When President Biden visited Queens communities who had been devastated by recent flooding, we met him there with calls for him to declare a climate emergency. We’re not just asking Biden to change his language — we want him to back it up with action. And while we push Congress to support climate progress, there are plenty of actions that Biden can take himself, via executive action.
Thanks to concerted efforts from activists, Biden campaigned on big climate promises. But disappointingly, his administration has been conceding to the main contributors of the climate crisis at every step, from fracking to fossil fuel subsidies. If we are to have any hope of a livable future, he must do better. There are obstacles in his way (such as a senator whose last name starts with M and rhymes with ‘anchin,’) but that’s not an acceptable excuse.
Biden Can Take Action on Climate, Even Without Congressional Approval
The President’s executive power is more significant than many Democrats are willing to admit. Biden can take executive action to protect communities who have borne the brunt of the climate crisis, block new fossil fuel projects and reduce the strength of preexisting ones, and launch efforts to Build Back Fossil Free — to rebuild our economy in a way that moves money away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and other efforts towards future where we all can thrive. These actions can all be launched via executive order, resistant senators or not.
President Biden has so many options for executive orders on climate! Here are some of the top ones that come to mind:
Fossil fuel infrastructure is often built in under-resourced communities and/or communities of color. He can stop this by issuing a moratorium on new fossil fuel operations in environmental justice communities.
He could make his pause on fracking on federal lands a permanent ban.
He could revoke permits for Line 3, Dakota Access, and all major fossil fuel projects.
The president also has legal options to improve how the federal government researches and develops climate policy:
Federal actions — activities taken or supported by any department or agency of the federal government — are not contingent upon the climate impact of their projects, and departments aren’t required to share their findings even if those impacts are studied. Biden could change this by requiring cumulative pollution impact assessments of all applicable federal policies, regulations, and actions.
We know that climate change harms Indigenous communities; it is within Biden’s authority to establish a committee to investigate federal responsibility for starting to repair this legacy of violence and environmental degradation.
President Biden can — and must — shift our climate legacy, during and beyond his administration.
Biden Has Opportunities to Be Bold on Climate. He Must Take Them.
No one is pretending that it is easy for a Democratic president to single-handedly steer this planet away from the worsening climate crisis. However, climate deniers in the Senate are not an excuse not to act at all. President Biden has taken some steps in the right direction, but he can and must do much more.
We know the President can do more for climate — and we’re going to hold him accountable to make sure he does it. Will you join us in Washington, DC, October 11th-15th, for the People vs. Fossil Fuels week of action? Thousands of people will be joining together to make sure that our government works for US and helps deliver the livable future we need.
Image above: Ventura County March. Photo by Hannah Benet
by Mark Schlosberg
Water shutoffs in economically challenged areas, power plants in communities of color already overburdened by environmental pollution, a proposed factory farm gas plant in a town already blighted by a superfund site. While climate change and environmental pollution impact everyone in the United States, not all of us are impacted the same way or to the same degree. Across the country, lower wealth communities and Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution, a lack of access to clean water, and the impacts of climate change.
Food & Water Watch has been fighting against environmental injustices alongside community partners since our inception; the fight continues today.
Environmental Justice Has Been Woven Into The Fabric of Our Early Work
Food & Water Watch’s earliest campaigns were efforts to stop water privatization and strengthen public water infrastructure across the United States and in the global south. We partnered with local groups by bringing national research and organizing resources to defeat water privatization, which disproportionately threatens lower-income communities, in dozens of cities including Milwaukee, Chicago, and Akron. We also worked with water justice movements internationally to move the United Nations to recognize the human right to water.
In subsequent years, we continued to support community-led efforts to protect water and local environments from the threat of factory farms, fracking, pipelines, power plants, and other polluting fossil fuel infrastructure.
We devoted significant resources to these campaigns and in support of our community partners because we believe in the core values of justice for all, economic fairness, and human dignity. But we also understand that to win bold, urgent, and meaningful changes at the federal level to protect our food, water, and climate we must also work to end historic and ongoing discrimination. We must uplift, support, and strengthen a diverse and robust movement for justice.
To that end, we can sometimes provide legal support or research, like the work we did to expose how Flint residents paid the highest water rates in the country at the height of the water crisis there. And exposing the funders behind the Dakota Access Pipeline as the Indigenous community was organizing opposition at Standing Rock is another example of how our strategic, groundbreaking research made a difference.
Our On-The-Ground Work With Coalitions And Partners is at The Heart of Our Mission
Often we are on the ground, working with grassroots environmental justice groups to protect water access and stop dirty energy projects. In doing so, we prioritize building meaningful partnerships and developing smart, strategic campaigns that not only win real improvements in people’s lives but also strengthen our grassroots partners. This approach succeeded in many communities across the country.
The stories below go deeper into the fights we’ve taken on with partners and coalitions all over the country.
Baltimore, MD:Water Justice In An Affordability Crisis
When Pastor Mark James saw a notice on the front door of his church in March 2016 that there was an impending foreclosure, he was shocked. His small congregation, founded by his late mother over 30 years ago, had paid off their mortgage and had made a payment plan with the city for their outstanding water bill. But it was the balance on the water bill combined with an old citation that had forced his church onto the tax sale foreclosure list. A lien on his property was auctioned off by Baltimore City to an out-of-state investor in California.
But Pastor James wasn’t willing to give up his community’s beloved church without a fight. He partnered with State Senator Mary Washington, Food & Water Watch and the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to not only save his church, but also prevent thousands of families and congregations from facing the threat of tax sale foreclosure over our most basic necessity: water.
Baltimore And The Nation Face A Water Affordability Crisis
According to the United Nations, water is affordable when it is no more than 3% of a family’s income. Nearly half of Baltimoreans are billed more than 3% of their household income for water, with some being billed up to 10%. When families inevitably couldn’t afford to pay these bills, like Pastor James, they faced potentially losing their homes through the tax sale foreclosure – for as little as $750 in unaffordable water bills. Coupled with billing errors that sent many incorrect, inflated bills – some as high as $86,000 – that took years to resolve, thousands of Baltimore families and congregations faced the tax sale foreclosure process for water bills each year.
Tax sale foreclosure for unaffordable or incorrect water bills disproportionately impacted lower wealth people, people of color, and seniors. According to Senator Washington, seventy percent of those impacted were Black or people of color, forty percent were disabled, and eleven percent were veterans. The practice of foreclosing was a water injustice, a health injustice, a housing injustice, and a racial injustice. Pastor James was swept into this harmful system because the practice also applied to houses of worship.
