in this letter of the California water sales that underlie this futures contract towards determining whether the contract is susceptible to market manipulation, a violation of a key CFTC core principle.”

“In this time of global-warming-induced drought in California, the last thing we need is to gamble on our precious water resources,” said Conner Everts, Executive Director, Southern California Watershed Alliance.

As the letter lays out, water entitlements in California involve rights allocated for different types of waters (e.g., ground, surface) and in different areas that cannot be exchanged under state law. But futures contracts can be freely traded on CME’s market, thus allowing investors to profit. This undermines state law including California’s “beneficial use” doctrine, which prohibits water entitlements to be used for speculation. It also violates the Commission’s regulations, which bar futures trading that “involves, relates to, or references . . . an activity. . . that is unlawful under any State or Federal law;” or that is “similar to” such an activity.”

“FLOW unequivocally supports Food & Water Watch’s efforts to stop the commodification of water,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, For Love of Water (FLOW). “Water is a fundamental human right held in trust by the states for the public, not something to be speculated on by profiteers.” 

“The CFTC needs to strongly re-consider the listing of water futures,” said Andrew Park, Senior Policy Analyst at Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund. “There is no reason why speculators and other financial market participants should be able to have any impact on the prices of Earth’s most important resource.”

The letter also argues that, even if all of the other deficiencies did not exist, the water futures market is contrary to the public interest. The petition warns that large institutional speculators — which tend to dominate key commodities markets — could pursue investment strategies that would result in actual water hoarding and raise water rates,  which would be particularly devastating to small farmers.

The petition closes by reminding the CFTC that it has the authority to review any self-certified products and suspend trading activities during any such review. The commission can also hold a hearing on the Nasdaq Veles Water Futures, which would prompt the CFTC to ultimately decide whether or not the product violates its normal policies.

Cherry Hill Voters Will Decide Clean Energy Question

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Climate and Energy

At a Tuesday evening meeting, the Cherry Hill Township Council decided to let voters determine the fate of a new Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program for the town. 

A CCA would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates. The environmental group Food & Water Watch is working with residents of municipalities across the state to create these programs, which will help reduce air pollution and our reliance on fossil fuels.  

A state law called the Faulkner Act gives residents the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any ordinance can be introduced by a petition with signatures from 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the most recent state assembly election. At the meeting, the Council decided not to vote to pass the ordinance directly, which means the question will appear on the ballot in the November 2022 election. 

“As we face extreme flooding, tornadoes and fires from a warming planet, the Cherry Hill town council made an utterly tone-deaf decision to sit on their hands and do nothing to move Cherry Hill to sustainable, responsible wind and solar energy choices,” said Cherry Hill resident Susan Druckenbrød. “I am, however, extremely confident that the voters of Cherry Hill, who are worried about the future of our planet and the future facing our children, will vote yes at the ballot box in November 2022. Let the campaign begin.” 

Cherry Hill resident David Stahl added: “I am confident the voters of Cherry Hill will have the gumption to do what their elected councilmembers could not: say yes to renewable energy and lower energy costs for residents.”

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick and Red Bank, and has a goal of putting more than one million New Jersey residents on a path to achieve 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030.
“Community choice energy programs not only lower harmful climate emissions and air pollution, they also serve to invigorate local democracy,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “The residents of Cherry Hill have enthusiastically supported this clean energy campaign throughout, and we expect to see them continue to build this movement for a cleaner, safer future.”

Biden’s Executive Order Fails to Confront Fossil Fuels

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Climate and Energy

In response to the White House’s new clean energy executive order, Food & Water Watch Managing Director of Advocacy Programs and Policy Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“While this executive order lays out noteworthy investments in solar energy and important changes in transportation and energy efficiency, their effectiveness is undermined by the White House’s failures to address the root cause of the climate crisis: Fossil fuel development. 

“If Biden was actually serious about tackling the climate crisis, he would ban new oil and gas extraction on federal lands like he repeatedly promised to do. Instead, the White House continues to approve new drilling and fracking projects on public lands, and just conducted a massive sale of offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration also seems eager to expand the export of fossil fuels, creating new sources of climate, air and water pollution at home.

“The focus on ‘net zero’ and zero emissions goals leaves the door open for expensive and dirty energy infrastructure including nuclear and fossil fuel-based hydrogen. We need President Biden to stop pushing policies that will keep us hooked on dirty energy.”

Trenton Votes to Oppose Gibbstown Fracked Gas Terminal

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Climate and Energy

The City Council of Trenton passed a resolution on December 2 opposing a plan by New Fortress Energy to build a massive liquefied natural gas export terminal in the Gibbstown area of Greenwich Township, located in Gloucester County.

The Trenton resolution calls on Governor Murphy to reject permits needed to load highly explosive and polluting LNG onto ships for export out of Gibbstown, and calls on the Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement on the project. The state capital’s vote is the twelfth municipality to pass a resolution in opposition to the project.

“I was proud to co-sponsor our adoption of this resolution against liquified natural gas being transported near Trenton. New Fortress Energy’s plan to move fracked gas through our backyards would put our already overburdened community at higher risk, and would set us back in our efforts to transition Trenton and the whole state off of fossil fuels. We need to be investing in clean energy for our childrens’ futures and the future of Trenton,” said Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson, a co-sponsor of the resolution. 

The proposed export terminal would be part of a massive new fracked gas infrastructure buildout in the region. The full scope of the project would involve supercooling gas extracted in Pennsylvania into liquefied natural gas (LNG), a highly volatile substance, and shipping it by truck and train nearly 200 miles to Gibbstown for export. 

As a registered nurse case manager, I am accustomed to advocating for the citizens of Trenton. I am extremely pleased that the Trenton City Council passed a resolution against the ground transportation of liquified natural gas through our area,” said City of Trenton employee Zoe Leach. “Our first responders have been through enough in the last year and a half and deserve the protection and support from our elected officials, not just verbal praise. I am so pleased with the results of the council’s vote.”

While the planned shipping routes have not been disclosed to the public, truck routes would likely pass within 2 miles of Trenton, as well as densely-populated urban areas in North Philadelphia and Camden. LNG is exceptionally dangerous: if ignited, it can burn in a fire too hot to extinguish. An LNG explosion at a Washington plant in 2014 led to emergency evacuation of a two-mile radius.

Councilperson Santiago Rodruiguez, co-sponsor of the resolution, said that “no hazardous materials should be transported through NJ. ” He noted that Trenton is already on a transport route for hazardous waste being transported from upstate New York  to Pennsylvania. “Residents are already subject to the schemes of the corporate fossil fuel industry, we don’t need any more dangerous material rolling through our town.”

“Trenton’s unanimous choice to vote against the Gibbstown LNG terminal is part of a growing effort throughout New Jersey to stop this dangerous project in its tracks,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Noa Gordon-Guterman. “Trenton’s elected officials and residents sent a clear message to Governor Murphy, Biden and the Army Corps: We do not want the Gibbstown terminal or any new Fossil Fuel infrastructure in our communities. This project would expose thousands of South Jersey residents to the fatal and lasting risks of explosive liquified natural gas every day and exacerbate already worsening effects of climate change. Governor Murphy and President Biden must prioritize the health and safety of New Jersey residents.”

So far, resolutions against the project have passed in Princeton, Pennsauken, Runnemede, Haddon Township, Riverton, Hazlet, Burlington City, Merchantville, Barrington, Maple Shade, National Park and Palmyra.

Drilling Report Reveals Biden’s Fracking Deception

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Climate and Energy

Today, the Interior Department released its long-awaited report on oil and gas drilling on public lands, which recommends raising the royalty rates that polluters pay to extract fossil fuels from public lands. The report offers little on the climate impacts of drilling, and bluntly contradicts Biden’s repeated vows to end drilling on public lands. 

Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“Releasing this completely inadequate report over a long holiday weekend is a shameful attempt to hide the fact that President Biden has no intention of fulfilling his promise to stop oil and gas drilling on our public lands. A minor increase in the royalties paid by climate polluters will have zero impact on combating the climate crisis, and will in effect make the federal government more dependent on fossil fuels as a source of revenue. 

“This shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters is a clear sign that, when it comes to climate action, the White House does not actually mean what it says.”

Passaic County Commissioners Fail to Take a Stance on TN Gas Pipeline Proposal

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Climate and Energy

After months of resident-led advocacy against a proposal for a pipeline expansion project in North Jersey, involving the construction of new fracked gas compressor stations in West Milford and Wantage, the Passaic County Commissioners voted down a resolution opposing the project last night, lacking the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. 

“The proposed compressor station is a dangerous and unnecessary risk to our community,” said West Milford resident Eileen Curran. “Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company already has a track record of destruction in our backyards. We cannot trust them to operate a fracked gas compressor station that will release volatile compounds in our protected highlands region close to homes, and the water supply of millions. The Passaic County Commissioners have failed to stand up for their constituents, so we need Governor Murphy to be a leader and reject the proposal for new compressors in North Jersey.”

“New Jersey is the fastest-warming state in the nation, and Passaic County is already facing drastic impacts from climate change. Two summers ago, Greenwood Lake was shut down due to harmful algae blooms affecting communities and recreation, and just a few months ago Hurricane Ida caused major flooding and damage in Paterson and Passaic and killed 3 people,” said Renee Allessio, a West Milford resident and leader of Sustainable West Milford. “By voting down the resolution, the Passaic County commissioners have failed to stand up for the health and safety of their constituents in the face of a deepening climate crisis. Though the Passaic County Commissioners do not have the authority to approve or deny the project, by passing a resolution they could have sent a strong signal to Governor Murphy that permitting new fossil fuel infrastructure in an escalating climate crisis is unacceptable.” 

The majority of the commissioners were set to pass this resolution at their meeting on October 26th. But at the last minute Commissioner Director Pat Lepore made the unilateral decision to pull the resolution off the agenda to give “stakeholders” the opportunity to make their case. At their next meeting, they gave close to an hour of the agenda to a representative from TGP, a subsidiary of the multi-billion dollar oil and gas corporation Kinder Morgan, for a presentation in favor of the project.

“The presentation from pipeline behemoth Kinder Morgan was riddled with misinformation and unanswered questions. Local residents and advocates requested the same opportunity for a presentation by accredited public health, pipeline safety, and environmental experts and Director Lepore denied this request,” said Sam DiFalco, an organizer with Food & Water Watch. “By failing to meaningfully engage with residents and pass the resolution, the Passaic Commissioners have chosen to acquiesce to the profits of a multi-billion dollar corporation over the health and local environment of their own constituents. Regardless, we will continue to organize and call on Governor Murphy to stop this disastrous proposal.”

Maple Shade Votes to Oppose Gibbstown Fracked Gas Terminal

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Climate and Energy

The Town Council of Maple Shade passed a resolution on November 18 opposing a plan by New Fortress Energy to build a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Gibbstown, Gloucester County.

The Maple Shade resolution calls on Governor Phil Murphy to reject permits needed to load highly explosive and polluting LNG onto ships for export out of Gibbstown, and calls on the Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement on the project. 

This week’s vote is the eleventh resolution to pass opposing the project.

“It is incredibly important to me to have my town, Maple Shade, show its support for the opposition to the proposed LNG transport through New Jersey,” said Emily Salaazar, a mother, teacher and resident of Maple Shade. “This dangerous project would impact the lives and health of all of the residents of South Jersey, including my own town, friends, and family. I’m very proud that Maple Shade is now a part of the growing number of towns that have formally voted in resolutions to oppose these hazardous LNG exports.” 

The proposed export terminal would be part of a massive new fracked gas infrastructure buildout in the region. The full scope of the project would involve supercooling gas extracted in Pennsylvania into liquefied natural gas (LNG), a highly volatile substance, and shipping it by truck and train nearly 200 miles to Gibbstown for export.

While the planned transport routes have not been disclosed to the public, truck routes would pass by I-95, which is less than a mile from Maple Shade, as well as densely-populated urban areas in North Philadelphia and Camden. LNG is exceptionally dangerous: if ignited, it can burn into a fire too hot to extinguish. An LNG explosion at a Washington plant in 2014 led to emergency evacuation of a two-mile radius.

“This decision was made possible due to the hard work of Maple Shade volunteers like Emily,” said Food & Water Watch Organizer Noa Gordon-Guterman. “Residents and Maple Shade elected officials sent a clear message to Governor Murphy, President Biden and the Army Corps: We do not want the Gibbstown terminal or any new fossil fuel infrastructure in our communities. Maple Shade’s unanimous vote against the Gibbstown LNG terminal is part of a growing effort throughout New Jersey to stop this dangerous project in its tracks. This project would expose thousands of South Jersey residents to the serious risks of explosive liquified natural gas, and exacerbate already worsening effects of climate change.”

So far, resolutions against the project have passed in Princeton, Pennsauken, Runnemede, Haddon Township, Riverton, Hazlet, Burlington City, Merchantville, National Park, Palmyra and Maple Shade. 

Petitions to Create Renewable Energy Program Accepted in Cherry Hill

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Climate and Energy

Cherry Hill residents who support the creation of a new Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program for the town were notified by the municipal clerk that they have submitted enough petition signatures to trigger a public hearing on the proposal. 

A CCA would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates. The environmental group Food & Water Watch is working with residents of municipalities across the state to create these programs, which will help reduce air pollution and our reliance on fossil fuels.  

Under the Faulkner Act, Cherry Hill residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any ordinance can be introduced by a petition with signatures from 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the most recent state assembly election.

Now that the petitions have been approved, the Township Council will have an opportunity to vote on the matter. If they vote yes, the ordinance will become law; if they vote no or decline to hold a vote, the matter would be decided by voters in a referendum.

