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:
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.
He could make his pause on fracking on federal lands a permanent ban.
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:
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.
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.
Strom Inc. probably hoped we would never find out what they were trying to get approved. But while working on passing a local measure in front of the Tampa City Council to end fossil fuel use and transition to 100% renewables, imagine our surprise when we learned about a proposed Tampa fracked gas project that had been quietly moving forward for years.
Not only did Food & Water Watch bury that plan to transport dangerous bomb trains through Tampa and deal a blow to a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) site nearby, on August 5th, Food & Water Watch succeeded in getting the Tampa City Council to pass the anti-fossil fuel resolution. This city measure calls on Congressmembers like Tampa Representative Kathy Castor to act boldly to transition us off fossil fuels. But we’re back to the grindstone this week to protect the people and environment from more sneaky fracked gas proposals like the one Strom Inc. tried to get past us all.
Sneaky Strom Inc. Aimed To Profit From Dangerous, Climate-Threatening Liquefied Natural Gas
Strom Inc. wanted to build a fracked gas liquefaction facility in Crystal River, FL, and transport the resulting LNG over 80 miles to Port Tampa Bay for international export. Strom has received export approval from the Department of Energy.
LNG is fracked gas that has been supercooled into a liquid form. Once liquefied, it is transported over long distances, including by ship for international export.
At a time when moving away from fossil fuels is critical for avoiding the worst climate impacts — and more officials may act soon in ways that threaten fossil fuel investments — the fossil fuel industry is doubling down on LNG while they can. Buildout of these facilities in Florida is part of a national push by the industry to build LNG export terminals in coastal communities. Two other LNG facilities are already in operation in the Sunshine State, in Jacksonville and Medley.
Fracking and LNG contribute to climate catastrophe, and the transport of LNG is extremely dangerous due to its flammability. Before LNG is loaded onto ships for international export, it’s transported on trucks or rail cars. These “LNG bomb” trucks and trains have enormous potential energy that rivals atomic bombs, and they’re transporting it on public highways and railways near dense communities, endangering the people who live and work there.
Strom Inc.’s proposal to liquefy fracked gas in Crystal River and transport the LNG over 80 miles to Port Tampa Bay by truck or train put millions of Tampa Bay residents at risk — and the government barely blinked an eye.
If The Government Isn’t Protecting Us From Dangerous LNG Plots, Who Is?
Food & Water Watch also planned actions to bring more public attention to the dangerous LNG proposal. On June 15th, we showed up to the Port Tampa Bay’s board meeting to express our disapproval of plans to export LNG from the port and urge the Board to reject the proposal. During the meeting, the Port’s primary counsel stated that the Port has no plans to export LNG with Strom Inc. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Times’ investigation uncovered Strom Inc. does not have the ability to build their liquefaction plant at the property they’ve been planning around. Since Strom does not have a location to liquefy gas or a port to export it from, this project is effectively dead. Food & Water Watch is working to formalize this victory by urging the Department of Energy to pull Strom’s permits for exporting LNG.
Strom Inc.’s LNG Facility Is Dead In The Water, But What About The Others?
While this LNG proposal in the Tampa Bay region appears to be dead, Florida’s existing LNG facilities continue to pose risks to communities in Miami-Dade and Jacksonville. Similar to Strom’s proposal, the Miami-Dade LNG facility faced very little scrutiny and government oversight, receiving only approvals from the Department of Energy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is charged with approving and regulating LNG facilities. However, the fossil fuel industry is finding ways to evade FERC oversight, leaving communities in the dark about these projects and without opportunity for input or objections.
As if the existing facilities aren’t bad enough, the fossil fuel industry continues to plan even more of them in Jacksonville and the Panhandle, and we expect more dangerous proposals. We need sweeping legislation from Congress to ban LNG facilities and export in Florida and everywhere. That’s why we’re launching a campaign opposing the buildout of new LNG infrastructure across Florida.