Food & Water Watch’s Partnerships Against Water Injustice In Baltimore
Prior to learning about Pastor James’ case, Food & Water Watch had already been working to stop this unjust practice. We had started working on water affordability issues in Baltimore in 2015 after seeing how significant an issue water rates were in the community. The average bill had doubled since 2010 and we heard horrifying stories of people faced with losing their homes or places of worship, or facing water shutoffs due to inability to pay.
We reached out to leaders in the community and community organizations, and helped form the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to fight for water justice. The coalition includes dozens of organizations, including Jews United for Justice, Public Justice Center, University of Baltimore-Community Development Clinic, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Pro Bono Resource Center, and Homeless Persons Representation Project, as well as Pastor James and other religious leaders. Senator Washington (then-Delegate) had sponsored legislation to remove water bills from the tax sale process, and knew that our growing coalition could bring the people-power to win.
With Help From Allies, We Were Able To Help Pastor James Save His Church And Help Others
For two years, Pastor James spoke out against the grave injustice of families losing their homes and churches for unaffordable or incorrect water bills. While in the middle of the fight to keep his church, he spoke out and testified to the legislature and in the media about the importance of the human right to water, and the urgent need for legislative change.
His story humanized this complex and sometimes complicated process, and showed Baltimoreans just what the tax sale process does to community members. He was dedicated to the greater good, and we were dedicated to working with him. Through the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, we helped find legal counsel to represent him and his church while we continued to fight together for legislation to end this practice.
At the 11th hour — just fifteen minutes before the eviction was set to begin — Pastor James won legal reprieve. It was a moment of joy and relief. He would keep his family’s church. But he knew it was not a complete victory until we ensured that families and communities of worship across the city wouldn’t have to face the same battle as he did. Pastor James continued to fight with us to successfully pass state legislation that prevented tax lien sales due to inability to pay water bills and the bill was signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan in 2019.
The campaign succeeded because of a number of factors, but most significant was the strong community partnerships that were formed, and the impacted community members like Pastor James who were willing to share their stories. For Food & Water Watch, it was critical to build trust with local leaders and allies. We showed up and listened to people’s concerns. We participated in their events and actions. We worked hard to build consensus within the coalition and we all worked together towards a common strategy and goal.
Joining Forces To Elevate Voices Of Impacted Community Members Fuels Justice
According to Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer Rianna Eckel, developing strong partnerships and elevating stories about people who were being directly impacted were critical. “My approach was to cast a wide net to groups that were already organizing and working directly with impacted community members,” said Rianna. “We have really strong partnerships with legal aid organizations who are able to bring in experiences and stories of people who are impacted by water injustices in our city. Everyone in the city knew that water affordability was a real problem. We had the capacity to build the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, bringing together the advocates to come up with solutions, and building the power to get them passed .”
In passing the legislation to stop tax lien sales over unaffordable or incorrect water bills, we all celebrated the significant victory, but the fight for water justice was far from over. While the campaign helped thousands of Baltimore residents, it also shifted the political dynamic around the issue, and brought water justice front and center. During the time of the state legislative effort, we successfully passed a local measure that prohibited water privatization in Baltimore and in late 2019, we passed the Water Accountability and Equity Act through City Council to ensure that water is affordable and accessible to all Baltimoreans. None of this would have been possible without strong and enduring partnerships with grassroots allies that continue today and with whom we continue to fight for water justice.
Learn more about the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition by following the coalition on Facebook.
Kearny, NJ: Coalition Was The Key To Fighting Pollution
Fracked gas power plants pose a significant threat to our global climate, but they also produce emissions that threaten local environments and public health. That would have been the case in Kearny, New Jersey, if Food & Water Watch and our grassroots partners had not mounted an aggressive and coordinated campaign to pressure Governor Phil Murphy to put the brakes on what would have been a grave environmental injustice.
Kearny, New Jersey is a small, working-class, largely Latinx community on the Hackensack River. As the home of a superfund site at the location of a former oil reprocessing facility, the area is overburdened with environmental pollution. It’s also surrounded by some of the state’s largest cities that are heavy sources of pollution, the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, the Port of Newark with thousands of diesel truck trips occurring daily, and a trash incinerator in Newark just across the Kearny border.
We Engaged Organizations Locally When We Heard About A Proposed Gas Power Plant
When we heard of plans by New Jersey Transit to place a 140 megawatt gas power plant in the community, we knew the environmental and health impacts on this overburdened community would only increase. We had just celebrated a significant win with a robust coalition in defeating a proposed power plant ten miles up the river, so we decided to engage in this fight too.
Our first step was to reach out to the local impacted community. We knew many of the leading environmental justice organizations from our previous work on power plants and fighting water privatization. Many were overstretched with existing work and were glad to have our expertise and participation. We formed a coalition that included leading environmental and social justice groups including Ironbound Community Corporation, La Casa de Don Pedro and Newark Water Coalition, a local environmental justice group that was working largely on issues around lead pipes but saw the connection between these issues.
According to Anthony Diaz, Co-Founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “Transit headquarters is in Newark and we’re constantly being impacted by a sludge facility, an oil plant, and incinerators…We have to draw the line somewhere. Becoming a part of this coalition allowed me to take the hyper-local fight we were involved in and apply it to the statewide level and even the global level and I’m really really thankful for that.”
Food & Water Watch Finds Ways To Be Of Service To Those We Partner With
Food & Water Watch contributed organizers, research capacity, online tools, and the strategic experience we gained from previous campaigns. Our community partners provided leadership with on-the-ground knowledge of the community and executing key campaign tactics. Together, we built a formidable coalition with more than 60 organizations opposed to the power plant and successfully passed 16 municipal resolutions opposing it including major impacted communities of Newark, Kearny, Jersey City, and Hoboken. We also went door-to-door in the nearby community, informing residents of what was being planned and engaging them to take action.
Significantly, the campaign was diverse in nearly every way. Of particular importance was the intergenerational aspect of the effort. There was an incredibly strong contingent of young leaders who worked alongside seniors and colleagues of all ages. All the work resulted in a decision by New Jersey Transit to stop the gas power plant and instead invest in what will be the largest renewable energy microgrid in the world.
“Working with Food & Water Watch undoubtedly you will get shit done. I’ve seen from the sign- on letters to the direct actions to the door-knocking,” said Anthony Diaz. “There are few organizations that I’m out with heavily and I admire, and it’s a very, very short list I assure you…And I would say FWW is one of those few folks that I do trust.”