“This is a great opportunity for Cherry Hill to become leaders in sustainability for the state of New Jersey,” said Cherry Hill resident David Stahl. “Our air will be cleaner and our energy costs will be lower. Hopefully our Councilmembers will do the right thing and put Cherry Hill on a more sustainable trajectory.” 

“This is a win-win for Cherry Hill and the planet,” says Cherry Hill resident Susan Druckenbrød. “We’re hopeful that Cherry Hill town council will agree with the more than 2,000 Cherry Hill residents who are ready to make the switch to renewable energy and will vote yay to adopt Community Choice Aggregation.”

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick and Red Bank, and has a goal of putting more than one million New Jersey residents on a path to achieve 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030.

Biden’s Offshore Lease Sale Makes Mockery of Climate Rhetoric

Categories

Climate and Energy

Today, the Biden administration will conduct the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history — a massive giveaway of 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. While Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and President Biden alike have stressed their climate credentials over the years, this action speaks louder than all of the words coming from the administration. 

Earlier this month, hundreds of organizations signed this letter to President Biden urging his administration to cancel the lease sale. 

Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“President Biden’s decision to carry forward with these new offshore drilling leases is a clear demonstration of where his priorities lie when it comes to climate policy. The president tells voters that he will stop fracking on our public lands — and then continue handing out drilling permits by the hundreds. He calls the climate crisis an existential threat, and then takes actions that only enhance the threat to people and our planet for generations to come.”

“The administration claims that a court loss requires them to sell these parcels. But that is not true; the White House has always had several other legal avenues it could pursue if it chose to do so. Not only has the White House refused to do so, it has gone so far as to argue that the decades of new drilling unleashed by this move would have no effect on the climate crisis.

“We came to expect climate denial from the Trump administration. With Biden, tragedy has turned to farce, as administration officials speak about confronting the climate crisis, while carrying on the deadly and dirty fossil fuel status quo.”

Fossil Fuel Moratorium Passes New Jersey Senate Committee Vote

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Climate and Energy

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted 3-1 (with one abstention) to approve Senate Resolution 17, introduced by Senator Loretta Weinberg, which “urges the Governor to impose an immediate moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure projects until the State adopts rules regulating CO2 and other climate pollutants.”

Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith, who testified at the hearing, released the following statement:

“Governor Murphy has accelerated our state’s timeline for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and launched several high-profile renewable energy projects that will speed the transition to clean power. But these goals can only be meaningful if the state stops approving new dirty energy projects. There are fracked gas pipelines, compressor stations, power plants and export terminals that the Murphy administration must reject if it wants to take a serious approach to climate action and environmental justice. 

“This resolution was championed by Senators Weinberg, Codey and Environment Committee Chairman Smith, whose dedication to climate action made this possible. We now urge the full Senate to join their colleague, as well as a coalition of more than 120 grassroots community groups across the state in calling for a moratorium on all new climate polluting projects. And the Senate’s commitment must be matched by Governor Murphy, who can put New Jersey at the forefront of the fight for climate justice by stopping all new fossil fuel projects.”

COP’s Failures Must Not Excuse White House Inaction on Climate

Categories

Climate and Energy

As the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow wind down, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“The haggling over the drafts of the conference agreement only underscores how far political leaders are from introducing meaningful plans to address this planetary crisis. Governments that cannot directly and forcefully confront the fossil fuel industry are doing nothing but advertising their failure. Even a call to stop government fossil fuel subsidies a modest but necessary first step — had to be weakened in order to coddle corporate polluters.

“It was heartening to see some renewed enthusiasm for strong policies to limit the global supply of fossil fuels. The 10-nation Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance represents the approach that must prevail across the world if we are to have a realistic chance at averting further catastrophe.

“The egregious failure to achieve even modest, voluntary agreements is disappointing, but not surprising. All the more reason that real climate action must not wait, especially here in the United States. The Biden administration has tools at its disposal that it is simply failing to use. This White House should fulfill its campaign promise to stop oil and gas drilling on public lands, put an end to oil and gas exports, and stop approving new dirty energy power plants and pipelines. If President Biden believes we are in an emergency, he should act accordingly.”

Biden Hog Speed Decision Puts Food Safety at Risk

Categories

Food System

Today, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a one year pilot program to once again allow faster line speeds at hog plants.

In response. Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan issued the following statement: 

“With this decision, the Biden administration is caving to industry pressure. We already know that industry-friendly hog inspection rules create significantly more food safety problems than rules that require strong federal oversight. The administration was right to accept a court decision throwing out the awful Trump administration rules that allowed slaughterhouses to ramp up their slaughter-line speeds. Unfortunately, they are now reversing course on this with a pilot program that continues to put industry profits over protecting the safety of our food supply.”

National Organization Backs Appeal of Chester Water Authority “Hostile Takeover”

Categories

Clean Water

The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch has filed an amicus brief in support of Chester Water Authority’s appeal to the state Supreme Court to stop Aqua Pennsylvania’s attempt to take over the authority’s water system. 

The brief urges the court to consider the appeal, arguing that the action taken by Aqua constitutes a “hostile takeover” that was effectively and incorrectly sanctioned by a Commonwealth Court decision. 

Food & Water Watch argues that the court failed to treat the water system as a public trust, and nullified the legal requirement that the Chester Water Authority must consent to an acquisition. 

In its brief, Food & Water Watch points out that the most immediate effect of the takeover is likely to be a dramatic increase in water rates — the most predictable consequence of corporate water privatization in Pennsylvania and across the country. The water bill burden in Chester would go from about 1.2 percent of median household income to 3.3 percent of median household income, a level generally deemed unaffordable by the Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations.   

“This whole scheme amounts to a hostile takeover of the Chester Water Authority by Aqua Pennsylvania,” said Food & Water Watch staff attorney Zach Corrigan. “The State Supreme Court should hear the appeal and affirm the public trust purposes of the water system to protect the people served by the water authority.”

“I’m a senior living on a fixed income, as are all my neighbors in my community. We can’t afford the huge water rate increases that always come with selling of a water system to a private, for-profit company,” said Margo Woodacre, a resident of New Garden Township. “My township recently sold our sewer system to Aqua, and my bill went up 44% this year! My neighbors and I are working so this won’t happen with our water too.”

Carol Kazeem of Chester City added: “I truly and strongly believe that we must save Chester Water Authority and to keep our water public. Most of the residents that are in our communities are on fixed income or a low income. And changing Chester Water Authority now to be given over to Aqua will cause more of a financial distress to many residents in the City of Chester and also the surrounding areas of Delaware County.” 

A Stronger Approach to Methane Pollution: Ban Fracking

Categories

Climate and Energy

Today, the EPA unveiled new rules intended to limit methane emissions for the oil and gas sectors.

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement

“The best regulation against methane emissions is to ban fracking and prohibit the use of methane in heating of newly constructed buildings. In addition, the federal government should be working to retrofit existing buildings to eliminate the use of methane. Further, President Biden should use his executive authority to stop the buildout of new gas infrastructure, ban the export of LNG, and stop fracking and the extraction of fossil fuel on federal lands as he promised during the campaign.

“In addition, Congress should pass Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna’s Farm System Reform Act to begin the transition away from the destructive factory farm model that harms the environment, impoverishes farmers, and promotes climate change.”

Merchantville Votes to Oppose Gibbstown Fracked Gas Terminal

Categories

Climate and Energy

The Borough Council of Merchantville passed a resolution on October 25 opposing a plan by New Fortress Energy to build a massive liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, Gloucester County.

The Merchantville resolution calls on Governor Murphy to reject permits needed to load highly explosive and polluting LNG onto ships for export out of Gibbstown, and calls on the Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement on the project. This week’s vote is the ninth resolution to pass opposing the project.

“I was proud to support our Green Team’s efforts to educate the public on the dangers of New Fortress Energy’s plan to transport LNG through our local neighborhoods…[and] of our Council’s unanimous vote to adopt a resolution in opposition to this plan,” said Councilwoman Maria Nina Scarpa. “Our constituents sent us a clear message that not only are they opposed to the transport of LNG but also disappointed that there is consideration of massive investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure. As one resident said, ‘How can we allow this when we should be taking action to secure a clean energy future for our children?’”’

The proposed export terminal would be part of a massive new fracked gas infrastructure buildout in the region. The full scope of the project would involve supercooling gas extracted in Pennsylvania into liquefied natural gas (LNG), a highly volatile substance, and shipping it by truck and train nearly 200 miles to Gibbstown for export.

While the planned shipping routes have not been disclosed to the public, rail routes would almost certainly pass within 2 miles of Merchantville, as well as densely-populated urban areas in North Philadelphia and Camden. LNG is exceptionally dangerous: if ignited, it can burn in a fire too hot to extinguish. An LNG explosion at a Washington plant in 2014 led to emergency evacuation of a two-mile radius.

“Twenty five residents showed up at Merchantville’s October 25th Borough Council meeting to support a resolution put forth by the town’s Green Team in opposition to the New Frontier Energy’s plan to transport massive quantities of LNG via rail and highway in South Jersey,” said Merchantville resident and Green Team member Dorothy Foley, who was one of the seven people who testified in support of the resolution. She added that they were “horrified at the foolhardy and dangerous plan to transport LNG but more than anything…the overall environmental impact of allowing this huge investment in fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when all efforts should be into transitioning away from carbon fuels.” 

The Merchantville Green Team also voted to pass a similar resolution within their group joining many other Environmental groups, church groups and New Jersey municipalities which have passed resolutions calling on the governor and the Army Corps to reject the project. 

“Merchantville’s unanimous choice to vote against the Gibbstown LNG terminal is part of a growing effort throughout New Jersey to stop this dangerous project in its tracks,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Noa Gordon-Guterman. “Merchantville elected officials and residents sent a clear message to Governor Murphy, Biden and the Army Corps: We do not want the Gibbstown terminal or any new Fossil Fuel infrastructure in our communities. This project would expose thousands of South Jersey residents to the fatal and lasting risks of explosive Liquified Natural gas every day and exacerbate already worsening effects of climate change. Governor Murphy and President Biden must prioritize the health and safety of New Jersey residents.”

So far, resolutions against the project have passed in Princeton, Pennsauken, Runnemede, Haddon Township, Riverton, Hazlet, Burlington City, and Merchantville.

Biden’s Build Back Better ‘Framework’ is a Climate Failure

Categories

Climate and Energy

This morning, the White House released its Build Back Better framework.

Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:  

“On a day when Congress is finally holding the oil and gas industry accountable for its climate disinformation campaigns, President Biden has announced a spending plan that fails to do the same. Given the prime opportunity to cancel billions of dollars in domestic subsidies for oil and gas polluters, the president and Congressional leadership have rolled over. A climate plan that fails to directly confront the oil and gas industry cannot possibly be considered meaningful. 

“We cannot rely on credits, grants, and loans to incentivize our way out of the worsening climate crisis. This is a historically significant failure of leadership, and our planet may well pay the price.”

New Documents Reveal Dangerous Australian Meat Imports

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Food System

WASHINGTON, DC — Documents uncovered by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch show an alarming increase in safety violations of Australian meat imports, in particular mutton, lamb, and goat meat that was contaminated with fecal matter and digestive contents. 

The incidents raise serious questions about the public health risks of relying on Australia’s heavily privatized meat inspection system. 

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and reported by Reuters this morning, detail the import refusals that were documented by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). From 2019 through 2020 the agency’s Public Health Critical Refusals Report found over 19 “zero tolerance” violations in Australian meat shipments. Twelve of these identified fecal matter or digestive contents as the reason for the refusal.

This is especially concerning for several reasons: These imports had already been inspected in Australia. Further, even if the amount of meat found to be in violation is small when considering the size of the lots imported, FSIS only ‘re-inspects’ a small percentage of imports—which means that the documented incidents are likely a massive undercount of the amount of contaminated meat that ends up imported and likely onto consumers’ plates. And the rate of rejections is increasing—from four violations for fecal matter and digestive content in 2018 to close to three times that (11) in 2020. The documents show three violations in just two months of 2021.

Records obtained from the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents meat inspectors in Australia, indicates a “significant rise” in rejections over the past year, and indicates that the USDA has known about these problems. One shocking case includes the allegation that an establishment sought to use scrapers to remove fecal matter from the contaminated carcasses.

“It was outrageous to simply scrape off fecal matter on carcasses, as that would merely spread around the contamination,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch.  “The USDA needs to revoke its approval of Australia’s inspection system as equivalent.  American consumers simply don’t deserve this fecal matter.” 

In June of 2014, Food & Water Watch submitted a petition requesting that the FSIS revoke its equivalency determination for the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS)—which essentially replaces government inspectors with far fewer plant employees—like the Trump administration’s swine slaughter system that is now subject of multiple court cases. Food & Water Watch submitted these documents to the agency to bolster its case against the equivalency determination. USDA has yet to answer the petition.

Legal Petition Challenges EPA Inaction on Factory Farm Air Pollution

Categories

Food System

Washington, DC – As President Biden continues to promise that his administration will address the climate crisis and protect the air we breathe from industrial polluters, 24 advocacy organizations are demanding Biden’s EPA live up to that promise by doing more to protect communities from factory farms. Today, the groups filed a legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urging it to enforce federal air pollution laws against these major polluters, something the agency has refused to do for nearly two decades. 

Over 16 years ago, the George W. Bush administration announced an Agreement and Final Order it had secretly negotiated with the National Pork Producers Council. EPA agreed to refrain from enforcing key air pollution control and public disclosure laws like the Clean Air Act against any animal feeding operation (AFO) that signed up for the deal. In exchange, participating AFOs agreed to pay a small penalty to fund a nationwide air monitoring program that was supposed to help EPA develop more accurate air emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) for AFOs. The methodologies were intended to allow EPA and citizens to calculate factory farms’ pollution and begin enforcing clean air laws.