You can help. Send your member of Congress a message about banning LNG exports!
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.
In the fight to protect our waters from reckless permitting by the federal government, the drafters of the Clean Water Act (CWA) ensured that state governments had the authority to deny federal permits for infrastructure projects that violate state laws. This authority comes from Section 401 of the CWA and has allowed states to block a number of oil and gas pipelines, like the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, due to the harm they’d cause to state water. This authority is a vital tool in stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in states with strong climate goals and the preservation of this power is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.
Trump’s Administration Wrote A Bad Clean Water Act Rule, And Biden’s EPA Must Fix It
For the past four decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has understood that states have broad discretion in how they review whether a project will significantly impact a waterbody within its borders. But in July 2020 the Trump administration finalized a major regulatory change that hastened state and tribal authorities’ timelines for reviewing such projects. Making things worse, it also severely limited the factors that state agencies could consider when deciding whether to certify a project. It’s clear that this rule was enacted to stop states like New York from protecting water people depend on for life. If this rule isn’t rewritten, it will lead to more oil and gas pipelines being approved without critical state review.
Understanding this, the Biden Administration has directed EPA to review the 2020 CWA §401 Certification Rule for legal deficiencies and amend the rule as needed so it aligns with the principles of state sovereignty and protects water bodies and the climate. Currently, EPA is considering how it can improve the state certification process and will likely be proposing a new rule in late 2021 or early 2022. To guide that proposal, Food & Water Watch has submitted comments advising the agency on how best to address the dual challenge of climate change and water contamination.
The 2020 Trump Rule Wholly Undermines The Spirit And Intent Of The Clean Water Act
Under the 2020 Trump Rule, EPA shortened timelines for states to review a project’s compliance with state law, requiring the timeframe for review to begin immediately when a developer submits an application – even if lacking vital information. Going forward, the EPA must amend this so the clock starts only once a state certifying authority deems an application administratively complete. Also, EPA must allow applicants to voluntarily withdraw their request and resubmit it at a later date when there is inadequate information for a state authority to make an informed final decision. Without that flexibility, this practice will result in more states denying certification to avoid inadvertently waiving their review authority. It is also incredibly important for states to be able to delay certification until the completion of an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The 2020 Rule has also severely narrowed the scope of what review criteria a state can consider when determining whether a project complies with state law. EPA must reiterate that state certification must consider the impacts of any “discharge” as the Clean Water Act requires, not just a “discharge of pollutants” which is a wholly different legal term not present in Section 401 of the statute. Despite the Trump administration’s insistence that Section 401 applies only to “point sources of pollution” (e.g., wastewater coming directly out of a pipe into a river), in actuality, the CWA requires a review of any activity that may result in a discharge, including from non-point sources (e.g., pesticide run-off from golf courses). EPA must correct this gross misreading of the statute if states are to meaningfully assess the full scope of a project’s potential harm.
The damage caused by such shortened timelines and a narrowed scope of review is heightened by the 2020 Rule’s requirements that force states to waive their certification authority if a final decision is not made within EPA’s definition of a “reasonable” period of time or if it contains conditions that EPA objects to. It is of the utmost importance that EPA allows flexibility in its determination of a “reasonable time” for review that allows states to request additional data necessary for informed decision-making, without the looming threat of waiving state certifying authority.
Moreover, EPA must respect state conditions when approving a project. Conditional approval of a project is meant to allow a project — that would otherwise not be certified — to move forward with strict conditions on approval. Stripping conditions from a conditional certification allows projects to proceed which, without those state-issued conditions, would be in violation of state law. As such, EPA must respect state sovereignty in determining when a project would violate state law without a condition and in determining what a reasonable amount of time is for reviewing a project within the statutory one-year limit.
EPA is anticipated to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within a few months which the public can comment on. Food & Water Watch will be involved in submitting comments to EPA that call on a robust review process that protects our waters and will be sure to alert our supporters on how they can get involved when a proposed rule is announced.
