Racial And Economic Justice Are Integral To The Fight For Our Climate

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Image above: Ventura County March. Photo by Hannah Benet

by Mark Schlosberg

Water shutoffs in economically challenged areas, power plants in communities of color already overburdened by environmental pollution, a proposed factory farm gas plant in a town already blighted by a superfund site. While climate change and environmental pollution impact everyone in the United States, not all of us are impacted the same way or to the same degree. Across the country, lower wealth communities and Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution, a lack of access to clean water, and the impacts of climate change. 

Food & Water Watch has been fighting against environmental injustices alongside community partners since our inception; the fight continues today. 

Environmental Justice Has Been Woven Into The Fabric of Our Early Work

Food & Water Watch’s earliest campaigns were efforts to stop water privatization and strengthen public water infrastructure across the United States and in the global south. We partnered with local groups by bringing national research and organizing resources to defeat water privatization, which disproportionately threatens lower-income communities, in dozens of cities including Milwaukee, Chicago, and Akron. We also worked with water justice movements internationally to move the United Nations to recognize the human right to water. 

In subsequent years, we continued to support community-led efforts to protect water and local environments from the threat of factory farms, fracking, pipelines, power plants, and other polluting fossil fuel infrastructure. 

We devoted significant resources to these campaigns and in support of our community partners because we believe in the core values of justice for all, economic fairness, and human dignity. But we also understand that to win bold, urgent, and meaningful changes at the federal level to protect our food, water, and climate we must also work to end historic and ongoing discrimination. We must uplift, support, and strengthen a diverse and robust movement for justice. 

To that end, we can sometimes provide legal support or research, like the work we did to expose how Flint residents paid the highest water rates in the country at the height of the water crisis there. And exposing the funders behind the Dakota Access Pipeline as the Indigenous community was organizing opposition at Standing Rock is another example of how our strategic, groundbreaking research made a difference. 

Our On-The-Ground Work With Coalitions And Partners is at The Heart of Our Mission  

Often we are on the ground, working with grassroots environmental justice groups to protect water access and stop dirty energy projects. In doing so, we prioritize building meaningful partnerships and developing smart, strategic campaigns that not only win real improvements in people’s lives but also strengthen our grassroots partners. This approach succeeded in many communities across the country. 

The stories below go deeper into the fights we’ve taken on with partners and coalitions all over the country.

Water Justice In Baltimore

In Baltimore, we’ve worked for more than a decade on issues related to water access and privatization. When Pastor Mark James was threatened with foreclosure on his community’s church, Food & Water Watch partnered with him and other local and state allies in the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to pass legislation that would prevent foreclosures and tax sales for failure to pay water bills. For a city with significant poverty where thousands of people are burdened by unaffordable bills, this was a major victory. Pastor James’ Barnes Memorial Church faced imminent foreclosure, but Food & Water Watch assisted him in finding legal counsel, and together we worked to get the law changed. It was a successful and fruitful partnership that resolved the foreclosure action, but also led to statewide legislation impacting thousands of people. According to Pastor James, “the work that Food & Water Watch does really is a model to be studied…It’s a trend setter to watch how they operate and how they communicate and how they with little means can be so effective.”

The Fight Against Fracked Gas Plants In Oxnard, California

In Ventura County, California, Food & Water Watch has successfully partnered with local allies to stop a polluting fracked gas power plant in the largely Latinx and environmentally over-burdened community of Oxnard. Our partnership with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which began in 2015, resulted in not only the defeat of the power plant, but subsequent wins blocking proposed oil drilling and water privatization. As Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE said, “Working with Food & Water Watch is like working with community. There are two forms of power out there. There’s the power of money and there’s the power of community — the power of organizing…Food & Water watch brings…their state relationships with reporters and organizations and lawyers and resources… [they are] such a vital partner of ours and we’re so happy to be working on these campaigns together throughout the years and throughout our communities, because when we’ve worked together, we’ve had very real success…”

New Jersey Coalition Work Has Been Crucial In Stopping Fracked Gas

In New Jersey, we have worked to build strong coalitions to fight against power plants near Newark and Jersey City. Working closely with the Newark Water Coalition and others from 2019-2020 when we defeated the proposed New Jersey Transit fracked gas power plant in a largely Latinx community in Kearny, New Jersey, that was impacted by several other sources of industrial pollution. Not only was the campaign successful, but the Newark Water Coalition was stronger as a result of the campaign. According to Anthony Diaz, co-founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “the coalition fight against this power plant legitimized Newark Water Coalition on the statewide level, allowed us to have so many connections, and join a world that historically as an activist and organizer I was never part of.”

