What to Make of Joe Manchin’s Climate Deal

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart

After months of near-misses and false starts, Senate Democratic leaders have announced a compromise spending package. If passed, the package would become the most significant investment in climate and energy spending in decades — totaling $369 billion over ten years. 

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was tailored to the liking of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a coal millionaire who has made no secret of his preference for propping up the fossil fuel industry. The deal — which still has several legislative hurdles — is essentially a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better Act. That version called for $555 billion in climate and energy spending when it was passed in the House. This bill provides much-needed support for clean energy, that much is true. But it comes with many concessions that advance fossil fuel interests and lock in a dangerous climate future.

The IRA Is A Mixed Deal For The Climate

When it comes to climate action, much of the IRA is geared towards wind and solar credits. These credits would bolster private investment in renewables and clean energy manufacturing. The IRA would also increase the tax rebates associated with purchasing an electric vehicle. On the flip side, there are serious questions about whether the credits would actually apply to most car purchases. There are also funds for home energy improvements and environmental justice spending. However, advocates have criticized those provisions for falling well short of the White House’s own goals. 

There are also some highly unappealing provisions — including billions dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). CCS is the dirty energy industry’s favorite false climate “solution.” There are also substantial investments in fossil-based hydrogen, though studies show little to no climate benefit over fossil fuels. Such policies would subsidize ineffective technologies that prolong the life of the fossil fuel industry.

The legislation also devotes billions to a “methane fee.” This fee would penalize companies that leak the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere from wells, pipelines and other infrastructure. These leaks are not even currently measured or adequately monitored, so it remains unclear how this approach would work. As written, it amounts to a subsidy for fossil fuel companies, in hopes that the penalty would lessen pollution. 

Several Dirty Energy Devils Lurking in the IRA’s Details

This legislation will increase fossil fuel development in several ways. It bizarrely requires the federal government to reinstate a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. That sale was blocked by a federal judge in January. 

The deal also features a dirty-for-clean public lands tradeoff. If the federal government wants to approve any new wind or solar projects on public lands or waters, it would first have to offer millions of acres of public land for oil and gas leases. 

The IRA reinforces the deluded idea that we can secure real climate victories by both ramping up clean energy and continuing to approve new fossil fuel projects. The last decade of energy development in the United States shows that clean energy doesn’t displace fossil fuels on its own. In fact, we have grown both at the same time. Continuing this dual-track is dangerous — it fools people that progress is happening when fossil fuels are still endangering our future. 

What’s worse, to secure Manchin’s IRA support, the Senate must consider a separate measure to expedite energy infrastructure permitting. While this could help build badly needed transmission infrastructure for renewables, we can expect Manchin and Republican lawmakers to craft something primarily benefiting fossil fuel facilities and projects. Additionally, Manchin has strong-armed cooperation from Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to finish the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

This kind of so-called ‘permitting reform’ has been a priority for the fossil fuel industry. That could explain why some dirty energy CEOs appear mostly pleased with the overall package.

Will The Inflation Reduction Act’s Climate Provisions Work?

Obviously, the goal of any climate plan is to reduce climate pollution. IRA proponents argue it will work, citing models that predict a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2030. However, there are several massive caveats. First, it’s not a 40% reduction in climate pollution; it’s from the emissions recorded at a high point in 2005. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s calculations, net emissions have already declined 21% between 2005 and 2020.

Indeed, the models that show a range of 31 to 44% reductions through the IRA also forecast that we would reduce emissions between 24 and 35% without passing any new climate policies. Moreover, the assumptions behind these models remain unclear. For instance, to what extent do they rely on carbon capture’s promised results despite decades of failures? Are they underestimating the impact on pollution from fracking on public lands? 

The IRA is the product of painful compromise. It does not mandate emissions reductions. And it fails to threaten corporate polluters with heavy fines for poisoning communities and threatening the stability of our climate.

If it passes, we will keep pushing for stronger measures to secure a livable future and protect our planet. The type of bold, robust climate action that we need at all levels of government must aim higher. We can — and must — do more.

Help your friends make sense of this issue.

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Tarah Heinzen

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

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

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

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

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

2. Continue Taking The Fossil Fuel Industry To Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Vote Like We Live Here

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

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

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

Against All Odds: A Benefit to Protect Our Planet

Categories

Climate and Energy

On September 29, Food & Water Watch will host our first-ever hybrid annual benefit.

Corporations may have the money, but we have the power of people on our side. We’ve proven that against all odds, when we work together, we can win our fights for safe food, clean water and a livable climate for all!

Register today to join us for Against All Odds on September 29 to celebrate the progress we’ve made and mobilize for the future alongside hundreds of activists.

About the Event

Against All Odds is a hybrid event. You can choose to join us virtually for a live-streamed program, or you can join us in person in New York City for a reception with fellow activists. The event — whether virtual or in person — will feature stories of impact, calls to action, as well as a special recognition for our Honorees. Guest speakers will be announced soon! 

Virtual Program

Thursday, September 29, 2022 | 8-9 pm ET (5-6pm PT)
All registrants will receive an access link to join. 

New York City Reception

Thursday, September 29, 2022 | 7-9 pm ET
The Century Association – food, drinks and celebration on the terrace!
7 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036


The program will feature:

Elisa Gambino

Elisa Gambino is a journalist and filmmaker who spent her early career chronicling world events for CNN, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the wars in Bosnia and conflict in Somalia. Her work in Somalia was recognized with a News and Documentary Emmy Award. Since founding One Production Place in 2001, Elisa has directed award-winning shorts that examine health equity, climate change, and racial justice. In 2020, Elisa was an executive producer for A Love Song for Latasha which was nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Short category. She also directed Welcome to Pine Lake in 2020 and Wasteland in 2022, which draws important links between factory farms, our waste and the human right to clean water and sanitation.

Bill Gee and Sue Crothers

Bill Gee and Sue Crothers are lifelong environmental activists. Together, they built one of the first sustainably designed homes in Illinois and founded the Manaaki Foundation, which supports environmental and social justice causes. Sue is a founding member of the One Earth Film Festival and Director of the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest. Bill, as former co-owner of a commercial bakery (and a beekeeper!), is passionate about building a sustainable food system and is a member of Food & Water Watch’s Advisory Council.


Annual Benefit: Against All Odds

Ticket Information

Join us virtually from the comfort of your home, or join us in New York City for a reception. Whichever you choose, we invite you to celebrate the progress we’ve made together for safe food, clean water and a livable climate for all. 

View ticket and sponsorship options for each below. Each level comes with unique perks!

| Join Us Virtually

Tickets


ALLY | $50 (fully tax-deductible)
Details
  • Link to join virtual event live on September 29, 2022
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

DEFENDER | $150 ($125 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Ally benefits, plus:
  • A special Food & Water Watch branded t-shirt 
  • Access to a special pre-event virtual reception to celebrate with fellow guests 
  • Listing on event materials.

ACTIVIST | $500 ($465 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Defender benefits, plus:
  • A branded protest sign to customize for your next rally.

Sponsorships


COMMITTEE | $1,000 ($930 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Listing on event materials 
  • A hand-picked bottle of wine and a Food & Water Watch branded t-shirt shipped to you for the event
  • Access to a special pre-event virtual reception to celebrate with fellow guests 
  • Champions Circle Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates and invites to events.
  • Helps fund organizing software tools.

CHAIR | $2,500 ($2,430 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Committee benefits, plus: 
  • Special access link for you to share with family and friends
  • Leaders Circle Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates, invites to events, access to leadership, and a copy of the Book of the Year 
  • Helps fund training for new Food & Water Volunteer Network volunteers.

BENEFACTOR | $5,000 ($4,930 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Chair benefits, plus:
  • Special recognition during the event
  • Helps fund organizing materials for rallies, canvassing and trainings.

LEAD SPONSOR | $10,000 ($9,930 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Benefactor benefits, plus:
  • Opportunity to introduce a guest speaker at the event
  • Helps fund cutting-edge research on food, water and climate issues. 

| Join Us in New York City

All tickets include food and drinks at the reception on the Century Association terrace.

Tickets


DEFENDER – 1 ticket to in-person event | $150 ($70 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

CAMPAIGNER – 1 ticket to in-person event | $250 ($170 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

ACTIVIST – 2 tickets to in-person event | $500 ($340 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

Sponsorships


COMMITTEE – 2 tickets to in-person event | $1,000 ($840 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Champions Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates and invites to events
  • Listing on event materials 
  • Helps fund organizing software tools.

CHAIR – 2 tickets to in-person event | $2,500 ($2,340 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Committee benefits, plus:
  • Leaders Circle Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates, invites to events, access to leadership, and a copy of the Book of the Year 
  • Helps fund training for new Food & Water Volunteer Network volunteers.

BENEFACTOR – 4 tickets to in-person event | $5,000 ($4,680 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Chair benefits, plus: 
  • Reserved high top table for reception and seating for formal program
  • Special recognition during the event
  • Helps fund organizing materials for rallies, canvassing and trainings.

LEAD SPONSOR – 6 tickets to in-person event | $10,000 ($9,480 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Benefactor benefits, plus: 
  • Celebratory bottle of wine for you and your guests
  • Opportunity to introduce a guest speaker at the event or make welcome remarks to kick off the night! 
  • Helps fund cutting-edge research on food, water and climate issues.

Highlights from our 2021 Virtual Conference & Benefit

We enjoyed an incredible day of learning and community building with 12 sessions and hands-on trainings, incredible speakers like our keynote Amy Goodman and special guests like Mark Ruffalo, Ed Begley, Jr., members of Congress and more! Watch last year’s highlights, and register today to join us on September 29! 


Become a Sponsor

Food & Water Watch doesn’t take corporate donations, so all our work is made possible by the generous support of individuals like you. By sponsoring the event, you’re providing funding to enhance our organizers’ ability to mobilize at the local, state and national level to stop fossil fuel projects, keep water sources clean and accessible to the public, shut down factory farms — and fight for legislation that will protect our food, water and climate.

Emily Robinson Turns Our Plastic Garbage Into Stunning Visual Essays

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Angie Aker

Many of us have spent time at the beach in recent years. If you have, it’s nearly impossible to miss a glaring symptom of humanity’s manufacturing problem — plastic. Plastic of every imaginable kind washes onto the shorelines of our world. It comes tangled in seaweed, punctuating the driftwood, and even hiding in the stomachs of decaying ocean life. Smooth or jagged, colorful or not, its presence has become an emblem of humanity’s war with the natural world. The species is pitted against nature’s innate sustainability, certain that man can triumph in the pursuit of capital and comfort. Those of us not so foolish see that folly in the plastic along the beaches. We also face our own feelings about the hugeness of the problem and our sense of powerlessness to fix it. 

This is something like what Emily Robinson was feeling during her daily beach strolls. She’s a Hollywood, Florida artist and mother with a background in journalism. She’s been a documentarian about difficult topics, including her beautiful work on loving family members with mental illnesses. That’s how I first met her many years ago. 

Recently, I noticed she was sharing fascinating beach finds almost daily. Over time, these beach finds started morphing into curations of beach plastic. Her local news even featured her in a compelling video interview. Since we at Food & Water Watch fight to disrupt the literal pipeline of fossil fuels to plastic, I was hooked. Emily kindly gave me a peek at her process for the series she calls “Peace of Plastic” and what she aims to say with it. Her observations are profound and essential.

“The joy of life is boiled down to having the most fundamental needs met. As we harm the planet, we harm ourselves. And as always, the most marginalized will always suffer first, and the most.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Plastic Pollution At Her Feet, Social Commentary In Her Hands

I asked Emily how this journey began for her. 

She said that at first she was a casual beachcomber looking for little natural treasures — shells, seaglass, driftwood. But as her eyes scanned the sand for these, she couldn’t help but notice everything that was there. Suddenly she had an epiphany. As she bypassed a chip bag to scoop up a more desirable find, she got “grossed out.” Not at the trash — at herself. She thought about how she was taking all the beautiful things the Earth gave, and leaving behind all of the ugliness that humans had contributed. Her initial shame gave way to a new mission, and she was inspired. 

“I literally began bringing home my garbage finds, then laying them out carefully on my patio table by color. I did this compulsively as another way of telling a story.

…My process was really simple. I was thinking ‘Holy shit! LOOK at all this stuff!’”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

The Big Problem That Plastic Pollution Signifies

Emily says trash, pollution, and climate change have always been upsetting to her. But she says recently she’s begun witnessing local, tangible changes that make it starker.  She notes the sargassum seaweed blooms, mainly in the summer months, becoming larger and larger. Tucked into the mounds of rotting seaweed are masses and masses of plastic debris. She says it’s like a giant floating landfill arrives. 

“Last year for many weeks the seaweed was filled with probably billions of tiny bits of shredded clear plastic. Once it’s in the water, it’s nearly invisible because its so tiny and clear. Like most people who become ‘woke’ to an issue suddenly, I think I felt really depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and a little hopeless and helpless, too. It’s like waking up to seeing the world being destroyed all around you, and looking around to find most people are still metaphorically ‘sleeping’ and you cannot wake them up to be in the same headspace as you are.”

MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

An Artist’s Compulsion To Create Order From Society’s Chaos

​​Emily Robinson didn’t set out to intentionally make art from her oceanfront scavenging. But the storyteller within her couldn’t be at peace until she took her finds and began composing them in order to say something about our society’s problem with plastic.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents
MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

“At my core, I am a storyteller. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, professional documentary-style birth and family photographer, and done a lot of other activism/advocacy projects in my life. This environmental tragedy unfolding at my feet at the shoreline feels too big and complicated to explain with words or videos or more traditional journalistic approaches.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.
MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

“Once we visually examine our garbage in a more curated way, it becomes more inviting to look at and allows us to linger there longer, too. Looking at a pile of gross garbage on the sand is sad, but it’s not that interesting anymore, you know? But laying out every single bit of that pile into something that’s carefully arranged tells a better story, I think.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Who Do We Hold Responsible For The Pollution Harming Our Planet?

When I ask her about who’s to blame for this pollution, her answer is both big picture and targeted. 

“We are trained to think material wealth is synonymous with success, and that idea is perpetuated by a system that thrives on selling stuff and making money as its primary function. That’s the Too Big answer. 

We all want and have too much stuff. 

We are all too afraid to NOT have a lot of stuff because then we are perceived as ‘not successful.’

Practically speaking though, the ones most responsible right now for making it all worse are giant corporations and political leaders who are corrupted by the intertwined greed and power of their relationships with those businesses. The more our leaders continue to allow giant pollution-causing corporations to destroy our planet, the more we can all expect to suffer as climate change disrupts our food, water, air quality, ability to afford to live, and expectations to live free of armed conflict.

How Do We Fix The Pressing Pollution And Climate Change Problems We Face?

Emily suggests we urgently need a hero — several, in fact — in order to fix this. 

“People are moved to action and change by brave and bold people who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power in big ways. We need people who can speak eloquently and passionately into microphones and megaphones and command rooms and bring people to tears and put them off their iPhones and into the streets. 

We need a handful of heroes and an actual revolution of sorts to shut this mess down immediately. It’s that urgent, I believe.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

What Emily Robinson Hopes Her Plastic Pollution Art Will Leave You With

Ultimately, what Emily impresses on me is that none of us can fix this alone. Community holds power, and community is what will lead us into a more sustainable paradigm. 

“Once I began to understand and have more compassion and forgiveness for my own ignorance and destructive behaviors, I also realized that I am a victim, too, of a system much larger than myself. 

I alone did not do all this, and I alone cannot undo all this. 

It’s important to begin with compassion first before justice will ever be possible. If we have not forgiven ourselves, we will continue to be obstinate and react emotionally or defensively to problems instead of heading into them with logic and determination. 

If we feel shame from within or hatred toward our fellow humans, how can we expect to care enough to make changes toward alleviating suffering? Ultimately, loving the planet and caring about nature and our environment is an act of compassion and love for ourselves. Right now, we all continue to suffer energetically, spiritually and tangibly, during this era of ‘planetary self-harm.’”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Emily Robinson punctuates this interview with the most important thing of all — hope. She hopes we will be able to make enough changes quickly enough to head toward an era of harmony and peacefulness instead. I share her hope, and ideally you do, too.

Share some hope with your friends.

Scientists To Biden: Don’t Ramp Up Fossil Fuels

Categories

Climate and Energy

By Mark Schlosberg

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

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

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

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

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

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterre

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Nations Secretary-General Guterres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fracking Execs See The Ukraine Crisis As An Oil And Gas Goldmine

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart and Mark Schlosberg

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been seized as an opportunity by fossil fuel investors. While consumers get hammered by high gas prices and spiking energy costs, top fracking executives’ wealth soars. Since January, the value of shares currently held by CEOs of eight leading fossil fuel companies has increased by nearly $100 million.

An analysis of leading fossil fuel interests shows executives are profiting from the crisis. While carnage happens in Ukraine, these predators are taking advantage of global price increases that have sent company stocks soaring. They include: 

  • Fracking and LNG companies Cheniere, EQT, EOG Resources
  • Pipeline giants Kinder Morgan and Enbridge
  • And industry powerhouses Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil

Fossil Fuel Titans Are In A Mad Dash To Profit From Soaring Gas Prices

The value of Cheniere CEO Jack Fusco’s company stock is up $25 million from January to March 10th. ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods’ stock holdings have increased by $25 million over the same period. The value of Kinder Morgan CEO Steven Kean’s stock has jumped nearly $15 million. Some of these corporate leaders have sold shares to cash in on the crisis. ConocoPhillips’ Ryan Lance sold shares for $23 million in mid-February, while Chevron’s Michael Wirth sold $14 million in stock by late February.

The companies are finding other ways to consolidate wealth in response to this crisis, too.

Eight big fracked gas and export companies announced stock buybacks and repurchase authorizations in the last year totaling over $25 billion. That amassed wealth is equivalent to filling up 500,000,000 gas tanks with 10 gallons of gas at $5 a gallon. It’s also enough to heat the homes of over 33 million people for the winter (assuming a $750 gas bill).

Fossil Fuel Interests Use PR Spin To Peddle LNG As a  ‘Solution’

The invasion of Ukraine helps fossil fuel interests promote an even greater expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Theoretically, this is to replace Russian gas in Europe. EQT, the largest US gas company, launched a brazen PR campaign. Its plan is titled “Unleashing U.S. LNG: The Largest Green Initiative on the Planet.” They’ve cooked up talking points to sell LNG as a security measure against the climate crisis they’ve helped cause:

[LNG is] ”one of the world’s largest weapons to combat climate change…. it would allow us to provide energy security to our allies while weakening the energy dominance of our adversaries.” — EQT CEO Toby Rice

The truth is LNG transportation and export has significant environmental, public health, and safety impacts. Further taking into account the life cycle including leaks, fracked gas can be as bad or worse for the climate than coal, especially in the short term. 