Our Partnerships Grow As We Fight The Next Gas Power Plant Together
In the ever-evolving world of politics and government, almost all our victories are incomplete or temporary. While we defeated the gas power plant, we still need to see the renewable energy plans completed. And months following our victory, we learned about plans for another gas plant just two miles away. But we’re in an even better position to defeat that one due to the victory in Kearny, and the organizations we partnered with in the fight are also stronger and many of them are with us again in this next campaign. We are all in a better position to build on our wins to deliver even bigger and more significant change in the years to come.
Learn more about the Newark Water Coalition and how to support their efforts by visiting their website.
Delmarva Peninsula: Fighting Injustice In Our Food System
The food system in the United States is industrialized, consolidated, and rooted in inequality and racism. Stemming from a system based on stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen resources, our food system perpetuates injustice. This is most apparent on factory farms, with farmers often locked into abusive contracts, local environments overrun with pollution, and low wealth communities and communities of color bearing the burden.
Chicken Factory Farms On The Eastern Shore Poison Air and Water
Since our start, Food & Water Watch has worked at the national level to fight an unjust food system and for the bold changes needed for sustainability and justice. An area of focus for us for nearly a decade has been the industrial poultry operations on the Delmarva Peninsula – on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware where massive factory chicken farms poison the air and water.
The factory farm industry is massive in relation to the population and size of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The millions of “broilers” – chickens raised for eating – produce hundredsof millions of pounds of excrement resulting in air and water pollution and related public health impacts. In 2017, factory farmed broilers were responsible for 560 million pounds of waste and in places like Somerset County —which is 43 percent African American and has the lowest average household income of any county in Maryland — factory farm chicken waste is produced at three times the rate of human waste.
Public Health Impacts Are Worst For Vulnerable Communities Near Chicken Factory Farms
The impacts of these factory farms on public health are staggering. Somerset County has some of the worst health outcomes in the state including some of the highest cancer rates.The counties with large numbers of factory farms also have some of the highest rates of lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes in the state. In some parts of the region, up to one in four children suffers from asthma.
The impacts of factory farms fall disproportionately on poor and Black communities due to how and where these facilities are placed. In Wicomico county, for example, the industry tried to site what would have been the largest chicken operation ever — a ten-house complex holding 483,000 chickens — in a community that is 80% African American. Food & Water Watch has partnered for years with the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, Wicomico County NAACP and other local groups to fight proposals like this and pass state legislation requiring the state to monitor air pollution from chicken factory farms, assess health risks to people living nearby, and require transparent recommendations to lawmakers to improve air quality.
We Joined Forces With The Community To Combat A Major Polluter And Won
In addition, communities are also impacted by the processing plants and biogas facilities that take on the waste from both the growing and processing of poultry. In Delaware, we worked with Gina Burton, the granddaughter of a sharecropper who lost her son due to environmental pollution caused by mega poultry processor Mountaire. Mountaire moved into Millsboro, Delaware promising to bring good jobs and be good neighbors. Instead, they brought polluted air and dirty drinking water. A significant number of wells in nearby communities had such high levels of nitrates that citizens were at risk of serious health problems, including “blue baby syndrome,” some forms of cancer and autoimmune disease.
With the help of organizations like the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Gina and her neighbors started to mobilize their community and reached out to Public Justice and Food & Water Watch for legal, organizing, and media support. Food & Water Watch worked with Public Justice to put Mountaire on notice that we would sue them under federal law if they didn’t clean up their act. We also helped the community to reach media outlets, and we set up meetings for them to pressure some of the most powerful decision-makers in Delaware, including Senator Tom Carper.
Due to this pressure, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control entered into an agreement with Mountaire including much of what Millsboro citizens were seeking in their lawsuit. Mountaire must now provide clean drinking water to the community, build a state-of-the-art treatment plant to deal with the plant’s waste and to ensure third-party monitoring of groundwater and spray fields to ensure proper compliance with the law.
This victory proves that when communities come together they can take on moneyed interests and win. One of our strongest partners who is on the front lines in Delaware is Maria Payan, Southern Region Coordinator with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-chair of Sussex County Health and Environmental Network. Maria works closely with communities fighting factory farms and we have worked together for over a decade. She was instrumental in the Mountaire fight, and she’s also one of the leaders in the fight against the latest destructive industry proposal – a massive factory farm gas facility in her county.
Defeating Pollution Multipliers Like Biogas Schemes Are A Big Focus In Our Partnerships
The factory farm gas proposal, from the firm Bioenergy, would build a large anaerobic digester to generate methane from over 200,000 tons of waste from factory farmed chicken growing and processing –the manure and also the blood, guts, and feathers left over from slaughtering. The project is slated to be placed in a community that has twice the number of people of color and is twice as poor as the rest of the surrounding Sussex County and residents will be forced to bear the brunt of the inevitable air and water pollution from the plant and the constant truck traffic that goes along with it.
This project will also drive even more expansion of factory farms, as Bioenergy has already contracted with mega grower Perdue for their waste. Further, the factory farm gas is essentially methane – a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 years period. Leaks through the production and transportation process will help accelerate climate change.
Strong Partnerships Are How We Win Against Factory Farms And Biogas Schemes
Defeating the Bioenergy project – like our efforts to rein in factory farms on Maryland’s eastern shore and the fight against Mountaire – is an uphill battle. Industry has massive amounts of money and political connections. But we know from our previous success banning arsenic in chicken feed in Maryland several years back and our recent success in Delaware battling Mountaire that we can win when we are able to build strong partnerships with regional, state, and grassroots allies on the ground.
We have spent years developing strong relationships in Delaware and Maryland with grassroots partners based on mutual trust and support. According to Maria Payan, the partnerships work because of our approach. “When Food & Water Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in the communities and advance something, but those local groups have a seat at the table and that’s so important. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something on and go on their own and do it…It is the community fighting their fight with the assistance of Food & Watch.”
As we move forward to ensure that Mountaire complies with its settlement agreement and to fight the factory farm gas plant in Seaford we are continuing that approach, reaching out to local leaders for advice and partnership. We have an organizer on the ground in Delaware working with residents and local leaders to re-energize and build upon the powerful coalition and campaign started against Mountaire to stop the factory farm gas facility from ever being built.
It will take a tremendous effort from a broad cross-section of organizations at the federal, state, and local level to bring justice to our food system. Food & Water Watch is committed to working with community partners across Maryland, Delaware, and the rest of the country for the long haul to make this transformation happen.
Learn more about the Sussex County Health and Environmental Network and how to support their efforts by visiting their website.
Ventura County, CA: Coalition Work Wins The Day
Just off the California coast between Malibu and Santa Barbara, Oxnard is an often overlooked community of 200,000 largely working-class people. The city — seventy-five percent Latinx — is the largest in Ventura County and spans from the coast inland, bordering a big agricultural region where strawberries are grown, among other crops. Oxnard’s piece of the iconic California coast is dotted by fossil fuel power plants and its residents have suffered environmental injustices at the hands of the fossil fuel industry.
