EPA Must Force Idaho Factory Farms to Monitor and Report Water Pollution: Ninth Circuit

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Food System

Boise, Idaho — Today the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, along with Snake River Waterkeeper, won a Ninth Circuit challenge to EPA’s statewide water pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) in Idaho. The three-judge panel unanimously held that the permit arbitrarily let factory farms off the hook for monitoring their pollution discharges into waterways.

Simply put, CAFOs in Idaho will now be required to comprehensively monitor and report on their waste discharge and water pollution for the first time. This case may have broad implications for how pollution from the factory farm industry is regulated across the country in the future.

“Today’s decision strikes a major blow against EPA’s practice of granting illegal exceptions and special treatment to the factory farm industry,” said Tarah Heinzen, Legal Director at Food & Water Watch. “Factory farms are a huge source of water pollution in Idaho and across the country, but without pollution monitoring, they have been able to pollute at will and hide this pollution from citizens and regulators. Monitoring is a critical first step towards holding factory farms accountable for illegal pollution.

“We are confident that this is the first domino to fall on the path to comprehensive pollution monitoring and accountability for America’s corporate factory farm industry,” Heinzen added.

CAFOs confine hundreds or thousands of animals and their waste, which they store in impoundments prone to leaching and ultimately dispose of on fields where it can run off into waterways. These facilities are a significant source of water pollution, including nitrates, pathogens, and pharmaceuticals, and have contributed to pollution impairments in waterways across Idaho. Because of this pollution risk, CAFOs are supposed to be regulated as “point sources” under the federal Clean Water Act, which requires polluters to follow permits that limit discharges and require monitoring to demonstrate if a facility is in compliance. 

EPA’s Idaho Permit did not require factory farms to monitor for discharges through waste impoundments or from land application fields, instead assuming that facilities would satisfy the permit’s “zero discharge” limits. Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper argued that this violated the Clean Water Act’s requirement that permits contain “representative” monitoring capable of showing if a facility is meeting or violating its permit. 

The Court agreed with the petitioners, holding that EPA’s Idaho Permit is unlawful because without such monitoring, “there is no way to ensure that a CAFO is complying with the Permit’s … no-discharge requirement.” 

“This victory changes the face of permitting and accountability for an industry that has avoided the requirements of the Clean Water Act’s pollution safeguards for far too long,” said Buck Ryan, Executive Director of Snake River Waterkeeper. “The public deserves to know what is being put into waterways by the State’s worst polluters, and with this decision we can begin to understand the actual levels of factory farm effluent being discharged into the Snake River in order to address their sources and ecological impact.”

The Court vacated EPA’s Idaho Permit, requiring the agency to draft a new permit with the monitoring provisions required by federal law. Because EPA and state agencies routinely omit monitoring in CAFO permits with similar pollution risks, today’s decision will pave the way for similar requirements in CAFO permits across the country. 

The Petitioners were represented in this case by Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Federal Drilling and Fracking Update: Biden Promised a Ban – He’s Doing the Opposite

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Climate and Energy

This week President Biden traveled to Western states to sound the alarm on climate action. But his administration has so far failed to deliver on one of its signature campaign promises: stopping drilling and fracking on public lands.  

During the campaign, Biden made it clear where he stood: “No more drilling on federal lands, period.” From a climate perspective, Biden’s pledge was prudent and necessary; fossil fuel development on federal lands accounts for almost a quarter of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Since taking office, however, the Biden administration has approved thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits, while simultaneously pursuing a public lands strategy vulnerable to legal challenges. Food & Water Watch has been comprehensively tracking the many pro-fossil fuels statements and decisions made since the start of the administration.

The administration has clear legal authority to immediately halt new drilling and fracking on federal lands. The fact that it continues to offer new leases (and approve new drilling/fracking permits on existing leases) is an intentional choice – one that blatantly defies Biden’s campaign pledges.

Solid Legal Basis for Drilling and Fracking Ban 

Shortly after taking office, the Biden administration announced a pause on new oil and gas lease sales while it reviewed the federal program. As Food & Water Watch noted in comments to the Interior Department filed in April, the statutes that give the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management the authority to conduct oil and gas leases also grant them ample discretion in whether or not to block fossil fuel leasing and drilling. 

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 stipulates that lands “may be leased by the Interior Secretary,” but that is a discretionary policy, not a requirement. The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) requires that public lands “be managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values.” It also stipulates that the Secretary of the Interior “shall, by regulation or otherwise, take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands.” And the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act specifies that offshore drilling “subject to environmental safeguards” and must be done “in a manner which is consistent with… other national needs.”