The Push For LNG Expansion Is A Bid To Lock In Decades Of Fossil Fuel Dependence

The United States is already the top exporter of fracked gas in the world, and companies are planning to expand their U.S. fracking operations. As Chevron CEO Colin Parfit said recently about the company’s Permian drilling projects:

“Essentially the U.S. isn’t big enough to absorb it all, so essentially you need to create export alternatives for all of it.”

While the industry and White House officials push to increase drilling, that will have no impact on current prices. It also overlooks the fact that Wall Street investors have been pushing drillers to slow production to increase profits. This campaign to promote LNG in response to Ukraine is a cynical calculation by the dominant players in the industry. They intend it to lock in long-term contracts that would create decades of additional fossil fuel dependence.

They say so themselves, often most clearly when speaking to investors. 

As Jack Fusco, CEO of LNG company Cheniere, put it: “If anything, these high prices, the volatility drive even more energy security and long-term contracting. So I would say that the fact that there’s a scarcity of LNG these days is driving more and more conversation on how to increase our infrastructure and secure monthly contracts for our European customers.” He added that “the market continues to get healthier, but it’s extremely volatile. And you should expect us to be opportunistic out there.” 

Ezra Yacob, CEO of EOG remarked, “the U.S. has discovered a very vast supply of natural gas and it’s important that we get that gas offshore and into the global market for some of the reasons that you talked about now, not only geopolitical, but just developing nations.” 

It’s An Aggressive Move From Fossil Fuel Companies As Climate Change Jeopardizes Their Prospects

Oil and gas companies are positioning themselves for decades of continued fossil fuel growth because they perceive a threat. The science clearly shows we need to rapidly move off fossil fuels and towards a renewable energy future. 

Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco told investors that increasing exports ”is what’s behind our crude and LNG export strategy. So before the crisis, our view was that conventional energy will grow at least through 2035 and what’s happening today just reinforces that view.“  

Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said similar, based on fossil fuel execs’ favorite lie about renewable energy: “Particularly as you see more wind and solar, you need some sort of reliable generation capacity to deal with the intermittency that we’re going to see increasingly….I think there’s a good future for natural gas.”

The long-term damage of expanding fossil fuel extraction, however, is something they think can wait for another day. Charif Souki, the chair of LNG company Tellurian put it, “Since the consequences of climate are going to be 30 or 40 years down the road, people are going to focus a lot more on what is happening now….We can come back to climate.” 

They couldn’t be more wrong. The consequences of climate change — which they’ve helped drive — are all around us now. Letting them capitalize on international conflict to secure their profits will only perpetuate their damage. 

Send a note urging your Congressperson to support the Big Oil Windfalls Profits Act!

Chickahominy Announces Termination of Controversial VA Fracked Gas Plant and Pipeline

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Yesterday, Chickahominy Power LLC announced the termination of its controversial fracked gas power plant and accompanying pipeline. The fracked gas plant was proposed for Charles City County, and the pipeline would have crossed five Virginia counties. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar issued the following statement:

“The Chickahominy pipeline and fracked gas plant were completely unnecessary and totally unwelcome from the start. We celebrate the years of efforts by grassroots activists in Charles City County and across the state in achieving this momentous victory.

“The writing was on the wall for the Chickahominy fracked gas plant. Fossil fuels have no place in our energy future, both here in Virginia and across the country.

“As we continue the fight to defeat the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline and additional proposed pipeline modification proposals in Virginia, we gain strength and momentum from the termination of this controversial dirty fossil fuel project.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Averting Climate Catastrophe: Fossil Fuels Must End While Renewables Take Over

REPORT - March 2022

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: We Must Stop Pretending Renewables Will Automatically Displace Fossil Fuels
    • Only curbing fossil fuels will let renewables deliver on their potential.
  • 2: Renewables and Fossil Fuels Have Grown Together
    • Renewable energy is not a silver bullet for eliminating fossil fuels.
  • 3: Emphasizing Renewables Alone Will Not Displace Fracking
    • Waning consumer demand for fracked gas means frackers turn to exports, industrial uses.
  • 4: Corporations and Democrats Continue Trump’s Energy Agenda
    • The “all of the above” approach prevents us from curbing the climate crisis.
  • 5: Cozy State Regulators Will Not Choose Renewables Over Fossil Fuels Unless They Have To
    • Loopholes help fossil fuels compete against renewables.
  • 6: Leaders Must Directly Confront Fossil Fuel Production and Use
    • Supply-side energy policy is crucial for our future.

Part 1:

We Must Stop Pretending Renewables Will Automatically Displace Fossil Fuels

Only curbing fossil fuels will let renewables deliver on their potential.

Leaders of the United States are at a make-or-break crossroads. As the climate rapidly deteriorates and the impacts multiply from climate-amplified disasters — such as fires, drought, hurricanes and floods — we have a waning chance to avert the worst-case scenarios of climate chaos. It will require bold action and directly taking on the fossil fuel industry.

The science behind climate change is undeniable, and with each passing day more policy makers agree that action is required. The only real debate that remains is how to address this challenge.

There is a growing consensus that we must drastically increase the production of renewable energy, and policy makers — including President Biden — have embraced broad goals for a large percentage of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030.1 However, these goals will fall short in addressing the climate emergency if increases in renewable energy are not coupled with immediate action to curb the production and use of fossil fuels.2

Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Changes Our Future

The climate policies we enact by 2030 affect how much our climate warms by 2100.

Source: Graphic based on projections for warming over pre-industrial levels, from OurWorldInData.org.

The policy decisions of the past decade drove a boom in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), resulting in a massive buildout of fracked gas power plants, pipelines and petrochemical facilities. Fossil fuel corporations plan to build even more. Natural gas currently accounts for more than three times as much electricity production as renewable energy.3 Alarmingly, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the United States will consume more fracked gas in 2050 than 2020.4 This is a recipe for disaster.

We do not have a decade or even a few years to test the idea that simply by building up renewable energy, the market will phase out the production of fossil fuels. History shows that even when renewable energy has increased, it has not significantly impacted fossil fuel production. For example, only 34 percent of the fracked gas is burned to produce electricity — meaning that most fracked gas is not even supporting our electric grid.5 To address our climate crisis, we need to thwart climate change’s main driver: fossil fuels.

President Biden and many elected leaders use catchy soundbites about moving off of fossil fuels, but the policies that they embrace (including false solutions such as carbon capture, “blue” hydrogen and offsets) will lock us in to dependence on fossil fuels for decades. Despite Biden’s promises to tackle climate change, and the iron-clad science that says we must stop approving new fossil projects, the administration has greenlit even more of them.6

Hundreds of leading scientists stated in an October 2021 letter to President Biden that “the reality of our situation is now so dire that only a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel extraction and combustion can fend off the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”7 Their urgency was mirrored in the 2021 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Following the report’s release, the UN Secretary-General said:

“This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021…. Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.”8

We still have time to fix our future, but the hour is getting late. We are already experiencing significant climate impacts, but we can and must act now to avoid truly catastrophic consequences. We are at a crossroads that will either haunt our future or redeem it. Policy makers can keep catering to the fossil fuel industry and condemn us to runaway climate chaos, or we can boldly reverse course, act for the benefit of humanity and take the necessary steps to end fossil fuels. As a society, the choice is ours.

Part 2:

Renewables and Fossil Fuels Have Grown Together

Renewable energy is not a silver bullet for eliminating fossil fuels.

Renewable Energy Is Ready to Take Center Stage

The need for urgent climate action becomes more pressing daily, and fortunately renewable energy options are cheaper than ever. Across their lifetimes, solar and wind energy projects cost $36.50 and $40 per megawatt-hour, respectively, in 2020, down from $248 and $123.50 per megawatt hour just over a decade earlier.9 These levelized costs are far cheaper than generating electricity from new nuclear or coal power plants and are often cheaper than natural gas plants.10 Over the past decade, cost reductions and public policy have more than quadrupled the share of electricity generated by wind and solar.11

Moreover, advances in storage and reliability technologies have torpedoed the fossil fuel industry’s claim that 100 percent renewable energy is not possible because “the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.” Scientific advances now mean that off-the-shelf, commercially available technology could support a power grid without any fossil fuels.12

Renewable energy’s potential has been demonstrated at scale in the real world. In 2019, a literature review of 180 scholarly papers covering the challenges associated with 100 percent (or near 100 percent) renewable systems concluded that most systems studied are technically and economically feasible.13 Moreover, when combining renewable technologies with storage, modeling shows that “enough renewable baseload potential exists across the US to meet the current electricity demand ten times over.”14

Fossil Fuel Investment and Production Still Boom

While the trends and viability of renewable energy provide reason for hope, without immediate climate action, the powerful and tenacious fossil fuel industry will doom any hope for climate stability. Despite remarkable progress in renewable electricity, the United States continues to produce and consume large quantities of fossil fuels.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. fossil fuel production fell somewhat in 2020 from an all-time high in 2019 (Figure 1). But according to EIA projections, fossil fuel production is poised to resume its rise through 2022.15 Although coal production has fallen by about half during the fracking boom, the increased production of oil and natural gas has more than offset any greenhouse gas reductions that occurred during coal’s decline.16 If these trends continue, the long-term outlook for the climate is dire. The EIA’s latest long-term projections predict that the U.S. will consume more oil and natural gas in 2050 than in 2020.17

PROVED RESERVES

Progress in Fossil Fuel Technology Could Doom Our Climate

Without supply constraints such as banning natural gas and oil production, there is no guarantee that fossil fuel use will end or even slow. Unfettered technological progress is likely to unlock an ever-growing supply of fossil fuels at lower prices.22

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

Photo: Jersey Turnpike Traffic. CCBYSA-Joiseyshowa-FLK / Wikimedia Commons
PROVED RESERVES

Total resources unlockable by technological improvements vastly outnumber these proved reserves (a metric used in mining that describes the amount of hydrocarbon resources that can be obtained from a site with a reasonable level of certainty). For example, if the production of oil shale (an oil-rich sand similar to bitumen tar sands, not to be confused with shale oil) became economical, it would at least triple proved reserves, and technology to extract methane hydrates (crystalized methane deep in the ocean) could more than double current gas reserves.23

Photo: Gas hydrate (white material) in marine sediments collected off the Oregon coast.
PROVED RESERVES

New environmentally destructive extraction methods could continue to unlock new sources of oil and gas. Currently, technological progress is finding new hydrocarbons faster than consumption is depleting existing sources. Proved reserves of oil and natural gas in the United States more than doubled between 2005 and 2018 despite high rates of extraction. In 2018, proved reserves totaled 504 trillion cubic feet of gas and 47 billion barrels oil.24 If extracted and burned, these reserves would release the equivalent of 78.7 billion metric tons of CO2.25 These reserves alone contain 15 years’ worth of U.S. energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.26

Part 3:

Emphasizing Renewables Alone Will Not Displace Fracking

Waning consumer demand for fracked gas means frackers turn to exports, industrial uses.

A single-minded focus on the promotion of renewable electricity, without addressing fossil fuel use in other sectors, will fail to adequately address climate change. Only 34 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States is burned at power plants. Buildings and industrial users each account for about 25 percent of natural gas use, and the remaining 17 percent of natural gas is exported (Figure 2).27

Even in the context of electricity, the promotion of renewables has done little to check the rise of new natural gas power plants supplying the grid. Since 2010, the contribution of renewable energy to the grid has risen from 2.8 percent to 11.5 percent (Figure 3). At this rate, the United States would only reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2130.28

However, the main trend in the electricity sector has been a substantial shift to natural gas. Natural gas grew from supplying 22.7 percent of electricity in 2010 to supplying 39.3 percent in 2020.29 This was the result of building more than 1,100 new natural gas generators with combined nameplate capacity greater than 100,000 megawatts (about 9 percent of all power plant capacity, or enough to power around 100 million homes if running at maximum).30 These new gas plants are intentionally designed with lifespans of 40 to 50 years.31 Without new policy, natural gas plants are likely to represent 40 percent of the new electric generation built through 2050, with even more gas plants opening through mid-century.32

Buildings Continue to Use Dangerous and Outdated Natural Gas Appliances

Natural gas is used for air and water heating in 9.7 percent of commercial buildings and 14.6 percent of residential buildings in the United States.33 This use (for air and water heating) could be displaced by readily available electric alternatives, as technologies that enable full electrification eliminate the need for natural gas in buildings.34 However, current trends indicate that without policy changes, natural gas use in buildings is unlikely to end. Natural gas appliances emit dangerous pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, which are linked to respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease. Operating a gas-powered stove and oven for an hour can raise indoor pollution to levels that exceed national air quality standards.35

Long-term climate goals cannot be reached without electrification.36 Despite this, the current pace of electrification in buildings is nowhere near fast enough. Buildings have slow turnover, and owners are often reluctant to invest in retrofits. Full electrification would likely require stringent standards for new buildings combined with rolling retrofit requirements for existing buildings.37 Deep reductions in buildings’ energy use are unlikely without the mandated retrofitting of the existing building stock.38 While constructing new buildings without natural gas should be the easier task, natural gas companies have fought tooth and nail against modest measures to limit the supply of natural gas to newly constructed buildings.39

Fracking’s Petrochemical and Plastics Push

The slow-changing buildings industry, while providing a stable outlet for entrenched natural gas companies, is not large enough on its own to support the continued fracking boom. The two sectors that are best positioned to enable the ongoing rise in natural gas production are exports and industrial users.40

The use of natural gas in the industrial sector is booming. Bulk chemicals (the production of organic and inorganic chemicals, resins and agricultural chemicals) account for half of this new industrial demand, including as feedstock (for hydrogen, methanol and nitrogenous fertilizer) as well as for heating purposes. Refineries, as well as producers of paper and bulk chemicals, also use natural gas for process heating and electricity generation, often at combined heat and power (CHP) plants.41

In February 2021, the main industry group representing petrochemical companies noted nearly 350 petrochemical projects that were planned, under construction or completed were made possible as a result of fracking.42 The EIA anticipates that the use of natural gas as a feedstock and a heating source in the industrial sector will grow substantially over the next decade.43

Exporting Natural Gas: A Booming Industry

U.S. energy production hit record highs in 2018 and 2019.52 Because of the pandemic, among other things, consumption of natural gas is set to decline slightly through 2022.53 However, after a brief decline, U.S. production of natural gas is accelerating,54 mostly because of the amount being sent to other countries. The EIA projected that natural gas exports would rise from 14.4 billion cubic feet per day in 2020 to 18.3 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2021 (equal to nearly 20 percent of total U.S. natural gas production). This new export volume would more than compensate for a slight dip in the domestic use of natural gas for electricity, keeping producers flush.55

Of this increase in exports, 80 percent will be filled by fracked gas from newly drilled wells — gas that otherwise would have remained underground.56 Some natural gas is exported by pipeline or truck to Mexico and Canada, and the rest is shipped by tanker from export terminals to reach overseas markets.57 The gas moving via tankers first gets converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG), and its transport is highly dangerous.

U.S. LNG exports rose to record levels by the end of 2020, averaging 9.8 billion cubic feet per day in December.65 Existing LNG export capacity supports exporting as much as 10.1 billion cubic feet per day, but facilities that are currently approved and under construction would expand that capacity to 42.1 billion cubic feet per day, nearly half of all natural gas produced in the United States.66 If built, this export capacity could completely offset the total elimination of natural gas from the electric power sector, enabling producers to export all of the gas that they otherwise would have sold to power plants.67

If built, this export capacity could completely offset the total elimination of natural gas from the electric power sector, enabling producers to export all of the gas that they otherwise would have sold to power plants.

LNG advocates love to argue that the export of LNG is necessary to displace coal plants abroad; however, the United States also continues to export coal.68 The switch to natural gas power in the country has actually pushed some of the domestic coal supply overseas, where international consumers burn it.69 Every 10 percent drop in U.S. natural gas prices is associated with a 3.3 percent increase in coal exports.70 As fracking boomed from 2007 to 2013, U.S. coal exports doubled, despite the economic recession.71 However, continued coal exports depend on expanding the capacity at west coast terminals or adding rail capacity to Canada — hotly contested projects that are vulnerable to public opposition.72

These rising fossil fuel exports could be the final nail in the coffin for climate stability. Under so-called “baseline” scenarios — in which no additional mitigation of fossil fuel emissions occurs —the world is on track to hit 4.3 degrees Celsius of warming this century.73

So far, modest reductions in the consumption of coal and oil in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have been largely offset by an increase in natural gas consumption domestically and by a dramatic rise in fossil fuel use in non-OECD countries.74 Exports would help enable a nearly unlimited supply of fossil fuels, meaning that any policies to mitigate climate change proposed by countries such as the United States, if implemented, would still put the world on track for 3.2 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100.75

Part 4:

Corporations and Democrats Continue Trump’s Energy Agenda

The “all of the above” approach prevents us from curbing the climate crisis.