How We Got Started In Oxnard
Food & Water Watch had engaged in a limited way in Ventura County early on in our campaign to ban fracking in California. But in 2014, we placed a full-time organizer there because the county is a large oil and gas producing region; helping curb the fossil fuel industry there would have significant impacts across the state.
We planned on working to stop fracking and drilling, but we quickly learned that the more immediate fight in the community centered on a proposed fracked gas power plant that would further harm residents. Many parts of Oxnard already have asthma rates above the 90th percentile in California, and Oxnard has more power plants along its coast than any other city in California. Members of the community and grassroots organizations told us that this was a major priority. We clearly saw the connection between fracked gas infrastructure and the need to stop drilling altogether.
Joining Forces With CAUSE And Other Allies In Ventura County
Food & Water Watch leapt into action, partnering with Central Coast United Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), the lead grassroots group organizing the fight against the power plant. We helped petition, make calls, organize rallies, conducted trainings and hired interns for the campaign. We engaged people by going door to door and talking with people about the power plant, its impacts, and what people could do about it. With CAUSE, we built a coalition around defeating the power plant with dozens of groups. Our coalition met monthly to plot strategy and develop tactics. We merged our campaign expertise from running dozens of campaigns across the country with the local knowledge and experience of our partners.
According to Tomás Rebecchi, Central Coast Organizing Manager at Food & Water Watch, a key to building these strong partnerships was being intentional and putting in time to develop relationships. “You can’t just drop in and say this is what we’re doing. Food & Water Watch had our back and gave us space and time to build those relationships. Building trust and relationships take time but by showing up, lending support, and listening, we were able to build a powerful campaign and coalition which has changed the face of Ventura County.”
The campaign also prioritized justice and impacted residents. We worked hard to give all members of the community the tools they needed to speak out at City Council meetings, including language access through translation which was not previously provided. We had to fight for that, but in the end, some decision-makers said those comments helped impact their decision the most.
Showing Each Other Winning Is Possible Through People Power
All of this resulted in a historic victory for the people of Oxnard against the fossil fuel industry. After four years, we defeated the proposed power plant. More significantly, we shifted the balance of power in a county that had been dominated by oil and gas interests for years. Prior to the power plant campaign, fracking and drilling permits were rubber-stamped and environmental and health concerns were always set to the side. But this campaign showed people what’s possible through organizing.
“Food & Water Watch has led so many campaigns that have put Ventura County on the map about pushing back against oil and gas. There is so much work to do but our organizations are… working together to transform what our communities look like and transforming them to serve our frontline communities,” said Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE. “That’s what keeps me in this work – the partnerships and the folks that we work with together — we’re really making these changes and bringing in the most impacted communities to be part of the fight, and Food & Water Watch is very intentional about that.”
The power plant campaign spun off other related efforts. We worked – also in partnership with CAUSE and other community allies – to block dozens of new proposed oil wells and win a setback — the strongest in the state — to prevent oil drilling near homes and schools.
None of this would have happened without strong partnerships with local community allies. Learning from local leaders, honoring their local knowledge, and respectfully partnering with them to advance their priorities was critical. Our work in Oxnard and Ventura County is far from done, but we are now stronger than ever and our collective power is apparent.
The Work Continues In Ventura County To Beat Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
SoCalGas recently announced plans to double the size of a toxic gas compressor across the street from an elementary school in a disadvantaged community, but we were ready with our coalition of allies to fight back and protect our communities. Defeating that project is the next step in our efforts going forward as we work towards a more just, healthy and environmentally sustainable Ventura County.
Learn more about CAUSE and how to support their efforts in Ventura by visiting their website.
Water Justice In Baltimore
In Baltimore, we’ve worked for more than a decade on issues related to water access and privatization. When Pastor Mark James was threatened with foreclosure on his community’s church, Food & Water Watch partnered with him and other local and state allies in the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to pass legislation that would prevent foreclosures and tax sales for failure to pay water bills. For a city with significant poverty where thousands of people are burdened by unaffordable bills, this was a major victory. Pastor James’ Barnes Memorial Church faced imminent foreclosure, but Food & Water Watch assisted him in finding legal counsel, and together we worked to get the law changed. It was a successful and fruitful partnership that resolved the foreclosure action, but also led to statewide legislation impacting thousands of people. According to Pastor James, “the work that Food & Water Watch does really is a model to be studied…It’s a trend setter to watch how they operate and how they communicate and how they with little means can be so effective.”
The Fight Against Fracked Gas Plants In Oxnard, California
In Ventura County, California, Food & Water Watch has successfully partnered with local allies to stop a polluting fracked gas power plant in the largely Latinx and environmentally over-burdened community of Oxnard. Our partnership with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which began in 2015, resulted in not only the defeat of the power plant, but subsequent wins blocking proposed oil drilling and water privatization. As Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE said, “Working with Food & Water Watch is like working with community. There are two forms of power out there. There’s the power of money and there’s the power of community — the power of organizing…Food & Water watch brings…their state relationships with reporters and organizations and lawyers and resources… [they are] such a vital partner of ours and we’re so happy to be working on these campaigns together throughout the years and throughout our communities, because when we’ve worked together, we’ve had very real success…”
New Jersey Coalition Work Has Been Crucial In Stopping Fracked Gas
In New Jersey, we have worked to build strong coalitions to fight against power plants near Newark and Jersey City. Working closely with the Newark Water Coalition and others from 2019-2020 when we defeated the proposed New Jersey Transit fracked gas power plant in a largely Latinx community in Kearny, New Jersey, that was impacted by several other sources of industrial pollution. Not only was the campaign successful, but the Newark Water Coalition was stronger as a result of the campaign. According to Anthony Diaz, co-founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “the coalition fight against this power plant legitimized Newark Water Coalition on the statewide level, allowed us to have so many connections, and join a world that historically as an activist and organizer I was never part of.”
Factory Farm Fights In Maryland and Delaware
On the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland and part of Delaware, communities are overburdened by the impacts of factory farms – the waste from over 300 million chickens that in some places is so bad that one in four children have asthma as a result. Food & Water Watch is partnering with groups to stop a massive factory farm gas facility in Delaware that would drive further expansion of factory farms and have significant local impacts in a lower income largely Latinx community that is already burdened by a superfund site. Maria Payan, co-founder of Sussex Health and Environmental Network is glad to have Food & Water Watch in the fight because “when Food & Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in communities. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something, and go on their own and do it.”