Factory Farm Fights In Maryland and Delaware

On the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland and part of Delaware, communities are overburdened by the impacts of factory farms – the waste from over 300 million chickens that in some places is so bad that one in four children have asthma as a result. Food & Water Watch is partnering with groups to stop a massive factory farm gas facility in Delaware that would drive further expansion of factory farms and have significant local impacts in a lower income largely Latinx community that is already burdened by a superfund site. Maria Payan, co-founder of Sussex Health and Environmental Network is glad to have Food & Water Watch in the fight because “when Food & Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in communities. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something, and go on their own and do it.”

Building strong community partnerships to advance environmental justice doesn’t happen by accident. It flows from our organizational values, intentional interaction with partners, listening, supporting, and showing up. Working to build the power needed to win campaigns against powerful adversaries isn’t easy, but we know that to win at the local, state, or national level, we need to center justice, work to strengthen local organizations, and build powerful diverse coalitions. 

Local, Grassroots Work Is Integral To State And National Campaigns

These partnerships lead to winning campaigns, but they have also helped advance state and national efforts. Championing water access in Baltimore was critical to advancing state legislation and supports the call for national water legislation, which we are pursuing through the WATER Act. Fighting power plants in Ventura and New Jersey supports broader statewide efforts to get two key Democratic Governors to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the national campaign to ban fracking everywhere. Working to stop a major factory farm gas facility in Delaware and factory farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland help elevate the need to ban factory farms at the national level through the Farm System Reform Act and for President Biden to reject factory farm gas as part of our national energy program – especially important as his home state is Delaware. 

Ultimately, Food & Water Watch wants to help drive systemic changes that will lead to economic, environmental, and racial justice. That means building power so that we can hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make and push them to advance the bold change we need.  

To win real improvements in people’s lives and build the kind of society we want, we must engage in districts where there are key members of Congress and places that will be important to move our elected officials. We’re not a large organization. That means we have to be strategic about where we engage to make the most progress in stopping destructive measures and passing the legislation that will create the country we want. 

At a time of great racial and economic inequality, we reaffirm our values and continue to strive to improve how Food & Water Watch works alongside and in support of our allies. One thing we are certain of is this: to win long term and meaningful solutions to our food, water, and climate challenges, we must continue to support communities that have borne the brunt of environmental pollution and continue to build meaningful and lasting partnerships, so we can be more powerful together and win the fundamental changes that are so badly needed. 

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Water Problems Add To Widespread Environmental Injustice. Two Major Bills Could Change That.

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Clean Water

by Rianna Eckel

Two landmark pieces of legislation could change our future. The Biden administration’s next big move is passing the American Jobs Plan, his proposal to repair our crumbling infrastructure — from bridges, roads, and public transportation to our underground water pipes and treatment systems. It is an actual plan to put real federal dollars — not fake privatization schemes — into the systems critical to society. This is a chance to stop our growing water crisis, and to finally treat water as what it is: a basic necessity and human right. 

Additionally, we’ve been pushing to fully fund our water systems for nearly a decade by working to pass the WATER Act (S916 / HR 1352), sponsored this Congress by Representatives Brenda Lawrence and Ro Khanna, and Senator Bernie Sanders. The WATER Act has been cosponsored by over 80 Members of Congress, and endorsed by more than 550 organizations who share the same vision: universal access to safe, affordable, public drinking water. 

Congress will be considering the President’s plan over the coming months, and it’s crucial that we win big for water justice. These negotiations are a huge opportunity to create a real change in our dysfunctional water system. 

Here’s what’s in the preliminary outline of the American Jobs Plan and the WATER Act.

How The Funding Compares For The American Jobs Plan And the WATER Act

American Jobs Plan — $13.9 billion annually

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes $111 billion for our water systems over 8 years, which breaks down to roughly $13.9 billion each year. This is a big increase over the roughly $2 billion a year our water and wastewater systems currently receive — and a huge boost over the $6 billion from the Obama administration’s stimulus after the Great Recession — but it’s just not enough by itself. 