U.S. state governments have seized on the momentum for climate action by championing the buildout of renewable energy. However, they have avoided confrontation with entrenched fossil fuel interests and refuse to commit to hard limits on supply. Experience shows that building more renewable energy projects is not enough to guarantee deep reductions in emissions — even within the electricity sector. The “energy dominance” doctrine of the Trump administration took the stance that welcoming renewable energy as part of an “all of the above” approach poses no direct threat to fossil fuels.76

While the Biden administration has been more vocally supportive of renewables — promising billions in new spending on technology and development — it has not committed to hard limits on fossil fuel extraction.77 The administration has made clear that it sees fossil fuels as a key part of the future energy mix.78 When pushed, Biden even says, “I’m all for natural gas.”79

Facing pressure from oil and gas interests, some Democrats have embraced carbon capture as a way to keep the oil and gas industry afloat while “complying” with climate goals. However, carbon capture is a favored misdirection tactic, posing as a climate solution. Recent drafts of federal climate legislation have even included carbon capture in a list of “clean” energy sources, elevating it to the same status as real renewable energy such as wind and solar.80 Carbon capture and storage is unproven, prohibitively expensive and, after accounting for the entire emissions lifecycle, incapable of producing deep emissions reductions. Carbon capture can even enable increased oil production by injecting the captured carbon into oil reservoirs.81

Despite the impressive-sounding goals of electricity corporations, the planned time frames for fossil fuel retirements are too slow to meet these goals. Some utility companies are adhering to their climate pledges by divesting from their coal fleets rather than dismantling them, leaving these plants in service under new owners.82 Others corporations are choosing to buy credits, certificates or offsets from renewable energy producers while leaving dirty portions of their supply chain intact.83 Meanwhile, sectors such as technology and airlines have embraced a similar approach to climate pledges, but company insiders have questioned whether these measures have any impact on overall emissions.84

Chesterfield Power Station, one of Dominion Energy’s coal-fired power stations that’s on-track to retire. Photo credit: Edbrown05, CC BY-SA 2.5 / Wikimedia Commons

Virginia’s Renewables Seem to Be Token Gestures, While Fossil Fuels Keep Trucking

Plans to build additional renewable energy plants and transition to a more renewable grid in Virginia have been shadowed by new investments in fracked gas infrastructure and a reluctance to phase out existing fossil fuels. Amid growing pressure from climate activists, in 2018 Governor Ralph Northam touted plans by the state’s biggest utility to build 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy.85 Meanwhile, from 2010 to 2020, the state added 6,500 megawatts of new natural gas capacity.86 Despite posturing in support of renewable energy, Northam’s administration supported a number of multi-billion-dollar pipelines to bring natural gas into Virginia.87 Governor Youngkin’s election in 2021 only intensifies the threat of further fossil fuel development in the state, through commitments to weaken climate and environmental protections, dismantle citizen review boards for fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and greenlight fracked gas projects in the name of grid reliability.88

Northam’s administration even won praise nationally for its “landmark” climate bill.89 While the state’s climate bill, the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), is intended to phase out fossil-fueled power plants, the law takes decades to fully take hold and is riddled with loopholes.90 A legislative effort to clean up those loopholes in 2022 didn’t make it out of Committee, signaling the shifting reality regarding climate policy under Governor Youngkin.91 It is unclear whether the VCEA will have any meaningful impact on the decision making of utilities in the state. Despite the new law, developers have pushed ahead with the environmentally destructive Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile long project which would carry fracked gas through Virginia.92

Virginia’s added renewable energy projects appear to provide cover for the business-as-usual operation of fossil fuel power plants in the state. Even as a raft of positive press statements have touted the “transformative” nature of the VCEA, long-term resource plans submitted to Virginia’s utility regulator by Dominion Energy tell a starkly different story, including plans to operate natural gas plants long after the targets set by the VCEA.93

Dominion’s plans show that the company intends to retire much of its coal power fleet regardless of the VCEA. This is because many of Dominion’s coal operations have a negative net present value. Conversely, where environmental ambitions compete with profitability, profits appear to win out. Dominion’s plans do not retire any natural gas capacity until 2035 at the earliest, and include 970 megawatts of new gas capacity to be built in the early 2020s.94 Dominion claims that these gas plants are “placeholders,” but the company gives no indication as to what might be built in their place.95 Additionally, Dominion’s plans make little reference to the company’s highly profitable coal units at the Mount Storm power plant in West Virginia.96

Between now and 2035, Dominion’s plan features only 150 megawatts of additional retirements compared to how much the company would have retired if the VCEA had not passed. The biggest change from the “no VCEA” plan is that the VCEA plan retires three 50 megawatt biomass power plants.97 Dominion notes that uncertainty exists regarding the units it plans to retire, stating that, aside from a few units, “inclusion of a unit retirement in this 2020 Plan should be considered as tentative only.”98 These power plants may operate less frequently, but without firm commitments to actually close the plants, lower emissions are not guaranteed.

California’s Renewables Are Overshadowed by Our Oil Addiction

Nationally, California is the go-to example of environmental and climate action, both positively and pejoratively.112 There is some merit to these claims — the state produces the most solar power in the country and ranks near the top in renewable energy production as a percentage of generation.113 However, California is also the largest net importer of electricity, drawing partially on out-of-state coal power plants.114 The market-oriented bias of climate policy in California has left the state vulnerable to regulatory evasion tactics such as resource shuffling (the process of transferring dirty resources out-of-state and importing from dirty sources outside of the regulatory jurisdiction).115

Despite California’s environmental reputation, the fossil fuel industry has a large and entrenched presence. Yes, the state is a leader in renewables, but it is also the seventh largest oil producer in the country.116 In refining capacity, California ranks third behind Texas and Louisiana, with a huge apparatus set up to refine primarily imported oil.117

Much of California’s oil is produced using particularly water-intensive and environmentally destructive extraction measures such as cyclic steam injection, matrix acidizing and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).118 On average, oil produced in California is among the dirtiest sources in the world, resulting in higher lifecycle carbon emissions per barrel than other sources.119

Oil production also has a huge water footprint in California. Food & Water Watch found that from 2018 to June 2021, the oil and gas industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations that could otherwise have supplied domestic systems.120 The freshwater sucked up by the oil and gas industry since 2018 could have provided everyone in the city of Pasadena with the recommended amount of daily water for an entire year, or everyone in the city of Ventura for 16 months.121

Industry-backed decision makers and state agencies have enabled widespread drilling.122 Governor Newsom’s offer of a vague plan to end fossil fuel extraction by 2045 offers no guarantee that these fuels would stay in the ground.123 Instead of banning fracking now, Newsom plans to continue issuing fracking permits until 2024.124 These long time frames will doom climate policies, as fossil fuel producers can accelerate their production schedules to extract the reserves before the deadline.125 When producers anticipate an end to permitting, they stockpile and accumulate permits before the deadline hits, sometimes in quantities big enough to neutralize the policy.126

Part 5:

Cozy State Regulators Will Not Choose Renewables Over Fossil Fuels Unless They Have To

Loopholes help fossil fuels compete against renewables.

Curtailment in California

Building new renewable energy sources is often not enough to switch off fossil fuel power plants that were built before clean energy came online. In theory, electricity producers should choose power from renewable sources, which have no fuel costs (rather than paying to burn coal or natural gas).127 But in practice, renewable power plants are sometimes disconnected while utilities continue to burn coal and natural gas.128

This practice of reducing the amount of power supplied from renewables below the amount they are capable of producing is called curtailment. It is often done by disconnecting or reducing at the electrical converter level for solar and changing the blade angle for wind.129 A review of curtailment in four key solar-producing countries found that in 2018, 6.5 million megawatt-hours of solar was curtailed.130 That electricity could have powered all the households of a city around the size of Phoenix for year.131

California leads the nation in solar installation, but the state has largely failed to kick its dependence on natural gas.132 California uses more natural gas than any state other than Texas.133 Instead of building energy storage, California imports out-of-state power and turns to gas generation to fill gaps in solar generation.134 These imports hide the fossil fuel footprint of California’s electricity. Since 2015, natural gas-fired generation has declined by 29 percent in California, but it stayed the same overall in the western U.S. as out-of-state generators picked up the slack.135

Increased solar deployment in California has coincided with increased curtailment.136 From 2014 to 2019, curtailments nearly doubled each year.137 California curtails 2 to 3 percent of its renewable energy production.138 The group that oversees the electricity market and grid, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), has curtailed more than 5 million megawatt-hours of wind and solar electricity since 2015 (Figure 4).139 That is enough electricity to cover the needs of 740,000 Californian households for a year.140

Fossil Fuels Use Loopholes to Stave Off Renewables

Negative prices, or a surcharge to produce electricity, are a key mechanism to encourage curtailment in California. CAISO enables negative prices by adjusting the price floor to levels that will push out renewable generation.141 In 2017, wholesale prices of power in California hit negative levels.142 But these negative prices are not leading to cheap energy for consumers — Californians pay electricity rates that are among the highest in the nation.143

Negative pricing occurs when plants that are expensive to restart or shutdown continue to operate in anticipation of future demand.144 Pro-renewable policies can drive prices negative, but when fossil-fueled operators continue to run, this pushes prices to the point where renewables — which cost almost nothing to operate — lose money by selling electricity.145 CAISO has directly attempted to protect gas generators from negative prices by curtailing renewable energy.146 California also offers capacity payments for idling gas plants, creating a means for them to stay afloat amid negative wholesale prices.147 These flexibility payments are effectively a handout to gas generators.148

Negative prices reflect an uneven playing field that can favor fossil fuels over renewable energy. CAISO market rules in 2017 allowed natural gas generators to forgo curtailment by appealing to contract stipulations that do not match their technical capacities — in other words, allowing gas plants to pretend to be less flexible than they are.149 FERC even allowed CAISO to contract directly with fossil-fueled power plants that would otherwise be unable to compete with renewable energy.150

Transmission congestion is often cited as a rational for renewable curtailment in California.151 However, transmission capacity often goes unused while renewables are curtailed.152 Contracts signed by the big three California utilities restrict the use of transmission capacity to back up renewables.153 This leads to situations where California continues to import energy while curtailing renewables.154

Photo credit: Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Curtailment Is a Choice

Policy decisions impact price setting and direct grid investments, which determine the prices received by energy producers. Some level of curtailment may be inevitable in a completely renewable-powered grid at times of low demand, but curtailing renewables in favor of fossil fuels is not a reflection of that dynamic.155

Curtailment rates do not correspond to a proportion of renewables as a percentage of capacity and vary significantly among electricity markets.156 For example, Germany curtails far less than U.S. states with comparable levels of solar development.157 Texas substantially reduced curtailment of wind through public investment in transmission and market design changes to properly value wind energy.158 However, Texas curtailed 8.4 percent of its potential solar output in 2018.159

Investor-owned utilities have proved resistant to building the transmission infrastructure necessary to bring renewable electricity to distant markets.160 Private utilities have gone out of their way to design transmission investments in such a way as to benefit their existing fleets and bottom lines.161 Without significant reforms, these corporations will continue to use legal means to resist change, often with the help of in-their-pocket state governments.162

An electricity policy that prioritizes renewable energy and eliminating fossil fuels from the grid would go a long way to reduce curtailment. Incorporating storage and flexibility could significantly reduce curtailment in California.163 And while natural gas apologists argue that the flexibility of gas power plants enables renewables to run more frequently, non-fossil alternatives (such as demand response and storage) are more effective at reducing curtailment than natural gas generation is.164

Part 6:

Leaders Must Directly Confront Fossil Fuel Production and Use

Supply-side energy policy is crucial for our future.

Policy makers representing fossil fuel-producing regions have signaled willingness to embrace half-hearted market-based climate policies. Even major oil producers have signaled willingness to support a carbon tax.165 These policies pose no real threat to fossil fuel producers because they do not result in deep emissions reductions.166 Not only do fossil fuel pricing schemes create political cover, the revenue streams created by these programs can entrench these industries — leaving policy makers reluctant to cut back on production.167

In Pennsylvania, rather than enact regulations to respond to the dire social and environmental consequences of fracking, lawmakers enacted an “impact fee” that returns payouts from drilling to affected communities — a move welcomed by fracking companies.168 Pennsylvania gas companies supplement their tax contributions with voluntary charity to launder their image.169 The strategies appear somewhat successful. Surveys of Pennsylvania residents find that the popularity of fracking rises in tandem with the size of impact fees.170

Would-be frackers in the United Kingdom openly extol the importance of impact fees for generating the political will to frack. In a plan modeled on the United States, the U.K. chemical company Ineos offered broad-ranging voluntary community payments as part of a comprehensive strategy to push fracking — giving an activity that depletes the environment and erodes our climate future the false patina of social good.171

The following statement captures this gaslighting tactic:

“Giving 6% of revenues to those directly above Shale gas wells means the rewards are fairly shared by everyone. It’s what they do in the USA and we think it is right to do this here. It democratises the Shale gas revolution.”172

Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe

Conclusion: Public Policy — Not Market Mechanisms — Is the Only Way Forward

The viability of renewable electricity provides an off-ramp from climate chaos, but if fossil fuel development continues unchecked, we will be locked in to decades of continued carbon emissions and climate crisis.173 Policies that address the fossil fuel supply are a vital component of any successful effort to address climate change. For example, reducing coal subsidies would have a much smaller impact on coal consumption than a ban on new coal mines.174

Limiting production is far easier to enforce than using market mechanisms to reduce consumption. Both carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes involve complex and detailed reporting and auditing at thousands of facilities — which creates a difficult job for the government agencies that oversee them.175 In addition to financial costs, complex administration can lead to under reporting and gaming between regulated and unregulated entities, resulting in emissions.176

In contrast, supply policies are easily observable and have predictable outcomes with minimal overhead.177 That is because supply policies impact a smaller number of firms and regulate easily observed commodities rather than the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.178 Moreover, in an alternate scenario where demand reduction works, supply controls would have no additional cost and merely act as an insurance policy.179

The United States is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, contributing 15 percent of total global emissions.180 However, some politicians argue that the country cannot substantially reduce global emissions because developing countries continue to increase their emissions.181 This is in part because the trade in carbon-intensive products has grown rapidly, undermining the effectiveness of domestic climate policy on the demand side.182 Many of these same politicians have supported lax trade policies that allow corporations to relocate to other countries to avoid complying with regulations.183 In some cases, countries export fuels that are used to produce products that they then import to consume.184

Even without global cooperation, removing the U.S. fossil fuel reserves from the world market would undermine fossil fuel generation globally.185 While investment and (to a lesser extent) labor can cross borders, fossil fuel reserves are immobile.186 By imposing limits on fossil fuel production within their own borders, countries can guarantee against the relocation of these fuels.187 International agreements that target the supply of fossil fuels are easier to negotiate, verify and enforce because they deal with fewer polluters.188

Recommendations:

  • President Biden should use his authority to stop fossil fuel extraction on federal lands.
  • President Biden should use his authority to stop the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, including LNG exports, by denying the needed federal permits.
  • Congress should ban fracking everywhere.
  • Congress should pass legislation laying out a managed transition off fossil fuels that protects workers and communities that have depended on the industry.

We can shift right now to the power sources that will change the trajectory of humankind. It just takes the political will of clear-headed leaders working for the good of the people and not the profit margins of the fossil fuel industry.

Send a message to President Biden now. We must end fossil fuels before they end us.

Endnotes
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  2. Welsby, Dan et al. “Unextractable fossil fuels in a 1.5°C world.” Nature. Vol. 597. September 2021 at 230.
  3. Food & Water Watch (FWW) analysis of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Energy Information Administration (EIA). June 2021 Monthly Energy Review. Available at https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly and on file with FWW.
  4. DOE EIA. “Annual Energy Outlook 2021 with projections to 2050: Narrative.” February 3, 2021 at 7 and 22.
  5. FWW analysis of DOE EIA. Natural Gas Monthly Data. Available at https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/data.php. Accessed June 2021 and on file with FWW. Note: Figures are an average of the 12 months preceding May 2021; DOE EIA. “Fossil fuel production expected to increase through 2022 but remain below 2019 peak.” Today in Energy. January 15, 2021.
  6. Welsby, Dan et al. (2021) at 230; Kalmus, Peter et al. Letter to U.S. President Joseph R. Biden. “An open letter from U.S. scientists imploring President Biden to end the fossil fuel era.” October 7, 2021. Available at https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/climate_law_institute/pdfs/An-Open-Letter-from-US-Scientists-Imploring-President-Biden-to-End-the-Fossil-Fuel-Era.pdf.
  7. Kalmus et al. (2021).
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  9. Lazard. Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis. Version 14. October 2020 at 9.
  10. Ibid. at 8 and 10 to 13.
  11. DOE EIA. Electric Power Monthly, Net Generation All Sectors Monthly. Available at https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser. Accessed January 2021 and on file with FWW; Carley, Sanya et al. “Empirical evaluation of the stringency and design of renewable portfolio standards.” Nature Energy. Vol. 3. July 2018 at 754 and 761; Rossi, Jim. “Carbon taxation by regulation.” Minnesota Law Review. Vol. 102, No. 277. November 2017 at 302.
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  13. Hansen, Kenneth et al. “Status and perspectives on 100% renewable energy systems.” Energy. Vol. 175. May 2019 at 471 and 475.
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  15. DOE EIA (January 2021).
  16. Ibid.; FWW analysis of DOE EIA. Annual Coal Report 2020. Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production 2020. U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil. Available at https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/data.php and on file with FWW; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. Updated March 2021. Available at https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator and on file with FWW.
  17. DOE EIA (February 3, 2021) at 7.
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  144. Trabish (2017).
  145. Ibid.
  146. Ibid.
  147. Ibid.
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  152. Trabish (2017).
  153. Roselund (2018).
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  158. Bird et al. (2014) at 9.
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  162. Ibid.
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  164. Ibid at 8; Dominion Energy (2020) at 71 to 75 and 83.
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  169. Ibid.
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  171. Tovey, Alan. “Ineos offers £2.5bn to communities disrupted by shale gas.” Telegraph. September 28, 2014.
  172. Ineos. [Press release]. “INEOS plans £2.5 billion shale gas giveaway.” September 28, 2014.
  173. Lazarus, Michael and Harro van Asselt. “Fossil fuel supply and climate policy: Exploring the road less taken.” Climatic Change. Vol. 150. August 2018 at 4.
  174. Mendelevitch, Roman. German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin). “Testing Supply‐Side Climate Policies for the Global Steam Coal Market – Can They Curb Coal Consumption?” DIW Discussion Papers No. 1604. 2016 at 1.
  175. Green, Fergus and Richard Denniss. “Cutting with both arms of the scissors: The economic and political case for restrictive supply-side climate policies.” Climatic Change. Vol. 150. 2018 at 77.
  176. Ibid.
  177. Collins, Kim and Roman Mendelevitch. DIW Berlin. “Leaving Coal Unburned: Options for Demand-Side and Supply-Side Policies.” DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus. No. 87. December 2015 at 3.
  178. Green & Denniss (2018) at 77.
  179. Asheim, G. B. et al. “The case for a supply-side climate treaty.” Science. Vol. 365. Iss. 6451. July 2019 at 326.
  180. Pierre-Louis, Kendra. “Greenhouse gas emissions rise like a ‘speeding freight train’ in 2018.” New York Times. December 5, 2018.
  181. Johnson, Luke. “Marco Rubio on climate change: ‘The government can’t change the weather’.” Huffington Post. February 13, 2013; Jaipuriar, Rashika and Sarah Bowman. “New GOP-only caucus explicitly acknowledges climate change, but keeps fossil fuels on its list of solutions.” Detroit Free Press. June 25, 2021; Friedman, Lisa and Coral Davenport. “Amid extreme weather, a shift among republicans on climate change.” New York Times. August 13, 2021.
  182. Andrew, Robbie M. et al. “Climate policy and dependence on traded carbon.” Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 8. 2013 at 1.
  183. Ahlvik, Lassi and Matti Liski. Norwegian School of Economics and Aalto University. “Carbon Leakage: A Mechanism Design Approach.” October 2017 at 2; Friedman & Davenport (2021); Office of U.S. Senator Mike Braun. [Press release]. “President Trump is closing a China trade deal that’s four decades overdue.” May 16, 2019.
  184. Asheim et al. (2019) at 325; Barret, John et al. “Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: A UK case study.” Climate Policy. Vol. 13, No. 4. June 2013 at 451 and 452.
  185. Sinn (2015) at 239 to 244.
  186. Asheim, Geir B. “A distributional argument for supply-side climate policies.” Environmental and Resource Economics. Vol. 56. 2013 at 252.
  187. Ibid.
  188. Asheim et al. (2019) at 327.

