EPA’s Next Move Decides The Fate Of Factory Farm Polluters In New Mexico

Categories

Clean Water

by Emily Miller

In New Mexico, there’s a big opportunity to strengthen water pollution standards for factory farms on the horizon. A Clean Water Act permit for the state’s concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) is up for renewal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It’s known as a general permit, which safeguards the state’s scarce water resources by dictating what standards factory farms must follow to control their pollution. We’re advocating long-term for a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies. But this is an important opportunity to protect New Mexico’s waterways from factory farm pollution in the short term. 

We want EPA to issue the most protective permit possible, and are ready to fight it if they don’t. 

What Is a General Permit And Why Does It Matter?

The Clean Water Act is a federal law that requires EPA or state permitting agencies to regulate water pollution sources through National Pollutant Elimination Discharge (NPDES) permits. The goal of this system is to reduce — and ultimately eliminate — dangerous pollution discharges into our rivers, lakes, and streams. Permits accomplish this goal by capping the amount of pollution a facility can discharge, and then requiring specific pollution controls. They also require discharge monitoring, to ensure polluters meet those limits. This permit program is responsible for dramatic improvements in water quality across the U.S. over the past 50 years.

Most states issue their own NPDES permits. But New Mexico is one of the few places where EPA still administers the permit program. 

Under the federal law, EPA can issue permits in two different ways: 

  • On a polluter-by-polluter basis, known as an “individual permit,” 
  • Or a “general permit,” which applies the same pollution standards and requirements across an entire category of pollution sources. 

A general permit has a broader impact. Instead of applying to one factory farm, it should apply to all New Mexico factory farms discharging pollution into waterways. 

The General Permit Process Can Score Statewide And Even National Victories For Clean Water

When a General Permit is issued, the public is entitled to comment on the permit. They also get to fight it when it fails to adequately protect waterways or otherwise violates the Clean Water Act. Since it’s broadly applicable to many polluters, successfully strengthening a general permit through public participation can have broad, positive impacts. This is especially true in states where EPA issues the permit. When EPA issues a general permit, rather than the state, citizens can challenge it in the federal court of appeals. In that setting, the case has the potential to set a national precedent.  

Food & Water Watch recently challenged just such a general CAFO permit in Idaho. We contested its failure to require CAFOs to monitor their pollution discharges. Discharge monitoring requirements are crucial for ensuring compliance with pollution limits, and their absence clearly violated federal law. We brought our case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and won! The court found that a general permit without monitoring requirements violated the Clean Water Act, and struck down the permit. But even more importantly, the court’s ruling is relevant everywhere factory farm permits take the same illegal approach. 

Why We Have Our Eye On New Mexico’s Permitting Process

The New Mexico general permit process is a prime opportunity to win stronger regulation of the industry’s polluting impacts. Factory Farms in New Mexico, particularly mega-dairies, pose a constant threat to the state’s precious water resources. These factory farms use immense amounts of water in their daily practices. Additionally, the colossal amounts of manure they generate can run off into nearby waterways, and leach into groundwater. This waste can and does contaminate drinking water supplies for nearby communities with toxic nitrates. Especially given New Mexico’s historic climate-change-fueled drought, it can’t afford further degradation of this limited resource. Our long-term focus is on winning a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies in New Mexico. But a stronger general permit could result in significant improvements in the short term.

That’s why it’s vitally important that we make sure the upcoming general permit is strong. It should apply to as many factory farms as possible and impose stringent requirements to protect New Mexico waterways. It’s EPA’s job to update this permit every five years, and New Mexico’s general permit was up for renewal in August. However, we haven’t heard a peep out of EPA for the past four months. 

We submitted a FOIA request to find out why, and hold the agency accountable to its Clean Water Act obligations. We’ll be tracking EPA’s actions, and engaging citizens to participate in the process when the time comes.

Tell New Mexico’s leaders it’s time for a moratorium on factory farms! 

Climate Justice Is Reproductive Justice

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Yonit Friedman

More than ever, people of childbearing age are choosing not to have children. There are a variety of factors that go into this choice — wage stagnation, the housing market, civil unrest, COVID-19. But a common denominator heard among many in their 20s and beyond is grave concern over our climate trajectory. They’re not wrong to be worried about what kind of climate and resources would be available for their potential kids. Climate justice is a crucial part of reproductive justice.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective includes in its definition* of reproductive justice “the human right to … parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” That is a key connection with climate change. A safe environment in which to have and raise children is a basic human right — violated by the climate crisis. From pregnancy to childhood, climate change threatens people’s reproductive health. 

“…the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

*SisterSong’s Full Definition of Reproductive Justice

Climate Change Puts Pregnant People At Risk

Higher temperatures are an immediate symptom of the climate crisis. Hot weather is obviously uncomfortable for pregnant people, and it can shift quickly from discomfort to danger. Researchers in California found that for every increase of ten degrees, the risk of premature birth goes up by 8%. Air pollution has also been linked to premature birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth. Extreme climate events also have a negative effect on pregnant people’s health. After Hurricane Sandy in New York, emergency room visits for pregnancy complications increased by nearly 17%

The U.S. already has a horrific racist parental health crisis. Black and Indigenous birthing parents and babies die during birth, or soon after, at much higher rates than white parents. The climate crisis compounds this, and pregnant Black and Indigenous people face disproportionately high reproductive threats from climate change. Redlining is reflected in higher temperatures, lower air and water quality, and fewer trees in predominantly Black neighborhoods. This translates to poor health outcomes in pregnancy and birth. These examples of environmental racism also harm children of color after they are born, like high asthma rates among Black children. 

Climate Change is a Danger to Reproductive Health and Justice

It stands to reason that the option to raise children in a safe and sustainable environment is a human right. Therefore, climate change and the threat it poses to pregnant people, babies, children, and families constitute a human rights violation. As is so often the case, the individuals who face these threats are not the people who caused them. Careless and greedy fossil fuel CEOs have caused a public health crisis, and it’s long past time for their destruction to be stopped. The well-being of current and future generations requires nothing less. 

Share this piece on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about how climate justice and reproductive justice go hand in hand! 

Your friends need to read this.

Want ‘Bomb’ Trains Running Through Your Neighborhood? Neither Do We.

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo of San Bruno PGE pipeline explosion in 2010. CC-BY © Thomas Hawk / Flickr.com
by Adam Carlesco

Until 2020, transportation of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail was prohibited in the U.S. The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) banned it due to the inherent volatility of the practice. Obviously, moving large amounts of explosive chemicals under extreme temperatures and pressure via aging privately-owned rail lines is catastrophically risky. This is why they’re often referred to as “bomb trains.” The Trump Administration finalized a rule in 2020 allowing LNG to be transported by trains. Their idea of an acceptable limit? Hauling up to a hundred DOT-113 LNG tanker cars. This development is extremely dangerous for front-line communities as LNG is highly flammable and explosive. An accident could mean uncontrollable fires and devastating explosions — LNG fires burn hotter and faster than fires caused by oil or gasoline

PHMSA themselves acknowledge the safety and environmental risk of LNG transport via rail under Trump’s 2020 rule. So it’s vexing that rather than repeal it, the Biden administration has proposed a rule that only temporarily suspends it. Meanwhile it will allow railways with DOT special permits to continue moving LNG. This is in effect until 2024 or until a new rule is issued, whichever comes first. If the data cannot support the 2020 rule, as PHMSA rulemaking notes, then the data cannot support a sunsetting suspension.

Bomb Trains Should Be Stopped — Not Postponed

In issuing this proposal, Biden’s DOT has fallen short of the administration’s promises to fight environmental racism and climate change.

The 2020 rule eliminated notice and comment requirements that would have otherwise accompanied every application for LNG transportation by rail. So fenceline environmental justice communities — disproportionately impacted — could remain unaware that such hazardous shipments were moving past their homes. Suspending the rule temporarily does not address the underlying shortcomings of the 2020 rule. It merely demonstrates a desire to postpone these explosive shipments while preserving harmful provisions of the rule.

Fossil gas is not clean energy and LNG rail transport is doing the atmosphere no favors. The greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, transport, and re-gasification of LNG can oftentimes be just as much as from the burning of the gas itself. When combined with the emissions from the use of LNG at its destination, plus methane leakage during export, the greenhouse potential of LNG is similar to other fossil fuels. The industry touts LNG as a greener replacement for other fossil fuels, but bomb trains’ impact blows up that assertion. Issuing a temporary suspension is not climate action or justice — a full repeal is.

Tell PHMSA To Repeal Trump’s LNG by Rail Rule

Transporting LNG by rail is inherently dangerous and threatens the safety of many fenceline communities and degrades our atmosphere. If PHMSA now believes there is sufficient evidence of harm to suspend the rule, then there was never sufficient evidence of safety to allow LNG transport via rail in the first place. If there is sufficient evidence of harm, they should have never allowed special permits — let alone continue to.

However, at this time it’s only a proposal and public outcry could change the shape of the final rule. PHMSA requests all interested members of the public provide them with comments by December 23, 2021. Now is our opportunity to influence the final rule and compel PHMSA to once more prohibit LNG transport by rail. Tell the Biden administration to issue a full repeal. We must stop the transport of LNG via rail and prohibit the issuance of special permits for LNG shippers.

Send your comments to the government! They need to hear what you think of bomb trains by 12/23/21.

The World’s Biggest Carbon Capture Scam Is Coming to Iowa

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Phoebe Galt and Emma Schmit

Overnight, Iowa has become ground zero for the world’s biggest carbon capture scam. Two corporations, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator Heartland Greenway LLC, have proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. Each of them will require building hundreds of miles of hazardous pipelines across the state. The science and technology behind the ventures is unproven and unsound — minor details overlooked in the name of corporate greed. Iowa’s Governor Reynolds is happily ushering the projects forward.

We’re talking about “capturing” carbon emitted from ethanol and fertilizer facilities, transporting that hazardous material via pipeline, and injecting it into ancient rock formations. The companies claim that their technology is a requisite solution to the climate crisis. They’re lying.

‘Capturing’ Carbon Won’t Stop the Climate Crisis — It’ll Dig a Deeper Hole

CCS is a false climate solution, propped up by Big Energy and Big Ag so they can continue to profit. CCS relies on fundamental falsehoods to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about their real climate impact. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: carbon capture attempts to trap greenhouse gas emissions from smokestacks (in this case from dirty ethanol plants). It then transports the hazardous gas through communities via explosive pipelines, and injects it underground. In reality, these projects fail to capture all harmful emissions. They also don’t account for the pollution that goes into creating the ethanol in the first place. The industry also keeps quiet about CCS’ role in fossil fuel extraction. The dirty truth is that most of the captured carbon is pumped into oil wells to increase oil production. 