The WATER Act — $35 billion annually

The EPA has said that to comply with existing federal water standards, we must invest more than $35 billion annually in our water and wastewater systems. That’s why the WATER Act would appropriate $35 billion/year in permanent, self-sustaining funding through a water trust fund. We’ll need Congress to increase the total funding to meet the country’s needs, and dedicate permanent funding to a trust fund so that our water isn’t a bargaining chip during annual funding battles. 

Both the American Jobs Plan and the WATER Act recognize that our water systems need real federal money. Both plans would make big corporations pay their fair share to improve public infrastructure. 

Funding Priorities For Minority And Disadvantaged Communities

Black, brown and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately harmed by our water crisis. The money must first go to the communities that need it most. 

The American Jobs Plan would provide $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities across the country. President Biden has also promised at least 40 percent of the benefits of the investments will reach disadvantaged communities. 

The WATER Act would require that at least half of funding would be dedicated to disadvantaged communities, dedicates 3 percent of funding as grants to Indigenous Nations, and provides funding for technical assistance to help rural small municipalities and Indigenous communities improve their water and wastewater systems. It would also dramatically expand funding to upgrade and install rural household drinking water wells. 

The WATER Act would also require the EPA to produce guidance on water affordability programs, and to coordinate a study about water affordability, civil rights violations by water and sewer providers, water shutoffs, and more.

Both proposals get much needed money to impacted communities, but the WATER Act would provide a bigger pool of funding. We cannot allow our water and wastewater systems to perpetuate environmental racism, and must have enough funding to go around. Congress must require the federal government to act so no communities face an undue burden in the future. 

Dedicating Funding Specifically For Lead and PFAS Contamination

Too many people don’t have tap water they can actually drink. Pollutants like lead or PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are extremely harmful to our health. This infrastructure package must remediate them now. 

President Biden’s plan makes a bold environmental justice commitment to eliminate all lead service lines going into homes, investing $45 billion in grants for impacted communities. This comes close to what the American Water Works Association estimates it will cost to eradicate these toxic pipes — the main source of lead-in-water poisoning. 

The American Jobs Plan would also provide $10 billion in funding to monitor and address PFAS in drinking water, and invest in rural small water systems and household wells. 

The WATER Act would guarantee that money from the total funding level could be used to provide grants to utilities and private properties to replace homeowners’ at-risk service lines. It also expands a grant program to replace all lead piping and plumbing in public schools, dedicating $1.1 billion a year to schools. 

The WATER Act would also provide safe alternatives when community water systems or household water wells are contaminated with PFAS.

Both the WATER Act and American Jobs Plan have funding for expansive lead remediation and address PFAS — a non-negotiable priority.

Keeping Water Corporations From Raiding Federal Funding

Private corporations should not be able to profiteer off of a basic necessity. Water privatization generally leaves customers with higher bills (59% higher on average), declining water quality, and worse service — in the name of profit. 

The WATER Act is the only explicitly pro-public water funding proposal. It would limit funding eligibility to publicly owned water systems and small, locally owned private systems. It allows communities to use funds to buy their water systems and exit water privatization contracts.

It’s critical for Congress to keep water under community control by blocking water companies’ access to federal funds. 

American Jobs Plan And WATER Act Are Great For Workers’ Rights And Jobs

Investing in our infrastructure will create jobs. According to the Clean Water Council, every $1 billion in water infrastructure investment creates an estimated 20,003 to 26,669 jobs and can have far-reaching benefits, tripling in size with total demand for goods and services estimated at $2.87 to $3.46 billion.

Biden’s proposal has incredibly strong provisions to support workers. Importantly, it includes the PRO Act, which would require that employers follow strong labor standards and remain neutral when their employees seek to form a union. It also includes provisions to promote local hiring, create more apprenticeship and training opportunities, and provide $10 billion for workplace safety enforcement. 

The WATER Act will create up to 1 million good, reliable jobs across the country. The WATER Act’s worker protections are tied specifically to projects funded by the legislation, encourage the use of union labor, require that the prevailing wage law be applied, and mandate the use of U.S.-made iron and steel on water system projects. 

Congress should protect the labor provisions in the final infrastructure bill, and include the passage of the PRO Act. We must create good union jobs while fixing our water crisis. 

Our Leaders Must Protect Our Water Access While Planning For Infrastructure 

Over the next few months we’ll be organizing to pressure Congress to pass a strong infrastructure plan that prioritizes water at the level our communities need. In this moment of crisis, we cannot just return to the way things were, but truly create the future we want — where every person has access to safe, affordable public water. 