These Industries Are Sucking Up California’s Water And Worsening Drought

Categories

Clean Water

Sandy Wool Lake, Milipatas CA (2014) CC-BY © Don DeBold / Flickr.com
by Mark Schlosberg

It’s the middle of the California rainy season, but the last 50 days have been bone dry. San Francisco, which usually gets at least 4 inches of rain by now has seen less than a quarter-inch. Los Angeles has followed suit and the Sierra snowpack — providing much of California’s water — is 66% of its normal volume. Our main reservoirs hover between 50-80% of historic averages. These challenges come in the midst of a historic 20-year climate change-driven drought — the worst in the last 1200 years.

It’s not just California — most of the western United States is experiencing this historic megadrought. States like Oregon, New Mexico, and Montana are having conditions even worse than California. It’s a good reason to reexamine water use regionally and take on some of the most water-intensive and climate-polluting industries. That means taking on big agribusiness, factory farms, and the fossil fuel industry. 

Big Agribusiness Consumes Huge Amounts Of Water And Profits At The Expense Of The Environment

Government attention and media coverage about drought focuses on things individuals can do to save water. It ignores the fact that agriculture uses the most water. And the vast majority goes towards big agribusiness including growing water intensive crops like almonds and alfalfa. In California 80% of our water goes toward agriculture and 20% of that goes to tree nuts. Around two-thirds of these nuts are exported overseas, leaving massive profits for corporate titans but less water in California. Another 15% is used for alfalfa, a water-intensive crop used to feed cows on factory farms or for export. 

These crops have increased through the 20 year drought and have no business being grown to this scale in our arid climate. This is especially true as salmon die and over a million Californians lack access to clean water, in part due to sinking groundwater tables. 

Saudi Arabia has a law that prohibits the growth of alfalfa because of the lack of water. That’s no problem for a Saudi company that gained access to water rights in California. It exports alfalfa grown here back to Saudi Arabia to support its mega-dairies. Saudi Arabia also imports hay from drought-stricken New Mexico for the same purpose. This should not be possible, but no action has been taken to stop it. 

Factory Farms Use And Pollute Water While Driving The Climate Crisis

Factory farms are a huge driver of climate change. Out of all the things humans do, livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of total greenhouse emissions. At the same time, factory farms consume tremendous amounts of water — especially big dairy operations. California is home to nearly 1.7 million dairy cows, which are largely part of mega-dairy operations. In addition to the water used for alfalfa, mega-dairies use 142 million gallons of water a day. That’s more than the daily recommended water usage for San Jose and San Diego combined. This is in addition to all the water polluted through runoff and waste. 

New Mexico, Oregon, and other western states have similar mega-dairy operations even as drought persists and water resources run low. 

The Fossil Fuel Industry Continues To Use And Pollute Water While Driving Climate Chaos

The largest driver of climate chaos is the fossil fuel industry. Maddeningly, the industry continues to operate extensively in California — using and polluting vast amounts of water. Between January 2018 and March 2021, the industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent of 120 million showers for California housholds. At the same time, fossil fuel operations have polluted California’s aquifers with dirty wastewater. 

Governor Newsom Could Take Action To Rein In These Industries. He’s Yet To Do So.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Governor Newsom is promoting a tunnel to bring more water from Northern California to support industrial agriculture in the Central Valley. Instead he should rein in polluters making massive profits while the environment suffers and over a million Californians can’t access clean water. He should exercise his authority to stop new factory farms, almonds and alfalfa, and oil drilling. He can use his power to roll back these industries. We should all do our part to save water, but the real focus should be on the biggest water abusers. 

We know Governor Newsom is responsive to public pressure. He has shown this with his recent moves to ban fracking and stop new drilling near homes and schools. It’s up to us to move him and other state leaders. They must take our water situation seriously, and boldly rein in these water abusers who are driving the climate crisis.

Tell Governor Newsom to act now to save California’s water!

VA Chickahominy Fracked Gas Pipeline Suspended

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Over the weekend, Chickahominy Power LLC announced that it is “hitting pause” on its Chickahominy fracked gas pipeline, proposed to cross five Virginia counties. In a letter to officials this weekend, the company said that electricity grid organization PJM Interconnection LLC has de-prioritized the Chickahominy fracked gas plant, prompting a pause on the pipeline project.

In response, Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar issued the following statement:

“Fossil fuels are facing an uphill battle in Virginia — and it’s all thanks to organized opposition achieving victories like this one. From the very beginning, Charles City County residents and climate advocates have been steadfast in our opposition to the Chickahominy Pipeline and its associated fracked gas plant. For months, we have argued that this project is unnecessary — this weekend’s decision affirms that.

“We are calling on state and federal officials to officially pull all the permits for the Chickahominy fracked gas plant to permanently close the book on this project.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

The Dirty Energy Preventing Oregon From Reaching Its Climate Goals

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mackenzie Aime

Mega-dairies, a type of factory farm, produce enormous amounts of manure. Instead of dealing with this problem head-on, mega-dairies are now rebranding their waste as sustainable by creating factory farm gas. When a factory farm gas operation sets up shop in Oregon, it is required to become permitted as a way to track and enforce air quality standards. 

Threemile Canyon’s “biogas” operation repeatedly violated its Oregon air pollution control permit throughout 2019 and 2020 by spewing illegal amounts of dangerous fine particulate pollution into the environment. 

Recently, Food & Water Watch filed a letter with the California Air Resources Board (CARB). In it, we demanded CARB take enforcement action against Oregon’s largest mega-dairy, Threemile Canyon, over illegal air pollution from its factory farm “biogas” operations. Threemile profits off of CARB’s “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” program, receiving lucrative credits for its supposedly renewable factory farm gas.

CARB should never have approved Threemile’s participation in the program to begin with — now it must act to hold Threemile accountable.

Tell regulators to rescind the credits given to Threemile Canyon, and take strong actions to enforce their rules!

These documented violations are actually just the tip of the iceberg. The larger issue we face is the public funding of factory farm gas. It relies on keeping both massive factory farms and oil and gas infrastructure around for decades.

Factory Farm Gas Won’t Help Us Solve The Climate Crisis 

Factory farm gas is created when mega-dairies dump their massive amounts of manure into digesters. Bacteria then break down waste to produce gas that is primarily composed of methane. This gas can then be mixed with fracked gas and transported through dangerous pipelines. Because of this, factory farm gas ensures our continued reliance on pipelines and fossil fuels, distracting from real climate solutions in Oregon and nationwide. 

Oregon’s Governor Brown has ambitious climate goals, working to reach an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. But her administration has failed to take meaningful action against factory farms. Instead, she allowed them to profit off their enormous greenhouse gas emissions by creating so-called “renewable” natural gas. Factory farm gas is expensive, inefficient, and limited. At the highest projections, it could only replace 1% of US natural gas use. Our leaders are investing massive amounts of public dollars into this false climate solution when they should be supporting proven and scalable solutions like wind and solar power. 

Currently, manure digesters in Oregon can double dip, receiving multiple forms of government subsidies from here in Oregon as well as  California. Take the Threemile Canyon digester as an example. It benefited from a raft of subsidies: $10 million in tax-exempt financing from Oregon Private Activity Bonds, over $5 million from Oregon’s previous Bovine Manure Tax Credit and potentially millions from California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard Credits.  

These subsidies are so important that Threemile Canyon’s previous general manager said factory farm gas was “the most valuable product that we have out there.” When we say factory farm gas threatens to incentivize mega-dairy expansion, this is what we mean. Threemile is already one of the country’s biggest mega-dairies. If factory farm gas is their most profitable product, why not expand the number of cows in their confinement so they have more manure from which to create gas?

Factory Farm Gas Serves The Interests Of Fossil Fuel Companies And Big Ag

Factory farm gas gives a green light to the “get big or get out” model of agriculture that propelled mega-dairies forward and has helped fuel the climate crisis. It makes a perfect bedfellow for fossil fuels. As activists are pushing for 100% clean energy, factory farm gas provides a surefire way to keep fossil fuel pipelines in use for decades to come.

So how can we make real, long-lasting change? Our elected officials must face this issue head on by stopping the expansion of mega-dairies and by pursuing real climate solutions. While the industry is working to market their way out of their problems, our leaders have the opportunity to stop the pollution at its source. 

Mega-dairies in Oregon pose innumerable problems already:

  • They pollute our air with fine particulate matter and nitrous oxide, ranking as one of the largest emitters of ammonia statewide. 
  • They warm our climate, releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. 
  • They use up and pollute our water – the state has pointed to Threemile Canyon mega-dairy itself as a contributor to nitrate contamination in Eastern Oregon’s groundwater. 
  • And they harm our communities, driving out family farms, extracting resources and threatening public health. 

If we continue to fund factory farm gas, these issues will only intensify.

We Need Your Help To Get A Mega-Dairy Moratorium 

Governor Brown must establish a moratorium on mega-dairies here in Oregon. A moratorium would cut off the supply chain for factory farm gas by preventing more waste from new mega-dairies. But, it could also be a game-changer for the health of our communities. We can only work to clean up the harm mega-dairies have already caused if we stop digging ourselves into a bigger hole. That starts with halting the expansion of mega-dairies in Oregon and calling on our elected leaders to abandon the false solution of factory farm gas. 

Help us take the first step today.

Send a message urging regulators to take strong action, including the reversal of Threemile Canyon’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits!

The Future Generations Protection Act — The Climate Bill We Urgently Need

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mitch Jones

Recent debates in Congress on climate action have been disappointing. They’re dominated by lawmakers proposing massive new handouts to the fossil fuel industry disguised as real action on climate. So-called “carbon capture” proponents want to prolong the fossil fuel industry’s existence well past what’s survivable for us. Conveniently for their donors, these projects will result in (potentially) billions of dollars coming their way. Whether helping them profit or watching them destroy our climate, Congress has failed to confront the fossil fuel industry.

It’s Going To Take Good Policy-Making For Renewables To Displace Fossil Fuels 

There are new, necessary investments in renewables, storage, and transmission, but these won’t directly shut down fossil fuel projects. We know that renewable energy sources like solar and wind have had remarkable growth in the past decade. We also know that growth is largely on top of fossil fuels, not displacing them.

Any truly serious climate plan must take on the industry and directly begin to shut down fossil fuel production, transport, and combustion. Luckily, a bill just reintroduced in Congress will do just that.

The Future Generations Protection Act is the most aggressive climate legislation introduced in this Congress. It has been reintroduced by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Nanette Barragan (D-CA) plus 20 of their colleagues.

Fossil Fuel Supply Must Be Cut Quickly To Stave Off The Worst Effects Of Climate Change

The urgency of the climate crisis is more obvious than ever. The most important step we must take is to cut off the supply of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. This bill is the most comprehensive approach to achieving that necessary goal. It stops fracking, puts a halt to new fossil fuel power plants, and ends the oil and gas exports that deepen global dependence on dirty forms of energy. Renewable energy has become increasingly affordable and available, so fossil fuels can no longer be claimed as a necessary bridge.

We know fracking has unleashed a steep spike of methane, a greenhouse gas 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Its ongoing release into our atmosphere is driving the devastating effects of our climate crisis. We know we must stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure now, yet utilities push for new natural gas power plants. And we know that oil and liquefied natural gas exports increase emissions at home and abroad. 

The Future Generations Protection Act will put a stop to all of these practices.

The Future Generations Protection Act Is Urgently Needed And Must Be Passed

Specifically, the legislation will:

  • Ban fracking by 2025
  • Prohibit any new electric power plants from emitting greenhouse gases
  • Stop the export of crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids, and liquified natural gas

This is the bold action directly confronting the fossil fuel industry on which our planet — and the future of everyone on it — depends. It’s the sort of bold action Food & Water Watch has championed since we became the first national organization to call for a ban on fracking a decade ago. Now it is Congress’ duty to act with that same boldness.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Future Generations Protection Act today.

Fracking, Power Plants & Exports: Three Steps for Meaningful Climate Action

REPORT - November 2021

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo by Hannah Benet

by Mark Schlosberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Recent Urgent Pressures That Pushed Newsom To Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Biden Could Make History at COP 26

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

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

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

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

But it doesn’t have to be. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How A California Climate Program Rewards Mega-Polluting Factory Farms Nationwide

Categories

Food System

by Jessica Gable

As California Governor Gavin Newsom gets ready to join world leaders for the United Nations’ climate summit in Glasgow and trumpet his state’s bold climate action, transition to a just economy, and protection of frontline communities, one stark omission from the governor’s climate platform is troubling. California’s air pollution regulator is pinning many of its climate ambitions on a program it claims reduces emissions in the transportation sector. But what it actually does is facilitate the growth of an industry whose significant climate-wrecking emissions are on the rise in the U.S. — factory farms.

California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) incentivizes the production of biogas derived from animal manure and slaughterhouse waste.

Here’s how it works:

Waste is put into a digester either on or off the facility, where anaerobic bacteria break down the waste, producing methane and digestate that then must be disposed of. Once the biogas is treated to produce pipeline-quality methane chemically identical to fracked natural gas, factory farms sell and transport it via fossil fuel pipelines, ready for use in the transportation industry. Companies with fuels that are deemed higher “carbon intensity” can offset their emissions by buying the factory farm biogas credits, allowing them to continue polluting while Big Ag operations profit.

Promoting factory farm biogas means rewarding and entrenching the factory farm industry — hardly a solution for the climate crisis, and a disaster for environmental justice communities in California and across the country. That’s why Food & Water Watch has joined a coalition of organizations in petitioning the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to exclude factory farm-sourced biogas from its LCFS credit program. 

Factory Farms Accelerate Climate Change And Incentivizing Biogas Only Makes it Worse

Our petition makes it clear that the current LCFS credit system not only overstates the emission reduction benefits of factory farm-sourced biogas, it also allows for “double dipping” by factory farms as they use public dollars to subsidize digester construction while receiving millions for the credits they’ve sold. While gas industry reps sell this process to the public as a market-driven emission mitigation measure, it’s better described as a false climate solution that perpetuates air and groundwater pollution, and a financial shell game that enriches corporate shareholders at taxpayers’ expense. 

After the methane has been extracted from manure, factory farm operators are left with huge quantities of waste that must be disposed of. The usual method is to spread the manure over fields as fertilizer, where runoff and leaching frequently contaminate waterways and groundwater.  Land disposal of so-called digestate poses an even higher risk of groundwater contamination than undigested manure, as nitrates and phosphorus in digestate are more water-soluble and susceptible to contaminating water resources. In California, most communities living near these facilities are communities of color. They are the ones hit first and hardest by the pollution of factory farms. Our petition asserts that CARB’s current program violates state law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit the agency from adopting policies that cause disparate harms on the basis of race. 

We Need to Get Rid of Biogas in The LCFS And Stop Funding Climate-Wrecking Emissions

Communities in California and across the U.S. will continue to bear the public health burden of factory farms as long as factory farm biogas is included in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. 

LCFS biogas credits spell disaster for our climate, water and communities — and everyone needs to know.

Spread the word to protect your community.

We Just Scored A Big Win Against Factory Farm Water Pollution

Categories

Food System

PHOTO CC-BY-USDA, Bob Nichols / Flickr.com

by Tarah Heinzen

Food & Water Watch just won a major court victory against factory farm pollution: the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) statewide Clean Water Act permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Idaho illegally let these factory farms off the hook for water pollution monitoring.

EPA Loopholes Have Shielded Factory Farm Pollution From The Public

The federal Clean Water Act is supposed to protect our waterways, keeping them safe for recreation and wildlife. One of the most important ways it does that is by requiring polluters – including CAFOs — to follow strict discharge permits that limit pollution. And those permits do not work on an honor system; permitted dischargers are required to show their work through testing their discharges and generating publicly available monitoring reports that demonstrate whether they are meeting permit limits. If a facility violates its permit, citizens and regulators can use the self-reported monitoring information to enforce the law. Monitoring is essential to holding polluters accountable and cleaning up our rivers and streams. 

Despite this, EPA and states have carved out an exception for factory farms, issuing permits that leave monitoring out entirely. These permits simply assume that if a factory farm adopts certain practices to manage its waste, it will meet permit requirements. That approach wouldn’t pass the laugh test with wastewater treatment plants and factories, and we have known for years that it is just as illegal for livestock operations responsible for discharging pharmaceuticals, pathogens, heavy metals, and nutrients that cause harmful algal blooms into our waterways.

Striking a Blow Against EPA’s Special Treatment For The Factory Farm Industry

When EPA issued a permit for Idaho CAFOs that again left out monitoring, Food & Water Watch, along with our allies Snake River Waterkeeper and Earthrise Law Center, took it to court. This was a unique and strategic opportunity to bring our case in federal court because most Clean Water Act permits are issued by states, not EPA, and challenges go to less favorable state forums.

And our strategy paid off. The three-judge Ninth Circuit panel recognized that Idaho CAFOs are a significant source of water pollution and that they threaten water quality through the risk of discharges off of land application fields and from leaching of manure lagoons into waterways. And it agreed that the Idaho permit didn’t contain the monitoring needed to know if a factory farm is complying with the Clean Water Act, or if this unauthorized pollution was taking place, striking down EPA’s permit as unlawful.

This Win Against Factory Farm Pollution Doesn’t Stop In Idaho

Going forward, this means that polluting factory farms in Idaho will now be required to comprehensively monitor and report on their waste discharges and water pollution for the first time. But even more importantly, the Ninth Circuit’s precedent is relevant everywhere factory farm permits take the same illegal approach as in Idaho – which is, essentially, everywhere. We will be working across the country to ensure this win will have broad implications for how pollution from the factory farm industry is regulated going forward.

Factory farms are a large and growing 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. This victory is a critical first step towards holding factory farms accountable for illegal pollution and stands to provide the information needed not only to enforce the law and advocate for stronger pollution regulation, but to make the case to ban factory farms altogether. The decision also struck a major blow against EPA’s practice of granting illegal exceptions and special treatment to the factory farm industry — and we’ll work to make sure it’s the first of many.

Smart legal work like this is a part of our strategy to save our planet. Will you chip in?

We’re Following Biden Everywhere To Urge The End Of Fossil Fuels

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo CC-BY © Nasa Earth Observatory / Flickr.com

by Thomas Meyer

With historic drought, fires, hurricanes, and floods, the impacts of our collapsing climate are being felt all across the country, but despite his rhetoric about climate change being an “existential threat,” President Biden and his team have continued to advance a fossil fuel-friendly agenda

That’s why we’re working with our allies to organize people across the country whenever and wherever Biden and team go. 

We’ve challenged Biden directly in California, Ohio, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey. When he came to survey damage from climate disasters, we told him to stop fossil fuels.