Carbon Capture Keeps Big Ag Alive

Over 13 million acres of land in Iowa are devoted to growing corn. Of that corn, 50% is currently used to produce ethanol. But those uniform acres of corn come at a serious cost to climate and communities. Industrial monocropping traps farmers in a cycle of dependence on Big Ag giants, like Monsanto, and forces their hand. Producers are required to use destructive farming techniques like tilling and fossil fuel-derived fertilizer application to turn a profit. Big Ag has profited off the lie that corn-derived ethanol is a “low carbon” fuel. They hope we’ll ignore the mega-emissions and harmful practices required to make it, so they can keep this system going.

Iowa is also littered with more than 10,000 factory farms, leaving communities to deal with their impact. This includes harmful water pollution, slumping rural economies and negative health effects. The ethanol industry plays a direct role in the success of the factory farming model. A leftover byproduct of the ethanol process is distillers grain, a cheap feed option often used in factory farming. Indeed, the existence of cheap feed is one of the leading factors keeping factory farming profitable. CCS will only make it worse, entrenching ethanol plants and factory farms, instead of shifting to a more sustainable system.

Carbon Pipelines Keep Fossil Fuels On The Grid

CCS and the miles of pipelines required to transport hazardous gases offer a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry. Pipelines created for carbon can also be used to transport fossil fuels, extending the industry’s reach.

What’s more, CCS can be used to extract even more fossil fuels. The majority of domestic CCS projects currently in operation are small projects located close to fossil fuel extraction and power plant sites. Where the carbon is created at these sites, it’s injected underground to extract oil. Summit has left the door open to this destructive process, known as enhanced oil recovery. Their pipeline runs right to Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas. 

Iowa CCS Projects Come At Our Risk And Our Cost

Iowans are expected to take on all of the risks of these CCS proposals, while Wall Street gets the reward. And the risks are tremendous. Carbon is an invisible, odorless gas that acts as an asphyxiant in the event of a pipeline rupture. It’s happened before; an entire town was gassed in 2020, sending 49 people to the hospital. Some of them are now saddled with negative lifelong health issues.

Rural community health systems are already overburdened by the enduring pandemic. Most Iowa communities don’t have the training or timely access to emergency services to properly handle a mass gassing event. The last thing our support services need is dangerous hazardous gas moving through peoples’ backyards.

Tens of thousands of Iowans are expected to risk their lives for these projects — and we’re expected to fund it. Like Big Ag and the fossil fuel industry, Summit and Navigator can only profit by crushing real people. Despite clear proof that CCS doesn’t work, we continue to see public tax dollars wasted on this false promise. Summit’s record-keeping shows their carbon pipeline proposal will be eligible for up to $600 million in tax credits each year. This is an immoral use of our public money.

Iowans Deserve Better Than Carbon Capture Scams

Iowans’ lives are a damn sight more important than the balance of multi-millionaires’ bank accounts. If you believe in putting people before corporate profit, join us in opposing carbon pipelines.

Tell President Biden to oppose carbon capture schemes — your voice can make a difference!

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.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill’s Best And Worst Features

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed has hidden and disguised provisions that could lock us into continued fossil fuels. We should celebrate the increased funding of some good programs, but the sneaky giveaways for fossil fuels are downright ugly. This piece breaks it down. 

The Good  

Increased Funding for Water Infrastructure, Lead Pipes, and Rail — But Not Enough

The infrastructure bill contains about $50 billion for our nation’s water and wastewater systems over 5 years. This includes $15 billion specifically for lead pipe replacement and $10 billion to address PFAS forever chemicals. Funding for water is critical as pipes across the United States are crumbling. This is evidenced by many well documented water failures in Flint, Michigan; Martin County, Kentucky; East Chicago, Indiana; and Benton Harbor, Michigan. Significantly, we won a major fight in removing language that would have promoted water privatization. That language is not in the final bill following objections from Food & Water Watch and hundreds of other organizations.

While this spending is certainly good, it does not go nearly far enough. The $15 billion for lead pipe replacement, for example, is only about a third of what is needed. Also only 49 percent of funding will be grants — the rest is loans. While $50 billion over 5 years sounds like a big number, it is far short of the $35 billion per year that is needed. This is the level of funding contained in the WATER Act, which Food & Water Watch worked to introduce the last few congresses. 

Finally, the legislation also increased the ability of federal regulators to approve new transmission projects. These are necessary to sustain a buildout of wind and solar power. It removes the ability of states to block these necessary projects. 

The bill also contains $60 billion for rail — necessary funding as public rail must be part of our transportation future. But again, this number is far short of what is needed. It is not even enough to modernize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in North America. It is nowhere near the levels that could radically transform American transportation and avert climate disaster.  

The Bad  

The Infrastructure Bill Ensures Money for Pipelines and Petrochemicals and Weaker Environmental Review

There are several provisions of the infrastructure bill that are clearly damaging to the environment and promote fossil fuels. For example:

  • Specific funding for loan guarantees for a natural gas pipeline in Alaska; 
  • A billion dollars to support the development of a petrochemical hub in the Ohio River Valley; 
  • Provisions that weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, reducing public participation and making it harder to stop fossil fuel projects. The bill enshrines into law some provisions of a Trump executive order that rushed environmental review.  The order was reversed by Biden but now some of its terrible provisions are back in play. 

The bill also continues to prioritize investment in roads and highways over public transportation. Instead, we need to massively invest in public transportation and transit-oriented development to move away from fossil fuels. 

The Ugly  

This Infrastructure Bill’s Sneaky Subsidies For Carbon Capture, Hydrogen, and  Fossil Fuels

The bill’s most damaging provisions are wrapped in clean energy language, yet lock us into decades more of fossil fuels. There are over $25 billion in subsidies for carbon capture and hydrogen. Framed as climate-friendly, these provisions essentially subsidize the fossil fuel industry, which stands to benefit from them. At the same time, Congress left in place existing subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

There are specific provisions, for example, for “regional clean hydrogen hubs.” Sounds good right? It’s ‘clean!’ Except the details state that two of these hubs must be in areas with the “greatest natural gas resources.” The plan is to increase fracking for the production of hydrogen, through steam-methane reforming. This ignores the fact that fracking releases massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, driving climate change. 

Support for hydrogen and gas is littered throughout the bill. Even the somewhat touted provision for funding for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations is polluted with these industry-friendly provisions. The funding isn’t just for EV charging, but for EV charging, as well as hydrogen and natural gas fueling stations. 

Biden and Congress Must Step up To Take on Fossil Fuels

While there are provisions in the bill that make some positive changes, for the climate, it is a net negative. The infrastructure bill further locks us into a fossil fuel future and does little to promote renewable energy. It is incumbent on Congress to act swiftly to pass legislation to really take on the climate crisis and on President Biden to use his executive authority. Rather than catering to the corporations that are driving us over a climate cliff, Biden must act to halt fossil fuel expansion.

Your friends should know more about this.

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

REPORT - November 2021

Five Cities Where Wildfire Smoke Is Making It Harder to Breathe

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Arianna Chopelas

Burning nostrils. Watery eyes. A cough that won’t quit. These are feelings that are all too familiar to people living in the Western U.S. The sunny, blue skies that were once a backdrop for beach days and camping trips are now smoky and grey, serving as a frequent reminder that we are in a climate crisis. And this summer, Western wildfires made national headlines when the smoke turned air quality “unhealthy” all the way in New York City.

Air pollution from wildfire smoke is full of dangerous, microscopic particles called PM 2.5. These tiny specks of debris can lead to long-term health problems like respiratory disease, heart failure and developmental impacts in children, not to mention the mental health stresses of living in a world shrouded in smoke. 

But protecting our communities from climate change and these fires is as much of an environmental justice issue as it is a public health issue. Low-income communities and communities of color are already more likely to live in areas with unhealthy air quality, and due to years of systemic racism, suffer from higher rates of disease and illnesses like COVID-19. Adding in another layer like wildfire smoke is like pouring fuel on the fire.

The Drought in the West and Climate Change Are Making Smoky Skies the New Normal

Here are five cities where smoky skies are getting worse – and might become standard – if our elected officials don’t act to stop climate catastrophe and ban the fossil fuel infrastructure that’s driving it.

Known for its ancient Native pueblos and towering mountains, Flagstaff, Arizona is one of the many Western cities living in a fog of wildfire smoke. From 2016-2020, people living in Flagstaff experienced an average of 72 smoky days every year, which is a 79 percent increase from the years 2009-2013. Since most summers are 92 days long, that means that Flagstaff residents could have experienced unhealthy air quality and smoke for almost four out of five days of the summer.

The geography of California’s state capital already makes it vulnerable to air pollution, with smog and PM 2.5 often collecting in the valley throughout the year. The addition of wildfire smoke left residents having to cope with an average of 58 unhealthy air quality days per year from 2016-2020. On top of that, people living in Sacramento experienced a shocking 174 percent increase in unhealthy air quality days compared to 2009-2013. And even more shocking? People living in neighboring Yuba County experienced an average of 81 smoky days per year from 2016-2020. Yes, you read that right: 81.

Reno’s proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California means it’s also close to California’s wildfires. From the years 2016-2020, Reno residents experienced an average of 42 smoky days every year, which represents a considerable difference and a 132 percent increase compared to the years 2009-2013. In 2021 alone, Reno lived through 24 days of an unhealthy air quality index of 101 or higher – all before mid-August.

People living in the Denver area are no strangers to wildfire smoke, but that doesn’t make the increased number of smoky days any more manageable. With residents experiencing an average of 40 wildfire smoke-affected days per year from 2016-2020, that would be like spending nearly half of every summer unable to see the horizon and breathing unhealthy air. 

Portland made national headlines earlier this year after an extreme heatwave melted streetcar power cables and killed nearly 100 people. But what didn’t make the headlines is another climate change-related problem: Portland’s residents experienced an average of 34 smoky days per year from 2016-2020. Compared to the average of 23 smoky days per year from 2009-2013, that represents an increase of almost 50 percent.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This. We Can Stop Our Planet From Going Up in Smoke.