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Protecting the waterways of this nation must be an all-of-government effort. As such, it is important that EPA coordinate their regulatory plans with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as these agencies oversee dredging of waterways and gas pipeline permitting respectively. Without a coordinated regulatory reform for all three agencies, priorities and legislative interpretations may become conflicted or incompatible, which would result in weakened waterbody protections and uncertainty in permitting for water-crossings of public utility lines, like much-needed water infrastructure.
Iowa is in the midst of a water crisis. People across the state are suffering as another year of drought — intensified by climate change — impacts water usage, crop growth, and the development of toxic blue-green algae blooms in our rivers and lakes. Climate change is worsening the already dangerous conditions from upstream factory farms polluting Iowa’s waterways — it’s more critical than ever for the state to take bold, meaningful action to mitigate the risks facing our water.
Iowa Can’t Fix Its Water Problems By Asking Residents To Reduce Consumption
It’s a direct result of the state’s continued failure to address the grave threats confronting the river — namely pollution from factory farms and industrial agriculture. Rather than protecting the water Iowans rely on for drinking and outdoor recreation, our elected officials have allowed massive agribusinesses to run roughshod over our precious — and finite — water resources. The only thing most of our elected officials have offered is industry-dictated false solutions to improve our water quality — and they aren’t working. Voluntary mechanisms, like the industry-backed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, only benefit corporate agribusiness, and Iowa’s water crisis has only worsened since these voluntary measures have been enacted.
The Iowa Supreme Court Makes A Mind Boggling Decision In Our Case Against Iowa
On June 18, the Iowa Supreme Court released its decision in our case, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa. By a slim 4-3 majority, the Court dismissed the case. Former director of the Drake Agriculture Law Center, Neil Hamilton, published a thorough breakdown of the ruling. Like Mr. Hamilton, we found the Court’s decision to dismiss misguided, as it was based on claims that it is not their responsibility to “hold the State accountable to the public.”
“If it is not the role of the Iowa Supreme Court to hold the State accountable to the public, then who does have that role?”
— Neil Hamilton, Agricultural Law Expert
We have 18,400 members in Iowa. We are committed on their behalf to exhausting all options to protect Iowa’s people, communities, and environment. On July 1st, we filed a petition for reconsideration with the Iowa Supreme Court requesting that the four-justice majority re-examine their ruling. While it is uncommon for such petitions to be granted, in a Court decision as divided as this, we believe we have an obligation to our members and the people of Iowa to do everything we can to fight for our right to clean water.
A Moratorium On New Factory Farms Is The Only Fix For Iowa’s Water Issues
Through the lawsuit, we hoped to establish a clear, actionable path forward to ensure the water we use for drinking, cooking, swimming, fishing, and recreating is reliable, safe, and clean. A win in the lawsuit would have replaced failed, voluntary half-measures for waterway cleanup with a demand that the state institute mandatory practices to reduce the harmful levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa’s waterways. To effectively cut back on these polluting nutrients, the state would need to implement a moratorium on new factory farms in the Raccoon River watershed to limit the already exorbitant amount of manure runoff occurring as a result of more than 750 factory farms producing billions of gallons of waste each year.
We know the future of our state’s water will be bleak if we continue down the current path. We cannot continue to allow the unabated growth of unsustainable, polluting factory farms fed by industrial monoculture crop production if we hope to see thriving communities, economies, and environments in Iowa’s future. We must build a new path that puts the needs of our communities, our drinking water, and our people before the bank accounts of massive agribusinesses.
It’s time we get real. Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going away. The dismissal of our case is certainly a setback, but we’re going to keep fighting to hold our elected officials accountable to us — their constituents. We will keep up the pressure on the legislature to take real, meaningful steps to protect us. We’ll keep advocating for bold solutions to this crisis. And we’ll keep working to break the stranglehold corporate agriculture has on our political system.