The convergence of the pandemic and climate change has only deepened the harm that communities face. We can’t wait any longer. Water is not a luxury; it is something that we all need to live. 

Sign on to show your support for the WATER Act!

Systemic Racism and Violence Are No Accident

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In the wake of the murder of Daunte Wright, people across the country have once again come together to stand against systemic racism and institutionalized murder. The continued tide of institutional violence is no “accident” – it never has been. It’s the direct result of massive, long-standing systemic failure. 

All people of conscience must continue to state loudly and unequivocally: Black lives matter. We stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement and against racism and violence. We stand for the right of people to peacefully organize and protest. We demand justice – as much as justice can be truly achieved – for Daunte Wright and all people of color who have been brutalized and murdered. 

We also continue to demand justice for communities of color across the United States that have been subject to institutionalized inequality that has come in so many forms, from the effects of militarized policing, the disproportionate burden of pollution from the oil and gas industry and corporate agriculture, to the effects of climate change which are magnified in communities of color. 

At Food & Water Watch, we focus our work where we know we can make a real-world difference. We fight for clean water, safe food and a livable climate. But more than that, we work to help people across the country to organize to reclaim power. We know that our democracy and institutions have been corrupted and compromised by powerful corporations who control the levers of government power. At our core, we fight for justice for all, human dignity and economic fairness.

People across the country are standing up and we stand with them. To create a safe, just and equitable future, we must stand up for the dignity of Black and Brown people now.

The Turning Point: Fighting to End A Corrupt and Racist System

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Climate and Energy

In the wake of the government lynching of George Floyd, people across the country have been lifting their voices against systemic racism and institutionalized murder. And instead of standing up as a leader, Trump has continued to tweet racist and inflammatory slogans, inciting the same torch-bearing racists he championed in Charlottesville; they’re now infiltrating peaceful protests across the country to bring violence and chaos.  

Make no mistake: Trump and his enablers are using all the tools at their disposal to silence the voices calling for an end to systemic racism and inequity. What we are seeing everywhere is the direct result of a massive and long-standing systemic failure. So-called leaders in Washington and in state capitals across the country have delayed, deferred and obstructed the real, structural change we know at our core is needed. 

Black lives matter. We stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement and against racism and violence. We stand for the right of people to peacefully organize and protest. We demand justice for George Floyd and all people of color who have been brutalized and murdered. 

We echo the demands of the Black Lives Matter Movement for real transformation of a fundamentally corrupt and unjust system, “transformation that will hold law enforcement accountable for the violence they inflict, transformation of this racist system that breeds corruption, and transformation that ensures our people are not left behind.”

We demand justice for communities of color across the United States that have been subject to institutionalized inequality that has come in so many forms. Militarized police forces are unleashed on communities of color. The racial inequities that have historically burdened black and brown communities are allowing COVID-19 to sicken and kill black and brown people in wildly disproportionate numbers; the devastating economic impact of the mismanaged pandemic has been felt most strongly in communities of color. And the effects of climate change are magnified in communities of color, where corporations are polluting with impunity because they think no one cares.

At Food & Water Watch we focus our work where we know we can make a real-world difference. We fight for clean water, safe food and a livable climate. But more than that, we work with people across the country to help them organize to reclaim power. We fight for the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of people to speak, to assemble and to petition their government for the redress of grievances. 

Supporters of Food & Water Watch know that at our core, we fight for justice for all, human dignity and economic fairness. We know that our democracy and institutions have been corrupted and compromised by powerful corporations who control the levers of government power.

People across the country are standing up and we’re standing with them. Together, we’re making it clear: enough is enough. To create a safe, just and equitable future, we must stand up for the dignity of black and brown people now.

We stand with communities everywhere in demanding a new set of priorities. Instead of funding weapons of war, we should rebuild and invest in our communities, especially black and brown communities that have been systematically brutalized. Instead of further militarizing the police, we should prosecute those who would murder in the name of the law. Instead of giving a free hand to corporations, we should adopt just policies that will create true justice and equity. 

Organizing, mobilizing, reclaiming power – these are the tools we use to help people across the county fight not only climate change, but institutionalized inequality, oppression and violence. This is what Trump and those who helped build a racist and inequitable system fear most. We will not be silenced.