Nearly 14,000 AFOs signed up for this sweetheart deal, known as the Air Consent Agreement, which, by its own terms, should have been completed in 2010. Yet, due in part to the fundamentally flawed ways in which EPA designed, ran, and used the data collected from the air monitoring study, the agency has yet to finalize any methodologies or end the Air Consent Agreement. 

As a result of EPA’s protracted delay, thousands of the nation’s largest AFOs continue to enjoy protection from EPA enforcement actions, even if their air pollution emissions exceed legal limits or reporting thresholds. AFOs emit a number of deadly air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and climate-altering methane. According to a recent study, the livestock industry’s air pollution is responsible for over 12,700 deaths per year — more deaths than are attributed to coal-fired power plants. 

In light of AFO air pollution’s serious and unregulated public health impacts, the advocacy groups are demanding EPA put a stop to its “unacceptable dereliction of duty” by terminating the Air Consent Agreement, and taking all actions consistent with President Biden’s executive orders to enforce applicable clean air laws against AFOs.  

The Petitioners include: Animal Legal Defense Fund, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (Arkansas), Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Clean Water for North Carolina (North Carolina), Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment (California), Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Farm Aid, Friends of the Earth, Friends of Family Farmers (Oregon), Friends of Toppenish Creek (Washington), Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, Humane Society of the United States, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa), Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, North Carolina Conservation Network (North Carolina), Public Justice, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

“AFO air pollution not only harms human health and our environment, it also exacerbates the suffering faced by the animals living at these facilities, ” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This free pass to pollute the air is another way our federal government subsidizes this cruel industry and helps it to thrive and expand.”

“Air pollution from factory farms kills almost 13,000 people a year, yet the EPA continues to sit on its keister as the meat industry emits more and more air pollution without consequences,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Multiplied out, the agency’s practice of ignoring these dangerous emissions for 16 years now makes it an accomplice in likely more than 200,000 deaths and countless harms to the environment and wildlife. Enough is enough.” 

“Communities surrounding the mega-dairies in Oregon have suffered long enough from their air pollution,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety’s Pacific Northwest office. “No one wants to live near these stinking and hazardous operations, yet EPA continues to sacrifice the most marginalized people to the benefit of industry profit.”

“We are simply asking the EPA to level the playing field and treat this industry the same way it treats every other industry,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “We strongly support the Agency’s efforts to update the science, but that process is always ongoing – it should never be used as an excuse to put critical environmental protections on hold. No other industry gets that kind of special treatment. It’s unfair, and it has important consequences to overburdened communities across the country.”   

“The EPA has given factory farms a free pass to pollute since 2005, when it negotiated a backroom amnesty deal with the industry essentially exempting it from federal air pollution laws,” said Emily Miller, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch. “Since then, factory farms have been freely spewing dangerous air contaminants into the environment, not only threatening the health of nearby communities, but also contributing to climate change. This needs to stop.”

“For decades, the factory farm industry has insulated itself from the necessary enforcement critical to a just food system and healthy climate,” said Brent Newell, Senior Attorney at the Public Justice Food Project. “The Air Consent Agreement, now more than 16 years old, has given factory farms a free pass to pollute and reflects past administrations’ failure to take urgent action and prioritize human health over the profit-driven interests of Big Ag. We urge the EPA to grant this petition and to finally abandon an agreement that not only undermines the law, but also entrenches the factory farm system in a way that harms Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian and white rural communities.”

Highland Park Council Opposes Keasbey Fracked Gas Plant

On Tuesday night, the Highland Park Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution strongly opposing plans for a gas-fired power plant in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge Township, and calling on the administration of Governor Phil Murphy to reject the facility’s air permit application.

The council’s action follows a vote in Edison earlier this month, where the Township Council became the first in New Jersey to formally oppose the fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The Competitive Power Ventures plan would place a 630 megawatt plant amid a densely populated community already overburdened with fossil fuel pollution. The company — which was embroiled in a high-profile corruption scandal in New York over approval for a facility in Orange County — already operates a fracked gas power plant adjacent to the proposed site.

The resolution was adopted as state officials develop rules under a new environmental justice law that will make it harder for polluting projects to be sited in overburdened communities. Each of the towns located within 5 miles of the proposed site (Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Metuchen, and Edison) are considered overburdened, with 73% of all census block groups meeting one or more of the environmental justice criteria.

“We’re happy that the Highland Park Council passed a strong resolution. The proposed Keasbey gas-fired plant is an environmental justice issue for both the Highland Park and the Woodbridge Township communities,” said Ellen Whitt, a Highland Park resident who championed the issue.

“Our Council members and Mayor understand that burning fracked gas increases global warming and shortens lifespans. The only power that is acceptable in today’s world is the power of renewables,” said Tina Weishaus, Chairperson of Sustainable Highland Park, a committee that recommended this action to the Mayor and Council.

“There is simply no need to add another source of air and climate pollution in this part of the state, or anywhere else for that matter,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Charlie Kratovil. “If Governor Murphy wants us to believe he is ready to be a climate leader, he will reject the Keasbey plant.”

The resolution calls for the Borough Clerk to forward the resolution to Governor Murphy, as well as Rep. Frank Pallone, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, State Senator Patrick Diegnan, Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak, Assemblyman Sterley Stanley, and the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners.

A Climate ‘Deal’ that Guts the Clean Power Plan Would Be a Disaster

Categories

Climate and Energy

Senator Joe Manchin’s reported unwillingness to support even the modest climate policies put forth in the Build Back Better reconciliation package is leaving Democratic lawmakers and the White House to consider several alternatives. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:


“Senate leadership and the White House seem to be entertaining two possibilities: A ‘clean energy’ program that carves out more room for deadly fossil fuels, or a regressive, ineffective carbon tax that would replace a clean electricity standard. Both of these scenarios would amount to dangerous failure. 

“Modifying the standards in the Clean Electricity Payment Program in a way that would allow construction of new coal or gas-fired power plants—and to even count as sources of clean power — would render the program useless, at best. There is no value in trading meaningful emissions targets for dirty power loopholes or wishful thinking about carbon capture. 

“Lawmakers frustrated by Manchin’s intransigence are also seizing on this as an opportunity to promote a carbon tax as an alternative to meaningful policies. Carbon taxes have never been shown to be effective, and would directly tie government revenues to continued drilling and fracking. This would be a remarkable and tragic betrayal at a historically significant moment for climate action.

“If the price of winning Joe Manchin’s vote is a greatly diminished clean power proposal that props up fossil fuels, then it is no win at all. The climate movement should focus its energy on fighting to pass meaningful legislation that does what is necessary.”

Edison Council Opposes Keasbey Fracked Gas Plant

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Climate and Energy

Last night, the Edison Township Council voted unanimously in support of a resolution opposing plans for a gas-fired power plant in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge Township, and calling on the administration of Governor Phil Murphy to reject the facility’s air permit application.

With this action, Edison became the first municipality to formally oppose the fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The Competitive Power Ventures plan would place a 630 megawatt plant amid a densely populated community already overburdened with fossil fuel pollution. The company — which was embroiled in a high-profile corruption scandal in New York over approval for a facility in Orange County — already operates a fracked gas power plant adjacent to the proposed site.

“I am pleased that the Edison council was able to take a stand against an unneeded fossil fuel power plant during this time of climate emergency,” said John Hsu, an Edison resident and Food & Water Watch volunteer. “People sometimes wonder what residents can do at the local level, but efforts like this added up together will make a world of a difference.”

Middlesex County residents were alarmed to learn of the large amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases that the plant would emit into the atmosphere here.

“Two of the leading causes of death in Middlesex County are heart disease and cancer, and lung disease causes 4.1% of deaths in our county. The pollutants from this proposed power plant will only contribute to these numbers,” said Aishwarya Devarajan, an Edison resident and Food & Water Watch volunteer.

“We have to look after our environment. This plan was strictly a money grab for a large corporation, and it would come at the expense of our health,” said Edison Councilman Richard Brescher.

The resolution was introduced by Councilman Brescher, following months of persistent advocacy from Food & Water Watch and local residents. Its adoption comes as state officials develop and implement rules under a new environmental justice law, which will make it harder for polluting projects like this one to be sited in overburdened communities.

Competitive Power Ventures is “trying to get in under the wire to foist an unnecessary, health-endangering facility on local citizens solely for the sake of their bottom line,” said Keith Voos, Chair of the Environmental Justice Committee of the Metuchen-Edison Branch of the NAACP.

If approved by the Murphy administration, the proposed new facility would be a significant source of air and climate pollution. Each of the towns located within 5 miles of the proposed site (Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Metuchen, and Edison) are considered overburdened, with 73% of all census block groups meeting one or more of the environmental justice criteria.

“There is simply no need to add another source of air and climate pollution in this part of the state, or anywhere else for that matter,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Charlie Kratovil. “If Governor Murphy wants us to believe he is ready to be a climate leader, he will reject the Keasbey plant.”

Mariner East Criminal Charges Show Sunoco Must Be Stopped

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Climate and Energy

Today, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a range of criminal charges against Sunoco parent company Energy Transfer connected to the construction of its Mariner East pipelines.

The 48 criminal charges cover activities across the state, from failure to report releases of drilling fluid to the use of unapproved additives. 

The charges come after years of community organizing to stop this dangerous project.

In response, Food & Water Watch organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerslake released the following statement: 

“Today’s announcement confirms, once again, that Sunoco’s dangerous Mariner East pipelines pose an ongoing threat to communities across our state. The Wolf administration championed Sunoco’s corporate interests over the health and safety of neighborhoods that have been turned into sacrifice zones. We have lived with sinkholes, water contamination, construction disturbances, property destruction, and the degradation of rivers and streams. 

“The Mariner East disaster is Governor Wolf’s responsibility. He must stop this right now, and we will continue to fight to make sure that he does. Our communities should not be jeopardized so that a major polluter can have another pipeline to ship dangerous liquids that will be turned into plastic junk.”

Groups Urge Congress to Reject Carbon Tax in Reconciliation Bill

Categories

Climate and Energy

Leading climate, environmental justice and grassroots activist groups released a letter to top Senate and House Democrats urging them to reject last-minute efforts to include a carbon tax in the Build Back Better infrastructure proposal.

 The groups – Climate Justice Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Our Revolution, and Progressive Democrats of America – argue that carbon taxes only serve to deepen our dependence on fossil fuels by linking revenue from pollution to ongoing government services. The letter also points out that the costs associated with such a tax will ultimately be paid by working people, which would violate President Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on households making less than $400,000.

“Carbon taxes have fallen out of serious climate discussions for good reasons: They do not reduce emissions, they put a squeeze on working families, and they are embraced by polluters as a ploy to look concerned about climate while continuing business as usual,” said Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones. “As if that record isn’t bad enough, adding a carbon tax as a last minute revenue raiser in the spending bill would only make our economy more dependent on dirty fossil fuels. If lawmakers are really concerned about holding the costs of this spending bill, they should get rid of the billions of dollars we waste every year on subsidies to polluters.”

Carbon taxes have gained popularity among fossil fuel companies in recent years. In lieu of strong policies that would mandate pollution reductions, a small tax would allow corporations to largely maintain the status quo.

“Using a carbon tax to fund the Build Back Better Act to cover the costs of the package does nothing to address the climate crisis,” stated Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “A carbon tax distracts from the urgent need to keep oil, coal and gas in the ground. It would be a tax scheme benefiting the polluters, that does not cut emissions at source at the level that is needed to get the world to 1.5º C. It will result in the continuation of environmental injustice displacing families, affecting Indigenous treaty rights and upending local economies.”

As the letter states,

“the inclusion of a carbon tax would create an inequitable, discriminatory, ineffective and ultimately regressive proposal that gives a green light for the biggest climate scofflaws to pay to pollute and maintain a harmful status quo. We urge you to oppose a carbon tax and instead pursue other revenue streams to pay for critical infrastructure, such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.”

Senator Heinrich Signals Supports for Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Categories

Climate and Energy

New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich released a letter yesterday to several environmental groups confirming that he supports ending federal subsidies to oil and gas companies.

“You asked for my support for ending fossil fuel subsidies, and you have it,” the senator’s letter reads.

Heinrich’s message came in response to a letter from environmental groups and lawmakers across the state, who have been urging action on eliminating subsidies as part of the upcoming spending packages. 

“As the negotiations over the Build Back Better Act intensify over the next few days, it is encouraging to know that Senator Heinrich is ready to fight to end these unconscionable government kickbacks to polluters, said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Margaret Wadsworth. “We know we must transition New Mexico’s economy away from fossil fuels, not continue to subsidize an industry that is driving the climate crisis, wasting precious water resources, and polluting our air.”

“We are in a critical moment to address the climate crisis and must build toward a climate-justice-centered framework that puts people, not industry polluters first,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Organizer Miya King-Flaherty. “Ending federal fossil fuel subsidies is fiscally responsible. We must invest in a clean, renewable energy future, and end handouts to industry polluters. It’s great to see Senator Heinrich support ending fossil fuel subsidies as budget reconciliation talks continue. He is a great environmental champion for New Mexico.”

“Senator Heinrich’s commitment to repeal fossil fuel subsidies sets the standard for climate leadership,” said Friends of the Earth Campaigner Raena Garcia. “In the face of a climate emergency, we need progressive action to transform our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and end support for an industry that is destroying New Mexico’s people and places. Thank you Senator Heinrich for answering the call.”

Ag Committee Offsets Hearing Dominated by Big Ag Voices

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Food System

Washington, DC — Today, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on voluntary offset markets, without hearing from Black, Indigenous and environmental justice communities and smaller-scale sustainable farmers that would be most impacted by carbon offset markets.