Help us guarantee we all have access to clean water for generations to come. Send a message to Iowa’s leadership!
Wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes and droughts: the deadly impacts of climate change are becoming more intense and devastating. While the transition to a real, renewable energy system is imperative to a livable climate future, it’s just as urgent to address the destructive impacts of our industrial food system. The current system is highly concentrated and exploitative, and it’s driving climate change and water shortages.
To address the climate crisis we must break up the big food monopolies and stop the practice of concentrating large numbers of animals on factory farms. The first step is passing the Farm System Reform Act.
The Relationship Between Factory Farms and Climate Change
Factory farms drive climate change. Raising livestock on factory farms accounts for 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contribution coming from producing corn and soy to feed factory-farmed animals. In fact, the top 20 meat and dairy corporations together contribute more greenhouse gases than the entire country of Germany, and together the top five contribute more than fossil fuel giants Exxon, Shell, or BP. These meat and dairy corporations are pushing factory farm expansion, further driving up greenhouse gas emissions, while family-scale livestock farms struggle to survive.
Further, while factory farms drive water shortages through climate-induced droughts, they also directly poison vast quantities of freshwater across the country through the waste they produce.
Agriculture is the leading known cause of pollution in U.S. rivers and streams and is the second-largest known contributor to the contamination of wetlands. Pollution from animal feeding operations threatens or impairs over 13,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams and 60,000 acres of lakes and ponds. In one stark example, nearly 500,000 dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California produce more manure waste than the human residents of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
We need to break this vicious cycle of factory farms polluting water and driving climate change, which causes water crises for people and the environment.
An Even More Urgent Case For a Ban on Factory Farms
Food & Water Watch called for a ban on factory farms in early 2018 because we knew the fragility of our food system. For years, our team has been educating and organizing against extensive corporate control and how it harms family farmers, rural communities, food chain workers and consumers. We knew that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must address industrial agriculture.
Less than two years later we were proud to work with lead sponsors Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna to introduce the Farm System Reform Act in U.S. Congress, a visionary bill that includes a ban on new and expanding factory farms and a phaseout of existing facilities by 2040. Originally introduced in the Senate in December of 2019 and in the House in March of 2020, the Farm System Reform Act helped people to see that a better way is possible — and in fact critical — if we are to protect our water and climate as well as protect food chain workers, and ensure a safe and plentiful food supply.
And now we’re doing it again — even bigger and bolder than last time.
Introducing the Farm System Reform Act in 2021
In July 2021, Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act in the new Congress with three original Senate co-sponsors and a number of new House co-sponsors. The bill is endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations including Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Family Farm Action, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Over 100 individual farmers have also already signed a letter in support of the bill, with more joining every day.
This groundbreaking bill has quickly become the north star of the movement to ban factory farms and end corporate control of our food system and should be a key pillar of national efforts to address climate change. In addition to an immediate ban on new and expanding large factory farms and a phase-out of existing facilities by 2040, the Farm System Reform Act would also:
Create a transition program to allow farmers to escape the contract model and shift to more sustainable forms of agriculture
Enact a series of market reforms that would make it possible for small growers to compete
Hold corporations responsible for their pollution
The Farm System Reform Act is a bold and yet commonsense approach that would move us toward a food and farm system that works for us — instead of wealthy corporations only concerned with their own bottom lines. It would help to build the kind of resilient, regionally-based food system that we advocate for in our new report, Well-Fed. It would level the playing field for family-scale farms and help rebuild rural America. And it would provide a real solution to addressing the climate impacts of industrial agriculture — instead of more false solutions like factory farm gas (biogas) or carbon markets.
Do you share our vision for a just food system? Send a message to your Senators and Representatives today.
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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.
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.”
“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 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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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 writesin 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.”
Tell the Biden Administration that our future MUST be fracking-free. Our existence depends on it.
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.
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.”
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!