Simply put, there are a variety of legal arguments the administration could make to justify stopping new oil and gas drilling on public lands – if it truly wanted to.

Biden Crumbles to Industry Pushback 

The industry fought back in court against the White House leasing pause. In a June decision, US District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty — a Trump appointee — issued a temporary injunction that essentially blocked Biden’s executive order temporarily pausing new leases. But instead of aggressively defending its initial, modest attempt to temporarily halt new leasing (while new permits for existing leases were still being aggressively approved), the White House rolled over at the first signs of industry pushback.

While the administration could have sought a stay of the injunction when it appealed that decision, it chose not to. The Interior Secretary also could have issued an evidence-based finding at any time over the past nine months declaring continued oil and gas expansion as being detrimental to the multiple use and sustained yield requirements of FLPMA; however, no such finding was issued. Furthermore, while pending appeal, Judge Doughty’s decision is only legally binding within the Western District of Louisiana. The administration could have chosen to constrain lease sales only to that area; instead it reintroduced sales nationwide.

Just days after Hurricane Ida wreaked devastation from the Gulf Coast to New York City, the administration announced a massive new lease sale of 90 million acres (nearly all the remaining leasable land) in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration downplayed the climate risks, even refusing to revise the Trump administration’s environmental analysis of this awful scheme. 

There is a clear path for the administration to halt new fossil fuel drilling and fracking on public lands – in a way that complies with relevant statutes and the Administrative Procedure Act. Unfortunately, every indication thus far is that the White House has no actual desire to do so. An administration that took office promising to end fracking on our public lands has approved thousands of drilling permits, is paving the way for thousands more, and shows no sign of even wanting to fight to win one of its most important climate policies.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

House Ways & Means Committee Advances Egregious Fossil Fuel Subsidies

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Climate and Energy

Washington, D.C. – Today the House Ways & Means Committee is advancing a massive budget reconciliation funding bill associated with Congressional Democrats’ Build Back Better Act, which would invest $3.5 trillion in an infrastructure spending package. The bill fails to remove massive existing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including:

  • A subsidy enacted in 1916 (Sections 263(c) and 291) allowing many fossil fuel producers to deduct 100 percent of many costs associated with extraction;
  • A subsidy enacted in 1926 (Sections 611 through 613A and 291) that allows many producers to deduct 15 percent of gross income annually, which often results in a deduction greater than the value of actual assets;
  • A tax credit for “carbon capture and sequestration” (Section 45Q), an unrealized, faulty technological process that is falsely characterized by the industry as a solution to toxic climate emissions.

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

“As climate-driven fires and floods ravage our country, Chairman Neal’s failure to tackle billions of dollars in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry is an egregious dereliction of duty. We must be halting new oil and gas drilling and fracking, not encouraging decades more of it. This abject failure to stand against polluting fossil fuels and stand up for a livable planet now leads to a firm demand to the Senate and the Biden administration: No handouts for fossil fuels can be allowed. Not one dollar will be tolerated.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

White House Climate Czar Gina McCarthy Must Resign

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Climate and Energy

Washington, D.C. – In public comments made on Tuesday in California, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy clearly stated the Biden administration’s support for natural gas as part of an “all-of-the-above strategy” for power generation in the country. She went on to state that the administration wound not be “picking and choosing winners” when it came to prioritizing particular types of energy. This comes on the heels of a report from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, released last week, that stressed the depth and urgency of the climate crisis. The “all-of-the-above” reference was also used by President Obama more than a decade ago to describe his administration’s support for fossil fuels like coal and gas as part of the nation’s power generation mix. In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter issued the following statement:

“When Gina McCarthy stated her support for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan, she knew exactly what she was saying. She was clearly and consciously endorsing filthy, polluting fossil fuels as a part of our country’s energy future. Given all we know about the disastrous impacts of coal, oil and gas on our perilous climate condition, such a statement is dangerous and absurd. Ms. McCarthy must take responsibility for this unacceptable policy position and resign immediately.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Nearly 500 Groups Urge Biden to Fill FERC Seat With Environmental, Energy Justice Champion

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Climate and Energy

WASHINGTON— More than 460 environmental and energy justice, racial justice, faith and youth organizations from across the United States sent a letter today urging President Joe Biden to appoint a nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who will champion environmental and energy justice.