By refusing to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure and relying on false climate solutions like carbon capture or “renewable” natural gas, our elected officials and the Biden administration are locking us into decades more of fossil fuel dependence, all but ensuring that climate change – and the resulting droughts and wildfires – will only get worse. Switching sunglasses out for N-95 respirators and having important community events canceled because of fires simply isn’t sustainable.

That’s why all of us in the climate movement need to raise our voices together and demand that the Biden administration start taking the climate crisis seriously. Will you sign a petition now to urge President Biden to ban fracking on federal lands? We need to act now – before it’s not just harder to breathe, but impossible.

President Biden, it’s time to ban fracking on federal lands.

Biden Administration Dodges Any Real Reform of Trump’s NEPA Rules

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Adam Carlesco

Last year Trump’s administration finalized drastic changes to how federal agencies perform environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It resulted in the gutting of public engagement requirements, expansion of the exemption list, and narrowed the scope of review. As part of a coalition, Food & Water Watch sued the administration for violating clear statutory requirements. Now the Biden administration, rather than repeal the 2020 rules, has decided to piecemeal tweak the Trump administration’s handiwork. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) oversees how all federal agencies implement the environmental review requirements of NEPA. They recently issued a “Phase 1” rulemaking to address issues with the 2020 rulemaking. Rather than return to rules that guided federal agencies for over forty years, the Biden CEQ has largely accepted the 2020 alterations. They are changing only three of the most grievous mistakes.

The Changes Proposed By CEQ Are Needed, But Aren’t Enough

This draft Phase 1 rulemaking proposes reinstating the definition of “effects” to include indirect and cumulative impact. This will require agencies to review climate impacts of permitting decisions. This proposal would also make CEQ’s rules the regulatory floor for agencies – not a ceiling like 2020’s rules. That means individual agencies can make their own agency-specific NEPA review requirements that are more stringent than CEQ’s. Additionally, the proposed rule looks to expand alternative analyses of a proposed project. The Trump administration required that all determinations of need and consideration of alternatives “meet the goals of the applicant.” This let industry developers narrowly define the scope of projects so that few or no alternatives met their stated goals.

While the amendments made within this proposed rule are necessary, they largely neglect the voluminous deficiencies of the 2020 rules. A complete repeal of 2020’s rules and reinstatement of those that have governed NEPA for decades would be most appropriate.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality Should Entirely Repeal the 2020 NEPA Rules

The 2020 changes went further than removing indirect and cumulative effects consideration and instituting a ceiling on agency NEPA implementation: 

  • They restricted public engagement; 
  • They let project developers (like pipeline companies) set the government’s scope of review;
  • And they even allowed developers to start some construction before the review begins. 

The 2020 rules also expressly exempted federal loan guarantees to would-be factory farm operators and vastly expanded categorical exclusions. That allows potentially harmful projects to entirely evade environmental review. The 2020 rules moved the goal posts for requiring an in-depth environmental review by redefining the term “major federal action.” It also allowed more projects to evade such in-depth review by expanding mitigated findings of no significant impact. These are just the most glaring issues – many more can be found within the 2020 rules. 

Additionally, the 2020 rules introduced subtle language changes that greatly alter how agencies proceed with environmental review of proposed projects. These shifts are almost entirely to the detriment of the public and environment. The sheer volume of changes in the 2020 regulations underpin numerous threats to public health. A piecemeal approach to amending Trump’s regulatory framework is not enough to adequately address them.

Tell The Biden Administration To Repeal Trump’s NEPA Rules, Not Tweak Them

The Trump administration’s changes to how the federal government reviews the environmental impacts of projects are pervasive and detrimental. We cannot simply amend them. The 2020 NEPA rules are beyond reform and require total repeal before making any future changes to the NEPA process. Through omission, CEQ’s tweaks to the 2020 rules would cement many of their serious deficiencies, including Trump’s expanded exclusions. The good news is at  this time it’s only a proposal. CEQ requests all interested members of the public provide them with comments by November 22, 2021. Now is our opportunity to influence how the final rule takes form.

Ask CEQ to completely repeal the 2020 rules Trump instituted! Our future depends on it.

California’s Water Can’t Be Squandered On Wasteful Abuses Anymore

Categories

Clean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California remains mired in an awful drought in spite of the recent atmospheric river — a narrow band of concentrated, copious moisture — that brought a deluge of rain and snow to the state. This winter is projected to be a dry one and as climate change accelerates, California’s long-term water situation will continue to deteriorate. Governor Newsom recently issued a state of emergency and implored Californians to conserve water.

Newsom is right to declare a state of emergency. However, there is much more to be done than asking California’s residents to voluntarily conserve. Vast amounts of water are consumed by large corporations that benefit from water rights and allocations developed in wetter times. It’s time for Newsom to use his executive authority, given the state of emergency, to rein in these big corporate water abusers.

California Water Gets Wasted Egregiously By Non-Essential Industries

On October 12, Food & Water Watch released a detailed analysis outlining some of the biggest corporate water abuses in California. The abuses run the gamut from vast almond operations to factory farms, oil and gas to exported alfalfa. Together they account for more than enough to provide for many Californians without access to clean water and for the environment. Here are some of the findings.

California Water Goes Overwhelmingly To Non-Essential Agriculture
  • Almonds: Tree nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts are incredibly water-intensive. They accounted for over 20% of California’s 2013 agricultural water use (agriculture accounts for 80% of all California water). While some almonds are grown on sustainable family farms, a few megacorporations control large amounts of production in the dry west San Joaquin valley. Most of these almonds are exported and profit more large corporate interests overseas, essentially exporting water out of our state. While California has experienced severe droughts over the years, almond production continues to increase. Between 2010 and 2021, almond acreage exploded by nearly 73%. 
  • Alfalfa: Accounting for over 15% of California’s annual agricultural water use, much of the state’s alfalfa feeds factory farm cows or is exported. In one bizarre example, Fondomonte Farms, a Saudi-owned subsidiary, grows and exports alfalfa back to Saudi Arabia to feed dairy cows. Why? Because the Saudi government has rightly deemed it irresponsible to grow alfalfa in an arid climate, yet the company has access to ample California water. 
California Water Gets Sapped Up By Destructive Industries
  • Factory Farms: The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture reported nearly 1.7 million cows on factory dairy farms in California. Mega-dairies push out smaller family-scale dairies, generate large amounts of waste, and also consume a lot of water. Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 142 million gallons of water daily to maintain the cows on California’s mega-dairies. That more than covers the daily recommended water usage for every resident of San Jose and San Diego combined. 
  • Fossil Fuel Industry: Fossil fuels drive the climate crisis — leading to drier conditions — but the industry also uses huge amounts of water. Between January 2018 and March 2021, the oil and gas industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. That water could otherwise have supplied domestic systems. That is the equivalent of around 4,570 Olympic-sized pools or more than 120 million showers for California households. 

In normal times, these water abuses wouldn’t make any sense. But in the drier, warmer future ahead of us due to climate change, they are unacceptable. While Californians can and should conserve more, bold action is needed to go after the largest water users and abusers. 

Newsom Must Use The State Of Emergency To Stop Corporate Water Waste

To ensure enough water for all Californians and the environment, Newsom should use the state of emergency to take executive action. He should stop the expansion of almonds, alfalfa, factory farms and oil and gas. He should declare that these massive water abuses are not a beneficial use of our precious water resources. And he should work to rebalance water allocations in the state. 

It’s important that Governor Newsom hear from Californians that his leadership is needed. He must address the current drought as well as our long-term water future. Tell Governor Newsom the time to act is now — rein in the big water abusers to protect our water future.

[email protected] CA needs your leadership. Water-hogging industries that hurt our long-term resources must be shown the door. We’ve let them take too much for too long. #stateofemergency #waterforall

Contact Governor Newsom on Twitter.

Your voice makes a difference.

Why Did The EPA Give Factory Farms A Free Pass With Air Pollution?

Categories

Food System

By Emily Miller

The Biden administration talks a big game when it comes to protecting the environment. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order to hold polluters accountable for toxic air pollution. Unfortunately, these policies don’t seem to apply to Big Ag. When it comes to factory farm pollution, Biden’s EPA has quietly preserved a George W. Bush-era policy that does the opposite. It continues a corrupt amnesty deal for factory farms that shields them from complying with federal air pollution laws. 

Enough is enough. As part of a coalition of advocacy organizations, we recently called the Administration out on its hypocrisy. On October 26, we filed a legal petition with EPA urging it to end this 16-year-old amnesty agreement. They must enforce our clean air laws against this major polluting industry.

Factory Farm Air Pollution Kills Thousands of People Every Year in the U.S.

This decades-long amnesty has had far-reaching consequences for public health and the environment. Factory farms emit deadly air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and climate-warming methane. They put nearby residents — often low-income communities of color — at risk for serious illnesses, like asthma and pneumonia. 

Even worse, the livestock industry’s air pollution is responsible for over 12,700 deaths per year. That’s more deaths than are attributed to coal-fired power plants. That means over 200,000 lives have been lost due to this industry’s air pollution since 2005. 

Despite Serious Threat To Public Health, EPA Has Given Factory Farms a Free Pass To Pollute Since 2005

In 2005, the George W. Bush administration announced an agreement it had secretly negotiated with the pork lobby. EPA would refrain from enforcing key air pollution control and public transparency laws like the Clean Air Act against animal feeding operations (AFO) that signed up for the deal. In exchange, the AFOs agreed to pay a small fee to fund a nationwide air monitoring program to help EPA develop more accurate air emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) for AFOs. These were supposed to help calculate factory farms’ pollution so clean air law enforcement could finally begin. 

At the time, environmentalists challenged the legality of this agreement, arguing it was an abdication of EPA’s enforcement authority. However, the D.C. Circuit Court allowed EPA to proceed. Their decision partly relied on the agency’s assurances that the “limited” deferral would last no longer than three and half years. 

Nearly 14,000 AFOs nationwide signed up for this sweetheart deal. By EPA’s own estimate, this accounted for over 90 percent of the country’s largest factory farms. The industry has grown significantly since 2005, but EPA has used the agreement as an excuse not to regulate the industry at large until it develops accurate EEMs.  

EPA Dropped The Ball, Exposing Communities To Air Pollution  

EPA promised to complete the air monitoring study, develop emission models, and end the Air Consent Agreement by 2010. But a series of agency missteps and delays means EPA has yet to finalize any methodologies or end the agreement. 