Building strong community partnerships to advance environmental justice doesn’t happen by accident. It flows from our organizational values, intentional interaction with partners, listening, supporting, and showing up. Working to build the power needed to win campaigns against powerful adversaries isn’t easy, but we know that to win at the local, state, or national level, we need to center justice, work to strengthen local organizations, and build powerful diverse coalitions.
Local, Grassroots Work Is Integral To State And National Campaigns
These partnerships lead to winning campaigns, but they have also helped advance state and national efforts. Championing water access in Baltimore was critical to advancing state legislation and supports the call for national water legislation, which we are pursuing through the WATER Act. Fighting power plants in Ventura and New Jersey supports broader statewide efforts to get two key Democratic Governors to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the national campaign to ban fracking everywhere. Working to stop a major factory farm gas facility in Delaware and factory farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland help elevate the need to ban factory farms at the national level through the Farm System Reform Act and for President Biden to reject factory farm gas as part of our national energy program – especially important as his home state is Delaware.
Ultimately, Food & Water Watch wants to help drive systemic changes that will lead to economic, environmental, and racial justice. That means building power so that we can hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make and push them to advance the bold change we need.
To win real improvements in people’s lives and build the kind of society we want, we must engage in districts where there are key members of Congress and places that will be important to move our elected officials. We’re not a large organization. That means we have to be strategic about where we engage to make the most progress in stopping destructive measures and passing the legislation that will create the country we want.
At a time of great racial and economic inequality, we reaffirm our values and continue to strive to improve how Food & Water Watch works alongside and in support of our allies. One thing we are certain of is this: to win long term and meaningful solutions to our food, water, and climate challenges, we must continue to support communities that have borne the brunt of environmental pollution and continue to build meaningful and lasting partnerships, so we can be more powerful together and win the fundamental changes that are so badly needed.
Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!
Iowa legislators are determined to hide dirty factory farm practices from the public. Across the country, Big Ag has been pushing unconstitutional statutes known as “Ag-Gag” laws — anti-transparency laws designed to silence journalists, activists, and impacted community members who dare to expose food safety violations, animal abuse, and environmental degradation at factory farms. They do so by criminalizing essential free speech activity like undercover investigations.
Iowa enacted its first Ag-Gag law in 2012, and has since passed three more in response to court decisions striking down these laws for violating the First Amendment. Rather than protecting Iowans’ rights, Iowa’s industry-controlled legislators tweak their illegal approach in repeated attempts to skirt the Constitution. Which leads us to “Ag-Gag 4.0,” Iowa’s latest attempt to silence voices the factory farm industry doesn’t want the public to hear, in a way that legislators hope will survive legal challenge.
Ag-Gag 4.0 takes a slightly different approach than previous attempts by making camera usage or data collection while trespassing an “aggravated” misdemeanor; this carries stiffer fines and jail time than a simple trespass. Legislators have brought absurd claims about the risk of “industrial espionage” to justify the law — the latest in a string of absurd reasons for infringing on Iowans’ constitutional rights. But we know their real goal is shielding Big Ag from public scrutiny. Which is why Food & Water Watch has joined a lawsuit to strike down Ag-Gag 4.0, just as so many other similar laws have been struck down in Iowa and across the country.
We’re fighting this in court. Will you chip in to help power our work?
Unconstitutionally Infringing on Civil Liberties, Iowa Continues Pushing More Ag-Gag Laws
Given that the intent of Ag-Gag laws is to silence unwelcomed viewpoints protected by the First Amendment, it should come as no surprise that many Ag-Gag laws have been struck down or put on hold. The key provision of Iowa’s original 2012 Ag-Gag law, which criminalized false statements made by undercover investigators while seeking employment at factory farms, was just struck down by a court of appeals. Even more recently, another court of appeals struck down a core provision of Kansas’s Ag-Gag law. These losses follow in the footsteps of similar court decisions throwing out Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Utah, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Despite the clear message from federal courts that Ag-Gag laws are unconstitutional, Iowa’s legislators have forged ahead undeterred.
Ag-Gag Laws Protect The Financial Interests Of Iowa’s Corrupt Legislators And Their Donors
If you are wondering why Iowa legislators would keep trying so hard to implement an Ag-Gag law that sticks, look no further than what comes to light whenever public interest advocates show what’s happening on factory farms. Undercover investigations consistently expose rampant food safety violations, environmental concerns, and disturbing animal abuse. So it’s no wonder the industry wants to put a stop to them!
And in Iowa, some legislators are the industry. One of the leading proponents of multiple Iowa Ag-Gag laws is state senator Ken Rozenboom. Senator Rozenboom owns multiple factory farms in Iowa, and has blocked proposals for a factory farm moratorium and stronger regulations of factory farm pollution. His factory farms were the subject of an undercover investigation showing appalling animal abuses — exactly the type of investigation his Ag-Gag laws seek to criminalize. This is a clear conflict of interest.
That’s why Food & Water Action, FWW’s sister organization, filed an ethics complaint against Senator Rozenboom in August 2020 for violating the Iowa Senate’s Code of Ethics by pushing for legislation clearly designed to protect his personal financial interests. Senator Rozenboom tried to appear disturbed and upset by the abuse and deplorable conditions documented at his factory farms and tried to blame lower level management, but he knows that what was uncovered was business as usual. Factory farming’s only hope is to keep the public in the dark as long as possible.
We Have a Right to Know How Our Food Is Produced
More than a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed the horrors of early 20th century meatpacking. That transparency led to a sea change in U.S. food production, ushering in food safety laws still on the books today. But factory farms still operate largely in the dark, and shedding light on how animals are raised, slaughtered, and processed into food remains of great importance today. The factory farm industry understands that its business as usual practices would be shocking and unacceptable to their customers and the public at large, if exposed to the light of day. So, rather than clean up their act, they have lobbied hard to punish those who would expose the truth. As the Iowa Pork Producers Association explained, Ag-Gag laws protect factory farms “from various people [who] have hidden agendas and things like that.”
But there is nothing hidden about our agenda. Food & Water Watch will continue fighting for transparency in Iowa and across the country. We will not rest so long as Iowa’s industry-bought legislators continue to abuse their power to silence dissent and keep factory farming in the shadows.
Court cases like these cost money. Can you help power our work?
Over 100,000 legal claims from consumers finally prompted Bayer to announce last month that it will remove glyphosate from its residential-use weed killers, including Roundup, beginning in 2023 (newsflash: still not soon enough). Bayer (which now owns Monsanto) said it will replace glyphosate with a different alternative.