The letter names three candidates to replace Republican commissioner Neil Chatterjee, whose term has expired. One is Daniel Blackman, a previous contender for the Georgia Service Commission and critic of the fossil fuel-focused utility giant Georgia Power. Another is Marquita Bradshaw, the first Black woman to win the Democrat nomination for a Tennessee Senate seat and a victorious opponent of the Byhalia Pipeline. The third pick is Nidhi Thakar, a long-time renewable energy lawyer and national co-chair of Clean Energy for Biden. 

The Biden White House’s climate and environmental justice legacy will hinge on this nomination, the groups say. As the federal agency that oversees interstate gas infrastructure and wholesale electricity markets, FERC has immense power to curtail the growth of fossil fuels and integration of just renewable energies. 

“After six months in office, President Biden’s climate and environmental platform hangs in the balance. If he doesn’t act decisively now, he could doom us to a future of unlivable climate chaos. Choosing a FERC nominee that will reject new fossil fuel development would be a strong sign that Biden intends to take our climate crisis seriously,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

“The Biden administration will not achieve its goal of rooting out systemic racism in energy and environmental decision-making with a status quo appointment to FERC,” said Dana Johnson, federal policy director with WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “We urge President Biden to nominate a commissioner that is concerned about FERC’s legacy of prioritizing projects over people, has the courage to apply an equity and justice lens to their work, and will be accountable to the people and communities that are disproportionately harmed by the energy industry.”

“We must seize this consequential opportunity to appoint a visionary commissioner who can enact federal change to our racist and ecocidal energy system,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With people dying from coast to coast of extreme heat waves and hurricanes, the climate emergency is undeniably here. FERC has a critical role to play in making sure we prioritize renewable and just energy before it’s too late.”

“The Biden administration must uplift a FERC candidate that will uphold justice for Indigenous and frontline communities. The impacts of the fossil fuel industries, pipeline infrastructure, including at Enbridge Line 3, are putting our people in prison. A Justice-based FERC candidate could be a first step in showing good faith on meeting the unmet promises of the Biden Administration,” said Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. 

“If the world is going to prevent escalating climate and social disruption, the U.S.’s FERC agency must play a key role,” said Ted Glick, organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy.  “It needs to stop being a rubber-stamp agency for gas industry expansion, and it needs to upgrade the electrical grid to rapidly advance renewables and battery storage. This FERC nomination, if a strong one, can make that a reality.”             

“We don’t need little changes at FERC: we need a whole new agency and new leadership,” said Drew Hudson, senior national organizer at Friends of the Earth. “If President Biden is serious about achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, he must look beyond the industry insiders and utility sympathizers who got us into the climate crisis.” 

“It’s past time for President Biden to name a new FERC commissioner. Every day he waits on this appointment — and others at crucial independent agencies — is a missed opportunity for climate action,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director at the Revolving Door Project. “We look forward to Biden choosing a commissioner who aligns with his stated campaign goals of securing environmental justice and accountability to the people, not to polluters and corporations.”

“For too long FERC has been a rubber stamp for pipeline companies, helping to accelerate the destruction of communities throughout the Gulf South. If President Biden is serious about his commitments to environmental justice, he must nominate a commissioner who will put people first,” said Kendall Dix, policy lead at Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy.

The letter notes that this coalition of groups was able to identify the three individuals who center justice in their work with far fewer resources and less time than the White House. It encourages the Biden administration to consider these candidates as part of widening their own search for a candidate. 

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Gov. Cuomo Must Resign

New York – On Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James issued a report detailing 11 credible cases of sexual harassment by Governor Cuomo, in violation of state and federal law. In response, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp issued the following statement:

“The findings of the attorney general’s report – including no less than 11 credible cases of sexual harassment – lead to only one conclusion: Governor Cuomo must resign immediately. In the meantime, Speaker Heastie should expedite impeachment proceedings to ensure that Cuomo is vacated from office one way or another.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

House Passes Sweeping PFAS “Forever Chemical” Regulation

Categories

Clean Water

Washington D.C. – Today the House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act of 2021, jumpstarting regulations for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the toxic lab-made chemicals that have been posing major health risks to communities across the country for decades. Among its provisions, the legislation would require the EPA to set drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, the two most studied PFAS chemicals, and would designate these as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund program to facilitate the cleanup of toxic sites. The legislation, H.R. 2467, passed in a vote of 241-183.