From the start, fundamental problems plagued the emission methodologies development process. From how EPA designed and ran the study, to how it attempted to use the data, it was a mess. For instance, close to 14,000 AFOs signed the Air Consent Agreement. But EPA selected just 20 AFOs in 10 states to study, an incredibly small, and non-representative industry sample. This, along with equipment failures and other technical problems, limited EPA’s ability to develop accurate emission models. 

When EPA used this compromised data to develop draft methodologies, the drafts were deemed utterly unusable by the scientific community. Even EPA’s own Science Advisory Board lambasted the emission models. It concluded they were unfit for national use, and incapable of predicting emissions beyond the small number of farms studied. In short — garbage in, garbage out.

After that, EPA efforts completely stalled. It wasn’t until 2017, when EPA’s Office of Inspector General criticized EPA for its inaction, that the development process restarted. But this revived process hasn’t fared any better. Now, after nearly five more years of delay, EPA has still not finalized any methodologies. It has largely ignored advice it received from its Science Advisory Board about how to produce accurate emission models.

Meanwhile, thousands of AFOs enjoy protection from EPA enforcement indefinitely, even if their emissions exceed legal limits or reporting thresholds. EPA’s unwillingness to cross Big Ag is the same under Biden, and people are paying with their health and their lives.

EPA’s Inaction Is Unacceptable And Must End Now

AFO air pollution has serious and unregulated public health impacts. We are demanding EPA put a stop to its unacceptable dereliction of duty. It must terminate the Air Consent Agreement, and take all actions consistent with President Biden’s executive orders to enforce applicable clean air laws against AFOs. 

The agency never should have granted this amnesty in the first place. After nearly twenty years of this mistake, it absolutely must put an end to this perpetual license to pollute.

Your friends need to know about this, too.

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.

The Story of Your Year with Food & Water Watch

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photos by Rebecca Wolf, Hannah Benet and Survival Media Agency

It’s our year in review! The Story of Your Year shows the real results from your investment in Food & Water Watch, including actions you and our members took that moved our mission forward in 2021 — petition signatures, calls, texts, and emails to legislative offices, letters to the editor, and the many other ways our members invested their time this year. From rallying against pipelines to exposing the suffering caused by factory farm pollution, and more — we showed up, we fought for our climate and resources, and we’re winning.

This dive into the numbers showcases some of our 2021 accomplishments. It highlights our strength – the movement we continue to build and the momentum you’ve created. We look forward to even greater successes in the coming year!

The passion you bring to the fight for our food, water, and climate makes all of our victories possible — including those in the video and stats below:


In 2021, the EPA has only banned one pesticide, chlorpyrifos. For years, we’ve been fighting for them to ban glyphosate. We sounded the alarm, published research and educated policymakers about its danger.  

We compiled data that showed glyphosate:

  • Interferes with hormone levels, even when its residue on foods is present at low levels;
  • Is a “probable carcinogen,” linked strongly to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to  the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer — which has underpinned many of the lawsuits against Monsanto/Bayer;
  • May contribute to antibiotic resistance in certain bacteria;
  • May be linked to reproductive issues and birth defects; and
  • Is widely present in our food. 

In part because of our work, Bayer announced it would be pulling glyphosate from consumer products! We have more work to do — they’ll still be selling it for large-scale agriculture which is its path to our food — but this is a step in the right direction.

In 2021, Food & Water Watch challenged dozens of corporations and government regulators in court. We’re fighting to put people ahead of corporate profit. 

Late this year, Food & Water Watch won a landmark lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. Our victory will force the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act and require factory farms in Idaho to monitor and report on their water pollution.

This means that polluting factory farms in Idaho must now comprehensively monitor and report on water pollution for the first time. More importantly, the precedent is relevant everywhere across the country where factory farm permits take the same illegal approach.

We will use this huge win to fight factory farm pollution across the country!

Without monitoring, factory farms have polluted at will for decades. Our victory is a critical first step to hold the industry accountable; it brings us closer to banning factory farms forever.

Thanks to pressure by Food & Water Watch and allies, the House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act of 2021, jumpstarting regulations for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), toxic lab-made “forever chemicals.” The legislation would require the EPA to set drinking water standards for the two most-studied PFAS chemicals and would designate these as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund program to promote the cleanup of toxic sites. 

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

Food & Water Watch’s fight for clean drinking water is making a difference. We will continue to fight alongside you for everyone to have access to clean public water.

Your support brings a team of volunteers together to fight for and advance our mission, guided by our organizers and empowered by our research, legal expertise, and advocacy.

In 2019, we piloted our first formal volunteer program, the Food & Water Volunteer Network. Big, systemic change takes mobilizing people-power to convince decision-makers. We know that the larger our movement, the bigger the impact we can make. 

Food & Water Watch volunteers take on leadership roles aligned with their skills and build our capacity to pressure elected officials at all levels. We have formally launched volunteer hubs in Florida, New York, Iowa, California and Oregon and we’ll be adding more in 2022.

If you’re eager to take an extra role in this movement, join Food & Water Watch’s volunteer network. We’d love for you to join us for national volunteer calls, ​​trainings and workshops, and to work alongside other dedicated volunteers throughout the country. Our volunteers change the world, one location at a time! Learn more: fwwat.ch/volunteer2021

Food & Water Watch delivers groundbreaking research and bold policy recommendations on climate change under three interrelated fronts. A sustainable food system, safe, affordable water, and leaving fossil fuels in the past all help to create a livable future. Food & Water Watch provides scientific, factually grounded educational tools to inform the public and elected officials about these issues.

Our members do a wonderful job sharing these resources to spread awareness of the bold solutions Food & Water Watch is fighting for. 

Here are the top 5 articles our members read and shared this year:

Understanding Food Labels

Fracking, Federal Lands, and Follow Through 

Monsanto — Er, Bayer — Will End Glyphosate Sales. It’s Not Enough. 

Guide To Safe Tap Water And Filters 

5 Big Misconceptions About President Biden’s Fracking And Drilling Orders

And our debut digital report showcasing our new digital format and showing a path forward for our food system:

Well-Fed: A Roadmap To A Sustainable Food System That Works For All

We at Food & Water Watch are grateful for your generosity. 

Your investment in the fight for safe food, clean water, and a livable climate makes a huge impact. Thank you for standing with us to make a difference and fight like you live here!

Your help has been pivotal.

Thanks for everything you do!

Time Is Up On Fossil Fuels, Biden. Our Communities Can’t Wait!

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo by Emad Mohammed | Survival Media Agency

by Laurel Levin and Thomas Meyer

As the climate crisis has picked up speed, so has the movement to stop it in its tracks. From October 11th – 15th, Food & Water Watch co-organized the People vs. Fossil Fuels actions in D.C. Throughout the week, thousands took to the steps of the White House and the U.S. Capitol with a clear demand. We asked that President Biden stop all new projects involving fossil fuels and declare a national climate emergency. Indigenous organizers and other front-line communities made the message loud and clear. Continuing business as usual is catastrophic for our communities, our water, our health, and our future. 

Food & Water Watch mobilized our allies from many different local campaigns to join the action in DC. From the fight against fracking in Pennsylvania and pipelines in Virginia, we came together to demand that President Biden end the era of fossil fuels. In addition to dozens of volunteers and activists, twelve Food & Water Watch staff participated in civil disobedience on October 14.

A Glimpse Into The Action At The People Vs. Fossil Fuels Rallies

In total, over 650 people were arrested in nonviolent civil disobedience. It generated a huge amount of media coverage, and forced the Biden administration to publicly respond to our demands!

Each day, hundreds of people gathered at Freedom Plaza for opening prayer and grounding. Indigenous water protectors, activists, and Tribal leaders from across the country lead the march from Freedom Plaza to the White House. Then on the final day, youth organizers led as we marched to the Capitol. All told, about 120 people on average were arrested daily in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose was to demand that President Biden uphold his promises on climate action.

People who volunteered to be arrested stand in front of the White House during a march to protest against fossil fuels on Thursday, October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
People who volunteered to be arrested stand in front of the White House during a march to protest against fossil fuels on Thursday, October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades | Survival Media Agency

The Message Was Clear — Choose People Over Fossil Fuels

Protesters rallied under banners that read “Our Communities Cannot Wait,” “Stop Fueling the Flames,” and “Real Solutions, No Bullshit.” Speakers from Alaska to Louisiana gave testimony about heatwaves, floods, fires, hurricanes, and other climate disasters that threaten their communities. The gravity of these testimonies fueled our spirits and kept the energy going through each long day.

Additionally, we heard from Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch. She gave a moving testimonial on Thursday about the Mariner East pipeline cutting through her community in Chester County.

Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch, speaks about the devastation of pipelines that transport fossil fuels.
Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Photo credit: Rebecca Wolf

“This fracked gas pipeline has brought danger and destruction to families across Pennsylvania. But it has also helped change public opinion, and now residents from across the political spectrum oppose fracking and the pipeline. President Biden may falsely believe he won Pennsylvania on account of his support for fracking, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Fracking is a loser for our climate, air, water, health and safety.”

Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, Food & Water Watch Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer

Biden Has The Unique Authority To Act On Climate Now

President Biden has the authority through executive action to implement our demands today; no messy negotiations in Congress necessary. But here’s the main problem: Biden is unwilling to take on the fossil fuel industry. As a movement, we must make it clear that anything less than a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels is not enough. We call on President Biden to deliver on his promises. He must directly take on the fossil fuel industry to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.

The Pressure Activists Are Placing On Biden To Thwart Climate Change Is Just Beginning

People vs. Fossil Fuels was the largest climate mobilization and civil disobedience action in years, but the struggle continues. Our actions forced the Biden administration to respond to our demands. Additionally, they highlighted resistance to fossil fuel projects just weeks before the next UN Climate Summit in Glasgow.

Casey Camp Horineck, Councilwoman and Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Women's Scalp Dance Society, of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, speaks at the People Vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization.
Casey Camp Horineck, Councilwoman and Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Women’s Scalp Dance Society, of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, speaks at the People Vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood | Survival Media Agency

Overwhelmingly, this week of action demonstrated that the people have had enough empty promises and watered-down climate policies. At Food & Water Watch, we are determined to keep the pressure on. We’re meeting President Biden and his team wherever they go across the country, demanding that they stop fossil fuels and declare a climate emergency. And it’s not just us. Rep. Cori Bush’s office, along with twelve other members of Congress, released this letter. It calls on President Biden to meet our demands and act on fossil fuels before it’s too late. 