Biden, Sacramento, 9/13/21

Biden, New York + New Jersey, 9/7/21

Biden, Alexandria, 7/23/21

Biden, Cincinnati, 7/21/21

McCarthy, San Diego, 8/17/21

When Climate Czar Gina McCarthy came to California and promoted fracked gas as she did during the Obama administration, we were there to confront her.

Granholm, Berkeley, 8/20/21

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is a big proponent of liquified fracked gas exports and when she came to California and New Jersey, we were there with a clear message: No more fossil fuels, ban fracking now!

Granholm, New Jersey, 7/14/21

This is just in the last couple of months and we’re just getting started. You can join our next actions in Washington, DC from October 11-15 to urge Biden to finally choose the good of the people over handouts for the fossil fuel industry.

Join us in DC to demand Biden choose People Vs Fossil Fuels!

The Climate Crisis Is An Emergency. It’s Time For Biden To Act Like It.

Categories

Climate and Energy

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.

Biden Can Take Action on Climate, Even Without Congressional Approval

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:  

  1. Fossil fuel infrastructure is often built in under-resourced communities and/or communities of color. He can stop this by issuing a moratorium on new fossil fuel operations in environmental justice communities. 
  2. He could make his pause on fracking on federal lands a permanent ban. 
  3. He could revoke permits for Line 3, Dakota Access, and all major fossil fuel projects. 

The president also has legal options to improve how the federal government researches and develops climate policy: 

  1. Federal actions — activities taken or supported by any department or agency of the federal government — are not contingent upon the climate impact of their projects, and departments aren’t required to share their findings even if those impacts are studied. Biden could change this by requiring cumulative pollution impact assessments of all applicable federal policies, regulations, and actions. 
  2. We know that climate change harms Indigenous communities; it is within Biden’s authority to establish a committee to investigate federal responsibility for starting to repair this legacy of violence and environmental degradation. 

President Biden can — and must — shift our climate legacy, during and beyond his administration.

Biden Has Opportunities to Be Bold on Climate. He Must Take Them.

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!

We Have A Tiny Window To Combat Climate Change. Biden Must Stop Wasting It.

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

Humanity received a stark warning this week. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released on August 9, 2021 and it was a grave moment of recognition for those who are paying attention to climate change. Like previous reports, but in more urgent and clear terms, the scientific report was a devastating account of the impact of fossil fuels on our climate, and what the future holds if we do not radically shift course.

While the key messages from the report are far from new (scientists have been warning about the impact of human activity on the climate for generations), the urgency of the writing and call to action — as we are in the midst of climate change supercharged fires, droughts, extreme heat, and an impending hurricane season — was more clear than ever. 

As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, the report “is a code red for humanity.  The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

The report is long and detailed — the summary version alone is 42 pages — with lots of interesting, devastating, and somewhat depressing scientific reality. Ultimately, though, that reality shows us why we must act now. Here are five key takeaways you should know about.

1. Climate Change is Here, Escalating, and Being Driven by Fossil Fuels

The report lays out in great detail the scientific consensus that not only have fossil fuels driven the climate crisis, but that because of the tremendous amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere, 1.5 degrees of warming is already a certainty, regardless of what policies we enact. According to the report, “many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.” 

This does not mean action is futile — to the contrary the report highlights how much worse things will get if we continue on our present course and how much destruction will be avoided if we make major changes now. But in the short term, droughts, fires, extreme heat, and other climate impacts will continue to increase. As climate scientist Michael Mann said in response to the report, “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here.”

2. Methane in Particular is A Key Driver of Climate Chaos

In addition to the need to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, the report also focused on the need to slash methane emissions. Methane is the core component of natural gas and as a greenhouse gas is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. Fracking and factory farms have been key drivers of methane increases — it’s no coincidence that these are the two bans we’ve been calling for nationally. 

Food & Water Watch has been warning about the impact of methane from fracking and fracked gas infrastructure for years and the IPCC concurred. According to the report, “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 (methane) emissions” would help limit warming and improve air quality.

As IPCC report reviewer Durwood Zaelke told Reuters, “cutting methane is the single biggest and fastest strategy for slowing down warming.”

3. We Can Still Avoid the Worst Impacts of Runaway Climate change, But We Must Act Now

Despite the bleak outlook, the report does have one silver lining and that is if we act now — and act boldly — we can still avoid a much worse climate future, which will make a tremendous difference in how livable our planet is and in the lives of millions of people. 

According to the report, “with every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger.” We have a chance to significantly limit warming if we act now to rein in fossil fuels. It will make the difference between 1.5 degrees of warming and 4.4 degrees. In practical terms, this will mean significantly less drought, extreme weather, fires, flooding, and overall destruction.

4. We Must Immediately Stop Subsidizing the Fossil Fuel Industry and Halt New Fracking, Pipelines and Other Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

There is a clear path back from the climate cliff, but it will entail bold action at every level of government. It will mean we stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, ban fracking, halt new fossil fuel power plants, pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure, ban factory farms and transition away from industrial agriculture, and make bold investments in renewable energy, regional sustainable agriculture, and invest to make our water systems, housing, and other infrastructure climate resilient. 

Meaningfully taking on and dismantling the fossil fuel industry as we transition to a 100% renewable energy system must be a core focus. As the United Nations Secretary General said on the release of the report, “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021… Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.”

5. Biden Must Take Bold Action to Lead Us Back From the Climate Cliff

The climate crisis requires bold leadership. The United States has been responsible for more emissions than any other country on earth and is the largest economy in the world. President Biden could use his platform and executive powers as President of the United States to rally the global community to take on this crisis head on. 

He could look at the science and call for an immediate halt to new fossil fuel projects, he could call for an immediate ban on fracking to tackle the methane issue head on, and he could lead a quick and immediate transition away from fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, President Biden, despite calling climate change an existential threat, continues to advance half measures and in many cases continues to approve oil and gas projects. We have been tracking the moves by his administration and they include approving massive amounts of fracking and drilling permits, backing the dirty and destructive Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines, promoting fracked gas exports, and supporting a project in Alaska that will produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day for 30 years.

Taking action against these projects does not require congressional approval. They are all within President Biden’s executive authority.

The day the report was released, Biden tweeted, “We can’t wait to tackle the climate crisis. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting.” We couldn’t agree more. President Biden needs to lead with his actions and it’s up to us to compel him to do it.

Your friends need to see this and we all need to demand more of President Biden.

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Top 5 Reasons Carbon Capture And Storage (CCS) Is Bogus

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Peter Hart

The idea of using technology to take carbon out of the air may at first blush sound like an attractive solution to our escalating climate crisis. But if you examine the details, the carbon capture “solution” is a mirage. 

Betting on carbon capture as a primary solution to the climate crisis is essentially the same as giving up. The only solution is to rapidly transition to 100% renewable energy in combination with energy efficiency and a less energy-intensive food system. 

Recently, carbon capture has been getting a lot of attention. It is a centerpiece of the oil and gas industry’s greenwashing efforts, the White House includes it as part of its climate agenda, and even some progressive media figures have promoted carbon capture and encouraged the left to embrace it as a so-called solution.

But as attractive as it may sound in theory, there are many good reasons to reject this failed energy-intensive so-called solution. Carbon capture will lock us into decades more of fossil fuels, is not feasible at scale, and diverts money and political attention from the real, bold solutions we need. 

Here are five reasons embracing carbon capture is a fool’s errand. 

1. Carbon Capture is an Expensive Failure

After billions of dollars in public and private investments over decades, there are no carbon capture success stories — only colossal failures. One of the largest was the Petra Nova coal plant in Texas, once the poster child for CO2 removal. But the plant consistently underperformed, before it finally closed for good last year. Another high-profile example — the San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico, touted as the largest capture project in the world — may already be headed to a similar fate. 

Between 2005 and 2012, the DOE spent $6.9 billion attempting to demonstrate the feasibility of CCS for coal, but little came of this investment, and between 2014 and 2016, less than 4 percent of the planned CCS capacity was deployed. The Biden administration wants to shift its focus to carbon capture for gas-fired power plants, but there’s no reason to think the outcome will be any different.

2. Carbon Capture is Energy Intensive

Running a carbon capture system is incredibly energy-intensive — it essentially requires building a new power plant to run the system, which would create another new source of air and carbon pollution. That undermines the whole goal of capturing carbon in the first place. While our country emits roughly 5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, removing 1 billion tons of that through direct air capture would require nearly the entire electricity output of the United States.

It’s also important to consider the scale of what would be needed. The Energy Department recently announced $12 million to fund ‘direct air capture’ projects and touted the possible removal of 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To put this in perspective, the largest corporate polluter in 2018 was responsible for releasing 119 million tons of CO2 equivalent — and that’s only one of them. 

3. Carbon Capture Actually Increases Emissions

A recent review of relevant research shows that due to the large amount of energy required to power carbon capture and the life cycle of fossil fuels, carbon capture in this country has actually put more CO2 into the atmosphere than it has removed. 

That’s not an accident. To the extent that there are successful capture projects, they exist at facilities where the carbon is injected into existing wells in order to extract more oil — a practice known as ‘enhanced oil recovery.’ While an oil company CEO might argue that doubling down on fossil fuels is an effective climate solution, the planet begs to differ. 

4. Storage Presents Significant Risks

There are also other significant risks related to the disposal and storage of carbon. Well failure during injection or a blowout could result in a release of large amounts of CO2;  storage locations can leak CO2,  as they are located close to fossil fuel reservoirs, where oil and gas wellbores provide a pathway for CO2 to escape to the surface.  Those storage leaks could contaminate groundwater and soil; and injection of CO2 could cause earthquakes, which have already been measured at injection sites. 

As Friends of the Earth noted recently, when a CO2 pipeline in a majority Black community in Mississippi ruptured last year, residents had to seek medical treatment, and the incident killed local plants and wildlife. 

5. Carbon Capture Trades Off with Other Critical Solutions

Wishful thinking about carbon capture isn’t just an ineffective response to the climate crisis — it’s dangerous. We have a small window where we can take the bold action needed to avert runaway climate chaos; counting on carbon capture’s effectiveness squanders the opportunity to enact actual emissions reductions (a phenomenon known as “mitigation deterrence”).

The reason that the oil and gas industry loves carbon capture is simple: It extends the fossil fuel era instead of ending it. Already, dirty energy companies are pitching the construction of new pipelines and fracked gas power plants and making totally empty promises about their ability to install capture technology to make them ‘clean.’ If carbon capture continues to fail to work, it doesn’t matter much to the company running the dirty power plant; they will just continue on with business as usual.

So long as fossil fuel companies, government officials, and even some progressive advocates are being fooled by carbon capture, there will be less pressure to actually stop climate pollution by putting an end to drilling and fracking and creating the political will needed for a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy.  

Your friends need to read this.

Biden Climate Watch

Categories

Climate and Energy

Last Update 1/24/22

President Biden has promised to address the climate crisis, which he has called the “existential threat of our times.” 

His administration claims to be pushing to achieve carbon-free power by 2035, and has set a goal of having a “net zero” economy by the year 2050. And he repeatedly vowed that he would stop fracking on public lands: “No more fracking on public lands. Period. Period.”

And when Biden signed his climate-focused executive orders in January, he declared: “It’s not time for small measures. We need to be bold.”  

But do his administration’s words and actions meet his promises? In short, no. We have receipts and we’ll keep tracking them — check them out below.

During a Senate confirmation hearing, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm argued that fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere: “If we are going to get to net carbon zero emissions by 2050, we cannot do it without coal, oil, and gas being part of the mix.”

When announcing his executive order on public lands drilling, Biden declared: 

“Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up: We’re not going to ban fracking.”

Joe, we already know you don’t support a ban on fracking. You should.

In written answers submitted as part of her Senate confirmation hearings, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm promotes the export of fracked gas as a clean energy solution: 

“I believe U.S. LNG exports can have an important role to play in reducing international consumption of fuels that have greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Swapping one form of dirty energy for another is not progress. 

Tell the Biden Administration that our future MUST be fracking-free. Our existence depends on it.

E&E News reports on an Oval Office meeting with labor leaders, one of whom recounts their conversation: 

“I brought up natural gas specifically to him, we spoke about pipelines … and he says, ‘I’m all for natural gas.'”

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm touts the potential of carbon capture — a false solution that only perpetuates dirty energy and fossil fuel profits:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that you can’t get to net-zero carbon emissions without carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). We are excited about that. Obviously, it’s still nascent technology in capturing CO2 emissions, but we’ve got to do it on all types of fuel, if we’re going to get to net zero. I’m really excited about it, especially for communities in transition. You think of Appalachia, for example: They have coal; they have natural gas. Those workers, if they’re interested, could shift skills to be able to do installation of this technology. The CO2 pipelines that will be necessary for it could put lots of people to work, so I think it’s a big job opportunity, I think it’s a big carbon reduction opportunity, and we’re going to be bullish about it.”

Many billions have been spent on carbon capture — with essentially zero to show for it. The only people more excited to tout CCUS are the fossil fuel corporations who use it in their greenwashing ads.

Despite his vow to rein in fracking on public lands, Argus Media reports that the Biden Interior Department “has approved 200 drilling permits over the past two weeks… The surge in activity brings the number of approved drilling permits to 229 since Biden took office.”

Reports surface that White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy met privately with oil industry representatives to discuss “shared priorities.” The White House declined to provide a list of the attendees, but did explain that McCarthy “made clear that the Administration is not fighting the oil and gas sector,” and asked the oil industry representatives to present “ideas for addressing the climate crisis and reducing emissions.”

Climate envoy John Kerry tells a finance group:

“No government is going to solve this problem…The solutions are going to come from the private sector.” 

He added: “What the government needs to do is create a framework within which the private sector can do what it does best, which is allocate capital and innovate.” 

Kerry was also quoted as saying, “I think we’re on the cusp of a massive transformation… And ultimately, the market is going to make the decisions, not the government.”

Of course, decisions made by the market are what created the problem in the first place.

In a court filing, Biden’s Army Corps of Engineers re-affirms its opposition to shutting down the controversial oil pipeline while a court-ordered environmental review is underway. In response, Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman said, “It’s baffling that when it comes to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Biden’s Army Corps is standing in the way of justice for Standing Rock by opposing a court order to shut down this infrastructure while environmental and safety consequences are fully evaluated.”

The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are appealing a court ruling that found the government failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of issuing new fracking leases in Wayne National Forest in Ohio. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity told Reuters:

“There’s a wide and dangerous chasm between the Biden administration’s climate rhetoric and its defense of unlawful fracking.”

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was a surprise guest at an oil industry conference, where she reassured the audience:

 “We want to be a partner. And first, let me be clear, in our position as a global supplier of crude oil and natural gas and other forms of energy, that traditional fossil energy is going to remain important, even as we work to reduce carbon emissions.”

Under the headline “Biden’s Drilling Moratorium Is Not A Moratorium,” the Daily Poster reports:

“the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has already broken Biden’s campaign promise by approving more than five hundred new drilling permits for previously existing leases since Biden took office.”

According to E&E News, the Interior Department has “issued dozens of oil leases sold in the final weeks of the Trump administration — and could issue over 200 more — drawing the ire of an environmental group that argues the move is a violation of the Biden administration’s leasing freeze.”

Jeremy Nichols of the group WildEarth Guardians told the outlet that a lawsuit is “definitely on the table.”

E&E News reports:  

The Biden administration yesterday advanced a proposal for oil and gas exploration on the back steps of the Dinosaur National Monument, sparking criticism from Utah public land advocates.

The permits were approved two years ago, but thanks to pressure from environmental groups the Trump administration remanded them for additional environmental analysis.

The New York Times reports:

The Biden administration is defending a huge Trump-era oil and gas project in the North Slope of Alaska designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, despite President Biden’s pledge to pivot the country away from fossil fuels.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited a hydrogen facility in Texas to promote fossil fuels:

“We want to be able to promote and sell clean technologies… That could be natural gas that has been decarbonized, or that could be natural gas where the methane flaring has been eliminated.”

This rhetoric is basically indistinguishable from industry PR. 

Branko Marcetic reports for Jacobin:

According to statistics from the Bureau of Land Management, from the start of February to the end of April, the administration approved 1,179 drilling permits on federal lands, not far from the four-year high of nearly 1,400 approved over a similar three-month period at the end of Trump’s term.

While national media cover a series of intense grassroots actions demanding that the White House stop the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, the administration studiously refuses to comment.  Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that a group of oil executives was having a private meeting at the White House with climate advisor Gina McCarthy. 

Speaking at a nuclear industry conference, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm calls nuclear power “an absolutely critical part of our decarbonization equation” and touts the administration’s nearly $2 billion nuclear power budget request. “The administration is ready to walk the walk,” she added.

“Advanced nuclear holds so much potential,” she said, adding that she envisions small nuclear reactors working with renewables and carbon capture as part of a zero-carbon grid of the future.

This is wildly irresponsible.

The Washington Examiner reports that Andrew Light — Biden’s nominee to be the deputy assistant secretary for international affairs at the Energy Department — wants to see more fracked gas exports: 

“My job in this role is to make sure U.S. gas is competitive around the world…Russia has the dirtiest source of gas right now. We’ve got to make sure ours is cleaner and that ours fill those markets around the world. That’s what I intend to do.” 

He added that he seeks to make the United States the leaders in “abated natural gas technology around the world.” Fracking without the pollution — what a concept. Too bad it’s fiction.

Gizmodo reports that the administration is nominating Neil MacBride for Treasury general counsel — who recently sued the Treasury Department on behalf of Exxon. 

As they note: 

Nominating someone for that role who has fought against fines and regulations on behalf of major companies—including not only Exxon but also automotive corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and the rating agencies and banks behind the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis—doesn’t bode well.

Reporting from a G7 summit focused on climate action, Politico reports that the Biden administration helped to block more forceful action on phasing out coal:

“The Biden administration — fixated on cultivating the Democrats’ razor-thin Senate majority and the coal mining sympathies of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin — was wary of any language specifically clamping down on coal.”

The Energy Department announced $12 million to fund ‘direct air capture’ projects, which it touted as a chance to remove 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. DAC is a highly expensive and mostly theoretical enterprise, but to put this in perspective, the largest corporate polluter in 2018 was responsible for 119 million tons of CO2 equivalent. 

Speaking about the White House’s vision for a clean energy standard, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that fracked gas would qualify if paired with some form of carbon capture:

“I think that if you combined natural gas with carbon removal so that it was really clean and that you had zero carbon emissions.”

There is no such technology to remove emissions from gas power plants. And even if it did exist, that would still leave all of the other associated problems with fracking — methane leakage, water contamination and pollution at the well sites — as well as the other air pollutants created by gas-fired power plants.