Several organizations are raising concerns about this glaring omission of impacted communities from the Committee Witness list, which mostly reads like a who’s who of chemical companies and large agricultural interests that will profit from such a move at the expense of sustainable farmers and environmental justice communities. 

Earlier this year, a broad coalition of organizations sent a letter to Congress raising significant concerns with the Growing Climate Solutions Act, legislation that would create the voluntary offset markets the hearing is discussing. 

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA) under the USDA will pay Big Ag to provide moral cover for Big Oil,” stated Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation. “My Ponca People continue to live in the violence of the toxic fossil fuel industries creating nothing less than environmental genocide. These polluting corporations have long been buying carbon credits and they have not reduced pollution. In fact, they have expanded their operations and called themselves ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net-zero.’ A carbon market for soils and agriculture, as proposed in the GCSA, privatizes Mother Earth, the air and waters, commodifying the Sacred. This program will further the destruction of biodiversity by paying for farming techniques that prop up large pharma-monoculture-GMO multinational corporations at the expense of sacred seeds and life on this planet. Climate change threatens every aspect of life. We do not have time for these soil and agricultural offset schemes. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground and we must respect and uphold Indigenous Traditional Knowledge-based farming methods.” 

Smaller sustainable farmers, who were not heard by the committee, are concerned that these voluntary offset programs will prop up big agricultural interests, which will likely increase consolidation and undermine those farmers already engaging in sustainable practices.

“Carbon markets do not adequately account for the ecosystem services provided by smaller-scale farms using organic practices. These farms sequester carbon and build organic matter through soil health practices that are fundamental to their operations but they are unlikely to benefit from carbon market programs that pay per acre for individual practices, disproportionately benefiting large farms and financial intermediaries,” said Katie Baildon, Policy Coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

“The House Agriculture Committee does a dis-service to its members when it refuses to hear critical perspectives on carbon markets,” said Ben Lilliston, Director of Climate Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “After more than a decade of experience, it’s clear these markets are largely for polluters, agribusiness project developers and Wall Street traders — not farmers or the planet.” 

US – EU Methane Pledge Proposal Should Be Much Stronger

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Climate and Energy

The United States and the European Union announced a methane pledge that aims to achieve at least 30 percent reductions by 2030 (compared with 2020 levels).

The most recent IPCC report added new urgency to the need to drastically reduce emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement: 

“While it is encouraging to see governments’ pledge to take serious action, the emissions target should be much stronger. We know that more aggressive cuts in methane are well within reach over the next decade, and are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis. There are also serious concerns about how to gauge progress, since agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency have continually underestimated methane emissions. 

“It is equally important that these emissions targets do not include factory farm biogas as a so-called solution to the methane problem. These schemes seek to entrench harmful industrial agriculture practices, or to even encourage their expansion under the guise of climate action. 

“Any plan to reduce methane emissions should start from the root source of the problem: Fossil fuel extraction. Meaningful climate action must be rooted in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels. The Biden administration can and must stop all new fossil fuel projects, including an end to dirty energy exploitation of our public lands. 

“We have known for years that the fracking boom — cheered on by so many political leaders — is creating an increase in methane emissions, water contamination, and air pollution. Instead of merely pledging to do better, governments around the world must put an end to the drilling and fracking that is fueling the climate emergency.” 

Residents, Climate Advocates Win in Court Against Teaneck Over Rejected Petition Signatures

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Climate and Energy

Teaneck residents and Food & Water Watch won in court on Monday against the township for their refusal to accept petitions that were signed electronically during the COVID-19 pandemic in support of an ordinance for a 100% renewable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. 

This ordinance would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates. 

Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any group of five residents (the Committee of Petitioners) can introduce an ordinance via a petition with signatures from ten percent of the number of votes from the last state assembly election. That amounts to 791 signatures in Teaneck. Typically these petitions are circulated on paper. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Murphy signed several executive orders allowing signatures to be collected electronically to protect public health.

Residents and clean energy advocates collected signatures electronically until the executive order expired on July 4, and switched entirely to paper petitions after that. Residents and activists delivered approximately 875 to the clerk for review in early July. Following the 20 day review period, the committee of petitioners were notified that all signatures collected electronically were rejected because they were delivered after the executive order expired. Food & Water Watch and Teaneck residents understood that the end of the executive order meant that electronic signature gathering must cease and petitions must be submitted in person. But that did not mean that petitions with electronic signatures must be turned in before the expiration.

“The Climate Emergency is here. Moving Teaneck to 100% Renewable Energy would be an important step to prevent things from getting worse. Teaneck’s attempted rejection of electronic signatures mandated by Governor Murphy to keep people safe during the covid pandemic is shameful,” said Paula Rogovin, Teaneck resident and plaintiff. “We are pleased that the court has ruled in favor of placing the ordinance on the ballot for the people to decide in the November election. We anticipate a massive yes vote from residents. This will be a victory for our Earth and for democracy!” 

“As a CCA co-sponsor, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee strongly supports the people’s effort to switch to cost-effective clean energy alternatives. It’s unfortunate that in order to ensure (that) democracy prevails in Teaneck, we had to go to court,” said Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, Chairperson of the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee. “CCA is about giving the residents of Teaneck the choice to make an informed decision about the township’s energy sources,  environmental responsibility, and the preservation of our future.”

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Red Bank. This year, the organization also supported residents to submit petitions for this program in Woodbridge, Long Branch, and North Brunswick whose councils all adopted the ordinance in August. 

“The devastating impacts of Hurricane Ida that we felt across the region just two weeks ago remind us we cannot wait any longer to take bold climate action. “A community choice aggregation program to achieve 100% clean energy sources by 2030 is a critical tool for fighting climate change at the local level,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam DiFalco. “We are excited the court ruled in favor of the people and we will be on the ballot so Teaneck residents can vote YES for clean energy this November.”

The plaintiffs were represented by the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, which has experience dealing with legal issues associated with Faulkner Act petitions.

“This is not just a win for clean energy activists but a win for democracy,” said Renée Steinhagen, attorney with NJ Appleseed representing the plaintiffs in this case. “Teaneck residents have the right to public participation in government, so despite the township’s attempt to undermine the democratic will of their constituents, we are glad the judge ruled in our favor.” 

Water Shutoff Protections Prevented Covid Infections and Deaths

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Clean Water

As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that water shutoff moratoria are an important public health tool to prevent the spread of disease. 

Since March 2020, 34 states took action to limit water shutoffs during the pandemic, and 20 of these states imposed comprehensive moratoria that apply to all water systems. The research found that these statewide protections prevented Covid infections and deaths. 

Despite the Delta wave increasing cases and hospitalizations across the country, nearly all of these shutoff protections have expired. Only California, New Jersey and Washington have comprehensive moratoria still in place, and both California’s and Washington’s moratoria expire at the end of the month. The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs had significantly lower growth rates for COVID infections and deaths.

“This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by COVID pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families,“ said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: Debt forgiveness with a moratorium on shutoffs through the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Long-term, Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

“Our model uses more than 12 thousand data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of COVID-19 infection and deaths,” said Dr. Xue Zhang, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell. “Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates. We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future.”

“Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic,” said Dr. Mildred E. Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell University. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. At the peak of protection, in June 2020, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of 2020, just 12 states had a moratorium in place, and 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered. This total included 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile, which are the households most at risk of having their service shut off.

Congress has provided limited support for water access in the infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. Although the House Energy & Commerce Committee seeks an additional $500 million in the federal budget to the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, there are no shutoff protections attached to the funding. Advocates continue to call for the passage of the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, from Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to eliminate utility debt accrued during the moratoria and extend shutoff protections through the recovery period. 

Jersey City Council Opposes PVSC Fracked Gas Plant

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Climate and Energy

On September 8, the Jersey City Council passed a resolution opposing the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s (PVSC) plans for a new fracked gas power plant in Newark, and called on Governor Murphy to direct the agency to shift to a renewable energy alternative. 

Jersey City is the third municipality to formally oppose the project, following Hoboken and Livingston.

“If we are going to seriously address the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida, we need to not only explore long-term sustainable alternatives, but adopt them,” said Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro. “I hope the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission takes note of Jersey City’s position and acts accordingly.”

The power plant would be built at PVSC’s massive sewage processing facility in the Ironbound section of Newark, part of a resiliency project that was proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. That storm caused the sewerage plant to lose power and spill billions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the Passaic River. The project would provide backup power to the treatment plant when the grid is down, but PVSC also plans to run the facility to offset their power needs from the grid at other times.

“We applaud the Jersey City administration for taking a stand against the dirty energy plant and supporting the well-being of our community and climate,” said Melanie Segal, Jersey City resident and board member of The Climate Mobilization North Jersey. “The welfare of New Jersey residents depends on Governor Murphy rejecting the proposed power plant in Newark and promoting a renewable alternative in line with New Jersey’s own pledge for 100% clean energy in the next 30 years. We hope to see Jersey City continuing to take bold and necessary steps in the fight against climate change.” 

“As we can see from the recent storm in our area, our environment is changing. Any step that we can take to protect our residents, maintain natural resources, and apply green practices will assist in making our Earth a better place,” said Jersey City Councilwoman Denise Ridley.  “Thank you to the advocates who are bringing these issues to the attention of lawmakers.”

While local community members and advocates agree about the importance of improving infrastructure resiliency in the face of a worsening climate crisis, they are demanding a clean renewable energy project that will not increase the pollution burden in the Ironbound and the surrounding region, which has historically faced the brunt of New Jersey’s pollution burden and decades of environmental injustice.

“If Governor Murphy wants to live up to his clean energy, environmental justice, and climate commitments, then he must direct his own agency to stop all plans for a massive new fracked gas power plant in the Ironbound, and to redesign the project with a clean, renewable energy-based source of power,” said Matt Smith, Food & Water Watch NJ State Director. “We commend the Jersey City Council for being the first municipality to oppose plans for another fossil fuel project in this region. In order to protect our climate and the health of residents across our state, other municipalities must join with Hoboken, Jersey City, and Livingston and call on Governor Murphy to stop PVSC’s dirty energy proposal.”

In Response to Lawsuit, EPA Pledges to Strengthen Slaughterhouse Water Pollution Standards

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Clean Water

Washington, D.C. — In a victory for clean water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it will update water pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry following a December 2019 lawsuit from community and conservation organizations.

“It’s a great first step that EPA has decided to finally modernize the standards for meat and poultry plants across the country, which had not been updated since at least 2004,” said Sylvia Lam, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We now expect EPA to let us know when they plan to propose updated standards to protect our waterways and communities, since the current limits are allowing an excessive amount of pollution.”

Earthjustice attorney Alexis Andiman added: “Slaughterhouses are leading sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and their pollution disproportionately harms under-resourced communities, low-income communities, and communities of color.  We applaud EPA for recognizing that it’s time to update the outdated standards governing pollution from slaughterhouses.  Together with our partners, we look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the new standards adequately protect people and the environment.”

“We are glad that the EPA will finally strengthen its outdated, unprotective water pollution standards for the slaughterhouse industry. These facilities are a major source of pollution in communities across the country,” said Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen. “But our work is far from over – we will participate in EPA’s rulemaking and are prepared to hold the agency accountable if its new standards again fall short of protecting communities directly impacted by water pollution.” 

In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, EPA announced that it will initiate a rulemaking process to reduce pollution from three industries: Meat and poultry processing plants, which include slaughterhouses; metal finishing businesses; and manufacturers of organic chemicals that discharge polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Along with its announcement, EPA reported that 74 percent of slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into rivers and streams are within one mile of under-resourced communities, low-income communities, or communities of color.

“This finding makes it even more imperative for EPA to issue standards that protect the public as soon as possible,” said Lam.

In December 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit against EPA on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States, and Waterkeeper Alliance. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s prior refusal to modernize pollution standards for slaughterhouses, in light of evidence demonstrating that revision is necessary.

More than 8 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle are processed each year in more than 7,000 slaughterhouses across the country. An estimated 4,700 of these slaughterhouses discharge polluted water to waterways, including the iconic Chesapeake Bay, either directly or indirectly through municipal sewage treatment plants.

The federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to set industry-wide water pollution standards for slaughterhouses and other industries and to review those standards each year to decide whether updates are appropriate to keep pace with advances in pollution-control technology.

During the Trump Administration, EPA announced that it would not revise the federal water pollution standards for slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into waterways, and it would not create standards for slaughterhouses that send their pollution to sewage plants before discharging into rivers or streams. This is despite the fact that EPA identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of nitrogen water pollution without updated standards.

An October 2018 report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” reviewed the records of 98 meat and poultry processing plants across the U.S. and found that the median facility released an average of 331 pounds of total nitrogen per day into local rivers and streams, about as much as the amount contained in in raw sewage from a town of 14,000 people.

Many slaughterhouses released far more, with the JBS USA pork processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, for example, releasing 1,849 pounds of nitrogen a day in 2017 to an Illinois River tributary—equivalent to the load in raw sewage from a city of 79,000 people. This showed that the national standards were no longer driving the industry to reduce its water pollution, as intended by the Clean Water Act.

In its September 8 announcement, EPA also identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of phosphorus water pollution in the nation. Moreover, EPA expressed a need to develop pretreatment standards for slaughterhouses—finding that 73 percent of local sewage plants that receive wastewater from slaughterhouses have violated pollution limits in their Clean Water Act permits for pollutants found in slaughterhouse effluent.

FERC Nominee Fails the Climate Test

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Climate and Energy

The White House has announced it intends to nominate Willie L. Phillips to fill the vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Phillips is currently the chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia.

The appointment comes at a critical time; as the agency tasked with approving a range of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, FERC could very well determine the fate of the administration’s climate agenda.