Urge President Biden to show bold leadership through executive action today!

Use your voice to stand in solidarity and ask President Biden to act now.

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.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline Could Decide President Biden’s Climate Legacy

Categories

Climate and Energy

A collaboration of the Protect Our Water Heritage Rights Coalition and Food & Water Watch. All photography by Matthew Pickett.

Frontline and Indigenous communities turned out in record numbers to elect President Biden, who campaigned on a platform of bold climate action. But our allies fighting on the frontlines of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a sprawling, multi-state fracked gas monstrosity, have yet to see the President match his rhetoric with executive action. Within the next six months, it will be agencies and appointees in the Biden administration who will cast deciding votes on the controversial project’s future, offering a critical climate test by which the president’s legacy will be judged.

MVP Is An Unnecessary Relic of The Fossil Fuel Era

We are facing a climate crisis of epic proportions and fossil fuels are to blame. But instead of issuing a clear ultimatum to end our reliance on fossil fuels, our President has remained silent on some of the largest fossil fuel infrastructure projects moving forward under his administration. MVP is one of them.

The MVP is a massive interstate fracked gas pipeline, seeking building approvals across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. A frequent perpetrator of environmental injustice, the pipeline threatens to burden low-income communities and communities of color with the health and safety risks of living near a fracked gas pipeline and the trauma of battling the corporate intruder.

The proposed route covers hundreds of miles of high landslide risk areas, cuts through nationally protected forests, threatens regional waterways and clean drinking water supplies, and will add an additional 90 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere every year — equal to that of 23 new coal plants. The pipeline corporation has already accumulated millions of dollars in penalties owed for environmental violations and mired dozens of landowners in extensive legal battles to regain access to their private property taken using eminent domain.

MVP is wildly out of line with Biden’s climate promises — it must be stopped.

This October, We Brought The Fight Against MVP to Biden

Holding signs and leading chants, we brought the fight against MVP to the White House. We marched with frontline activists and people from around the country as part of the People vs Fossil Fuels mobilization, demanding President Biden take executive action to end the fossil fuel era and stop MVP. A full photo essay is available from our allies at POWHR.

The People V. MVP

When a pipeline corporation comes to your door requesting permission to bore through your family farm, the fossil fuel resistance gets personal. For residents of Southwest Virginia, the fight against MVP is more than just a counter to the fossil fuels amplifying the climate crisis — it is a fight to protect family and home.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

The People V. MVP

Biden has thus far abdicated his responsibility to act on MVP. That means it is the frontline communities who must bear the burden we elected him to relieve. It’s time for the President to step in and take this pipeline off our shoulders.

THE PEOPLE V. MVP

“We have been organizing against the Mountain Valley Pipeline since 2014 and we will continue to resist that project until it is defeated,” said Russell Chisholm, Coordinator, Mountain Valley Watch, and Co-Chair, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights. “Not just to protect our water, not just to protect that tiny spring that feeds my home, but to protect our brothers and sisters who live along the Gulf Coast, who live with the climate induced catastrophes all the way back to Katrina.”

THE PEOPLE V. MVP

“When we march together, we show the power that the people hold,” said Jorge Aguilar, Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director. “President Biden cannot be silent in the face of our movement — it’s time for him to make MVP the first domino to fall, signaling the end of the fossil fuel era.”

To Come Clean on His Climate Commitments, Biden Must Stop MVP

MVP is wildly out of line with Biden’s climate goals, and it will take us backwards in the fight to lower our reliance on the fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. We stand in solidarity with frontline and grassroots activists across Virginia including our allies at POWHR, as they face down their eighth year of sustained resistance to the project.

Ultimately, the decision on MVP is one that President Biden can influence. His Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will have the final say on the project. Will he shut the project down like he did with Keystone XL? Or will he remain silent, and lock the planet into a fossil fuel future, as with Line 3? The choice is in the president’s hands.

Join us in demanding President Biden side with people, not fossil fuels.

Send Biden a message — it’s time to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Finally! Sunoco Charged With Environmental Crimes Over Mariner East Pipeline

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart, Ginny Kerslake, and Megan McDonough

From the very start, we knew Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 project — a 350 mile pipeline across Pennsylvania — would be a disaster.

We knew that Governor Tom Wolf pushed state agencies to approve the massive project, which carries fracked gas liquids to a port in Philadelphia, where they are shipped in tankers to Europe to make plastic junk.  

We saw for ourselves how the pipeline construction ripped up communities, contaminated drinking water, created sinkholes, and spilled drilling mud into lakes and streams.

We knew that Sunoco and parent company Energy Transfer were getting away with what seemed like criminal behavior, and we have urged state officials to take more serious action.


On October 5, things changed. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Sunoco/Energy Transfer was charged with 48 crimes related to the construction of the pipeline. A grand jury investigation found that the company routinely failed to report spills of drilling-related industrial waste.

Everything We Already Knew About Mariner East Pipeline — Plus a Lot More 

The details in the report are both familiar and horrifying to those who have followed this story. There was a consistent pattern: As they carried out horizontal directional drilling (HDD) at sites across the state, Sunoco’s contractors would spill drilling fluid, and the company mostly failed to report the accidents.

The drilling under Raystown Lake, for example, was a years-long disaster. The first contractor spilled 780,000 gallons of waste into the lake — but none of these eight ‘accidents’ were ever reported to the state. The next contractor had more problems, and Sunoco reported almost none of these either. All told, millions of gallons of waste was dumped into Raystown Lake.  

The same was happening near other lakes and streams, next to apartment buildings, and in residential neighborhoods.

And as appalling as these details are, the grand jury is crystal clear about one thing: The problems are far worse than what they have documented. Their report focuses on waste spills at 21 locations, but that is just 16 percent of the horizontal drilling that took place across the state. We know the same things were occurring at other sites; dozens of spills that impacted bodies of water were reported to the state. But the patterns of behavior documented by the grand jury report indicate that Sunoco failed to report many, many more.

Sunoco’s Threat To Drinking Water  

The report also covers some of the ways Sunoco ruined drinking water when drilling fluids entered water wells or an aquifer. One resident, Rosemary Fuller, experienced a range of problems almost as soon as construction began near her home. After she notified the state, Sunoco sampled her water, and told her that the problem was just harmless bentonite from the drilling fluid. 

A few weeks later, the grand jury report says, 

“she received a follow-up email informing her that additional test results indicated her water had tested high for e-coli and fecal coliform. In the intervening time period, her daughter drank the water and was hospitalized.”

The grand jury found that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a list of 183 people who have complained about water problems, And the problem could be bigger: 

“The possibility exists that the number of families that have had their only water supply impacted by this project is larger than is known. Many of the agreements that Sunoco entered into with homeowners who were affected by pipeline construction included non-disclosure provisions. Some of these prohibit a homeowner from speaking even with DEP or other governmental entities at the township, borough, county, state or federal level.”

Sunoco Paid The Fines And Kept Polluting. It’s Time For Governor Wolf To Stop This. 

Sunoco’s destructive behavior has not gone unpunished by the state. They have been issued more than a hundred violations and have paid millions of dollars in fines; at one point the state suspended reviews of new water permits due to the company’s record.  There have been a series of investigations, and even reports of an FBI probe into the Wolf administration’s approval of the pipeline.

The criminal case against Sunoco is a step forward for accountability. But the ultimate decision about the fate of Mariner East — and the communities that have been abused and put at risk by this corporation  — rests with Governor Wolf. All along, he has had the power to stop this. As the company finally faces legal challenges, will the governor finally do the right thing?

Tell Governor Wolf enough is enough. Mariner East has done too much damage already!

9 Ways Fracking Is The Worst — Climate Change Is Top Of The List

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Romain Coetmellec

How many people really know what fracking is? More people than ever have learned about it thanks to the 2020 U.S. presidential election — Google Trends shows searches for the term peaked during that season — but there are still not enough people who know what it is and what it’s doing to our planet and resources. 

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high quantity of water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure — high enough to crack the rock — which allows the once-trapped oil & gas to flow to the surface out to the head of the drilling well.

Here’s one fact: the fossil fuel industry is lying to us!

Oil & gas corporations such as Exxon Mobil or Chevron have been lying to the public for decades. They knew then and now know just how dangerous fracking is.

They purposefully mislead the public into believing that natural gas — obtained through fracking — is greener than coal. In fact, they are trying to sell us that fracked gas is the “bridge fuel” towards more renewable energy — actually, the only thing fracking is a bridge to is climate chaos.