Studies have found that long-term exposure to PFAS is associated with many health problems, including liver malfunction, birth defects, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and certain cancers. PFAS has been found in the blood of 97 percent of people in the United States and in human breast milk, and more than 200 million people in the country could be drinking PFAS-contaminated water. 

In response to today’s vote,  Food & Water Action Public Water For All Campaign Director Mary Grant said:

“We applaud the House of Representatives for passing this critical legislation to finally begin regulating toxic PFAS chemicals and prevent drinking water contamination. There is no more time for delay when it comes to enacting a thorough plan to remove these chemicals from our drinking water with enforceable regulations, and ensure the biggest polluters are held accountable for cleaning up their rampant contamination. 

“The Senate must not compromise when it comes to protecting people from toxic chemicals in their water. The Senate must pass the PFAS Action Act of 2021, and reject any attempt to weaken the legislation. Communities have waited too long already. It is past time for the Senate to pass this critical legislation. Our country deserves clean water – nothing less.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Farm System Reform Act Reintroduced in Congress; Would Ban New Factory Farming

Categories

Food System

Washington, D.C. – A diverse coalition of animal welfare, public health, environmental, and sustainable agriculture organizations commend U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) for introducing the Farm System Reform Act, federal legislation that will help create a more humane food system by moving away from destructive concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and supporting the transition toward higher welfare, certified farms, and alternative crop production. This legislation also includes provisions to address industry consolidation and unfair practices, which can hamper farmers’ independence and ability to improve animal welfare, as well as measures to ensure communities located near factory farms are able to hold these companies legally accountable for negative environmental and public health impacts, and to provide consumers with increased transparency on country-of-origin labelling.

Original cosponsors of the Farm System Reform Act include Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the Senate, and Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D.Wis.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Andy Levin (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives.  

“The factory farm agricultural model, which dominates our country’s food system, fuels toxic air and water contamination, drives dangerous and unfair working conditions, wreaks havoc on independent farmers and rural communities and threatens food safety,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The Farm System Reform Act is the bold approach we need to bring dangerous factory farming under control now—and begin the necessary transformation to a safe and equitable future for food consumers and workers alike.”

Almost 10 billion animals are raised on U.S. factory farms every year, crowded together in intensive confinement and unable to carry out even some of their most basic natural behaviors. The COVID-19 crisis further exposed the failings of our current food system as viral outbreaks among slaughterhouse employees and inspectors killed hundreds of workers and resulted in shutdowns and the mass killing of millions of farm animals who languished on farms with no place to go. The scale of this suffering has increased the immediacy with which the food, farming, and animal welfare movements advocate together for a shared vision of a better farming system.

“Large, multinational meatpackers, because of their buying power and size, are putting our food system at risk and harming everyone along the supply chain. We need to fix the broken system – that means giving family farmers and ranchers a fair shot and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing,” said Sen. Booker. “We must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system. An important first step is ending our reliance on huge factory farms and investing in a system that focuses on resilient and regenerative production.”

“If Congress doesn’t act soon, we risk losing an entire generation of family farms to multinational farming corporations,” said Rep. Khanna. “The Farm System Reform Act is the clear way to ensure the American food system maintains fair competition, high animal welfare standards, and a dependable food chain. We must fix this broken system. I’m proud to reintroduce this critical legislation with Senator Booker to level the playing field for family farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers in the 21st century.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed animal agriculture’s deceptive façade, revealing a broken factory farm system that is failing both people and animals. The Farm System Reform Act will help repair and bring compassion to our food system, protecting countless animals from unconscionable cruelty,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “We thank Senator Booker and Representative Khanna for championing this necessary legislation to build a food system that values animals, people, and our planet—not just profit.”

Factory farms directly threaten animal welfare, often making use of cruel confinement methods that prevent animals from carrying out even the most basic natural behaviors like perching or rooting. Besides harming animals, factory farming also wreaks havoc on rural communities, public health, farmers, farm workers, and the environment. The COVID-19 crisis has strengthened the public’s understanding of these linked impacts with demand for change growing. A 2020 survey found that the vast majority (89 percent) of Americans are concerned about animal welfare, worker safety or public health issues that go hand-in-hand with factory farming—including 85 percent of farmers and their families who support a complete ban on new CAFOs, almost twice the level of support expressed by the general public. 