At a House committee hearing, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told lawmakers,

 “I don’t think there is a plan right now for a permanent ban” on oil and gas drilling on public lands. Those comments directly contradict Biden’s repeated promises to ban fracking on public lands.

Haaland added that “gas and oil production will continue well into the future.”

A growing, powerful grassroots movement is demanding that President Biden stop the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline under construction in Minnesota. The White House responds by filing a brief backing the Trump administration’s approval of the project. The Justice Department, as Gizmodo reported, “asked the court to reject any more arguments from environmental and Indigenous groups and allow the pipeline to move forward.”  

The case, brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, seeks to challenge a US Army Corps of Engineers water permit. As Tara Houska of Giniw Collective put it, “This is a horrific failure of the government’s duty to tribal nations, to climate science, to the sacred.” 

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm boasts that the White House support for “significant” carbon capture research funding is good news: 

“These kinds of technologies will help for the oil and gas sector to be able to ramp up production, but in a way that’s clean.”

This is welcome news for the fossil fuel industry — which loves to tout carbon capture as a climate solution, even though there’s basically no such thing. Granholm is correct that this could easily ramp up oil and gas drilling — which is the opposite of what we should be doing right now.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality submits a report to Congress laying out the ways it could support the fossil fuel industry’s carbon capture plans. The report envisions an array of options, including efforts to streamline permitting for carbon storage facilities and new pipelines.

White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy released a memo that was intended to demonstrate the Biden administration’s commitment to its climate and clean energy goals. But the memo actually does the opposite.  Instead of explicitly supporting a bonafide standard for clean, renewable energy, the memo touts the leveraging of ‘market signals’ and other technocratic rhetoric that is decades out of date.

According to a report from Bloomberg Government, a draft of a long-awaited White House report on fracking on public lands “falls short of the outright ban,” promised during the campaign, and will only recommend changes to the royalty rates paid by drillers and other minor tweaks. Increasing royalty rates for drilling only entrenches our dependence on fossil fuels.

The Associated Press reports that “approvals for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. public lands are on pace this year to reach their highest level since George W. Bush was president.” The Interior Department approved about 2,500 permits to drill on public and tribal lands in the first six months of the year — more than 2,100 drilling approvals since Biden took office on Jan. 20.

DeSmog publishes a lengthy investigation into Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s blueprint to build a massive new network of carbon dioxide pipelines, a plan that is being promoted within the Biden administration, with Deputy Energy Secretary Dave Turk appearing at the launch event to offer supportive commentary.  

As DeSmog notes, building a vast array of new pipelines and storage facilities will be a boon to fossil fuel polluters “by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.” 

Nonetheless, the report impressed Turk who said the report “is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress.” Turk added that the administration was pushing for billions of dollars to fund carbon capture: So we’ve got some tools on the table right now at the Department of Energy but we’re really hoping and it’s encouraging to see the bipartisan support for CCUS up on the Hill.”

Climate envoy John Kerry gives a speech in London where he endorses the argument that we do not need to build any new fossil fuel infrastructure — which is a welcome message indeed. But he also endorsed some much less worthwhile ideas: 

“We’ll also need to develop the equivalent of installing the largest carbon capture storage facility currently in operation, but we have to do that every 9 days through 2030.”

Given that such facilities basically do not exist, we shouldn’t be building a new one every week or so. This kind of carbon capture rhetoric exists to lengthen the life of fossil fuel corporations, instead of ending the dirty energy era.

In an E & E News piece about how Biden’s EPA still does not have a clear policy on regulating power plant emissions, climate adviser Gina McCarthy applauds the utility industry’s various ‘net zero’ plans and voluntary emissions reduction goals (which critics have derided for being weak).   

“They’re doing it because they’re good capitalists … They know where the money is. They know where the future is.”

E&E News/Politico reports that the White House is doing favors for a major coal operator:  

“The Biden administration this spring cut the royalty fees a mining company is required to pay on coal dug up at two major operations on public land in the West, an Interior Department database shows.”

The requests came last year for two of the company’s mines. The report suggests the Biden administration slashed the royalty rate to 2% at the Coal Creek mine in Wyoming. Arch did not comment on the decision, but the company’s latest earnings report showed them posting a net income of $30 million in the second quarter. 

Another coal company — Peabody — is awaiting word on its own application for royalty relief from the Biden administration.

The Intercept reports that the White House-backed Senate infrastructure plan “would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.” That total does not include the existing $15 billion in fossil fuel subsidies, and would serve to lay the groundwork for a major expansion of polluting petrochemical facilities. 

E & E Daily reports that the Biden administration remains steadfast boosters of carbon capture. Speaking at an industry roundtable event, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm reiterates that the White House-backed infrastructure plan could “kick carbon capture development and deployment into high gear.” She adds that the White House is looking to “turbocharge” carbon capture and “press hard on the accelerator.” Secretary Granholm touts carbon capture as a way to involve the “fossil energy communities that have powered this nation for over a century,” and went on to say, “Once we can get these technologies out of the lab and into the real world, it will be a game-changer for the climate.” 

The problem is that carbon capture has been in the ‘real world’ for a long time — and the dismal results speak for themselves. Carbon capture isn’t  a ‘game changer’ at all, and any climate policy that relies heavily on its success should be considered game over.

Just 2 days after the release of a IPCC climate report that urges an immediate shift away from fossil fuels, the White House announced that it is calling on OPEC+ nations to increase oil production.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is asked this question:

“How does this White House square a push for OPEC — or Saudi Arabia — to increase production of oil, which is a fossil fuel, with your climate change agenda, which is basically to get away from fossil fuels?”

Her response is puzzling:

“Well, first I’d say that experts have consistently debunked the notion that efforts we’re undertaking to transition to net zero by 2050 and a clean power sector by 2035 are related to domestic production at home. I would just note. I know that wasn’t exactly your question, but I wanted to get that in there.”

Whatever the intent, It’s nonetheless revealing that the White House seems to be saying that domestic production of fossil fuels can continue no matter what. ‘Net zero’ goals mean very little if the administration does not plan to rein in the production of dirty energy.

The Guardian reports on new research, co-authored by Food & Water Watch board member and Cornell professor Robert Howarth, which shows that the Biden-backed plan to promote so-called ‘blue hydrogen’ will produce climate pollution on par with burning coal. The production of blue hydrogen relies on splitting gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, with the goal of capturing that CO2. But this process releases substantial methane, and will require an enormous amount of energy. As Howarth puts it,  “Blue hydrogen is a nice marketing term that the oil and gas industry is keen to push but it’s far from carbon free.” The Biden-backed infrastructure plan would devote $8 billion to supporting this fossil fuel-friendly technology.

Max Moran writes in the American Prospect about President Biden’s decision to appoint Amos Hochstein as the State Department’s senior adviser for energy security. As Moran writes, this could be a re-run of Hochstein’s role in the Obama administration: 

“Back then, his title was ‘Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs,’ but his actual job was essentially to be the point man for securing American access to foreign oil fields. Hochstein’s devotion to planet-killing fuels hasn’t wavered in the years since: He spent all four of the Trump years as a marketing executive for Tellurian, a fossil gas company.”

The White House announced that it will appeal a federal judge’s decision to block the administration’s pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands. But in the meantime, the Interior Department will issue new leases as the legal case unfolds. Politico sums up the shift with the headline “Unpausing the Pause.”  In a statement, House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva says, “Holding more lease sales under today’s outdated standards is economically wasteful and environmentally destructive, and everyone not sitting in a fossil fuel boardroom knows it.”

The White House announces that it will use its power at the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to vote down financing plans for fossil fuel projects. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin says these are “bold, proactive steps to address the climate crisis,” but the policy includes numerous exceptions. Carbon capture projects could still be financed, and The Hill reports that “the guidance said that the administration will oppose financing production, but may support its transportation and distribution.” These details led Friends of the Earth International Policy Campaigner Luisa Galvao to say, “The Treasury guidance leaves loopholes for continued fossil fuel financing that are so big, you can drive an LNG ship through them.”

Jeff St. John digs into the details of the Senate infrastructure plan for Canary Media and finds some alarming cuts to clean energy funding. While the White House had initially touted $73 billion for grid upgrades and transmission, a subsequent fact sheet pegged that funding at $65 billion to ”facilitate the expansion of renewable energy.” But that total is misleading, since it includes billions for nuclear power, carbon capture and hydrogen. The actual funding for new transmission is closer to $2.5 billion — a small fraction of what will be necessary to achieve the administration’s stated clean energy goals.

White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy is asked about the role of fracked gas in the  administration’s energy plan, and she gives this response:

“The president’s plan is an all-of-the-above’ strategy and we are looking at every opportunity, of course, to get renewable energy into the marketplace as fast as we can but we are not picking and choosing winners. We are investing in every winner we can find.”

When it comes to climate action, leadership requires making choices. Fracked gas is a loser.

The Biden administration announces that it will undertake a review of the federal policies that govern the leasing of public lands for coal extraction, similar to the review of the oil and gas leasing program they launched shortly after taking office. But as the Washington Post reports, the administration will not put the coal program on hold in the meantime: 

“While previous reviews of the federal coal program under Presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon resulted in pauses on leasing, the Biden administration will continue to hold coal auctions and issue permits.”

E&E News reports that the Biden administration has once again slashed royalty rates for a coal company. This time around the break went to the Deseret Power Electric Cooperative company, to help with production at one of its Colorado mines. While underground mines typically pay an 8 percent  royalty rate, Biden’s Bureau of Land Management agreed to a 2 percent rate. Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians tells E & E that the move “highlights the economic lunacy of the federal coal program and the shameful willingness of the Bureau of Land Management to bend over backward to give the coal industry handouts.”

Reuters take note of the Biden administration announcement that it 

“would take steps to restart the federal oil and gas leasing program in the next week and plans to hold a Gulf of Mexico auction as soon as October.”

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is asked if the administration’s clean energy standard would allow for  “high efficiency natural gas plants without carbon capture systems — something oil lobbyists are pushing for — in that program.”

“You can incentivize utilities to do natural gas with carbon capture. That would be clean. But for no carbon capture and allowing methane to be flared, that would not be incentivized.”

In reality, neither option is ‘clean.’ Gas-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture — which do not exist, despite heavy subsidies and years of research — would still require new fracking wells and new pipelines, which will all result in new methane emissions. And capture technologies do not address any other air pollution linked to power plants.

The Interior Department announces a massive sale of leases in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Reuters, the 90 million acres could yield  “up to 1.1 billion barrels of crude oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.” To add insult to injury, the administration’s announcement found that the climate threat of this new drilling “does not present sufficient cause” to revise the Trump administration’s environmental analysis of the offshore drilling leases. 

Earthjustice files suit against the plan, arguing that the plan violates federal law by failing to account for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all of this new drilling. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out,“The environmental analysis of the proposed sale relies on improper modeling to conclude that not having the lease sale will result in more greenhouse gases.”

The Energy Department announces the nomination of Brad Crabtree as Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm calls Crabtree “one of the nation’s top practitioners on carbon capture and storage and carbon utilization,” and the department’s press release touts his role as Vice President for Carbon Management at the Great Plains Institute (GPI), where he “helped launch the State Carbon Capture Work Group, a 16-state initiative… to foster commercial deployment of carbon capture and CO2 transport infrastructure.” 

Carbon capture has quickly become one of the industry’s most popular talking points, as dirty energy corporations look for ways to fool the public into thinking they care about the climate crisis. The White House appears determined to help them.

The White House announces that it will nominate Willie L. Phillips to fill the vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an agency that wields enormous power over approving  new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Phillips, who currently serves as chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, has worked for electric utility giants and the oil and gas industry. 

Climate and community groups actively campaigning for a climate champion at the agency were disappointed. As Food & Water Watch’s Mitch Jones says, “Unfortunately, nothing in Phillips’ career thus far has shown that he will be that champion; in fact, quite the opposite.”

The Washington Post reports on the ‘lobbying frenzy’ around the climate provisions of the Senate reconciliation proposal, and notes that top Biden officials 

“have been working behind the scenes to broker deals between key industries and congressional leaders. Last week, White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and her deputy Ali Zaidi traveled to Colorado Springs to meet with scores of top utility executives at their trade group’s board meeting.”

The report added that the pair  “spoke to about 100 people” at the industry meeting, and had many “one-on-one conversations, where they took notes about what the administration could do to cement the utilities’ support.”

The Biden administration announces a methane pledge with the European Union that aims to achieve at least 30 percent reductions by 2030 (compared with 2020 levels). These proposed cuts fall short of what many experts believe are possible in the short term. As Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said

“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.”

In comments to reporters, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks about the importance of “balance” when it comes to fossil fuel drilling on public lands. The Hill quotes Haaland saying that taxpayers “haven’t necessarily been getting a fair return on their investment in these public lands.” The implication, once again, is that the Biden administration is moving away from their calls for an end to fracking on public lands, and will instead support policies to change what companies are charged to drill on such lands.

As The Hill also reports:

“Asked Thursday if her call for balance implied that oil and gas would still be part of the equation, Haaland reiterated past comments that oil and gas will ‘continue for years to come.’”

The Financial Times reports that gas shortages and price spikes in Europe are good news for the fossil fuel industry, since it is likely to boost political support for the construction of LNG export terminals in the United States. One of the key decision makers is Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. He is quoted in the Times as being supportive of the need to build new gas facilities (while also speaking of the need to transition away from fossil fuels).

Hochstein, for the record, worked for the Obama administration boosting fossil fuel development, and then took a lucrative marketing job at the fossil fuel company Tellurian, a key player in the fracking exports business. Hochstein also reported income from a consulting gig with an Emirati gas company.

Mother Jones reports that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has continued the Trump administration’s opposition to a European Union agriculture program to reduce carbon emissions from food production.

Vilsack is quoted (from an appearance at a Big Ag industry conference) saying that “a market-oriented, incentive-based, voluntary system is effective” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to the more stringent requirements being pushed by the EU.

University of Iowa researcher Silvia Secchi has this to say about the administration’s plan to ally with Brazil on these issues: “It’s appalling that for all its purported concern about climate change, this administration has aligned with a government that has wrecked policies put in place to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.”

The Hill reports that the administration has formally announced the date of oil and gas drilling lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, which will “comprise about 15,135 blocks in a range of 3 to 231 miles offshore and depths ranging from 9 to more than 11,000 feet.” 

The move led Center for Western Priorities Deputy Director Aaron Weiss to say, “President Biden is doing Donald Trump’s bidding today. This lease sale will be devastating for the Earth’s climate, and set America back years on our path to a climate solution.”

Two environmental lawyers write in The Conversation that the Biden administration is squandering a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help Puerto Rico transition to a greener and more resilient energy future.” Despite new laws that call for a shift away from fossil fuels, which provide that vast majority of power on the island, Biden’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is allowing Hurricane Maria relief money to “underwrite a rebuild of the old fossil fuel system.”

The authors, Patrick Parenteau and Rachel Stevens, write that they are “surprised to see FEMA move forward on a path that runs directly counter to the White House’s energy and climate policy.” They note that FEMA failed to conduct an adequate environmental review, and did not engage in meaningful dialogue with impacted communities — a move that “directly contradicts Biden’s order to place environmental justice at the center of federal energy and climate policy.”

Responding to a question about energy supply problems creating price spikes around the world, Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that fossil fuels are the answer to the problem with fossil fuels:

“There’s a natural gas shortage around the world, hence the need for the United States to continue to export natural gas.”

The spike in gas prices stems from a variety of factors, including the slow recovery from a deadly global pandemic. Whatever the cause, the answer to dramatic increases in fossil fuel prices is not to deepen our reliance on fossil fuels.

Asked about the People vs Fossil Fuels climate mobilization outside the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki responds by saying, 

“I would encourage anyone out there, or not, to look at what the President is proposing, what he’s trying to push across the finish line at this point, which is an enormous investment and commitment to addressing the climate crisis. That’s in his legislative agenda that’s currently working its way through Congress now. It doesn’t mean his climate commitment ends once he signs this into law; it just means that’s what our focus is on now, and it will have a dramatic, important impact.”

Of course, the issue for the People vs Fossil Fuels mobilization was to urge President Biden to take the necessary steps that do not require Congressional approval — including ending drilling on public lands, stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure projects and declaring a climate emergency. It’s not that the movement is not paying close attention to what Biden is ‘proposing.’ We want much more.

Politico reports that the White House is working with Democratic lawmakers to water down climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act in order to woo West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin: “The changes under consideration could make it easier for coal and natural gas power plants to receive billions of dollars in financial incentives for clean energy.”

Of course, these moves are deemed necessary to win approval of the entire spending package. But can it still be called a climate plan if it props up climate-destroying fossil fuels?

As behind-the-scenes negotiations over the White House’s Build Back Better Act continue, Democratic holdout Senator Joe Manchin tells reporters that he is not willing to consider a carbon tax. Nonetheless, Reuters reports that the administration is still hanging onto it

The White House on Tuesday said it has not ruled out a carbon tax as a possible option for fighting climate change, even though U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a critical holdout in the closely divided Senate, said he was not discussing the topic in talks about U.S. spending and infrastructure bills.

“I’m not taking any options on or off the table,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told a briefing when asked about a carbon tax.

A carbon tax should not be seen as a reasonable compromise here — it would represent a total capitulation to the fossil fuel industry, which by and large supports taxes over more meaningful action.

At his Senate confirmation hearing to become a new commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Willie Phillips tells Senator Joe Manchin:

“I believe in an all-of-the-above strategy with regard to the work of the Commission. I know that FERC is an economic regulator, they do not pick winners and losers.”

In energy circles, “all of the above” is an outdated concept that rejects a break with fossil fuels in favor of allowing various destructive practices to continue to flourish. It was the kind of rhetoric that accompanied the fracking boom under the Obama administration. We don’t need more of these failures.

Brad Crabtree, Biden’s nominee to lead the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, appears before a Senate committee considering his confirmation. 

As reported by Politico, Crabtree tells lawmakers that the record of carbon capture technologies has been “quite positive.” He adds that it is “long proven and widely commercially deployed across the world,” and should in fact receive even more government subsidies. 

The record on carbon capture is actually a string of false promises, wasted money and massive failures. Crabtree’s views are no surprise; after all, right before the White House announced his nomination he was the director of the Carbon Capture Coalition. It is a distressing sign that the White House is adopting the energy industry’s deceptive carbon capture campaign as its own.

The Center for Biological Diversity issues a press release warning that the Biden administration is set to approve a right-of-way-through the Ashley National Forest in Utah, a project that would aid construction of a railway crucial to the expansion of the crude oil industry. 

The group reports that the railway would increase oil production to 350,000 barrels a day and would create 53 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution, “equivalent to the emissions from six of Utah’s dirtiest coal plants.” The Forest Service’s support for the project “undermines President Biden days before the administration heads to Glasgow to demonstrate U.S. leadership on the climate emergency,” said Deeda Seed, senior public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. The release also notes: “The Forest Service has not responded to a letter and meeting request from 30 environmental and conservation groups to discuss the environmental harm that will be inflicted by the proposed railway.”