9 Reasons Why Fracking Is Evil

  • Fracking accelerates climate change.  Natural gas consists mostly of the potent greenhouse gas methane, which traps about 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks from oil and gas operations, including pipelines, are the number one source of human-caused methane pollution in the country. This means that the greenhouse gas footprint of fracked natural gas is actually worse than coal and oil because methane traps more heat in the atmosphere. Scientists warn that if our planet heats up 2° Celsius more, it could cause irreversibly destructive climate change. Fracked gas is no “bridge fuel” to renewables, it simply substitutes one dirty fuel (coal) for another (fracked gas), making climate change even more costly and destructive in the coming decades.
  • Fracking pollutes drinking water. Across the country — from Wyoming to Texas to Pennsylvania — fracking has caused widespread pollution of drinking water. In the most dire cases, communities have had to truck water to their homes when well water became too polluted to drink. These pollutants include methane and toxic chemicals linked to fracking. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed “widespread, systemic” impacts on drinking water from fracking.
  • Fracking produces toxic — even radioactive — wastewater. Some of the chemical-laced water used to frack gas wells returns to the surface as wastewater. This wastewater contains not only the original fracking fluids, but also potentially dangerous levels of harmful underground contaminants and radioactive material. These chemicals can cause cancer, harm sensory organs and the respiratory system and damage the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
  • Fracking makes people sick and causes a host of public health problems. Dozens of scientific studies have confirmed the firsthand accounts of frontline communities: Fracking can make people sick. This is particularly true for people living close to drilling and fracking operations that are exposed to air pollution or water contamination. Fracking is associated with health problems including difficulty breathing, asthma, throat and nose irritation, skin problems, abdominal issues, headaches, nosebleeds, eye irritation, cancer and hair loss. Some women have had reproductive health problems since fracking is linked to infertility, miscarriages and birth defects. The shale gas workers are also plagued with health issues. Workers can be exposed to hazardous chemicals, radioactive toxins, extreme temperatures, airborne pollutants and respiratory irritants.
  • Fracking is exempt from federal environmental laws allowing industry to conceal contents of chemical cocktails. One provision in the 2005 Energy Policy Act — which is giveaway-laden in favor of the energy industry — explicitly exempted fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allowed fracking companies to hide the chemical contents of their drilling fluid. This “Halliburton Loophole” has prevented federal oversight of the perilous, polluting and poisoning practice of fracking. Instead of the EPA, only state governments regulate fracking and most allow oil and gas companies to conceal the fracking chemicals as so-called “trade secrets.” The known and commonly used chemicals include 14 known or possible human carcinogens and many linked to developmental health and reproductive problems. But companies routinely refuse to disclose more than 10 percent of the chemicals pumped into wells.
  • Fracking and the disposal of fracking wastewater cause earthquakes. Fracking-related tremors and earthquakes have occurred across North America. Both the process of fracking and the underground disposal of fracking wastewater are known to cause earthquakes (the ones large enough to feel are most commonly caused by re-injecting fracking wastewater for disposal deep underground). In Oklahoma, the sudden and violent increase in frackquakes have largely been triggered by the high-pressure, underground disposal of toxic fracking wastewater. From 1975 to 2008, Oklahoma averaged only one to three 3.0 magnitude (or greater) earthquakes annually. In 2009 the state had 20 of these 3.0 magnitude or greater earthquakes (the magnitude that is generally needed to be felt). In 2015, that number exploded 45-fold to 902. 
  • Fracking is driving a huge petrochemical and plastics boom. This may come as a surprise to some, but plastic can be made from fracked gas and the plastics industry is reaping under-the-radar benefits from fracking. The fracking boom created a gas glut that encouraged the petrochemical and plastics industries to expand and build new facilities to make more plastic — most of which will just end up as litter or in landfills. It’s a vicious cycle where more fracking drives more petrochemical production and more plastics manufacturing, and in turn encourages more fracking. These petrochemical and plastics plants emit massive amounts of air and climate pollutants and are expanding in the Gulf Coast and popping up in Appalachia. This plastic doesn’t decompose and has polluted rivers, landscapes, oceans and marine life and microplastic molecules end up in everything — sea salt, bottled water, organic compost and much more. On average, people are consuming about 5 grams of this residual plastic weekly — roughly the same as one credit card.
  • Fracking is expanding pipeline infrastructure across the country. The oil and gas industry is expanding its sprawling maze of pipelines to transport fracked oil and gas to power plants, export facilities, petrochemical factories and more. The labyrinth of built and proposed pipelines lock in decades more dependence on fossil fuels, leak massive volumes of the greenhouse gas methane and damage the environment and ecosystems along their routes. The pipeline companies literally bulldoze over local opposition — including Native American tribes, local landowners, farmers and conservationists. Pipeline construction threatens wildlife habitats and the environment, compromises soil quality, causes erosion, creates dangerous sinkholes, releases air pollutants, and contaminates streams, rivers and aquifers. And once a pipeline is built, unlucky landowners along its path will have to accept living with the constant risk of accidents and explosions forever.
  • Fracking imposes heavy social costs and quality of life burdens.  In addition to the obvious environmental and public health impacts brought about by fracking, fracking also impacts the quality of life for rural communities where most wells are drilled.  Energy booms create intense pressures on local communities. The flood of out-of-state workers burden small towns with limited capacities to meet the growing needs and new challenges, such as oversaturating local housing, police and public health capacities. The increased traffic on rural streets from fleets of trucks transporting fracking products to and from drilling sites can bring big city traffic jams to previously uncongested roads. There is also a heightened risk for traffic accidents, which can spill hazardous materials into nearby freshwater bodies, farmland and private property.

We Need Your Help To Urge Biden To Ban Fracking For Good

We know the only way toward a clean, renewable energy future is to ban fracking and stop all new fossil fuel development. We need to ban fracking everywhere, but the first step is saving our public lands from the free-for-all fracking permits that Trump ushered through. Will you sign the petition now to push President Biden to take swift, bold action to ban fracking on public lands?

Hearing from constituents helps elected leaders make their decisions. Your signature can help!

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!

Climate Change Is Making Animals ‘Shapeshift’

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Melody College

Nature is remarkable! It’s always amazing how a tree, flower, plant, fish, animal, or insect evolves to be perfectly suited for survival in a specific habitat. Or how the Monarch butterfly travels 2,500 miles to hibernate in the forests of central Mexico. Or how Emperor penguins, polar bears, and leopard seals survive sub-zero temperatures. 

It’s worth repeating — nature is remarkable! This process of perfection took millions of years but habitat loss, pollution, and human-induced climate change is disrupting and destroying all of it.

Climate Change is Forcing Animals to ‘Shapeshift’ And Flee Their Homes

This may seem like something out of the X-Men, but research shows that animals are ‘shapeshifting.’ They are developing smaller bodies, larger legs, beaks, and ears to help better regulate their body temperatures as the planet heats up, with birds being particularly affected. The strongest evidence of this can be found in Australian parrots, where the surface area of their bills has increased 4-10% since 1871 as the planet keep getting warmer. 

And, a recent study of over 70,000 migratory birds representing over 50 species showed the birds’ bodies are getting smaller and their wingspan wider in response to a warming climate. 

Nature is also feeling the effects of climate change in other ways. Since 1995, Dragonfly species such as the emperor dragonfly, migrant hawker, ruddy darter, black-tailed skimmer, and small red-eyed damselfly have extended their range north across Britain and Ireland to escape the heat from southern Europe. 

Polar bears depend on sea ice for survival but as their habitat melts, polar bears can’t hunt for their food and their habitat becomes fragmented. They are being evicted by climate change. Research shows that habitat fragmentation is causing polar bears to inbreed, further reducing their chances of surviving climate change. 

Isn’t This Natural Evolution, and not a Reaction to Climate Change?

Climate change is putting pressure on nature to adapt and evolve in a faster time frame. 

As our planet heats up due to human-induced climate change animals need to find ways to regulate their body temperature. Birds use their beaks to regulate their body temperature, other animals might use their ears, but failure to regulate body temperature means death. And, scientists don’t see this as a positive


“We also don’t know whether these shape-shifts actually aid in survival (and therefore are beneficial) or not. This phenomenon of shape-shifting shouldn’t be seen as a positive, but rather it is alarming that climate change is pushing animals to evolve like this, under such a relatively short timeframe.”

— Sara Ryding, Ecology Researcher

Protecting Nature Means Fighting Climate Change

The bottom line is human-caused climate change is forcing nature to evolve faster, endangering their habitats, and the survival of humans and animals. Scientific studies have indicated that just a temperature rise of 1.8- 2℃ would threaten a million species with extinction over the next fifty years. 

But there is still hope. If we go all-in with ending the use of fossil fuels and drastically reduce our emissions we can save many species and habitats that share this planet. That’s why Food & Water Watch is fighting to ban fracking, end new fossil fuel infrastructure, power plants, and pipelines — all sources of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet, and we are fighting to make sure our environmental laws are strengthened.

You can help fight the forces causing climate change by donating now.

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 Defeated A Sneaky LNG Proposal, But It Won’t Be The Last We Need To Fight In Florida

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Michelle Allen

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?

Despite the immense risks posed by Strom Inc.’s LNG proposal, the project has been met with very little government scrutiny. This also means there was no opportunity for public input in Tampa. Alarmed by this, Food & Water Watch worked to bring this dangerous proposal to light. We worked with Tampa Bay Times investigative reporters to dig up more information. That investigation uncovered Strom Inc. had been providing the Department of Energy false information about their project for years

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. 

Food & Water Watch volunteers participated in actions to oppose LNG buildout.

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. 

To make matters worse, LNG is also being transported along Florida’s East Coast on the Florida East Coast Railway, putting communities along the train’s route at risk of dangerous LNG “bomb trains.” This LNG infrastructure buildout must be stopped. 

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!

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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EPA Should Rewrite Trump’s Awful Rule And Help States Protect Their Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Adam Carlesco

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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A Note About What’s Next To Protect Waterways:

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.

We Must Hold Iowa Accountable For Failing To Protect Public Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Emma Schmit

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

Reduced water consumption — currently recommended by Des Moines Water Works for the capital region — is a simplistic, short-term answer to a complex, long-term problem. Drought is far from the only challenge facing Iowa’s waters. Nearly 60% of the state’s assessed waters are impaired, attesting to issues far greater than a lack of precipitation affecting our waterways. The Raccoon River, which is used to supply over half a million central Iowans with clean drinking water, was named by American Rivers as one of the nation’s ten Most Endangered Rivers

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 industry has exerted its outsized influence over our elected officials for too long. That’s why Food & Water Watch & Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement sued the state of Iowa for failing to protect our right to clean water.

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

Great question.

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!

It’s Time For An Urgent Intervention In The Food System Ruining Our Climate

Categories

Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

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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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.  

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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.

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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!

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

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Our Coalition Has Filed A FOIA Complaint Against Sussex County For Controversial Biogas Scheme

Categories

Climate and Energy

This week, Sussex Health & Environment Network, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement, and Food & Water Watch, filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against Sussex County to the Delaware Department of Justice. For months, we have been closely following Bioenergy DevCo’s plans to construct an industrial factory farm biogas operation to produce dirty gas for insertion into regional pipeline networks. The project poses direct threats to public health and safety, and exacerbates these problems in an environmental justice community already dealing with nearby Superfund sites and polluting poultry factory farms. Despite these threats, we have had to fight alongside other County residents to even get public input in the project.

To understand the roots of our FOIA Complaint, we need to go back a few weeks. On April 21, our organizations and our allies discovered something unexpected on the agenda for the April 27 meeting of Sussex County Council — a vote to approve up to $60 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction of the Bioenergy DevCo biogas project near Seaford. Despite our months-long attention to the biogas scheme, we had not heard anything about county bonds or tax-exempt funding for the project, until now.

So, we contacted the Sussex County administration for information on where and when the bond issuance had been discussed. The answer provided us with yet another surprise. According to Finance Director Gina Jennings, the county’s Industrial Revenue Bond Committee had held a “public hearing” on the bonds on March 17. This answer seemed strange to us, because we had participated in a public hearing about a conditional use permit for the proposed Bioenergy Devco plant on March 16. In fact, more than 300 people had submitted comments in opposition to the conditional use permit, and the two of us had testified in opposition to the conditional use permit, but none of us heard a word about the bond hearing the very next day.

