Actor & environmental advocate
Climate and Energy
Climate and Energy
Actor & environmental advocate
by Yonit Friedman
When President Biden visited Queens communities who had been devastated by recent flooding, we met him there with calls for him to declare a climate emergency. We’re not just asking Biden to change his language — we want him to back it up with action. And while we push Congress to support climate progress, there are plenty of actions that Biden can take himself, via executive action.
Thanks to concerted efforts from activists, Biden campaigned on big climate promises. But disappointingly, his administration has been conceding to the main contributors of the climate crisis at every step, from fracking to fossil fuel subsidies. If we are to have any hope of a livable future, he must do better. There are obstacles in his way (such as a senator whose last name starts with M and rhymes with ‘anchin,’) but that’s not an acceptable excuse.
The President’s executive power is more significant than many Democrats are willing to admit. Biden can take executive action to protect communities who have borne the brunt of the climate crisis, block new fossil fuel projects and reduce the strength of preexisting ones, and launch efforts to Build Back Fossil Free — to rebuild our economy in a way that moves money away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and other efforts towards future where we all can thrive. These actions can all be launched via executive order, resistant senators or not.
President Biden has so many options for executive orders on climate! Here are some of the top ones that come to mind:
The president also has legal options to improve how the federal government researches and develops climate policy:
President Biden can — and must — shift our climate legacy, during and beyond his administration.
No one is pretending that it is easy for a Democratic president to single-handedly steer this planet away from the worsening climate crisis. However, climate deniers in the Senate are not an excuse not to act at all. President Biden has taken some steps in the right direction, but he can and must do much more.
We know the President can do more for climate — and we’re going to hold him accountable to make sure he does it. Will you join us in Washington, DC, October 11th-15th, for the People vs. Fossil Fuels week of action? Thousands of people will be joining together to make sure that our government works for US and helps deliver the livable future we need.
Sign up for any or all days in the
People vs. Fossil Fuels week of action!
For Immediate Release
Today, a broad coalition of dozens of national and New York organizations released a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Schumer to reject billions of dollars in federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry in the reconciliation bill being negotiated by Congressional leaders this week. The Congressional Democrats’ Build Back Better Act is a historic opportunity to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, including:
Just last week, the House failed to meet the moment, advancing fossil fuel subsidies within the reconciliation package, and even adding new ones like those for false solutions like carbon capture. As the Act moves into the Senate, groups across New York expect Senator Schumer to champion the issue and ensure no fossil fuel subsidies are left in the bill that passes the Senate.
Senator Schumer has called for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies in the Act, and environmental, youth and justice organizations across the state, representing a wide swath of the Senator’s constituents expect him to deliver on his promise. With New York still reeling from deadly Hurricane Ida, a crisis supercharged by fossil fuel-driven climate change, the imperative to move off of fossil fuels is clearer than ever.
“For decades, our federal government has used public money to prop up polluters,” said Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp. “And New Yorkers like those who lost their lives or loved ones in Ida pay the consequences. Senator Schumer must stand up to this powerful industry and cut off their taxpayer lifeline — New Yorkers will be watching to see if he matches his words with action, and backs up his rhetoric with leadership.”
“Since the House dropped the ball on repealing domestic fossil fuel subsidies, Senator Schumer’s climate leadership is more important than ever,” said Britten Evans, Senior Regional Organizer with Friends of the Earth. “It’s bad enough that Big Oil poisons our planet; they shouldn’t get $15,000,000,000 in taxpayer dollars per year to do it.”
“Including fossil fuel subsidies in the infrastructure package spits in the face of the working class choking to death on toxic smog and dying in climate disasters like Hurricane Ida,” said Stylianos Karolidis, Organizer with the New York City Democratic Socialists of America. “We urge Senator Schumer to accept the science and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from the infrastructure package. If he fails to do so he will continue this country’s coal, oil, and gas fueled march to global apocalypse.”