As White House officials prepare for the international climate summit in Glasgow, the New York Times reports on the irony of President Biden sounding the alarm about the climate crisis while simultaneously “urging the world’s largest oil producers to pump more of the fossil fuels that are warming the planet.” 

Biden tries to explain away the issue by saying that “everyone knows that the idea we’re going to be able to move to renewable energy overnight is just not rational.” Of course, no one is suggesting an overnight clean energy miracle; the issue is that any actions that prolong the fossil fuel era are fundamentally at odds with our climate goals.

The Associated Press reports

“The Biden administration is planning to sell oil and gas leases on huge tracts of public land in the U.S. West, despite the Interior Department’s conclusion that doing so could cost society billions of dollars in climate change impacts, according to government documents.”

The administration’s decision affects leases across a number of states in the West. The AP also notes that “similar determinations that U.S. fossil fuel lease sales should not be restricted over global warming concerns were made under former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama.”

Bloomberg reports that the White House’s Build Back Better infrastructure proposal could deliver “billions of dollars in extra tax breaks” for coal plants, thanks to an increase in the tax credits awarded for so-called carbon capture schemes. An analysis from the Sierra Club finds that a single 1,000 megawatt plan could receive $6 billion over 12 years, an extraordinarily generous lifeline to dirty energy operators.

The language of the credit would allow coal plants to qualify for the credit so long as they planned capture operations to be under construction by the year 2032. In some cases, coal plants have already used existing the credits program to delay closure, as operators weigh the benefits of actually installing capture technology (which, it should be said again, does not actually work).  Lukas Ross of Friends of the Earth calls these provisions a “total disaster” and “an astoundingly regressive approach to climate policy.”

Dozens of countries used the COP summit to announce an agreement to phase out coal, leading summit organizers to declare that “the end of coal is in sight.” The Biden administration did not join the pledge. The New York Times reports that government officials decided not to join the pledge because doing so would anger West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is heavily invested in the industry.

The New Republic’s Kate Aronoff reports on the ways that Biden officials attending the COP26 summit have spoken favorably about working with private interests. John Kerry, for one, spoke about the need to create clean energy policies that would “blend the finance, de-risk the investment, and … create the capacity to have bankable deals.” 

At one event, White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy enthused: “I’m so excited that the private sector is here with such vibrance. There’s no question any more that this is a catastrophe and we have to fix it. The question is, how do we do it in a way that captures the economic value associated with that?”

She added that we must “turn this challenge into a creative opportunity. And all that will make money. And God bless America.” That’s the kind of talk you’d expect from an oil company CEO.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s main message at the COP climate summit was to tout the administration’s support for carbon removal schemes that do not exist: 

“By slashing the costs and accelerating the deployment of carbon dioxide removal, a crucial clean energy technology, we can take massive amounts of carbon pollution directly from the air and combat the climate crisis.”

Granholm told the conference that she is “really excited” about the bipartisan infrastructure plan that spends billions of dollars on direct air capture, in addition to the billions that will be spent on carbon capture projects. Make no mistake — these are subsidies to fossil fuel polluters, intended to extend the life of dirty energy under the guise of climate action.

At the COP summit, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was asked if the Biden administration would take any actions to stop the massive oil and gas export facilities on the Gulf Coast. Granholm’s response was puzzling: “That’s not my lane, stopping oil and gas exports.”

But as Kate Aronoff points out in the New Republic, “under the Natural Gas Act, the Department of Energy has the exclusive authority to approve whether companies can import and export gas.” While oil exports are not covered by the Department of Energy, they are still very much within the administration’s purview. President Biden could reinstate the crude oil export ban that was repealed in 2015 by President Obama—a move that led to massive growth in the export of oil around the world. There is plenty the Biden White House could do, if it wished to make policies that matched the administration’s climate rhetoric.

The Huffington Post notes that just days after the COP26 climate summit closed, the Biden administration is shifting its focus as it “prepares to hold the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history on Nov. 17.” 

The report adds this context: 

The Department of the Interior will offer up more than 80 million acres — an area larger than the state of New Mexico — of the Gulf of Mexico for drilling. It is bigger than any lease sale conducted under President Donald Trump’s fossil-fuel-friendly administration, and Interior estimates it will lead to the production of an additional 1.1 billion barrels of oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over several decades.

While the White House claims its hands are tied by a court ruling, many legal experts argue that there are several avenues the administration could take in order to stop this drilling scheme.

In a piece detailing the Biden administration’s public lands drilling policies, reporter Adam Federman describes another disappointment that has not received as much attention. He writes that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management 

“has renewed the leases of 18 coal mines this year, allowing operations to continue for at least another decade, while granting 13 requests to reduce the royalty fees that coal mines pay the federal government to operate on public lands, which environmentalists view as an unnecessary subsidy helping to keep the industry afloat.”

The day after Thanksgiving, the White House quietly released a long-delayed report on public lands oil and gas drilling. During the campaign, President Biden was clear about wanting to ban fracking on public lands. This report, however, merely recommends that polluters pay slightly more to drill wells.

As Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones put it, the report 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…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.”

Speaking at a Reuters conference, White House climate envoy John Kerry delivered a strikingly sanguine assessment of the battle against the climate crisis: “There’s a great deal of money chasing good projects and good deals. I believe the private sector has the ability to win this battle for us.” 

He added: “This is doable. It doesn’t have to be frightening.”

What’s frightening is believing that corporate polluters can become climate champions.

The Washington Post reports on a new Public Citizen study of the Biden administration’s record on oil and gas leasing, which found that the White House

“has approved more oil and gas drilling permits on public lands per month than the Trump administration did during the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency.”

As the Post notes, the new analysis found that the Bureau of Land Management has “approved an average of 333 drilling permits per month. That figure is more than 35% higher than Trump’s first year in office, when BLM approved an average of 245 drilling permits per month.”

Speaking to the National Petroleum Council, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm assured the oil industry that the administration would not reinstate a ban on crude oil exports, as some lawmakers and climate advocates had been pushing. 

“I do not want to fight with any of you… I do think it’s much more productive to work together on future facing solutions,” she told the assembled executives. Granholm added that the administration would like to see companies increase their drilling: “I hope you will hear me say that please, take advantage of the leases that you have, hire workers, get your rig count up.”

E&E News reports that the White House is reiterating its support for a 88-mile rail line to carry crude oil and sand for fracking, part of which would pass through a national forest in Utah. The message came via a letter from the Forest Service to the Center for Biological Diversity, which alludes to the administration’s desire to “rebuild our infrastructure for a sustainable economy.”

As the Center for Biological Diversity had argued previously, trains operating on the new rail line could carry as much as 350,000 barrels of crude oil every day. The group also noted: “Conservative estimates of carbon pollution from this expansion of fossil fuel extraction equal to up to 53 million tons of CO2, 6 times more than the annual emissions of the dirtiest coal plant in Utah.”

While Congress continues to struggle with passage of the Build Back Better Act, E&E News reports on new research showing that the new bipartisan infrastructure law could actually increase emissions. While the White House touts its carbon reduction possibilities, the problem is how much of the infrastructure funding would go towards building roads and highways. A study from the Georgetown Law Center finds that such scenarios could increase emissions by 1.6 percent in a decade.

President Biden’s executive order calling on the federal government to reach the goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 was celebrated as a major step in the right direction. But there is one massive exception. As E & E News reports

the executive order exempts anything related to national security, combat, intelligence or military training.

That means Biden’s order covers only a fraction of federal emissions. While military leaders insist they share the president’s decarbonization goal, there is no plan for them to meet it.

 This is no mere footnote to the broader goals; some studies find that the military accounts for over 70 percent of the government’s total energy use.

It’s a New year, but the same old policies are still in place, as the Bismarck Tribune reports: 

The federal Bureau of Land Management is planning a lease sale for the first quarter of 2022 with 6,850 federally owned mineral acres up for grabs in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

Tell the Biden Administration that our future MUST be fracking-free. Our existence depends on it.

We Can’t Eat Without Bees And Other Pollinators. Protecting Them Is Key.

Categories

Food System

by Amanda Starbuck

Last week, a startup made headlines by claiming it is developing a vaccine that provides domestic honeybees with immunity towards a group of pesticides called organophosphates. The company wants to market the product as a solution to honeybee colony collapse.

Was this an early gift for National Pollinator Week? Hardly. At Food & Water Watch, we know that to truly protect bees from lethal pesticides, the duty falls on our legislators and regulators — not our beekeepers. Moreover, we need to systematically reform our food and farming systems, if we have any hope of saving our precious pollinators. This is why we support legislation like the Saving America’s Pollinators Act. It is also why we are fighting for a just transition to regional, sustainable food systems.

The Humble Honeybee Isn’t The Only Threatened Pollinator  

Honeybees often come to mind when we think of pollinators. But did you know there are more than 100,000 species of animals across the globe that pollinate flowering plants? In fact, the vast majority of crops we eat are not pollinated by domesticated honeybees but by other wildlife, ranging from wild bees and moths to hummingbirds and fruit bats. We need to safeguard all of these unsung heroes that make it possible for us to eat.

Pesticides are just one threat facing pollinators. Climate change is another. Extreme weather destroys plants that pollinators depend on. It also disrupts the timing of plant flowering and the migration patterns of pollinators. Last year, the number of monarch butterflies that over-wintered in Mexico fell by a quarter from the previous year. Our government’s refusal to take bold action on climate change is threatening the survival of monarchs and other pollinators.

Our farming systems are also destroying vital pollinator habitat. Industrial practices like monocropping and chemical pesticide spraying reduce biodiversity. Over the past few decades, the U.S. significantly expanded its corn and soy acreage, mostly for non-food uses like ethanol and livestock feed. This took more land out of conservation reserve, reducing pollinator habitat. And nearly all of these corn and soybean acres are GMO varieties resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) herbicides. Glyphosate use is linked to steep declines in milkweed and other plant species crucial to pollinator survival.

Only a System-Wide Approach Will Save Our Pollinators

First, we can pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, reintroduced this week. The bill would immediately cancel the registration of neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides that are lethal to bees. It would also direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a Pollinator Protection Board. The Board would independently review pesticides for their threats to pollinators and their habitats, and monitor pollinator populations. That way, we can ensure that no harmful pesticides make it into the field in the first place.

Second, we need bold solutions to the climate crisis, including ending fossil fuel subsidies and transitioning to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2030. We cannot hope to protect pollinators if we do not address this imminent threat to all species’ survival.

Finally, Food & Water Watch is advocating for a radical transformation of our food and farming systems, to reduce climate emissions and promote biodiversity. We need to reestablish supply management for commodity crops, to stop the overproduction of corn and soy and end the glut of cheap grain that props up factory farms. We need to realign our farm safety net so that it encourages the adoption of regenerative practices that return biodiversity to the farm. Diverse, integrated crop-and-livestock operations will eliminate the need for pesticides while providing vital habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.We have the blueprints for making this transition happen. Help us celebrate National Pollinator Week by joining with us in demanding bold action to save our bees and other pollinators.

Your friends should see this.

Our Smithfield Lawsuit Exposes Lies About Meat Shortages And Worker Safety

Categories

Food System

by Emily Miller

Of all the dark truths the pandemic has exposed about our society and food system, meatpacking companies’ greed and shocking disregard for workers’ health and safety makes our blood boil the most. And one corporation, in particular, has repeatedly and egregiously lied to the public throughout the crisis to protect its bottom line: Smithfield Foods. 

Food & Water Watch Sues Smithfield For Misleading Claims

At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. Thousands of meatpacking workers across the country contracted the virus — in some cases, even forcing plants to temporarily shut down. The crisis not only exposed the vulnerability of a food system controlled by a few powerful and highly consolidated corporations, but also accelerated nationwide transmission of the virus.  

Enough is enough. Last week, Food & Water Watch brought suit against the multinational meat processing company on behalf of the general public for its violations of the District of Columbia’s consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit. Our Executive Director Wenonah Hauter explains why:

“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 fear mongering 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.” 

Smithfield’s False Advertising Campaign Duped Consumers

Our complaint lists in detail the numerous and specific false claims Smithfield has peddled to consumers and the general public about its pandemic response. Here’s a summary of what our lawsuit alleges:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithfield has mounted a distinctly aggressive public relations campaign geared toward leveraging the pandemic to increase its profits. Through advertisements, social media statements, and website representations, Smithfield has adopted a two-step press offensive to mislead consumers and salvage its image — and its bottom line.

First, Smithfield has misrepresented to consumers that a countrywide meat shortage was imminent. This fear-mongering is designed to create a revenue-generating feedback loop; It stokes and exploits consumer panic, in turn causing demand for Smithfield’s meat products to surge.

Second, Smithfield has misrepresented working conditions in its plants in an effort to allay heightened consumer concerns for worker safety. Line-level meatpacking workers, in part due to false fears of a meat shortage, have been required to work in person throughout the pandemic — often in cramped conditions on crowded production lines. Smithfield has repeatedly assured consumers through advertisements and a comprehensive social media campaign that the company is keeping its workers safe. Indeed, the company has prominently featured workplace safety as an integral part of its marketing and branding efforts during the pandemic. 

Here are two facts that are important to understand so that Smithfield is held accountable. 

FACT: OUR MEAT SUPPLY WAS NEVER IN DANGER

However, Smithfield’s messaging could not be further from the truth. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned American consumers in April 2020 that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging — with multiple studies showing the company’s pork exports to China hitting record highs that same month. Government data further refute Smithfield’s doom-and-gloom warnings, showing that pork inventory held in “cold storage” warehouses was well into the hundreds of millions of pounds, which analysts have estimated could have kept grocery stores stocked with pork for months, even without any additional production. 

FACT: THE LIVES OF SMITHFIELD WORKERS WERE AT RISK

Smithfield’s reassurances on workplace safety were equally deceptive. On this score, Smithfield’s track record speaks for itself, with company slaughterhouses repeatedly emerging as epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks. Moreover, Smithfield’s representations to consumers regarding specific workplace safety protocols — depicted in detailed photographs, videos, and promotional copy amplified through Smithfield’s website and social media accounts — are consistently refuted by safety citations issued by government regulators and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers.

In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage. Its PR team loudly beat the drum on issues of enormous significance, exploiting consumers’ fears about meat shortages and calming their concerns about workplace safety. And while the company’s campaign on these fronts has no doubt helped it profit, it is built on a series of egregious misrepresentations, deceptions, and falsehoods. 

What Happens If We Win?

If the court agrees that Smithfield’s repeated and frequent misrepresentations violated D.C.’s consumer protection law, it could not only order Smithfield to publicly retract its lies, but also pay a penalty for its deceit. 

Help our attorneys make Smithfield pay for its pandemic falsehoods!

FWW v. Smithfield

Categories

Food System

Photo CC-BY Farmwatch on Flickr.com

At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. The virus tore through production lines, where vulnerable employees work shoulder to shoulder for hours on end, and sickened thousands across the country.

Concerned with protecting their bottom lines, meatpacking companies utterly failed to protect their workers from this life-threatening situation, and deceived the American public about it. In particular, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processing company in the world, repeatedly lied to consumers about the state of our country’s meat supply, and the steps it was taking to ensure the health and safety of its workers.

In 2021, Food & Water Watch filed suit on behalf of the general public in the D.C. Superior Court for Smithfield’s violations of D.C. consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit.

Our complaint documents the numerous false claims Smithfield peddled to the public, designed to increase profits and salvage its image. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned consumers that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging to record highs. And government data showed that the country had huge stores of pork held in cold storage warehouses that could have kept grocery shelves stocked for months.

Smithfield also repeatedly assured consumers that the company was keeping its workers safe. But congressional reports, government safety citations and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers show that Smithfield failed to provide personal protective equipment or distance its workers, promoted a work-while-sick culture, and actively stymied the efforts of state and local health authorities aimed at protecting plant workers.

In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage, jeopardizing workers and lying to the public in the process. Our lawsuit exposes Smithfield’s outrageous and illegal conduct. We’re asking the court to order Smithfield publicly retract its lies, and potentially pay a hefty penalty for its deceit.

More on this case here.

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

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

Handouts Help Fossil Fuel Corporations Expand Their Footprint

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

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

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

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

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

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

More people need to know about this.

Is Biden’s Clean Electricity Standard… Clean?

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart

The centerpiece of the White House climate plan is something called a Clean Electricity Standard (CES), which the Biden administration wants to use to reach the goal of 80 percent carbon-free power by the year 2030.

For many Democrats and policy analysts, the CES is not only attractive as a way to reduce emissions — they also believe they have a political path to make it reality. Thanks to Senate budget reconciliation rules, CES proponents argue they can steer around the filibuster and pass a national clean power benchmark with 50 votes in the Senate.

But how clean would a clean electricity standard really be? Most people might assume that  “clean energy” means renewables like wind and solar. Not necessarily. In fact, some of the leading CES proposals rely on nuclear power, fracked gas and complicated pollution trading schemes to reach their goals — calling into question whether these plans are really what they claim to be. 

Fracked Gas and Nukes: Dirty Energy Has No Place In A Clean Energy Standard

For decades, many states already have what are known as renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which set benchmarks for sourcing clean energy. Like the proposals for a national standard, though, these programs can vary widely; some count wood burning or trash incineration as “renewable” power.

A truly clean program for the whole country would, ideally, avoid these dirty loopholes. But some of the leading proposals fail that simple test. The CLEAN Future Act — a bill championed by moderate Democrats as a supposed alternative to the Green New Deal — actually finds a complicated way to give fracked gas power plants “partial credit” as a clean energy source. This nonsensical scheme could form the basis for a national CES. The same goes for factory farm “biogas,” mentioned as a possible renewable source in some CES models — which is a grotesque and absurd reach. 

Some CES plans rely on the idea that gas-fired power plants will eventually be equipped with “carbon capture” technologies that might trap climate pollution before it enters the atmosphere. There are no workable models for this yet; most of the current capture systems used the limited carbon they captured to extract additional oil from wells. 

Also, most CES plans grant nuclear power as a clean power source as well. Given the range of concerns about nuclear power, it is hard to justify its role in any clean energy system. 

Polluter ‘Penalties’ And Credits Schemes: Dirty Dealing Is Part Of A Clean Energy Standard?

A clean standard should encourage clean, renewable energy. That much seems obvious. But some proposals set up complex pollution credit trading systems that will give dirty utilities a way to simply buy credits from utilities that have stockpiled “extra” credits. This is a system that invites abuse of the rules. 