Ms. Jennings assured us that, even though no member of the public attended the March 17 meeting, the county had satisfied IRS regulations for advertising the bond hearing, but what about Delaware’s open notice requirements?. The hearing, during which county officials discussed a highly controversial topic with Bioenergy’s representatives, lasted only 15 minutes without a single person from the public participating. At the end of last month, the bond was approved unanimously.

Laws on public notice requirements exist for important reasons. Typically, hearings dealing with proposed county ordinances must be advertised in at least two general circulation newspapers at least 15 days in advance. This level of notice seems both appropriate and the established custom for several reasons. First, not everyone has access to the Internet, even in 2021. One third of the communities that live closest to the site who will be most affected by the pollution, traffic and public safety concerns of Bioenergy’s scheme live below the poverty line — internet accessibility is not a given. Second, during the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, very few people are actually going to the Sussex County Administration Building, thanks to public health warnings and local stay-at-home mandates. The offices were even closed to the public earlier in the pandemic. Third, 15 days’ notice allows the public to research a topic before deciding to comment on it, pro or con.

Ms. Jennings upholds that their notice meets federal requirements. We’ve already proven that it doesn’t meet local custom. Does it meet state law? § 7002 in Title 9 Chapter 70 of the Delaware Code specifically states that public hearings of county bodies (such as the Committee who deals with this bond) “shall” take place 15 days after they are advertised in two general circulation newspapers. Federal IRS regulations might be less strict, but at the end of the day, surely Sussex County is also subject to the Delaware laws designed to protect Delawareans’ ability to weigh in on important matters. All public hearings on the Bioenergy DevCo project, with the exception of the bond issue, were afforded 15 days’ notice in general circulation newspapers prior to the event, as per Delaware law.

To settle the violations as to adequate public notice, we have filed our FOIA complaint with the state, because this bond financing really matters. As it stands, Sussex County has unanimously approved up to $60 million in bonds for the project, which will import hundreds of thousands of tons of industrial poultry waste so that Bioenergy DevCo can generate methane gas to feed regional pipelines. This project is a nightmare for residents and the region, deepening the entrenchment of climate-destroying factory farms and fossil fuel companies at the direct expense of local residents’ health and safety — the County bond process is a blank check to industry interests unless checked at the outset by public involvement.

Sussex County residents don’t want the Bioenergy DevCo project. We demand a reopened bond process that allows for true public involvement.

Sincerely,

Kerri Evelyn Harris, Executive Director
Delaware Alliance For Community Advancement (DelACA) 

Greg Layton, Delaware Organizer 
Food & Water Watch (F&WW) 

Maria Payan, Senior Regional Representative 
Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP) 

Joseph Meyer, Authorized Representative
Sussex Health & Environmental Network (SHEN)

We’re Suing EPA (Again) For Being Too Soft on Factory Farm Polluters

Categories

Food System

by Emily Miller

For years, EPA has maintained incredibly lax water pollution standards for factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs. It’s not because these operations don’t pollute — they generate millions upon millions of gallons of waste every year. Nor is it because this pollution isn’t finding its way into waterways — it is, where it poses a substantial threat to public health and ecosystems. Yet every year since 2008, EPA has decided to sit back and do next to nothing about it. 

Not only is that just plain wrong, but it’s also against the law. So we’re taking EPA to court. 

Why Food & Water Watch is Bringing This Suit Against EPA

Our lawsuit challenges EPA’s bogus review of its factory farm pollution standards, which led the agency to decide that all was well and that no revisions or updates were needed. The Clean Water Act requires EPA to annually review these standards, known as “effluent limitations guidelines,” and to strengthen the guidelines if EPA finds they are not effectively controlling the industry’s pollution. 

EPA’s current CAFO guidelines only apply to the very largest of operations, do not attempt in any way to address the antibiotics, hormones, or chemical cleaning solutions found in CAFO waste streams, and allow manure storage and disposal practices that simply worsen water quality problems. For instance, CAFO operators are allowed to store millions of gallons of liquid manure in structures that are designed to—and often do—leak. And once those manure pits are full, EPA allows operators to apply this waste to fields in ways, and at quantities, that are known to harm water quality. 

But here’s the overarching problem: EPA’s so-called “review” of these guidelines relied on pollution monitoring data that CAFO operators self-report to the agency, but EPA does not require CAFOs to monitor the pollutants they discharge into waterways at all. (By the way, EPA’s failure to require CAFO pollution monitoring is also illegal, and we’re suing them for that too). Needless to say, if EPA doesn’t require CAFOs to monitor their pollution, then the sparse pollution monitoring data that EPA reviewed is not an accurate representation of the industry’s polluting impacts. Not by a longshot. In essence, EPA has created a feedback loop that insulates the industry — and insulates itself from having to issue more protective regulations.

To add insult to injury, EPA’s cherry-picked review ignored a veritable mountain of evidence demonstrating the inadequacy of its current guidelines. Numerous studies, including an EPA-authored report, have established that agricultural activities, including CAFOs, are one of the “leading known sources” of surface water pollution in the United States, and that manure is responsible for a significant share of that pollution. 

If We Win, EPA Will be Forced to Reconsider Its Hands-off Approach to CAFO Pollution 

As it stands, there are thousands of factory farms across the country producing vast quantities of manure containing pollutants like E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals, which are regularly discharged into waterways relied on for drinking water and recreation. 

If the court agrees that EPA failed to conduct an appropriate review of these ineffective guidelines, the agency will have to reconsider its untenable position that the standards are fine the way they are. The facts are clear — proper review will show that more stringent national standards are required to protect water quality. 

EPA has let factory farms off the hook for their water pollution for decades — join us in campaigning in the courts and in communities to finally hold EPA and this polluting industry accountable!

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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. 

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Is Oregon Environmentally Friendly? Governor Brown’s Inaction Casts Doubt.

Categories

Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

Oregon has a reputation as a progressive and environmentally friendly state. In reality, however, it has a dirty factory farming problem that is polluting its rivers, streams, and groundwater, threatening public health in rural communities and contributing to climate chaos. This legislative session we made progress towards stopping an expansion of these mega-dairies, but bold action is needed from Governor Kate Brown to combat this growing problem.

The Transition Away From Family Farms In Oregon Has Been Disastrous

Oregon has long been a dairy state, and small and mid-sized farms have been a lifeblood of rural Oregon. But while the number of dairy cows in the state increased fourteen fold between 2007 and 2017, those cows are largely concentrated in enormous operations with thousands or even tens of thousands of cows. The resulting flood of cheap milk has made it difficult for small and mid-sized family farmers to compete, forcing them out of business. This rapid transition from family farms to mega-dairies has been a disaster for Oregon’s communities and environment.

In 2019 alone, large dairies in Oregon produced almost 6.5 billion pounds of manure — twice the waste produced by the entire Portland metropolitan area’s more than 2 million residents. But while waste from Portland residents is treated, mega-dairies dump their waste into large “lagoons,” where it can leach into drinking water aquifers. They then dispose of it — untreated — on cropland, often in far greater quantities than can be absorbed by crops. This results in runoff into local waterways that threatens aquatic ecosystems and recreation with pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and algae-causing nutrients. 

Oregon’s Mega-Dairies Are A Significant Contributor To Climate Change

Mega-dairies also drive climate change by emitting huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere. Corresponding with an explosion of factory farming across the country, U.S. methane emissions from manure management increased 60% between 1990 and 2018. Just as we cannot afford to keep expanding fossil fuel production, we cannot afford to keep building new factory farms.  

That’s why Food & Water Watch is working with the Stand Up to Factory Farms (SUFF) coalition, a diverse range of organizations committed to stopping the spread of mega-dairies across Oregon. 

Governor Kate Brown Fails The Leadership Test On Our Mega-Dairy Moratorium Bill 

In 2019 SUFF first introduced legislation to place a moratorium on mega-dairy expansion in the Oregon Senate. In the two years since, our campaign’s momentum has grown, and in the 2021 session we got our bill introduced in both houses with an increased number of sponsors. Our bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, and we organized to pressure chair Lee Beyer to move the bill out of committee. Despite hundreds of calls and emails to Beyer’s office and over 130 people submitting testimony in favor of the bill (with only 16 against), Beyer refused to schedule the bill for the required work session in order to pass it out of committee.

Governor Kate Brown, who has the authority to unilaterally put a pause on approval of mega-dairies, was silent on the bill, despite her call for bold actions to combat climate change “in all policy decisions.” She clearly continues to look the other way when it comes to factory farms.

Kate Brown’s Pattern Of Inaction When It Comes To Mega-Dairy Scandals 

Take for instance the specific permit application currently pending before her Department of Agriculture by Easterday Dairy. Easterday is an entity with no dairy experience, yet seeks to operate a 30,000 head mega-dairy on the site of the disastrous Lost Valley Farm. Lost Valley was cited with over 200 environmental violations including overflowing lagoons that threatened water supplies. Only after pressure by Food & Water Watch and our allies in SUFF, the state finally revoked its permit in 2018. 

Oregon regulators and elected officials have claimed that Lost Valley was simply one bad actor, but recent events have proven that to be false: the Easterday family and its companies were recently caught up in a modern day cattle rustling scandal, and Cody Easterday recently pled guilty to federal fraud charges for ripping off Tyson Foods for the feed and care of cattle that didn’t actually exist — to the tune of $244 million. Two of Easterday’s companies have declared bankruptcy, and Cody Easterday could face up to 20 years in prison. Was Lost Valley Farm a lone bad actor? Clearly not.  

Brown’s response to these huge red flags? Her administration has “paused” processing the Easterday permit, but has remarkably refused to deny it outright despite clear authority — and good reason — to do so.

Help Motivate Governor Brown To Do Right When It Comes To Easterday And More

Oregonians need real leadership from Governor Brown. Between now and the next legislative session, we’ll be working with our allies across the state to continue to build an even more powerful movement to stop mega-dairies in the state — demanding both the Governor and legislative leaders stop giving this polluting industry a free pass. If Governor Brown is serious about addressing the climate crisis, she must use the power of her office to stop the expansion of these dirty factory farms and support our small and mid-sized farmers. And she must order the Oregon Department of Agriculture to deny the Easterday Farms mega-dairy permit outright to prevent another disaster like Lost Valley. 

Urge Governor Kate Brown to deny permitting to Easterday Farms.