In response to the news, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“This is a disappointing selection. Willie Phillips has spent his career working on the side of the oil and gas industry and electric utility giants. We need a climate champion at FERC, someone who has a demonstrated record of challenging the fossil fuel industry and putting the public interest before corporate utility profits. Unfortunately, nothing in Phillips’ career thus far has shown that he will be that champion; in fact, quite the opposite.”

Climate Groups Tell Democrats: Don’t Fuel Hydrogen Hype

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Climate and Energy

Leading national climate, community and environmental groups released a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer today urging them to not to include funds in the infrastructure packages that would expand hydrogen-based technologies that are being touted as climate solutions by the fossil fuel industry.

The letter points out that while the world must quickly transition away from dirty energy, the vast majority of hydrogen is created from fossil fuels (gas and coal). Corporate interests are using hydrogen to greenwash fossil fuels and bolster support for ineffective technologies like carbon capture, which will lock us into decades of more fossil fuel dependency.

“Congress is considering unprecedented infrastructure spending that can lay the foundation for a new sustainable energy system, but not if they chose to buy into the fossil fuel industry’s hydrogen hype. The wrong choices now will bring us more of the same dirty energy that is poisoning the air and water of environmental justice communities and destroying our climate,” said Mitch Jones, Policy Director of Food & Water Watch. “Congress must end subsidies for fossil fuels, not hand out more money for the next round of fossil fuel industry scams.”

New research from scientists at Cornell and Stanford demonstrates that fossil fuel-based “blue” hydrogen, even when coupled with carbon capture and storage, creates more greenhouse gas emissions than coal — totally undermining claims that it is a ‘low-carbon’ fuel source.  

The letter states that we must “exhibit caution when hydrogen is being proposed as a panacea to climate woes and fossil fuel reliance, and urge more evaluation and study of hydrogen before we support a large-scale build out.”

The letter was led by Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth U.S., Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, the Center for International Environmental Law, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and Zero Hour.

Encouraging an expansion of hydrogen will have other negative impacts as well. Industrial agriculture corporations are looking to cash in on hydrogen hype by promoting the use of factory farm biogas as a fuel source, which will exacerbate the problems associated with this heavily polluting agricultural model. Fossil fuel interests are also proposing schemes to capture carbon from hydrogen production and to even use it as a feedstock for the creation of more plastics. 

While there is an available technology called “green hydrogen” — extracted from water that uses solar and wind energy — there is a risk that it will be used as a cover for the development of fossil fuel-based hydrogen infrastructure. 

The letter argues that direct electrification is a better solution in most cases than any form of hydrogen, and therefore urges Congress to reject proposed hydrogen subsidies in any upcoming infrastructure spending proposals.  

“It was hip hop legends Public Enemy who told us, ‘Remember there’s a need to get alarmed’ in their classic tune Don’t Believe the Hype. They may have just as well been speaking about hydrogen combustion. The last two weeks have profoundly elucidated the extent of the climate crisis and the disproportionate impacts felt by Indigenous, Black, Brown, and poor white folk. So Democratic leadership needs to ask themselves why they would fund our own destruction by dedicating one dime to technologies like hydrogen that extend the fossil fuel lifeline with more pernicious pipelines,” said Anthony Rogers-Wright, Director of Environmental Justice, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We need climate justice leadership, not climate justice lip service. It’s time for Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer to put OUR money where their mouths are; we want regenerative economies fueled by 100% renewable energy. We have the technology to do it, what we’re lacking are lawmakers with political will and political valor.” 

Woodbridge, North Brunswick Adopt Bold Clean Energy Plans

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Climate and Energy

Woodbridge and North Brunswick have adopted new ordinances that will establish community choice aggregation programs for residents in both towns, with a goal of achieving 100 percent clean, renewable electricity by the year 2030. 

The ordinances were presented by residents and backed by the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, which has spearheaded efforts to enact similar programs in towns and cities across the state.

Community choice aggregation (CCA) enables a municipality to essentially make bulk purchases of electricity supply. While billing and electricity delivery is not affected, CCA programs tend to save residents money on their monthly bills. A growing number of communities across the country are using these programs to increase the use of clean, renewable energy.

The grassroots campaigns are based on state laws that give residents of many New Jersey municipalities the power to directly petition their local government to consider a specific ordinance. Food & Water Watch organizers and residents worked together to collect the signatures necessary to prompt a local council to either vote to approve the ordinance, or put the question to voters to decide.

“Once this program is implemented, renewable energy used jumps to 50% and increases year over year until we reach 100% renewable energy,” said Leigh Darden, one of the leaders of the petition drive in Woodbridge.  “This program has been successfully implemented in several towns across the state. It doesn’t raise taxes, and people can rest assured their electricity sources aren’t hurting the environment.”

“Climate change is one of the biggest issues of our time and I think what we’ve seen with this pandemic is that it’s important to be proactive, to take action early, and to do whatever we can at the local level to come up with workable solutions,” said Ariel Piña, one of the leaders of the petition drive in North Brunswick.

The Woodbridge Township Council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance at its August 17 meeting, and the North Brunswick Council voted 4-2 to adopt the ordinance on August 30. 

“These are big wins for our climate and clean air, and a huge boost for grassroots democracy,” said Food & Water Watch canvass director Charlie Kratovil. “Communities all across the state are showing that we can take bold climate action at the local level. In the midst of a deepening climate crisis, we need our state and federal representatives to follow their lead by enacting policies that transition our economy off fossil fuels and onto 100% clean renewable energy by 2030.”

In the spring, Food & Water Watch launched new petition campaigns in five cities and towns —  Woodbridge, North Brunswick, Cherry Hill, Teaneck and Long Branch — to help create community choice aggregation programs. In August, CCA ordinances passed in Long Branch, North Brunswick and Woodbridge; petitions are still being collected in Cherry Hill, while township officials in Teaneck are trying to reject electronic signatures gathered under the COVID protocols enacted by Governor Murphy. Food & Water Watch is challenging that assertion in court.

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick and Red Bank, and has a goal of enacting the policy in 10 additional towns and cities this year to put more than one million New Jersey residents on a path to achieve 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030.

Residents, Climate Advocates File Legal Complaint Against Teaneck Over Rejected Petition Signatures

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Climate and Energy

Teaneck residents and Food & Water Watch have filed to go to court against the township for their refusal to accept petitions that were signed electronically in support of an ordinance for a 100% renewable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. 

This ordinance would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates. 

Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any group of five residents (a Committee of Petitioners) can introduce an ordinance via a petition with signatures from ten percent of the number of votes from the last state assembly election. That amounts to 791 signatures in Teaneck. Typically these petitions are required to be circulated on paper. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Murphy signed several executive orders allowing for Faulkner Act petitions to be collected electronically to protect public health.

Residents and clean energy advocates collected signatures electronically until the executive order expired on July 5, and switched entirely to paper petitions after that. Residents and activists delivered approximately 875 to the clerk for review in early July. Following the 20 day review period, the committee of petitioners were notified that all signatures collected electronically were rejected because they were delivered after the executive order expired. Food & Water Watch and Teaneck residents understood that the end of the executive order meant that electronic signature gathering must cease, but did not mean that petitions must be turned in before the expiration.

“We were horrified to learn that the signatures on our petitions, collected electronically because of an order from Governor Murphy to keep residents healthy and safe during the Covid pandemic, were rejected,” said Paula Rogovin, Committee of Petitioners member and Teaneck resident. “The rejection of signatures was a crude effort by the township to stifle democracy. We will not give up our effort for a clean, green future!“

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Red Bank. This year, the organization also supported residents to submit petitions for this program in Woodbridge, Long Branch, and North Brunswick. These three municipalities accepted the submission of electronic signatures collected before the executive order expired.

“By rejecting electronic signatures Teaneck has chosen to suppress the democratic will of their constituents and undermine a measure put in place by Governor Murphy to protect public health during the worst days of the pandemic,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam DiFalco. “But the fight for clean energy, clean air, and a livable climate continues. We are bringing this issue to court to seek relief and are hopeful we can resolve this matter quickly so that Teaneck residents can hold a vote on adopting this program in the upcoming election.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, who have experience dealing with legal issues associated with Faulkner Act petitions.

“Food & Water Watch did their due diligence in preparing for petition circulation. The group cleared their plan for circulation and delivery of electronic petitions with the township clerk before petition collection began, so it is unfortunate that is the line Teaneck has decided to take,” said Renée Steinhagen, attorney with NJ Appleseed representing the plaintiffs in this case. “We expect the Bergen County Court to prioritize this case so that we can this resolved before the November ballots need to be sent to the printer in mid-September. 

Long-Term Cumberland Sewer Deal Would Violate State Laws

Categories

Clean Water

A national clean water advocacy organization sent a letter to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners today warning them that their efforts to monetize the county sewer system appears on its face to violate several state laws.

The letter, sent by Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan on August 12, outlines several deficiencies with the county’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Specifically, the letter cautions that any long-term financing plan for the utility would have to allow for public bidding unless it was for less than ten years and received approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Longer contracts would also require the utility to follow the legal requirements of providing public notice of a contract, public meetings, and the solicitation of additional proposals. The law requires the passing of a resolution approving a contract, as well as a review by the state’s Division of Local Government Services (DLGS)

The county issued a revised RFQ in June, but the same legal problems are evident.

Once the county’s plan came to light, local residents voiced strong opposition to what many see as nothing more than a rapid bid to privatize a public asset. 

“This rushed process is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We know what comes next under these kinds of privatization deals: Higher rates and a lower quality of service. Cumberland County should heed these warnings and listen to residents who are alarmed by this speedy privatization scheme.”

The Food & Water Watch letter notes in closing that “the Revised RFQ skirts statutory requirements applicable to the private financing of wastewater services. CCUA should not rush to approve an unlawful contract, and it should instead follow the procedures set forth under state law to ensure meaningful community input and public involvement.”

Sobering Climate Report Demands Serious Action, Not Empty Rhetoric

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Climate and Energy


A much-anticipated report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a bleak picture of the international action that will be required in order to stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis. 

The working group report released today is part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment, which is being prepared in advance of an international climate summit in November.

Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“This report tells us, in dramatic fashion, what we already know: Governments have failed thus far to do much of anything to address climate change. The scale of what is required only exposes the shortcomings of the policies currently proposed by the Biden administration and Congress. Our political leaders must immediately demonstrate that they are serious by working to enact policies that stop all forms of fossil fuel extraction while making massive, necessary investments in clean, renewable energy. Inadequate technologies like carbon capture and net zero accounting gimmicks are not going to cut it.

”The report makes special note of the immense damage currently being done to our climate by methane emissions, most notably from oil and gas fracking. The Biden administration could immediately show its commitment to taking this crisis seriously by halting approval for any new fracking on federal lands — a pledge made during the campaign that Biden has yet to make good on.”

Rep. Tlaib Introduces Utility Debt Cancellation Bill

Categories

Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC  – Today, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, which would provide nearly $40 billion to help wipe away household water, power and broadband debt across the country.

With the Delta variant prompting a new COVID surge, this relief is more urgent than ever to stop mounting utility debt and the shutoffs crisis. Studies have found that moratoria on utility shutoffs reduced the spread of COVID and deaths linked to the virus. One study found that a water shutoff moratorium would have prevented 500,000 COVID infections. Unfortunately, those policies have expired in most states, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework in the Senate lacks these vital protections. 

This debt relief and accompanying shutoffs moratorium will go hand-in-hand with CDC’s new eviction moratorium to protect struggling households and help protect against the spread of disease.

“Utility shutoffs – from water to electricity to broadband Internet – leave our most vulnerable communities without essential life sustaining services and are especially unacceptable during a deadly pandemic,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “So many of us have eviction protection on our minds right now. A study showing that low-income Michigan families pay more than 30% of their household income on utility bills alone, creating a direct path to debt and eviction, makes the issue that much more pertinent. We have to break the cycle and ensure folks can keep their lights on, their water running, and the roofs over their head. I’m so grateful for the continued partnership of the Utility Justice coalition who has fought alongside us every step of the way to end the injustice of utility shutoffs in this country.”

 The legislation provides $13.5 billion for water debt, $13 billion for electricity debt and another $13 billion for broadband internet debt. It also establishes reporting requirements about disconnections and arrears. 

More than 275,000 people have petitioned for a utility shutoff moratorium since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“Families across the country have accrued billions of dollars in water debt during this pandemic, and now, as we are in the midst of another COVID surge, they are suffering water shutoffs, a life-threatening injustice that must be stopped,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “Communities urgently need the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act to keep the water, power, and broadband on and forgive crushing household utility debt. We applaud Rep. Tlaib for her leadership on this legislation.”

​​”Congresswoman Tlaib’s Utility Debt Relief bill is a great example of legislation that centers economic and racial justice to support local recovery and prosperity,” said Juan Jhong-Chung of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. “Low-income communities and communities of color in Detroit continue to be impacted by systemic racism, pollution, and the COVID pandemic. How can investor-owned utilities make record profits while our families struggle to pay monthly bills? We cannot build back better if we leave the most vulnerable behind.” 

“Not just as an organizer with Soulardarity, but as a consumer and a resident of Highland Park, I know how important it is that our communities get some kind of debt relief for energy, because when you’re without power, or you’re worried about being shut off because you don’t have the finances, you are constantly in stress,” said Michelle Jones, Energy Democracy Fellowship Coordinator with Soulardarity in Highland Park, Michigan. “I’ve been there. It’s not that I didn’t want to pay the bill, it’s that I couldn’t pay the bill. And it was the worst when I was raising my children. Parents need to know that when they need that gas, lights, heat to take care of their families, that it’s there. And to know that our elected leaders have the power to make that available — we need them to take the stress off.” 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it is more essential than ever that people have access to water, electricity, and broadband service. This bill is a critical first step to support low-wealth families and communities of color that have borne the brunt of compounding threats of utility shut-offs and poverty,” said Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability. “This bill would direct sorely needed federal funds towards our water systems. Sustained, long-term federal investments in our infrastructure are necessary to ensure that everyone has access to clean and affordable water.” 