There’s also the matter of what to do with the power companies that choose not to meet the goals. Some CES models allow for “alternative compliance payments,” which are fines paid in lieu of meaningful action. Like permit trading, pollution fines will be attractive to utilities that want to maintain the status quo — especially if it is economically attractive to pursue that course of action. After all, they can just jack up prices for the consumers and create a new line item in their budgets. For those who are determined, it’s simply the “cost of doing business.”

Let’s Set Some Real Standards — A Renewable Portfolio Standard

Instead of passing a CES that allows and rewards the continued use of fracked gas, nuclear energy, and factory farm “biogas,” Congress should pass a real Renewable Portfolio Standard. This RPS must have as its target 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. It must strictly define the acceptable forms of truly renewable energy and must not include any fossil fuels or other props and giveaways to dirty energy. These include:

  • Factory farm “biogas” and other bioenergy including biomass, biofuels, and wood pellets;
  • Nuclear; waste incineration and other combustion-based technologies;
  • New, large-scale and ecosystem-altering hydropower.

Any RPS must also reject all market-based accounting systems like offsets. 

Congress has the opportunity to take the bold action we need to stave off the ever worsening effects of our climate crisis. But in doing so, it must resist the temptation to settle for half measures and new systems that prolong the life of the fossil fuel system. 

Your friends need to see this.

The Interior Department Has a Legal Duty To Protect Our Public Lands

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Adam Carlesco, Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney

On the campaign trail, Joe Biden was adamant about stopping oil and gas drilling on public lands. Now it’s time to actually make it happen.

Biden Has Laid The Groundwork To End Leasing Of Public Lands For Fossil Fuel Extraction

In the first few days of his presidency, President Biden signed two executive orders which directed the Department of Interior to temporarily halt the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction. During that time, the administration pledged that it would review how to reform its lands leasing policy to best fight climate change in a scientifically informed manner.

While that new policy is still months away, the pause was a significant start. While public lands have the potential to be a major global carbon sink, federal lands currently produce nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions due to decades of extensive land leasing to private oil, gas, and coal extraction corporations at bargain basement rates. As one of the largest single historical contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, the Interior Department’s continued leasing of public lands for the extraction of fossil fuels would threaten climatological stability which, in turn, would drastically impact endangered plant and animal species, exacerbate wildfires, degrade air quality, and threaten many freshwater sources.

The Department Of Interior Can – and Should – Ban Fracking

The continued degradation of public lands and the global ecosphere is not simply unacceptable, it is contrary to the laws that govern the Department of Interior. As the largest landholder in the U.S. and the principal public land management agency, the department is tasked under the Federal Land Policy Management Act with ensuring that public lands preserve “multiple uses” which requires lands be used for “a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that take into account the long-term needs of future generations.” It must also ensure that a sustained yield of “renewable resources” (i.e., freshwater, fish, wildlife, plants) be maintained in perpetuity. In order to see that public lands are managed accordingly, Interior is mandated to “take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands” it manages, and has great latitude in how it prevents such degradation.

The continued leasing of these lands for fossil fuels amidst a global climate emergency simply does not comport with Interior’s multiple use and sustained yield management requirements and, in fact, would lead to undue and unnecessary degradation of public lands.

In comments filed with Interior on April 15, 2021, Food & Water Watch laid out how the agency is legally required to cease its destructive leasing practices if it is to truly comply with its statutory requirements while living up to President Biden’s directive to “to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; … to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; [and] to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Food & Water Watch further countered common industry talking points which seek simple “reform” of Interior’s leasing program, via the false solutions of carbon taxes and implementing carbon capture and sequestration systems which do not address the gravity of the climate crisis while still allowing continued extraction and combustion of polluting fossil fuels.

This comment period was an informal method to solicit input from the concerned public, but the Interior Department will need to engage in robust public outreach and environmental review of its leasing program as it goes forward with its next steps. As the department is legally required to pursue the least-harm alternative in land management, a thorough and candid environmental review of this program can only result in one outcome – a halt to all fossil fuel extraction on public lands. As this process unfolds, Food & Water Watch will continue its work of ensuring that ordinary people, when organizing together, have their voices heard by those in power. Together we can stop fossil fuel extraction on public lands and work towards a greener future.

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New Report Outlines Country’s Food System Crisis, Calls for Major Policy Reform

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – A comprehensive report released today by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch outlines the crisis state of the country’s food system, including detailed analysis on the severe damage levied on society by unchecked corporate monopolies dominating the system. 

The report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Food System that Works For All,” offers a corrective policy blueprint that includes sweeping federal legislation and an overhaul of the country’s farm safety net. It also features a number of case studies from across the country featuring family farmers, ranchers and food hubs that have enacted safe, healthy, sustainable and profitable business models.

The report outlines the alarming degree of corporate consolidation in the food industry and its impact on consumers and small farms. For example: 

  • 83 percent of all beef is produced by just four processing companies;
  • 65 percent of consumer grocery market share is held by just four retailers; and 
  • 67 percent of crop seed market share is held by just four corporations. 

These and other conditions have had a devastating effect on consumer choice and costs, and small farm income and stability.

“The COVID pandemic laid bare many of the systemic crises in our food system today, all of which are exacerbated by unchecked corporate consolidation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But there is a clear path forward. Small, diversified family farms are already raising healthy, sustainable food for their local communities. We need bold action from the federal government to help rebuild our regional food infrastructure — our small slaughterhouses, grain mills and grocery cooperatives — to support the growth of more independent, sustainable farms.” 

The report recommends a number of robust policy prescriptions that would help to move the country to a safer, healthier and more sustainable food future by addressing the unchecked power of mega-corporations and creating systems to adequately sustain small farms and ranches. Among these prescriptions are: 

  • Federal legislation like the Farm System Reform Act, which would ban new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and phase out the most egregious factory farm operations by 2040; 
  • Reinstating federal supply management programs for commodities, including price floors;
  • Enacting through legislation a moratorium on corporate mergers in the food system; and
  • Redirecting public agriculture funding to encourage and support organic and regenerative farming practices. 

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

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 work to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

Almost 500,000 COVID Infections May Have Been Prevented with a National Water Shutoff Moratorium

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Almost half a million COVID infections could have been prevented last year if there had been a national moratorium on water service shutoffs, according to new research from Cornell University and the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch. 

The findings also show that during the same period, from mid-April through the end of 2020,   9,000 COVID deaths could have been prevented with a robust moratorium on water shutoffs. 

The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs reduced the growth rates for COVID infections and deaths. If similar policies had been adopted across the country, the study model shows that COVID cases might have been reduced by 4 percent, and deaths by 5.5 percent, in the states without a moratorium.

“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: A full moratorium on shutoffs and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies — many of which expired over the course of the year —  left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. By June, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of the year, just 12 states had a moratorium in place. By December, 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.

“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.”

While there is no comprehensive water shutoff data source, it is clear that the existing shutoff moratoria protected hundreds of thousands of people from disconnection. In California alone, the state estimated that one in eight households were behind on their water bills, owing a collective $1 billion as of January 2021. 

Over 40 Groups Urge Legislators to Strengthen Utility Shutoff Moratorium

Categories

Clean Water

For immediate release

Albany, NY — In a letter issued to state legislators today, a broad coalition of organizations, including Food & Water Watch, Environmental Advocates NY, the Public Utility Law Project, NAACP, New York Communities for Change and PUSH Buffalo, applauded Governor Cuomo’s proposal, contained in his budget, to ensure that New Yorkers have access to water and other essential utilities during times of crisis. Letter signatories also offered recommendations for strengthening the proposal.

The NY State Senate plans to vote today on a bill sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker to extend New York’s current COVID-19 utility shutoff moratorium. While advocates applauded the Senate for taking action to address this urgent issue, they urged the State Legislature to adopt a more comprehensive approach to protect consumers who cannot pay their utility bills, as outlined in the letter. 

Citing research from Duke University and the National Bureau of Economic Research confirming that utility shutoff-moratoria prevent COVID-19 infections and save lives, letter signatories emphasized the need for policies to protect all New Yorkers in all states of emergency both present and future.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“Whether taking the most basic of COVID-19 precautions and washing our hands, or safeguarding the fundamental right to water, Governor Cuomo’s proposal sends the message loud and clear: Nothing should stand in the way of our right to clean water, energy and other core utilities. Our state legislators must pick up the torch on this issue and ensure that protections are applied equitably to all New Yorkers during all emergencies. With these protections, New York can set the national standard for utility shutoff moratoria and equitable consumer protections in periods of crisis.”

120+ Organizations Call on CDC to Issue Nationwide Water Shutoff Moratorium During Pandemic

Categories

Clean Water

Washington D.C. – Today, more than 120 organizations from across the country sent a letter to Director Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asking him to stop water shutoffs nationwide to protect people from COVID-19. The organizations are echoing the call of the House Oversight Committee, which requested similar action in an October 5 letter to Dir. Redfield. The organizations request that he use his authority under Section 361 of the Public Health Services Act to impose a nationwide moratorium on water service disconnections for nonpayment during the COVID-19 pandemic with safe service restoration for all households previously disconnected.

The request to the CDC comes as negotiations over a Covid relief bill are getting down to the wire ahead of election day. Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are still negotiating over the next relief bill, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has continued to oppose aid for local and state governments. The House of Representatives has passed two relief bills, HEROES and HEROES 2, that included a national moratorium on water shutoffs with service restoration for previously disconnected homes and $1.5 billion in low-income water aid, but Sen. McConnell has opposed a similar measure in the Senate. 

In response, Food & Water Action Senior Organizer Rianna Eckel issued the following statement:

“The CDC must take urgent action to protect people right now. COVID cases are rising and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing the water they need to wash their hands and protect themselves. It is clear that the CDC has the authority and power to suspend water shutoffs across the country. Water is essential for disinfecting and controlling the spread of COVID-19. This is a basic matter of public health. 

“It is a crying shame that Sen. McConnell and the White House have so far refused to pass a strong relief bill with protections for the millions of families who are struggling. No one should be denied water during a pandemic.”

Food & Water Action has been providing a live tracker of local and state water shutoff moratoria during the pandemic. Expiration dates are also listed. Available here.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected], 917.363.6615

Does Earth Day Still Matter During Coronavirus? More Than Ever.

Categories

Climate and Energy

By Angie Aker

This wasn’t how any of us imagined Earth Day going this year. Instead of marching to celebrate 50 years of this beacon holiday, many of us are in our homes, laying low to avoid a virus that’s been changing the way of life for the entire world. Many more of us are out on the front lines every day, delivering essential services, taking a risk no one would have imagined just six months ago. A frightening amount of us are fighting for our lives or our loved ones’ lives in a dire situation that only a pandemic and a broken healthcare system can create. And far too many are struggling to hold onto their homes, their cars, their water and power, and put food on the table — all because a pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt. 

So how do we honor Earth Day when we know all of these terrible things are happening? Why? Don’t we have bigger fish to fry right now?

Earth Day Is A Chance Each Year For An Internal Revolution

Any holiday is, among other things, a storytelling tool. It’s a chance to keep a shared dream alive, and grow it year after year until enough people join in to make it a reality. For some, their favorite holidays represent religious aspirations. For some, social justice. In the case of Earth Day, it’s an expression of a dream that has been held by indigenous peoples long before anyone else — that humanity could be good stewards of the planet’s resources and take care of next generations through that stewardship. 

But a tool is only as good as the hands of those that are using it. If this holiday is used only as an annual dress up day and then we go back to our systems that exploit our resources the rest of the year without fighting them, how have we gotten closer to that dream?

For many of us, Earth Day is so much more than that. It’s a time to reflect on our place in this planet, individually and as a species. It’s a chance for us to set our intentions and shore up our will to fight the corruption that pollutes our planet the other 364 days of the year. And this year more than ever — in the face of coronavirus — it’s about learning from our mistakes in the past and vowing to be smarter from this day forward.

Earth Day means finding ways to deepen our moral courage to stand up against: 

  • Oil companies fracking our beautiful lands and running dangerous pipelines all throughout our communities, endangering public health
  • Industries that use our lawmakers to shut down sustainable technology because they think their profits are more important than our futures
  • Corporations that pollute our lakes and rivers and then profit by selling us clean water — only a commodity because they poisoned it in the first place
  • Factory farms that crowd animals together in inhumane conditions, lighting the match for zoonotic disease to break out, polluting our land, air and water, and stomping out the family farms that could feed us in troubled times
  • Any corporation or politician getting in the way of efforts to reduce humanity’s carbon emissions by 2030 — getting in the way of saving ourselves. 

It’s good to do things to reduce our own individual carbon footprints, like ditching plastic and being mindful of our consumption — we should all keep doing that. But we need to go further to fight the corporations endangering us and we can. We have strategies at Food & Water Watch that are winning and we are growing the people power to fuel them.

Earth Day Is A Chance Every Year To Get Serious About Saving Ourselves

Whether it takes the form of direct action or keeping the love of our planet alive in our kids, there are many ways to make Earth Day meaningful. Here are some of the ways Food & Water Watch staff are holding this day dear. 

“On the first Earth Day, back in 1970, I celebrated with my mother in New York City’s Central Park, and she tells me that I danced and hippies painted my face. As an adult, I’m counting on the Earth to sustain my son Zach and a growing number of young cousins in my family. This Earth Day, I’m calling on my elected officials, most notably Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer, to be bold climate leaders and move New York and the nation off fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

— Eric Weltman, New York Organizer

“I have two middle schoolers. They’re doing two things to celebrate Earth Day this year. We’re doing a neighborhood walkthrough trash pick-up – lots of masks and gloves have turned into litter. They’re also each writing their own email to our Member of Congress asking that we do more to shut down fossil fuels.”

— Michael Doerrer, Managing Director of Communications

Let’s Make A Pledge This Earth Day To Take It Even More Seriously

This year, let’s add earnest reflection to the list of activities we do today. We can pledge to double down on our efforts as individuals and as a society, and put real faith in each other. If enough of us are working at the dream of a sustainable future, and finding ways to make it more of a priority in our lives, we can make miracles happen

In a time rife with climate change effects and a pandemic, that’s a ray of hope and possibility that we all need to nurture. 

Will you chip in and power this year-round work?

USDA Is Removing Safeguards On Food While Everyone Else Is Fighting A Pandemic

Categories

Food System

During a pandemic, being able to trust our food system is crucial for our stability. So why is the USDA sneakily approving industry requests to put profit over safety for food and workers?

As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on public health, the Trump Administration has been busy behind the scenes doubling down on its campaign to deregulate Big Ag. At the same time, it is not providing safeguards to food production workers and government inspectors who are being made to work on the frontlines without frontline employee protections. 

The USDA Is Playing Fast And Loose With Meat Inspection Lines During The Coronavirus Outbreak

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is deregulating inspection in some of the largest pork processing facilities by reducing the number of inspectors assigned to the slaughter line. They turn over critical inspection tasks to untrained company employees, and remove the cap on how fast the line can run. FSIS anticipates that 40 hog slaughter facilities will convert to this method, which is being called the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Those 40 facilities process over 92% of all pork in the U.S. Some of the big names in pork processing are pushing for this, such as JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, Clemens, and Quality Pork Processors. In one plant that has been experimenting with the new system, FSIS inspectors have 2.6 seconds to determine whether the company employees have performed their tasks properly. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for hog carcasses to be contaminated with feces, hair, toe nails, and bile to be greenlit for processing into bacon, pork chops, hot dogs, sausage, and other pork products

Three lawsuits to challenge NSIS have been filed by unions representing the plant workers, animal welfare groups, and food safety advocates, including Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety. FSIS hid critical information from the public when it first proposed the frighteningly minimal system. Food & Water Watch was forced to file separate litigation to obtain crucial, undisclosed information which revealed that NSIS would lead to more contaminated pork entering commerce and could lead to an animal disease — to ravage hog herds and/or be transmitted to humans. Plants that wanted to convert to NSIS had until March 30, 2020 to state their intentions. FSIS still refuses to disclose the names of those plants, leaving consumers in the dark.ADD YOUR NAME!Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers.

Meat Companies Are Being Given Almost Full Control Over Their Own Inspection Standards 

While it is struggling to keep poultry plants properly staffed with inspectors during the pandemic, FSIS has stepped up its approvals of regulatory waivers to chicken slaughter plants that want to increase their maximum line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. In the first two weeks of April, FSIS approved 11 such waivers for plants operated by Foster Farms, Tyson Foods (4 plants), and Wayne Farms (6 plants). These plants have all converted to the so-called New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) in which the number of government inspectors assigned to the slaughter line is reduced and many of their tasks are turned over to company employees. Under traditional inspection, each FSIS inspector is assigned 35 birds per minute to inspect. Under NPIS, there is only one FSIS inspector stationed at the end of the slaughter line. When a plant is granted a line speed waiver, that sole FSIS inspector is expected to examine 3 birds every second — or 175 birds per minute. The waiver process that FSIS uses is done in secret; it is not open to public scrutiny until the FSIS reveals that it has granted the waiver. Since taking office, the Trump USDA has approved 28 new waivers under this process, mostly to the big players in the poultry industry. 

Inviting everyone to the new game, FSIS is recruiting cattle slaughter plants to deregulate inspection, too. In late March, FSIS approved a waiver through its secret process for a Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas that slaughters up to 6000 head of cattle per day. The waiver is designed to reduce the number of government inspectors assigned to its slaughter line, increasing its line speed. FSIS has not revealed how fast the line will run with this waiver or how many fewer government inspectors will be on the slaughter line, but we know it won’t result in safety for consumers.

Meat Inspection Deregulation Threatens Food Safety

All of these deregulatory moves are designed to increase production; they are not being done to improve food safety. They will contribute to expanding the industrial agriculture model by promoting the growth of factory farms. It’s even more disconcerting that it is occurring in the middle of a national crisis.

As the Trump Administration has stepped on the accelerator to deregulate in recent weeks, there are numerous examples around the country of meat and poultry plants being impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the news has been focused on urban areas racked by the pandemic, hot spots have also emerged in rural communities in Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska where meatpacking plant workers have contracted the virus while being forced to work, forcing some plants to curtail or cease operations temporarily. 

In those instances where meatpackers have insisted on continuing with business-as-usual even when their employees have gotten sick, it has pitted public health officials against company officials and even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Plant workers and even government inspectors who work at these plants have not been given adequate personal protective equipment. It is virtually impossible to practice social distancing in these plants because plant workers and government inspectors work side-by-side in slaughter and processing facilities. When workers protested these conditions, Vice President Mike Pence had the audacity to urge the workers to continue “to show up and do [their] jobs.”

Urge Officials To Take Action Against Increased Line Speeds

Increased line speeds only create more opportunities for contamination and sickness. It’s unnecessary and it’s putting our health at risk.

Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers. This is no time to gamble with Americans’ health. 

Increased line speeds should be stopped.