In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen but Monsanto — as the company was then known — initiated a PR blitz to contradict that finding. This included paying scientists to conduct an “independent” review of glyphosate to give the toxic chemical a bill of good health, and wooing officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tasked with reviewing the pesticide’s cancer effects. This interference heavily muddied the waters and likely influenced EPA to find that glyphosate didn’t pose a cancer risk to humans.
But what a government agency that is supposed to protect us didn’t do, and what a corporation hellbent on protecting its profits wouldn’t proactively do, thousands of costly lawsuits finally accomplished. Still, this voluntary removal of glyphosate from residential-use products doesn’t go nearly far enough, and we won’t rest until the EPA bans glyphosate altogether.
Here’s a brief history of how Monsanto/Bayer has manipulated science and government agencies in order to keep selling their deadly money-maker.
Court Documents Revealed Monsanto’s Playbook To Obscure Roundup’s Cancer Link
In March of 2017, a federal judge unsealed court documents that detailed the lengths Monsanto went to twist the public narrative and EPA review in order to continue selling glyphosate under the claim that it was safe.
For instance, an internal PowerPoint outlines Monsanto’s strategy for countering the damning classification as a probable carcinogen. One suggestion was to publish a paper analyzing the animal data that the WHO used in its cancer assessment, noting that the “majority of writing can be done by Monsanto, keeping OS$ [costs] down.” It suggested recruiting external scientists like Helmut Greim, who co-authored a Monsanto-funded analysis the following year that — unsurprisingly — concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic to laboratory animals.
They also ghost-wrote papers and paid “independent” scientists to put their names on them, and stopped working with scientists who wouldn’t present findings the way they instructed.
EPA’s framework for assessing the public health risk posed by pesticides like Roundup relies heavily on industry-funded science, which makes the process vulnerable to this kind of predetermined conclusion-driven approach. It is also why advocates worry that glyphosate’s replacement could have its own health risks, but still be given the green light by EPA.
Injured Users Of Roundup And Advocacy Groups Like Food & Water Watch Took Action When EPA Did Not
For years while we’ve been waiting for EPA to do the scientifically sound thing by banning glyphosate, we also sounded the alarm ourselves, publishing research and educating citizens about its danger.
We compiled data that showed glyphosate:
Is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormone levels, even when glyphosate residue on foods is present below allowable thresholds;
Is probably carcinogenic, linked strongly to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer — whose assessment has underpinned many of the lawsuits filed 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 — meaning this voluntary suspension of consumer-level Roundup sales does not go far enough and we still need EPA to act.
It’s Time For EPA To Do Its Job To Protect The Public And Ban Glyphosate
Bayer’s press release announcing the move to eventually pull glyphosate from their products confirms that they have no plans to stop selling it for large-scale agricultural uses — which is the path by which it ends up in so many of the foods in our grocery stores:
This move is being made exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns. As the vast majority of claims in the litigation come from Lawn & Garden market users, this action largely eliminates the primary source of future claims beyond an assumed latency period. There will be no change in the availability of the company’s glyphosate formulations in the U.S. professional and agricultural markets.
This statement implies that Bayer/Monsanto has no qualms about continuing to cause harm to consumers, as long as they feel adequately shielded from liability for that harm.
This is why we can’t rely on corporations to do what’s right, and we must insist the EPA do its job and ban glyphosate everywhere, for good.
Strom Inc. probably hoped we would never find out what they were trying to get approved. But while working on passing a local measure in front of the Tampa City Council to end fossil fuel use and transition to 100% renewables, imagine our surprise when we learned about a proposed Tampa fracked gas project that had been quietly moving forward for years.
Not only did Food & Water Watch bury that plan to transport dangerous bomb trains through Tampa and deal a blow to a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) site nearby, on August 5th, Food & Water Watch succeeded in getting the Tampa City Council to pass the anti-fossil fuel resolution. This city measure calls on Congressmembers like Tampa Representative Kathy Castor to act boldly to transition us off fossil fuels. But we’re back to the grindstone this week to protect the people and environment from more sneaky fracked gas proposals like the one Strom Inc. tried to get past us all.
Sneaky Strom Inc. Aimed To Profit From Dangerous, Climate-Threatening Liquefied Natural Gas
Strom Inc. wanted to build a fracked gas liquefaction facility in Crystal River, FL, and transport the resulting LNG over 80 miles to Port Tampa Bay for international export. Strom has received export approval from the Department of Energy.
LNG is fracked gas that has been supercooled into a liquid form. Once liquefied, it is transported over long distances, including by ship for international export.
At a time when moving away from fossil fuels is critical for avoiding the worst climate impacts — and more officials may act soon in ways that threaten fossil fuel investments — the fossil fuel industry is doubling down on LNG while they can. Buildout of these facilities in Florida is part of a national push by the industry to build LNG export terminals in coastal communities. Two other LNG facilities are already in operation in the Sunshine State, in Jacksonville and Medley.
Fracking and LNG contribute to climate catastrophe, and the transport of LNG is extremely dangerous due to its flammability. Before LNG is loaded onto ships for international export, it’s transported on trucks or rail cars. These “LNG bomb” trucks and trains have enormous potential energy that rivals atomic bombs, and they’re transporting it on public highways and railways near dense communities, endangering the people who live and work there.
Strom Inc.’s proposal to liquefy fracked gas in Crystal River and transport the LNG over 80 miles to Port Tampa Bay by truck or train put millions of Tampa Bay residents at risk — and the government barely blinked an eye.
If The Government Isn’t Protecting Us From Dangerous LNG Plots, Who Is?
Food & Water Watch also planned actions to bring more public attention to the dangerous LNG proposal. On June 15th, we showed up to the Port Tampa Bay’s board meeting to express our disapproval of plans to export LNG from the port and urge the Board to reject the proposal. During the meeting, the Port’s primary counsel stated that the Port has no plans to export LNG with Strom Inc. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Times’ investigation uncovered Strom Inc. does not have the ability to build their liquefaction plant at the property they’ve been planning around. Since Strom does not have a location to liquefy gas or a port to export it from, this project is effectively dead. Food & Water Watch is working to formalize this victory by urging the Department of Energy to pull Strom’s permits for exporting LNG.
Strom Inc.’s LNG Facility Is Dead In The Water, But What About The Others?
While this LNG proposal in the Tampa Bay region appears to be dead, Florida’s existing LNG facilities continue to pose risks to communities in Miami-Dade and Jacksonville. Similar to Strom’s proposal, the Miami-Dade LNG facility faced very little scrutiny and government oversight, receiving only approvals from the Department of Energy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is charged with approving and regulating LNG facilities. However, the fossil fuel industry is finding ways to evade FERC oversight, leaving communities in the dark about these projects and without opportunity for input or objections.