“Congresswoman Tlaib’s debt relief bill will bring economic recovery to vulnerable Kansans who have been taking on the energy burden for too long,” said Climate + Energy Project Program Director Beth Pauley. “The Climate + Energy Project knows we cannot pursue a just transition while so many Kansans are struggling. We need to continue to address the energy poverty crisis by implementing equitable energy efficiency and community solar programs, with impacted communities leading the policies and program implementation. Kansans need to have their basic needs met in order to organize for long term climate solutions.”

“As the pandemic raged, the media and government rallied Americans by proclaiming that we were all in this together. But the reality was harsher. While we were encouraged to move our personal and professional lives online for the sake of public health, millions of us struggled to access our schools, jobs, and government and nonprofit programs because of the lack of affordable broadband access,” said Amy Sample War, the CEO of NTEN. “Broadband is vital to our lives in 21st century America. To turn off someone’s access is to say their participation in society isn’t needed or wanted. That’s not just un-American. It’s unconscionable.”

“Low-income New Yorkers average $1000 in utility debt, even as they are struggling under the effects of the pandemic,” said Adam Flint, Director of Clean Energy Programs at the Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow (NEST). “This legislation will help thousands of our neighbors who already suffered from a crushing energy burden prior to the current crisis. Rep. Tlaib’s debt relief bill is an important step, which should be followed by a Green New Deal to address the housing, employment and climate crises our communities face.”

“With the rapid spread of the new COVID variant, we have to prevent another utility shutoffs tsunami that disproportionately harms communities of color,” said Jean Su, Energy Justice Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress should include Rep. Tlaib’s bill in the reconciliation package to ensure that no family is cut off from access to the basic human rights of power, water and broadband. It’s outrageous that private fossil fuel utilities control access to these public goods. We need to invest massively in public community and rooftop-solar solutions to stop the systemic shutoffs crisis. It’s time to empower communities of color, who for too long have borne the brunt of our racist and dirty energy system.”

“Adequate, affordable housing is a human right, and affordable utilities are an essential part of that. Energy infrastructure doesn’t just mean the power lines above us and pipes below us, but the ability for every American to get those utilities into their homes reliably and sustainably,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director, National Homelessness Law Center. “We need Rep. Tlaib’s Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act to ensure the health of our families in their homes, and prevent the evictions and homelessness that could spike further the already exploding Delta variant of the COVID pandemic in our most vulnerable communities. Without this bill, any larger infrastructure action that Congress takes will be incomplete.” 

“We are experiencing two global pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. Rep. Tlaib’s debt relief bill will bring necessary relief to the many Georgians facing economic hardships and mounting utility debt,” said Codi Norred, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light (GIPL). “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over four million Georgians are facing unemployment. As people of faith, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light believes this bill is both the moral and equitable action to take for all Americans. We cannot truly combat the climate crisis and COVID-19 when people are concerned about having air conditioning, heat, water, or gas.”

“Internet service is an essential utility not only in emergencies but all of the time. With COVID cases on the rise again, we don’t know what the coming months hold; but even if kids can go back to school and people can go back to work, an affordable internet connection is still a must,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy for Free Press Action. “Even if the health crisis were further behind us, the economic crises brought on by the pandemic only compounded the crushing debt and discriminatory impacts already faced by millions of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people across the country. Free Press Action thanks Rep. Tlaib for introducing the House version of this important bill, to keep people who are unable to pay for internet service from getting disconnected today or drowned in debt down the line.”

Senate Infrastructure Deal: Billions for Fossil Fuels

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Climate and Energy

As more details about the Senate bipartisan infrastructure proposal are revealed, reports indicate that the deal includes billions of dollars in new fossil fuel subsidies. 

By one count, the proposal could provide at least $25 billion to support fossil fuel interests, much of it in the form of ineffective carbon capture boondoggles. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:


“This infrastructure proposal is not a down payment on real climate action — it is doubling down on support for climate polluters. The Senate is proposing that we spend tens of billions of dollars propping up fossil fuel corporations — this is on top of the $15 billion these companies already receive every year from the federal government. A substantial share of this new money — about $12 billion — would go to promoting carbon capture, which does absolutely nothing but extend the life of the fossil fuel era.

“While handing money to dirty energy companies might help win votes in the Senate, it fails the only test that matters: Whether or not we are taking meaningful action to address our mounting climate crisis. Throwing away money is not going to reduce emissions. We need massive investments in proven renewable solutions, not carbon capture fantasies. If the Senate cannot manage to get this right, climate champions in the House will need to strip out these wasteful dirty energy subsidies.”

Infrastructure Deal: Wrong Priorities for the Crises We Face

Categories

Climate and Energy

Senate Democrats and the White House have released some details about the bipartisan infrastructure deal. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“It’s clear that as it stands this plan’s approach to the multiple crises we face is backwards. It underfunds our water systems and overfunds the industries killing our planet. 

“The level of water funding laid out in this deal is wholly inadequate compared to the monumental challenges we face in providing clean drinking water to all and building climate-resilient infrastructure. The framework appears to limit privatization incentives to transportation projects, and as more details emerge, it is imperative that we hold the line on preventing any wasteful, expensive privatization schemes from being included in this package.

“At the same time, this deal proposes spending billions of dollars on expensive and totally ineffective carbon capture technologies and related infrastructure. This is nothing more than a new set of fossil fuel subsidies that already cost taxpayers $15 billion a year. This is a gift to the fossil fuel polluters that have cynically seized on promoting carbon capture as a climate solution, when it is nothing more than a means of prolonging the dirty energy era.

“As the details of this deal are fleshed out, we implore lawmakers to do more to provide robust funding for our urgent water needs, and to strike out wasteful fossil fuel subsidies.”

Teaneck Residents Submit Petitions for 100% Renewable Energy Program

Categories

Climate and Energy

On Thursday, Teaneck residents submitted nearly 850 petitions to the Township Clerk in support of an ordinance to create a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program for the town, which would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates. 

Renewable content would start around 50% and increase each year, reaching 100% renewable by 2030. Residents would still have their service, distribution, and billing handled by PSEG.

“New Jersey currently requires only 22.5% of our electricity comes from renewable sources, and it even counts things like trash incineration and biogas as clean energy,” said Teaneck resident, David Strait. “A renewable CCA program will give Teaneck residents the opportunity to source our electricity from REAL clean sources like solar and wind. This will cut greenhouse gas emissions and as more and more towns adopt these programs it will clean up air quality in our region.”

For over a year, Teaneck residents urged the town council to pass an ordinance authorizing this program as a way to fight climate change and give residents access to a discounted renewable energy option on their electricity bill. Repeated requests to move this program towards a vote were ignored, so residents decided to take things into their own hands and use direct democracy to bring a CCA ordinance  to a vote. 

Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any ordinance can be introduced by a petition with signatures from 10% of the number of residents who voted in the most recent state assembly election.

“When we were out collecting signatures on the CCA petition, it was so exciting to see the enthusiasm of Teaneck voters. Why not? It’s about getting renewable energy for all of Teaneck. It’s about working toward cleaner air. It’s about LIFE,” said Paula Rogovin, Teaneck Residents and Chairperson of Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains. “We will not give up this effort. Our future and the future of our youth is so important!” 

“In less than ten years’ time, some of the most detrimental effects of climate change will be irreversible. This is why it is salient that we create change now to protect ourselves and our futures,” said Luna Taveras, a Teaneck resident and high school student. “Greenhouse gas emissions are the leading cause of climate change so switching to clean energy with CCA is a cost-effective alternative that will be beneficial to the residents of Teaneck, as well as people and life everywhere.”

Once the Teaneck clerk certifies the petition, the council will have an opportunity to vote on the matter. If they vote yes the ordinance will become law; if they vote no or decline to hold a vote before September, it will go to the ballot this November as a referendum.  

Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick and Red Bank, and has a goal of enacting the policy in 10 addition towns and cities this year to put more than one million New Jersey residents on a path to achieve 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030.

“We’re hopeful that the Teaneck council will see the local enthusiasm for this program in the 850 petitions signed in support of renewable CCA and will vote to pass the ordinance this summer,” said Sam DiFalco, an organizer with local environmental group, Food & Water Watch. “Towns across New Jersey have already had great success with this program as a way to provide residents with a truly renewable option and save ratepayers money in the process. New Brunswick, which adopted this program in 2018, saved residents on average $100 per year on their electricity bills. And nearby in Glen Rock, residents enrolled in the town’s CCA program will see savings on their bills this summer as PSEG’s rates increase. We urge the Teaneck council to listen to their constituents and adopt this program.”

Budget Deal Still Short on Climate Details

Categories

Climate and Energy

As Senate Democrats advance their $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, climate advocates are enthusiastic about the reported inclusion of a ‘clean electricity standard’ (CES), which is considering the most important element of the White House climate agenda. 

But there is no information about how such a program will be structured, and what sources will count as ‘clean.’ Several CES proposals count fracked gas as a clean power source, and rely on offsets and other accounting schemes to achieve their goals. Those obvious shortcomings have prompted hundreds of organizations to call for a truly clean renewable electricity standard (RES). And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has backed those calls, endorsing the view that gas is not a source of clean power. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“While it is imperative that this Congress take bold action to fight climate change, it would be wise to wait for the details of the Senate’s budget reconciliation agreement, since the devil is always in the details.

“There should be some clear must-haves. This package must eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, as Senator Wyden has said this week. It must not call fracked gas ‘clean,’ as Senator Schumer has said this week. And it cannot play sleight of hand tricks by calling fracked gas with carbon capture ‘clean.’ 

“We look forward to continuing to work with climate champions in Congress and activists across the country to assure that the climate provisions of this package truly deliver the policies we need to avert our worsening climate chaos.”

Cumberland County Privatization Scheme Could Lead to Decades of Trouble

Categories

Clean Water

A national advocacy organization is warning that a highly flawed proposal to enter into a 30-year concession or asset sale of the Cumberland County sewer system would leave local families paying higher rates for decades.

Food & Water Watch — which is based in Washington, DC and has a New Jersey office — raised a host of concerns with the proposal in a recent memo to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners.

The proposed deal has sparked an intense controversy in the community over the past two months, leading CCUA executive director G. Steve Errickson to announce his resignation last  month, saying that the frenzied push to secure a deal has “made it impossible for me to continue to do my job.”

The CCUA issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to study monetization of the authority, shortly after receiving an unsolicited proposal from the private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners. The rushed proposal would represent a major change in the financial structure of the CCUA — and one that could cost ratepayers millions of dollars over decades.

“Local residents have been shocked by this proposal, and rightly so. This is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We already know what comes next under these kinds of privatization deals: Higher rates and a lower quality of service. Cumberland County should heed these warnings and listen to the residents who are alarmed by a rushed privatization scheme.” 

As Food & Water Watch warned in its memo, the CCUA’s solicitation is heavily tilted in favor of privatization: “The first task under the scope of work explicitly requests responders to ‘design a program to allow the CCUA to leverage private sector expertise to plan, engineer, finance, construct, and operate water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.’” 

In another highly unusual move, the solicitation essentially invites conflicts of interest from corporate interests that would be seeking the privatization contract itself, which “dangerously opens the door to allow a corporation or private equity firm to evaluate its own proposal for a 30-year concession deal or asset sale.”

A privatization scheme of the sort under consideration in Cumberland County is essentially an incredibly expensive loan. A company would offer upfront fees in exchange for decades of operating income — meaning that the homeowners and small businesses will be the ones to pay off the deal for decades to come in the form of rate hikes necessary to ensure the private equity firm’s profits. 

Other communities have learned these lessons the hard way. Residents of the city of Bayonne have experienced diminished service and 50 percent rate hikes since a 2012 concession deal, with more years of pain to come. Middletown, Pennsylvania has tried without success to exit a lopsided concession deal that has even seen residents paying penalties for conserving their water usage. 

“Considering this rushed proposal is moving forward without any justification of a needs assessment, we’re concerned that our community will be saddled with the same rate increases that other communities have suffered,” said Sandy Acevedo, a county resident and member of Cumberland County Sewer Rate Watch. “We’re urging our elected officials to act by recognizing the financial burden this will place on the entire CCUA residential and business communities, stop the RFQ.”

Hoboken Council Opposes PVSC Fracked Gas Plant

Categories

Climate and Energy

On July 7, the Hoboken City Council passed a resolution opposing the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s (PVSC) plans for a new fracked gas power plant in Newark and called on Governor Murphy to direct the agency to shift to a renewable energy alternative. 

“This is an important effort to get PVSC to alter their priorities and embrace sustainable practices that will both promote environmental justice, locally, and help address the broader goals of working to reverse the impacts of climate change more globally, going forward,” said Hoboken Councilman James Doyle.

The power plant would be built at PVSC’s massive sewage processing facility in the Ironbound section of Newark as part of a resiliency project proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm caused the sewerage plant to lose power and spill billions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the Passaic River. The project would provide backup power to the treatment plant when the grid is down, but PVSC also plans to run the facility to offset their power needs from the grid at other times.

While local community members and advocates agree about the importance of improving infrastructure resiliency in the face of a worsening climate crisis, they are demanding a clean renewable energy project that will not increase the pollution burden in the Ironbound and the surrounding region, which has historically faced the brunt of New Jersey’s pollution burden and decades of environmental injustice.

“I’m proud that Hoboken is yet again leading the way in fighting for environmental justice and advocating for our environmentally overburdened neighbors in the Ironbound section of Newark,” said Liz Ndoye, of Hoboken MoveOn and a 40-year city resident. “By supporting the resolution asking Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority to use alternative energy for their proposed power plant, the Hoboken Council has given notice that they will not tolerate environmental inequity.”