“New Yorkers know the extreme dangers of the climate crisis first-hand, with the recent deaths from Hurricane Ida serving as yet another tragic reminder,” said Pete Sikora, Climate and Inequality Campaigns Director with New York Communities for Change. “Now, we need Senator Schumer to stand strong and eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel companies poisoning our communities for corporate profit.”
“Democrats need to deliver on their promises to voters, and Senator Schumer should take action to fulfill Democrats’ promises on the climate crisis, inducing ending fossil fuel subsidies,” said Paco Fabián, Director of Communications and Campaigns at Our Revolution. “Failing to deliver on ending fossil fuel subsidies will have consequences at the ballot box during the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.”
Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]
Singer / Songwriter
For Immediate Release
Santa Fe, NM – Nearly a month after delivering a letter to New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich (D) and Ben Ray Luján (D), lawmakers and environmental advocates held a press conference to demand a response from the senators and a commitment to oppose the inclusion of fossil fuel subsidies in the federal budget reconciliation package.
President Joe Biden has proposed repealing the $121 billion in subsidies from the federal government to the fossil fuel industries, but the bill currently moving through the House of Representatives features no such cuts. While both Senators Heinrich and Luján have acknowledged that New Mexico must move away from relying on the oil and gas industry for state revenue, they have yet to openly support the President’s initiative.
“It is untenable to continue providing free kickbacks to the fossil fuel industry in the middle of a climate crisis that they are responsible for fueling,” Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Margaret Wadsworth said. “Senators Henrich and Luján know the importance of transitioning New Mexico’s economy away from fossil fuel dependence. Subsidies offer a dangerous prop to an industry that is not only contributing to global warming and usurping water resources, but also holding New Mexico back from a just recovery.”
The letter laid out why the myriad organizations support a pause on fracking and includes a well documented list of serious public health concerns that include increased risk for cancer and pregnancy complications. New research from Food & Water Watch confirms these heavy costs of fracking, borne disproportionately by frontline communities that are often rural, lower income and/or communities of color. New Mexico is the second-largest oil-producing state in the country and also one of the poorest states in the nation.
“To help the oil and gas industry right now just seems so counter to our values, not only as New Mexicans, but as Americans,” said New Mexico State Representative Andrea Romero D-46. “We are in a very tough position as legislators because it is such a big moneymaker for our state. We definitely need to get out of that and we should certainly not be subsidizing the businesses that continue to harm our communities and our environment. We need to find better ways to spend that money and reinvest into the people of New Mexico and not to the folks that are causing the problems.”
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Organizer Miya King-Flaherty: “Fossil fuel subsidies were designed to lower the costs of production, but they don’t account for the direct impacts to the environment, to public health, and to our air and water quality, and they serve to encourage more development that historically harms marginalized and poor communities of color. This perpetuates the cycle of sacrifice zones. In New Mexico, communities in the Greater Chaco region and the Permian experience public health impacts and other environmental harms directly caused by fossil fuel extraction.”
The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change’s latest report issued a dire warning, indicating the climate is warming faster than initially anticipated and zeroing in on fossil fuel emissions as a primary culprit.
“The oil and gas in the ground on state and federal lands belongs to the ultimate sovereigns: the people,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez D-16. “It does not belong to the corporations who make money by exploiting this resource. Historically, oil and gas were seen as part of the nation’s energy policy with the idea that pursuing oil and gas was what was best for the nation. But we know now that oil and gas drilling and combustion are contributing greatly to climate change. And this is not climate change anymore, but rather a climate crisis.”
“This should not be a difficult position for our Senators to take,” said Raena Garcia, Fossil Fuels and Lands Campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “In fact, they’ve already pledged to repeal fossil fuel subsidies in the past. In 2008, Senator Luján called for repealing Big Oil subsidies in order to pay for investments in renewables. Senator Heinrich also called for ending these subsidies in 2015 and has a similar track record for voting for Big Oil subsidy repeal. We need ambitious climate policy if we are going to achieve a sustainable future. And when we are looking for revenue to invest in our future, these Big Oil handouts should be the first thing on the chopping block.”
Watch the full press conference HERE.
Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]
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.”
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]
Stop Fracked Gas Exports Organizer
New York, NY
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]