As if the existing facilities aren’t bad enough, the fossil fuel industry continues to plan even more of them in Jacksonville and the Panhandle, and we expect more dangerous proposals. We need sweeping legislation from Congress to ban LNG facilities and export in Florida and everywhere. That’s why we’re launching a campaign opposing the buildout of new LNG infrastructure across Florida.
You can help. Send your member of Congress a message about banning LNG exports!
Humanity received a stark warning this week. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released on August 9, 2021 and it was a grave moment of recognition for those who are paying attention to climate change. Like previous reports, but in more urgent and clear terms, the scientific report was a devastating account of the impact of fossil fuels on our climate, and what the future holds if we do not radically shift course.
While the key messages from the report are far from new (scientists have been warning about the impact of human activity on the climate for generations), the urgency of the writing and call to action — as we are in the midst of climate change supercharged fires, droughts, extreme heat, and an impending hurricane season — was more clear than ever.
As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, the report “is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
The report is long and detailed — the summary version alone is 42 pages — with lots of interesting, devastating, and somewhat depressing scientific reality. Ultimately, though, that reality shows us why we must act now. Here are five key takeaways you should know about.
1. Climate Change is Here, Escalating, and Being Driven by Fossil Fuels
The report lays out in great detail the scientific consensus that not only have fossil fuels driven the climate crisis, but that because of the tremendous amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere, 1.5 degrees of warming is already a certainty, regardless of what policies we enact. According to the report, “many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”
This does not mean action is futile — to the contrary the report highlights how much worse things will get if we continue on our present course and how much destruction will be avoided if we make major changes now. But in the short term, droughts, fires, extreme heat, and other climate impacts will continue to increase. As climate scientist Michael Mann said in response to the report, “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here.”
2. Methane in Particular is A Key Driver of Climate Chaos
In addition to the need to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, the report also focused on the need to slash methane emissions. Methane is the core component of natural gas and as a greenhouse gas is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. Fracking and factory farms have been key drivers of methane increases — it’s no coincidence that these are the two bans we’ve been calling for nationally.
Food & Water Watch has been warning about the impact of methane from fracking and fracked gas infrastructure for years and the IPCC concurred. According to the report, “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 (methane) emissions” would help limit warming and improve air quality.
As IPCC report reviewer Durwood Zaelke told Reuters, “cutting methane is the single biggest and fastest strategy for slowing down warming.”
3. We Can Still Avoid the Worst Impacts of Runaway Climate change, But We Must Act Now
Despite the bleak outlook, the report does have one silver lining and that is if we act now — and act boldly — we can still avoid a much worse climate future, which will make a tremendous difference in how livable our planet is and in the lives of millions of people.
According to the report, “with every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger.” We have a chance to significantly limit warming if we act now to rein in fossil fuels. It will make the difference between 1.5 degrees of warming and 4.4 degrees. In practical terms, this will mean significantly less drought, extreme weather, fires, flooding, and overall destruction.
4. We Must Immediately Stop Subsidizing the Fossil Fuel Industry and Halt New Fracking, Pipelines and Other Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
There is a clear path back from the climate cliff, but it will entail bold action at every level of government. It will mean we stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, ban fracking, halt new fossil fuel power plants, pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure, ban factory farms and transition away from industrial agriculture, and make bold investments in renewable energy, regional sustainable agriculture, and invest to make our water systems, housing, and other infrastructure climate resilient.
Meaningfully taking on and dismantling the fossil fuel industry as we transition to a 100% renewable energy system must be a core focus. As the United Nations Secretary General said on the release of the report, “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021… Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.”
5. Biden Must Take Bold Action to Lead Us Back From the Climate Cliff
The climate crisis requires bold leadership. The United States has been responsible for more emissions than any other country on earth and is the largest economy in the world. President Biden could use his platform and executive powers as President of the United States to rally the global community to take on this crisis head on.
He could look at the science and call for an immediate halt to new fossil fuel projects, he could call for an immediate ban on fracking to tackle the methane issue head on, and he could lead a quick and immediate transition away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, President Biden, despite calling climate change an existential threat, continues to advance half measures and in many cases continues to approve oil and gas projects. We have been tracking the moves by his administration and they include approving massive amounts of fracking and drilling permits, backing the dirty and destructive Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines, promoting fracked gas exports, and supporting a project in Alaska that will produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day for 30 years.
Taking action against these projects does not require congressional approval. They are all within President Biden’s executive authority.
The day the report was released, Biden tweeted, “We can’t wait to tackle the climate crisis. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting.” We couldn’t agree more. President Biden needs to lead with his actions and it’s up to us to compel him to do it.
Your friends need to see this and we all need to demand more of President Biden.
In the fight to protect our waters from reckless permitting by the federal government, the drafters of the Clean Water Act (CWA) ensured that state governments had the authority to deny federal permits for infrastructure projects that violate state laws. This authority comes from Section 401 of the CWA and has allowed states to block a number of oil and gas pipelines, like the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, due to the harm they’d cause to state water. This authority is a vital tool in stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in states with strong climate goals and the preservation of this power is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.
Trump’s Administration Wrote A Bad Clean Water Act Rule, And Biden’s EPA Must Fix It
For the past four decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has understood that states have broad discretion in how they review whether a project will significantly impact a waterbody within its borders. But in July 2020 the Trump administration finalized a major regulatory change that hastened state and tribal authorities’ timelines for reviewing such projects. Making things worse, it also severely limited the factors that state agencies could consider when deciding whether to certify a project. It’s clear that this rule was enacted to stop states like New York from protecting water people depend on for life. If this rule isn’t rewritten, it will lead to more oil and gas pipelines being approved without critical state review.
Understanding this, the Biden Administration has directed EPA to review the 2020 CWA §401 Certification Rule for legal deficiencies and amend the rule as needed so it aligns with the principles of state sovereignty and protects water bodies and the climate. Currently, EPA is considering how it can improve the state certification process and will likely be proposing a new rule in late 2021 or early 2022. To guide that proposal, Food & Water Watch has submitted comments advising the agency on how best to address the dual challenge of climate change and water contamination.