“If Governor Murphy wants to live up to his clean energy, environmental justice, and climate commitments, then he must direct his own agency to stop all plans for a massive new fracked gas power plant in the Ironbound,  and to redesign the project with a clean, renewable energy based source of power,” said Matt Smith, Food & Water Watch NJ State Director. “We commend the Hoboken City Council for being the first municipality to oppose plans for another fossil fuel project in this region. In order to protect our climate and the health of residents across our state, other municipalities must follow Hoboken’s lead and call on Governor Murphy to stop PVSC’s dirty energy proposal.”

Biden Executive Order Gives Farmers New Protections from Corporate Abuse

Categories

Food System

Today, President Biden signed an Executive Order to address the rampant concentration across the U.S. economy, with several directives aimed squarely at the food and farming sector.

The order calls on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce our nation’s antitrust laws and challenge previous mega-mergers that have left many segments of our economy in the hands of a small number of powerful companies. It also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take specific measures to protect American farmers, including replacing the Trump Administration’s weak rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act with ones that make it easier for farmers to bring forth cases of abuse suffered by the hands of powerful meat processors.

“Farmers have waited far too long for reforms to the Packers and Stockyards rules,” says Food & Water Watch Senior Food Researcher and Policy Analyst Amanda Starbuck. ”While serving in the Obama administration, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack delayed implementation of crucial rules that would have protected farmers, which opened the door for those rules to be gutted by the Trump Administration. We urge Vilsack to seize this second chance to set things right.”

The order calls for additional actions to aid farmers and consumers. This includes redefining the “Product of USA” label rules so consumers are not deceived into thinking they are buying American beef when in fact it was imported from abroad. It also urges FTC to limit the ability of farm equipment manufacturers to prevent farmers or independent repair shops from repairing their products. 

Starbuck added: “These are important first steps in addressing the stranglehold that corporations have on our farmers, food workers and eaters. The Biden Administration is making moves to address the growing corporate consolidation in the food system that farmers and advocates have pointed to for years.”

Activists Push Pallone to Go Big on Climate

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Climate and Energy

Climate activists rallied outside the New Brunswick and Long Branch offices of Rep. Frank Pallone, urging him to take stronger action to stave off climate catastrophe. 

The activists were motivated in part by stories published last week by Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed project that revealed the lobbying strategy of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil. Secretly recorded videos with company officials showed how Exxon works to curtail ambitious climate policies, and has taken a keen interest in Representative Pallone’s signature climate bill, the CLEAN Future Act, legislation that would allow fracked gas to be included in a ‘clean electricity’ standard. 

“We are seeing evidence of the climate crisis every single day, all across the planet — from floods and storm surges to devastating droughts and punishing heat waves,” said Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith. “We need Representative Pallone to understand that the clock is ticking and we need immediate action to get off fossil fuels, not half measures that are blessed by corporate polluters like Exxon.”

“In light of the revelation of how Exxon lobbies Congress to ensure that no legislation will adequately address climate change, we now see why Frank Pallone’s CLEAN Future Act does nothing to ban fracking or new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Joan Farkas, Chair of Our Revolution Monmouth County. “We are calling on Rep. Pallone to have the political courage to stand up to this industry and support legislation that ends fossil fuel subsidies, bans fracking and increases investment in renewable energy.”

“Representative Pallone’s CLEAN Future Act is too weak given the worsening climate crisis we are in,” said Carol Gay, President of the NJ State Industrial Union Council. “Bold action is needed immediately, not gradualism, if we are to preserve a future for generations to come, and if we’re to provide the good clean energy jobs we need right now.”

The rallies were organized by Food & Water Watch, Our Revolution, 350NJ, Progressive Democrats of America, NJ Industrial Union Council and Friends of the Earth.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Factory Farm Decision a Victory for Clean Water

Categories

Food System

Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state’s regulatory agencies are explicitly empowered to protect public health and welfare, regardless of whether the state legislature  specifically outlined such measures.

The case before the court, Clean Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”), involved a challenge to permit conditions that authorized the expansion of a large factory farm in Kewaunee County. Residents and local groups had successfully pressed for a stronger permit that would monitor groundwater quality and limit the number of animals at the facility.  The factory farm owner and the Wisconsin Legislature opposed these efforts, arguing in part that Wisconsin’s Act 21 dramatically limited the authority of state agencies to only those standards or conditions specifically considered and enumerated by the legislature.

Today’s ruling supports the position of the local groups (see this release from the Midwest Environmental Advocates), and finds that Act 21 does not inhibit the Department of Natural Resources from enacting policies that protect natural resources and communities from the effects of pollution. A ruling otherwise would have severely hamstrung state agencies in their abilities to protect public health and welfare.

In April, the Supreme Court accepted an amicus brief filed by Food & Water Watch on behalf of environmental, public health, and sustainable farming advocates, who argued that Wisconsin law and common sense empower state agencies to protect the public health and welfare from pollution caused by factory farms (otherwise known as CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations). 

“The court’s decision affirms a simple fact: state agencies have the authority to protect the public from factory farm pollution,” said Tyler Lobdell, staff attorney with Food & Water Watch. “Kinnard Farms and members of the state legislature sought to rewrite the law to prohibit common sense protections, despite ongoing pollution of the environment and people’s drinking water. Today’s decision will have far reaching effects for a range of environmental protection measures across Wisconsin.”

Schumer and Pelosi Must Reject Privatization in Infrastructure Proposals

Categories

Clean Water

Over 200 organizations released a letter to key Senate and House leaders urging them to oppose any provisions in the pending infrastructure proposals that would pave the way for the privatization of water. 

The letter, organized by the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, warns that the bipartisan Senate framework championed by the White House “would promote a slew of privatization activities,” including public-private partnerships, private activity bonds and ‘asset recycling.’ This approach amounts to a “Wall Street takeover of essential services like public water.”

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sanders, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth. It was signed by national organizations like AFSCME AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Center for Biological Diversity, Family Farm Defenders, Friends of the Earth, and local groups from nearly 40 states.

“This White House-approved infrastructure deal would lead to communities handing over public infrastructure to Wall Street profiteers,” said Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant. “Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and leave the rest of us to pick up the tab. Communities need real support, like the WATER Act, not sneaky privatization scams.”

The letter points out that as federal funding has fallen dramatically over the past several decades, communities have been forced to depend on either regressive rate hikes or privatization to finance necessary infrastructure improvements. But privatization amounts to an extremely costly form of borrowing — one that requires families and small businesses to pay much more in the long run in the form of higher rates. 

“Our water systems are struggling because the federal government has chosen to divest from water infrastructure,” said Nayyirah Shariff, the Executive Director of Flint Rising. “We have a funding issue. Privatization is not the answer because it will contribute to unaffordable drinking and wastewater bills. We need bold investment that includes grants for our water utilities, like the WATER Act.”

“Privatization, especially asset recycling, isn’t true investment,” said Donald Cohen, the Executive Director of In the Public Interest. “Every public dollar that ends up in the pockets of water corporations and investors is one less dollar we can use to fix America’s crumbling water infrastructure.”

“The U.S. is long overdue for bold federal investment in our public water systems — but the proposal on the table will not get us there. Instead, it promotes privatization schemes dressed up as ‘public-private partnerships’ and ‘asset recycling,’ which create dangerous, avoidable problems and ignore people’s needs,” said Neil Gupta, Associate Research Director at Corporate Accountability. “Water privatization has failed communities across the country and must be rejected in all its forms. We need an infrastructure plan that directly invests federal dollars in communities, keeps water systems in public hands, and equitably addresses our nation’s infrastructure crisis for the long haul — not more corporate handouts.”

The country already faces a water affordability crisis, as the letter notes: “Nearly one in three US households struggles to afford their water and sewer bills, and households nationally have accrued billions of dollars of water debt during the pandemic. They cannot afford the price of privatization.”

Instead of privatization deals that trap communities in costly deals for decades, the letter points to the need to dedicate federal funding to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund our water infrastructure at the level that is needed to address our urgent needs. 

House Invests in Water, More Support Needed

Categories

Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House of Representatives passed the INVEST Act (HR 3684), which provides funding authorizations for drinking water and wastewater improvements, including $45 billion to eliminate lead service lines and $4 billion in household water debt relief tied to a five-year water shutoff moratorium. 

Among the provisions, the act will provide the largest reauthorizations of the State Revolving Fund programs: $12 billion for fiscal year 2022, which is 2.5 times the amount passed in the Senate. It will also support water access and affordability by increasing the amount of grants and other additional subsidization for disadvantaged communities to up to 50 percent of wastewater and 40 percent of drinking water State Revolving Loan funds; requiring a study water affordability, discrimination and civil rights violations; and authorizing low-income water and wastewater assistance programs.

In addition to authorizing $45 billion to remove lead service lines with a ban on partial lead service line replacements, it will authorize $1 billion over 10 years to filter lead from school water, require the EPA to establish enforceable regulations to limit PFAS (in particular PFOA and PFOS) in drinking water, and require the EPA to limit plastic pellet pollution. 

In response to the vote, Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch, issued the following statement: 

“We applaud the House for its commitment to eliminate lead service lines and provide significant household water debt relief with a five-year shutoff moratorium. Households are being crushed by billions of dollars of water debt and need this relief urgently. And while this legislation offers a bolder response than the Senate’s water bill, the funding levels for water improvements are still not enough. We must seize the opportunity provided by ongoing infrastructure negotiations and ensure the critical, transformative water funding the country really needs. Inclusion of the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act in any infrastructure package would provide a permanent water solution and ensure stronger, more resilient and more accessible water systems. 

“Congress must reject the White House’s ill-conceived bipartisan framework that would privatize water systems through public-private partnerships and asset recycling. Our communities cannot afford that compromise on water.”

White House Climate Memo Should Prompt Concern

Categories

Climate and Energy

A new memo from White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy is intended to demonstrate that the Biden administration is committed to passing a reconciliation package that includes key climate and clean energy provisions. 

But the language of the memo should be seen as a cause for concern for climate activists. 

Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“The Biden administration has consistently pledged support for a clean energy standard, but only a weak one that would qualify dirty energy sources like fracked gas and nuclear power as ‘clean.’ Meanwhile, the White House continually praises far-fetched, pro-industry projects like carbon capture as a viable solution to drastically reducing climate emissions. This approach is foolish and dangerous. 

“This new memo, ostensibly designed to appease climate activists, should be seen for what it is: little to nothing of substance. Instead of explicitly supporting a bonafide standard for clean, renewable energy, McCarthy’s memo touts ‘market signals’ and the leveraging of deeply flawed existing energy systems. This is not a bold agenda, it is technocratic market-speak that is decades out of date.

“If the White House wants us to believe it is taking the climate crisis seriously, this memo does the opposite.”

Vernon Opposes TGP Fracking Project in North Jersey

Categories

Climate and Energy

Last night, the Vernon Township Council passed a resolution opposing a Tennessee Gas proposal to build two new gas compressor stations in North Jersey, part of a growing wave of opposition to the fossil fuel project. 

The Tennessee Gas “East 300 Upgrade” expansion involves the construction of two new gas compressor stations — one in Wantage Township that would more than triple the size of the existing facility there, and one in West Milford at the site of a former quarry adjacent to the Monksville Reservoir. 

Compressor stations maintain or increase pressure in natural gas transmission lines, and operators regularly “blow down” the facilities to release gas when too much pressure has built up. These new compressors would deliver higher volumes of fracked gas from Pennsylvania  to Westchester County. This project serves no benefit to New Jersey residents but brings increased danger, air pollution, and noise to local communities.

Local residents are especially concerned about the serious risks of building a major fossil fuel processing facility within 2,000 feet of the Monksville Reservoir, since 3.5 million people source their drinking water from this reservoir system.  

Vernon became the seventh municipality to pass a resolution opposing the Tennessee Gas expansion, joining Bloomfield, Montague, Wantage, Hamburg, Alpine, and Ringwood. The Somerset County Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution against the project.

“By passing strong resolutions against Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s dangerous proposal, local elected officials are standing up for the health and safety of our state, and the water supply of millions,” said Sam DiFalco, an organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The real power lies with Governor Murphy, who must reject this project. He cannot achieve his climate goals while approving a dangerous and unnecessary fossil fuel expansion project intended to benefit an out-of-state utility company.”

‘Bipartisan’ Infrastructure Plan is a Privatization-Promoting Disaster

Categories

Clean Water

Today the White House announced that it had reached a bipartisan infrastructure ‘compromise’ with a group of Senators. 

The plan would rely on privatization schemes that will undermine public control and prove to be  costly. The proposed financing mechanisms include “public-private partnerships,” “private activity bonds,” and “asset recycling.” Public private partnerships are privatization deals in which a private company takes control over the operation, and sometimes financing, of a public project. Private activity bonds give tax subsidies to debt issued by corporations to finance privatized projects. Asset recycling refers to schemes where a government sells off one public asset to finance the construction of another infrastructure project; for example, Cumberland County, NJ, is exploring leasing its sewers to a private equity firm to fund a broadband project.

On the whole, the package is much smaller than the initial White House proposal — and a far cry from the level of investment needed to rebuild the economy, deliver clean drinking water and combat climate change.  

In response, Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant released the following statement: 

“This White House-approved infrastructure deal is a disaster in the making. It promotes privatization and so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ instead of making public investments in publicly-owned infrastructure. Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors and leave the rest of us to pick up the tab. 

“Privatization is nothing more than an outrageously expensive way to borrow funds, with the ultimate bill paid back by households and local businesses in the form of higher rates. The White House identifies privatization as a means to finance infrastructure investment is disappointing and outrageous. Communities need real support, not privatization scams.