The Fossil Fuel Industry Spent $3.3M In New Mexico To Undermine Climate Action

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

The powerful fossil fuel industry flexed its significant muscle in New Mexico this year, blocking a bill which would have paused new fracking in the third largest oil producing state in the country. Yet despite this setback, anti-fracking voices continued to make progress this legislative session.

Fossil Fuel Interests Unleashed A Tidal Wave of Money On Elections In New Mexico

It is hard to understate the influence of fossil fuel money on politics in New Mexico. According to a report from New Mexico Ethics Watch, the fossil fuel industry spent $3.3 million on elections in the state in the 2020 cycle and leadership of both parties accepted significant campaign contributions from them. For this reason, when state Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a bill to pause fracking this year, few gave it much of a chance of passing out of a single committee, let alone the legislature.

Still, Food & Water Watch and our allies across the state rallied around Sedillo Lopez’s bill, generating hundreds of emails and phone calls to legislators as well as significant media coverage. The result was the bill passing out of the Conservation committee. Though the bill ultimately died in the Judiciary Committee when Chair Joseph Cervantes refused to bring it forward for a vote, the fact that it passed out of its first committee showed the growing strength of the anti-fracking movement in the state. It was not surprising that Cervantes killed the bill as he received 17% of his campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. 

This legislative battle highlighted both the growing anti-fracking movement in the state as well as the power of the oil and gas industry. This year we worked to help bring together diverse groups to support the fracking pause bill in the legislature. Bringing together a statewide coalition effort is an important step in building a more powerful presence in New Mexico. 

The State of New Mexico Must Reduce Its Dependence on Fossil Fuel Revenue So They Can Adapt

At the same time, it is clear that the oil and gas industry continues to run politics in New Mexico, thanks to their significant political spending and also the way New Mexico funds its governmental operations. Approximately a third of the New Mexico state budget comes from revenue from the oil and gas industry. This state dependence on fossil fuels gives industry an extraordinary amount of political power and leverage in addressing legislation. It is therefore critical that New Mexico diversify its revenue streams and economy if the state is ever going to move off fossil fuels. 

For this reason, we are heartened by passage of SB 112, which for the first time creates a task force to study how to advance this critical economic diversification. While the bill is much needed, we remain skeptical about how much progress will be made, as the bill still allows the oil industry to have a seat at the table and the person in charge of the taskforce — Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham — took over $50 thousand in oil money during the 2020 election cycle. 

Time Will Tell If Governor Grisham Is More Than Just Talk On Clean Energy 

This task force will be a key test for Lujan Grisham. The Governor has called climate change an “existential crisis” and said we need a “clean energy revolution,” yet has spoken out against Biden administration plans to halt leasing for oil and gas on federal lands and continues to take money from dirty energy interests. How she guides the task force will be a key indicator of whether she is really interested in a renewable energy future or just interested in window dressing for the fossil fuel industry.

As we move forward, we will continue to pressure Lujan Grisham to end the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, as well as take on the factory farm industry which continues to pollute New Mexico’s environment. At the same time, we will continue work to protect the greater Chaco region from fracking, in concert with our partners in the Chaco coalition. 

New Mexico is a big oil state and change here will not come overnight. Still, the 2020 legislative session represents progress and we are well positioned to work with our allies across the state to build on the progres from this session as we work to advance a clean energy future.

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

Categories

Clean Water

by Rianna Eckel

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

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

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

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

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

American Jobs Plan — $13.9 billion annually

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

The WATER Act — $35 billion annually

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

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

Funding Priorities For Minority And Disadvantaged Communities

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicating Funding Specifically For Lead and PFAS Contamination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Water Corporations From Raiding Federal Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Leaders Must Protect Our Water Access While Planning For Infrastructure 

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

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

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

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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.

Food & Water Watch Spelled Out The Legal Case For Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing On 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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The Joe Manchin Problem In This Climate Moment

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Climate and Energy

PHOTO CC-BY © SENATE DEMOCRATS / FLICKR.COM

by Peter Hart

After getting a massive recovery plan through Congress, the Biden administration unveiled its next move: A $2.3 trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure proposal that prioritizes a host of clean energy initiatives and upgrades to our water systems. While the package — dubbed the American Jobs Plan — would be progress after four years of Trump, it falls short of what we truly need to tackle these crises. That’s why activists and some Democratic lawmakers are already demanding more.

As this unfolds, Democratic lawmakers are keenly aware of the need to please one of their own: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. But appeasing Manchin cannot come at the expense of climate action and environmental justice.

Manchin has already shown that he’s willing to act as a spoiler, or at least threaten to do so. His initial reluctance to support the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID recovery plan led to a last minute scramble; in the end, Manchin voted with the rest of the party, but only after “winning” a reduction in unemployment benefits. And during the legislative debate over that relief bill, Manchin also emerged as one of the loudest opponents of increasing the federal minimum wage.

Manchin’s Fossil Fuel Friendly Record is a Problem

When it comes to climate action and halting the fossil fuel industry, we don’t need to wait for any upcoming votes to understand where Manchin is coming from. In February he wrote two letters to Biden; one urged the president to reconsider his executive order stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, while the other touting fracked gas as a boon to “our nation’s energy security” that could fuel a surge of new petrochemical facilities. And before the White House rolled out its American Jobs Plan, Manchin was vowing that any deal needed to draw Republican support — an exceptionally unlikely prospect. “I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” he said.

This has left many to lament the fact that Manchin holds what amounts to ‘veto power’ over the entire Biden legislative agenda. It is not yet clear whether he really intends to use it to thwart a golden opportunity to create millions of jobs and build the clean energy economy of the future. Manchin knows that he holds considerable sway; as he recently told a radio host in his home state, “If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere.” 

But a Powerful Climate Movement Can Win In Spite Of The Manchin Problem

What is crystal clear, though, is that the politics around the climate crisis have swung dramatically in favor of real action. A little over a decade ago, Manchin’s Senate campaign included a commercial where he quite literally shot a copy of the failed Obama-backed cap and trade bill. So It’s a sign of real progress that lawmakers nowadays are backing substantially more ambitious proposals than were being pushed back then. And even more importantly, the grassroots movement demanding real action is even more powerful.

When push comes to shove, the climate movement — and the absolute necessity of coming up with a bold plan to get off fossil fuels — will prove to be more powerful than a single senator.

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VIDEO: 375+ Elected Officials Send Letter Urging Biden Against Fossil Fuels

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Climate and Energy

In a letter sent to President Biden and Congress — facilitated by Food & Water Watch — more than 375 local and state elected officials from across the country called on national leaders to:

  • halt permitting for new fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure projects;
  • revoke existing permits for oil and gas extraction within 2,500 feet of homes and schools;
  • end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry;
  • and support a just transition to clean energy for workers and communities impacted by fossil fuels.

As the first national organization in the country to call for a ban on fracking everywhere, we will not rest until our mission to stop one of the biggest contributors to climate disaster is complete.

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Systemic Racism and Violence Are No Accident

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

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

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

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

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

Will Big Ag Keep Getting a Pass Under the Biden Administration?

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Food System

by Tarah Heinzen

The Biden Administration is off to a strong start reviewing and — all signs indicate — preparing to rescind scores of devastating Trump administration rollbacks to environmental, consumer, and public health protections. Michael Regan has been confirmed to lead the EPA, and advocates hope he will tackle undoing the damage of the past four years and implementing bold new policies to address pollution, climate change, and environmental injustice with unprecedented urgency. But, at least so far, this administration is already echoing prior ones on both sides of the political aisle in one critical way – special treatment of agribusiness. Two key Trump handouts to Big Ag have been left off of the Biden administration’s priority list for terrible rules to get rid of. 

Two rules being left in place allow de-regulation of factory farms and meat companies

Factory farms get a pass from reporting emissions

In 2017, environmental groups won a critical fight for factory farm transparency when a federal court struck down a rule exempting factory farms from having to report the toxic air emissions they spew into rural communities. This illegal rule – a holdover from the last days of the George W. Bush administration – had been left on the books throughout the entire Obama administration despite promises that the Obama EPA would consider changing course. 

But the win was fleeting because the Trump EPA quickly acted at the behest of Big Ag to initiate yet another exemption rule with a new (but also unlawful) justification. Food & Water Watch and allies are now in court challenging the rule in an effort to at long last force factory farms to disclose their dangerous air pollution. 

Slaughterhouses get to inspect themselves — at a dangerous speed

The Trump administration also continued prior administrations’ efforts to deregulate slaughterhouses. They enacted a rule that allowed meat companies to speed up hog slaughter lines and allow companies to police themselves with fewer USDA inspectors on the line, despite obvious risks to workers, food safety, and animal welfare. Food & Water Watch is leading one of the legal challenges to the rule, which is moving forward despite government efforts to kick us out of court.  

It’s past time to regulate Big Ag like other polluting industries

We will continue these fights – but we shouldn’t have to. President Biden’s day one Executive Order required agencies to consider reviewing and rescinding all Trump environmental and public health actions. Indeed, the Department of Justice has sought to pause many ongoing legal challenges to Trump’s rollbacks while Biden’s agencies consider new rules that would make much of these ongoing court fights unnecessary. In these two lawsuits seeking accountability for Big Ag, however, DOJ has been conspicuously silent. 

Special treatment for Big Ag is nothing new – under President Obama, EPA not only left Bush’s illegal factory farm air pollution reporting rule in place but also capitulated to industry demands in scrapping a rule for factory farm water pollution transparency and abandoning a process to measure and begin regulating factory farm emissions. Meanwhile, Obama’s USDA – led by Tom Vilsack – failed to address industry consolidation squeezing farmers and consumers, advanced the poultry slaughter de-regulation rules that wrote the playbook for Trump’s hog slaughter rule, and oversaw a massive expansion of factory farming.

President Biden can do better than business as usual with Big Ag

We knew when Vilsack was appointed yet again that it would be an uphill battle to make any progress at USDA, given his terrible legacy during the Obama administration. And Michael Regan’s history of compromise with the factory farm industry in North Carolina – which, along with industry support, is largely credited for his bipartisan confirmation – is cause for concern that agribusiness interests will continue to take priority at EPA over the environment and justice for rural communities. 

But we won’t let the Biden administration continue business as usual. Big Ag’s devastating impacts on the environment, public health, and worker safety demand that we act. We won’t regain the ground we lost under Trump, much less finally rein in Big Ag, if we do not begin by holding President Biden’s EPA and USDA accountable.

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