The Farm System Reform Act is supported by more than 300 diverse groups, including the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), Food & Water Watch, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Additionally, more than 100 farmers across the country have signed onto a letter endorsing the bill as a critical solution that would revitalize independent agriculture and uplift farmers and rural communities. The coalition is asking the public to contact their U.S. senators and representatives to urge them to cosponsor and pass the Farm System Reform Act.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

EPA’S Permittance of Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Fracking is Cause to Ban the Process Entirely

Categories

Climate and Energy

Washington, D.C. – A new report out this morning from Physicians for Social Responsibility indicates that going back at least as far as 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of chemicals in the process of fracking that were known to be highly toxic, long-lasting in the environment, and inherently hazardous to human health and water safety. The chemicals, known as PFAS, have been widely used in fracking in many states over the past decade, the report indicates. 

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

“This alarming report confirms what hundreds of scientific studies and thousands of pages of data have already shown over the last decade: Fracking is inherently hazardous to the health and safety of people and communities in proximity to it, and it should be banned entirely. Not to mention the dreadful impact fossil fuel extraction and burning is having on our runaway climate crisis. Fracking threatens every person on the planet, directly or indirectly.

“The Biden administration has claimed to be concerned about PFAS contamination throughout the country. President Biden himself pledged during the campaign to halt new fracking on federal lands. Meanwhile, this administration is approving new fracking permits at a pace similar to Trump, with no letup in sight. The Obama-Biden administration approved the use of toxic PFAS chemicals for fracking a decade ago, and all these years later, Biden’s practices haven’t seemed to change a bit.

“President Biden needs to immediately make good on his promise to halt new fracking on federal lands, and his administration must take urgent action to contain the use of PFAS chemicals and their deadly spread into our water and our communities.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

60 New York Organizations Call on Sen. Schumer to Champion Public Water Funding, Pass WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

New York, NY — More than 60 New York organizations from across the state sent a letter to Senator Schumer today urging him to include the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act (WATER Act) of 2021 in any Congressional infrastructure legislation. The letter comes as a group of senators have floated a bipartisan proposal that would jeopardize water infrastructure investment in favor of costly privatization schemes. The letter was facilitated by the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, and signed by groups including NAACP New York State Conference, Riverkeeper, New York Communities for Change, PUSH Buffalo, the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the New York State Parent Teacher Association.

From PFAS and lead contamination to leaky pipes, New York’s aging water systems highlight the urgent need for investment in water infrastructure at levels only the federal government can provide. Recent victories in New York, including the community-led movement to institute  a public takeover of American Water’s private water system on Long Island, highlight the importance of rejecting privatization schemes.

In the letter, community, environmental, faith-based and student groups from across New York urged Senator Schumer to champion the WATER Act, which ensures permanent federal funding to promote safe, affordable public water for New York and the nation. The letter states that in New York alone, the WATER Act would provide roughly $2.4 billion towards our water needs each year, create nearly 40,000 jobs, and generate over $7 billion in economic output.

“This is not a moment for watered-down compromises and privatization schemes. We are fast approaching a water crisis of epic proportions, should we fail to use this infrastructure investment opportunity to double down on investment in our water systems,” said Eric Weltman, Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer. “Senator Schumer must listen to the New Yorkers who have been mobilizing for years, raising the alarm on PFAS contamination in our drinking water, and coordinating community-led movements to municipalize water systems. It’s time to reject privatization schemes, and embrace real solutions to rebuild our nation’s water infrastructure. Senator Schumer must prioritize the passage of the WATER Act.”

“Investing in safer, cleaner water infrastructure that puts people first is a no-brainer. The WATER Act would do just that, helping communities across the country, including the creation of 40,000 jobs right here in New York for Senator Schumer’s own constituents,” said Patrick Houston, Climate & Inequality Campaigns Associate for New York Communities for Change.

“The government has no more basic responsibility to its taxpayers than providing clean, affordable water that is publicly owned and publicly managed for the public’s good.  There is NO place for private monopolies controlling our water infrastructure. ‘Private’ means the shareholders will benefit and not the people. Unfortunately, money for water infrastructure has been declining for decades and this must be stopped now. It appears there is money for every other issue and the life sustaining resource — water — MUST be made a top priority,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens, a Long Island civic group.


“The public has the basic right,and expectation that when they go to turn on the tap their water will be safe and healthy for them to drink. But aging water infrastructure that is worsening due to climate change, dangerous unregulated contaminants like PFAS, and a toxic industrial legacy jeopardize that basic right. There is nothing more essential to life than water, which is why the federal infrastructure package should include bold policies like the WATER Act,” said Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]