“The most sensible infrastructure solution is to provide robust public funding for publicly-owned projects, which would discourage price-gouging by corporate interests, protect public control over these precious assets, and save everyone money. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund the state revolving funds and other programs at the level that is needed.

“This package does not provide adequate funding to rebuild and repair our country’s infrastructure, nor does it do nearly enough to combat the climate crisis. Lawmakers can and must press for a better deal.”

Bipartisan Climate Bill Boosts Ineffective Offsets Schemes

Categories

Climate and Energy

Today, the Senate will vote on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, bipartisan legislation that would bolster carbon markets in the agriculture sector. The bill is opposed by a range of groups across the country, who point out that it will primarily prop up corporate agricultural interests that will profit from offsets purchased by fossil fuel companies seeking to avoid actually reducing their emissions. 

In advance of the vote, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a perfect example of how the clamor for bipartisanship undermines our ability to address the climate crisis. This bill will create offset schemes that prop up corporate agricultural interests while doing nothing to actually address the climate crisis. 

“Existing offset programs fail to reduce climate-warming emissions, while actually increasing pollution in environmental justice communities. The Growing Climate Solutions Act does not correct these problems — it will only make them worse by laying the groundwork for a national offsets program.

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a major priority for some of the most powerful special interests on the planet, who stand to profit handsomely from these carbon markets. We have been working hard to build opposition in the House. We don’t expect this to be an easy fight, but it is one we can win, so long as House members are willing to stand up to these special interests and back real solutions to the serious challenges facing our society.

“Rather than embracing offset schemes, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition away from emissions-intensive agricultural practices like factory farming and large scale monoculture. It is disingenuous and dangerous to view offset programs as anything other than a scam to avoid real climate action and promote further consolidation in our farm and food systems.”

Biden Giving Up on Public Lands Fracking Ban Would Be a Climate Disaster

Categories

Climate and Energy

During a House committee hearing today, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland indicated that the Biden administration would not pursue an oil and gas leasing ban on public lands.

During the hearing, Haaland said, “I don’t think there is a plan right now for a permanent ban.” The administration is preparing a review of the oil and gas leasing program, which will be released this summer. 

Haaland’s comments directly contradict Biden’s repeated promises to ban fracking on public lands. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement: 

“During the campaign, President Biden explicitly promised to halt new fracking on federal lands. It now seems that Biden has no intention of keeping that promise. 

“This would be a disastrous capitulation to the fossil fuel industry, and a worrying sign that this White House is not committed to the kinds of actions necessary to stave off climate catastrophe. Stopping fracking on public lands is an important first step to creating the kinds of climate policies necessary to meet the challenges we face. If President Biden is unwilling to stop drilling and fracking on public lands, it is hard to fathom what climate policies he is willing to fight for.”

Hundreds of Groups Demand Biden Name Climate-Focused FERC Commissioner

Categories

Climate and Energy

Over 320 community, climate and environmental groups from across the country sent a letter to President Biden today demanding that he nominate a commissioner to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who will prioritize climate action by stopping the approval of fossil fuel projects. 

The letter was organized by Food & Water Watch, Beyond Extreme Energy, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Berks Gas Truth. Signatories include Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Indigenous Environmental Network, Progressive Democrats of America, Sierra Club, and 350.org.  

With Republican commissioner Neil Chatterjee leaving the agency on June 30, much of the Biden White House’s climate legacy will hinge on this nomination. As the federal agency that oversees interstate gas infrastructure, FERC has immense power to curtail the growth of the industry. Recent lawsuits — including Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — have challenged the agency to consider the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fracked gas expansion projects. 

On June 22, a D.C. Circuit court panel vacated FERC’s approval of a gas pipeline in Missouri, ruling that the commission took an “ostrich-like approach” instead of evaluating the necessity of the project.

The pressure to properly account for the climate impacts of gas infrastructure has been a recent source of disagreement among the commissioners. FERC’s reputation as a rubber stamp for the dirty energy industry has only bolstered climate advocates’ demand that the White House nominate a commissioner who will break from this tradition.

The letter to the White House cites the recent report from the International Energy Agency, which warned that the climate crisis does not allow for any new fossil fuel development. The letter goes on point out that Biden’s own rhetoric on climate requires a bold pick:

“This FERC appointment will be instrumental in helping to fulfill your commitment to addressing this crisis. We urge you to appoint a new commissioner committed to following climate science, stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure, and transitioning the country to 100% renewable energy.“

“History may record that President Biden’s 2021 appointment of a strong climate champion to be a FERC commissioner was one of the most consequential actions he took to slow, stop and reverse global heating over the course of the 21st century,” said Ted Glick of Beyond Extreme Energy. “History may also record that humankind failed this urgent, existential test in part because Biden didn’t do so. This is the importance of this nomination.”

“Through this appointment President Biden has an opportunity to make a lasting impact on our energy future,” said Mitch Jones, Policy Director at Food & Water Watch. “We need a strong climate advocate on FERC helping to steer the commission away from its past as a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry, and towards supporting a robust expansion of renewable energy. President Biden needs to seize this opportunity to cement a strong climate legacy through this appointment.”

“President Biden correctly calls climate change the ‘existential crisis of our time.’ Only bold actions commensurate with challenges we face will do now. Biden appointees must be leaders capable of carrying out those actions. That is especially true at FERC, where generations of commissioners have taken a pro-fossil fuels stance that has set us back immeasurably,” said Karen Feridun, Founder of Berks Gas Truth.

“FERC has failed to drive the transition to renewables for too long,” said Donna Chavis, Senior Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US. “Biden has a golden opportunity to install a qualified climate champion to build the clean and resilient electricity grid the US so desperately needs.”

“FERC needs to change course by recognizing the direct connection between fossil fuel infrastructure projects and the proliferation of greenhouse gas emissions and factor these impacts into all its decisions by halting projects that worsen the climate crisis. President Biden’s appointment to FERC must comport with his stated recognition of the urgency of climate change by ensuring a majority on the Commission who will finally make climate impacts the priority,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. 

“There’s no time like the present for the FERC and the President to act to defend the Gulf of Mexico coast, where dozens of fossil gas export terminals and pipelines loom and threaten our communities and ecosystems. In the name of the pitcher-plant bogs and alligators, in the name of the culture bearers and subsistence fishing communities, on behalf of all those who will be affected by FERC continuing to ignore the climate crisis, we implore the President to appoint a climate justice champion to FERC,” said Naomi Yoder, Staff Scientist at Healthy Gulf.

Sweeney’s RICH Act is a Sneaky Privatization Scheme

Categories

Clean Water

This afternoon, the Senate Committee on Budget and Appropriations is scheduled to vote on S. 3637, the Retirement Infrastructure Collateralized Holdings Act (RICH Act). While RICH Act supporters like Senate President Steve Sweeney portray this measure as a move that will benefit public worker pensions, the RICH Act is a sneaky privatization scheme aimed at wresting control of public water and wastewater systems.

Proponents of the legislation point to the creation of a fund managed by the state’s infrastructure bank to claim this makes any transfers of water systems ‘public to public.’ But this is extremely misleading; the bank can hire an investment fund to carry out the work, and the legislation is crafted to encourage privatization by allowing the bank to sell or lease the assets transferred to the fund with the “duty to maximize the long-term value of assets in the fund.” It can also force privatization and valuation studies of water and wastewater systems, even in communities that are not looking to sell their systems. 

Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith released the following statement: 

“Steve Sweeney’s new pro-privatization push is being cloaked in misleading rhetoric about protecting workers’ pensions. Don’t be fooled: This is just a crafty scheme to encourage corporate takeovers of our state’s public water and wastewater systems. The RICH Act would push privatization and valuation studies on community systems, forcing them to either come up with the funds to make capital improvements themselves or lose control of their systems, either directly through a sale or by handing them over to a state fund that will be geared towards promoting privatization.

“What’s worse, this bill actually reduces the public’s ability to reject a sale of their publicly-owned assets. The end result of all of this will be a tax at the tap; communities will pay more for their water, enriching the private corporations that have carried out hostile takeovers of assets that should rightly belong to the public. New Jersey lawmakers must say no to this privatization scheme; and if they do not, Governor Murphy should veto this measure.” 

Smithfield Lied to the Public at the Expense of Workers’ Lives, New Lawsuit Alleges

Categories

Food System

Last week, the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, represented by Public Justice, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against Smithfield Foods, alleging that the multinational meat processing company repeatedly lied to consumers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic so it could protect its bottom line—at the expense of its workers’ lives.

Throughout the pandemic, Smithfield mounted an aggressive public relations campaign based on two claims: that the company was protecting workers at its facilities from COVID-19, and that meat shortages were coming if processing plants were forced to close. Today’s lawsuit alleges that both claims were lies.

“Corporations like Smithfield routinely choose profit over people. The company utterly failed to protect its workers as the coronavirus spread like wildfire throughout its meat processing facilities, and its fearmongering about meat shortages was designed to exploit consumer panic and boost sales. Smithfield put workers’ lives at risk all in the name of corporate greed and turned already notoriously dangerous workplaces into deadly ones,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, the advocacy organization bringing the case on behalf of consumers and the general public.

COVID-19 laid bare the industry’s chronic worker abuse. Throughout the crisis, meatpacking workers, who are mostly people of color, have been experiencing massive COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities. More than 58,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19, and 293 have died.

“Smithfield led a coordinated campaign to tell consumers it was protecting workers—but in reality, it wasn’t. Smithfield also scared consumers into thinking national meat shortages were near—but that wasn’t true either. District of Columbia consumers have a right to truthful information and they should hold companies accountable when they lie to protect their business and brand— especially when those lies come at the enormous expense of workers’ lives,” said Randy Chen, Staff Attorney at Public Justice, who is part of the legal team in this lawsuit.

To assuage consumer concerns about worker safety, Smithfield said that it was aggressively protecting meatpacking workers. Through advertisements, social media, and website disclosures, the company claimed it was implementing a host of measures to protect workers from COVID-19—including providing personal protective equipment, relaxing leave policies, and partnering with state and local health departments.

In reality, these statements were not true. Workers were in fact gravely endangered, and Smithfield slaughterhouses repeatedly emerged as epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks. Over 3,200 Smithfield employees have contracted COVID-19. According to both workers and government safety regulators, Smithfield was not providing the safety measures it had promised. Smithfield even undermined the efforts of government officials to protect worker safety by failing to report COVID-19 cases among its workforce and stonewalling efforts to keep workers safe.

In addition, Smithfield stoked consumer fear about an impending national meat shortage. This had the effect of driving up demand for Smithfield’s products, as panicked consumers rushed grocery stores to stockpile meat.

But this too was misleading, because meat shortages were never on the horizon. Quite the opposite: while Smithfield was telling Americans that the sky was falling, it was dramatically increasing its foreign pork exports to record high levels. Billions of pounds of meat were held in freezer warehouses throughout the country – more than enough meat to keep grocery stores stocked for months even if production were to drop off.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

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The Public Justice Food Project is the only legal project in the country that is focused solely on dismantling the structures that enable the consolidation of corporate power and extractive practices in our food system and supporting a vision of animal agriculture that is regenerative, humane, and owned by independent farmers.

Food & Water Watch mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We use grassroots organizing, public education, research, policy analysis, and litigation to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of powerful economic interests.

New ‘Bipartisan’ Infrastructure Plan is a Privatization-Promoting Disaster

Categories

Clean Water

Media reports indicate that a group of Senators is pushing a bipartisan infrastructure ‘compromise’ that is much smaller than the initial White House proposal. The plan would rely heavily on privatization schemes that will undermine public control and prove to be costly for households and small businesses. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant released the following statement: 

“This Senate compromise package would pile further burdens on communities struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic. It promotes privatization and so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ instead of making public investments in publicly-owned infrastructure. This package does not provide adequate funding to rebuild and repair our country’s infrastructure; it is nothing more than an outrageously expensive way to borrow funds, with the ultimate bill paid back by households and local businesses in the form of higher rates. 

“Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors. The most sensible infrastructure solution is to provide robust public funding for publicly-owned projects, which would discourage price-gouging by corporate interests, protect public control over these precious assets, and save everyone money. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund the state revolving funds and other programs at the level that is needed.

“This deal is a disaster in the making, and it must be rejected.”

Passaic Commission Alters Newark Fracked Gas Power Plant Proposal

Categories

Climate and Energy

Today, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) announced it will withdraw its air permit application to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to operate a new fracked gas power plant in Newark, and will submit a new application that reflects the commission’s new goal of reducing the pollution impact associated with its proposed Standby Generator Power Project. 

The PVSC also announced it will initiate a new public process to solicit renewable energy alternatives, and will retain an energy consultant to identify opportunities to reduce their overall reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

The Newark power plant, which would be paid for in large part by taxpayer-funded FEMA dollars, is part of a post-Sandy resiliency project. The 2012 storm caused the sewerage plant to lose power, spilling billions of gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage into the Passaic River. 

A growing coalition is forming between Ironbound organizations and other groups across Newark and the entire state. Last month, over 40 organizations called on Governor Murphy and the PVSC to stop the fossil fuel power plant and replace it with a clean renewable energy solution.

In response to today’s announcement from PVSC, Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith released the following statement: 

 “This is just a first step by PVSC, but it is encouraging to see that the commission understands that the communities that would be impacted by this polluting facility are fighting to stop it. Governor Murphy ultimately has the power to stop this power plant, and if he intends to live up to his own commitments on climate, clean energy and environmental justice, he must replace this dirty energy proposal with a clean, renewable energy alternative to protect and promote public health for Newark residents and communities down-wind from the proposed facility.”

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Allegheny County Health Department’s Pollution Failures Merit AG Investigation

Categories

Climate and Energy

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