The 2020 Trump Rule Wholly Undermines The Spirit And Intent Of The Clean Water Act
Under the 2020 Trump Rule, EPA shortened timelines for states to review a project’s compliance with state law, requiring the timeframe for review to begin immediately when a developer submits an application – even if lacking vital information. Going forward, the EPA must amend this so the clock starts only once a state certifying authority deems an application administratively complete. Also, EPA must allow applicants to voluntarily withdraw their request and resubmit it at a later date when there is inadequate information for a state authority to make an informed final decision. Without that flexibility, this practice will result in more states denying certification to avoid inadvertently waiving their review authority. It is also incredibly important for states to be able to delay certification until the completion of an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The 2020 Rule has also severely narrowed the scope of what review criteria a state can consider when determining whether a project complies with state law. EPA must reiterate that state certification must consider the impacts of any “discharge” as the Clean Water Act requires, not just a “discharge of pollutants” which is a wholly different legal term not present in Section 401 of the statute. Despite the Trump administration’s insistence that Section 401 applies only to “point sources of pollution” (e.g., wastewater coming directly out of a pipe into a river), in actuality, the CWA requires a review of any activity that may result in a discharge, including from non-point sources (e.g., pesticide run-off from golf courses). EPA must correct this gross misreading of the statute if states are to meaningfully assess the full scope of a project’s potential harm.
The damage caused by such shortened timelines and a narrowed scope of review is heightened by the 2020 Rule’s requirements that force states to waive their certification authority if a final decision is not made within EPA’s definition of a “reasonable” period of time or if it contains conditions that EPA objects to. It is of the utmost importance that EPA allows flexibility in its determination of a “reasonable time” for review that allows states to request additional data necessary for informed decision-making, without the looming threat of waiving state certifying authority.
Moreover, EPA must respect state conditions when approving a project. Conditional approval of a project is meant to allow a project — that would otherwise not be certified — to move forward with strict conditions on approval. Stripping conditions from a conditional certification allows projects to proceed which, without those state-issued conditions, would be in violation of state law. As such, EPA must respect state sovereignty in determining when a project would violate state law without a condition and in determining what a reasonable amount of time is for reviewing a project within the statutory one-year limit.
EPA is anticipated to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within a few months which the public can comment on. Food & Water Watch will be involved in submitting comments to EPA that call on a robust review process that protects our waters and will be sure to alert our supporters on how they can get involved when a proposed rule is announced.
More people should know about this. Can you share it with friends?
Protecting the waterways of this nation must be an all-of-government effort. As such, it is important that EPA coordinate their regulatory plans with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as these agencies oversee dredging of waterways and gas pipeline permitting respectively. Without a coordinated regulatory reform for all three agencies, priorities and legislative interpretations may become conflicted or incompatible, which would result in weakened waterbody protections and uncertainty in permitting for water-crossings of public utility lines, like much-needed water infrastructure.
Iowa is in the midst of a water crisis. People across the state are suffering as another year of drought — intensified by climate change — impacts water usage, crop growth, and the development of toxic blue-green algae blooms in our rivers and lakes. Climate change is worsening the already dangerous conditions from upstream factory farms polluting Iowa’s waterways — it’s more critical than ever for the state to take bold, meaningful action to mitigate the risks facing our water.
Iowa Can’t Fix Its Water Problems By Asking Residents To Reduce Consumption
It’s a direct result of the state’s continued failure to address the grave threats confronting the river — namely pollution from factory farms and industrial agriculture. Rather than protecting the water Iowans rely on for drinking and outdoor recreation, our elected officials have allowed massive agribusinesses to run roughshod over our precious — and finite — water resources. The only thing most of our elected officials have offered is industry-dictated false solutions to improve our water quality — and they aren’t working. Voluntary mechanisms, like the industry-backed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, only benefit corporate agribusiness, and Iowa’s water crisis has only worsened since these voluntary measures have been enacted.
The Iowa Supreme Court Makes A Mind Boggling Decision In Our Case Against Iowa
On June 18, the Iowa Supreme Court released its decision in our case, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa. By a slim 4-3 majority, the Court dismissed the case. Former director of the Drake Agriculture Law Center, Neil Hamilton, published a thorough breakdown of the ruling. Like Mr. Hamilton, we found the Court’s decision to dismiss misguided, as it was based on claims that it is not their responsibility to “hold the State accountable to the public.”
“If it is not the role of the Iowa Supreme Court to hold the State accountable to the public, then who does have that role?”
— Neil Hamilton, Agricultural Law Expert
We have 18,400 members in Iowa. We are committed on their behalf to exhausting all options to protect Iowa’s people, communities, and environment. On July 1st, we filed a petition for reconsideration with the Iowa Supreme Court requesting that the four-justice majority re-examine their ruling. While it is uncommon for such petitions to be granted, in a Court decision as divided as this, we believe we have an obligation to our members and the people of Iowa to do everything we can to fight for our right to clean water.
A Moratorium On New Factory Farms Is The Only Fix For Iowa’s Water Issues
Through the lawsuit, we hoped to establish a clear, actionable path forward to ensure the water we use for drinking, cooking, swimming, fishing, and recreating is reliable, safe, and clean. A win in the lawsuit would have replaced failed, voluntary half-measures for waterway cleanup with a demand that the state institute mandatory practices to reduce the harmful levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa’s waterways. To effectively cut back on these polluting nutrients, the state would need to implement a moratorium on new factory farms in the Raccoon River watershed to limit the already exorbitant amount of manure runoff occurring as a result of more than 750 factory farms producing billions of gallons of waste each year.
We know the future of our state’s water will be bleak if we continue down the current path. We cannot continue to allow the unabated growth of unsustainable, polluting factory farms fed by industrial monoculture crop production if we hope to see thriving communities, economies, and environments in Iowa’s future. We must build a new path that puts the needs of our communities, our drinking water, and our people before the bank accounts of massive agribusinesses.
It’s time we get real. Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going away. The dismissal of our case is certainly a setback, but we’re going to keep fighting to hold our elected officials accountable to us — their constituents. We will keep up the pressure on the legislature to take real, meaningful steps to protect us. We’ll keep advocating for bold solutions to this crisis. And we’ll keep working to break the stranglehold corporate agriculture has on our political system.
Help us guarantee we all have access to clean water for generations to come. Send a message to Iowa’s leadership!
Wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes and droughts: the deadly impacts of climate change are becoming more intense and devastating. While the transition to a real, renewable energy system is imperative to a livable climate future, it’s just as urgent to address the destructive impacts of our industrial food system. The current system is highly concentrated and exploitative, and it’s driving climate change and water shortages.
To address the climate crisis we must break up the big food monopolies and stop the practice of concentrating large numbers of animals on factory farms. The first step is passing the Farm System Reform Act.
The Relationship Between Factory Farms and Climate Change
Factory farms drive climate change. Raising livestock on factory farms accounts for 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contribution coming from producing corn and soy to feed factory-farmed animals. In fact, the top 20 meat and dairy corporations together contribute more greenhouse gases than the entire country of Germany, and together the top five contribute more than fossil fuel giants Exxon, Shell, or BP. These meat and dairy corporations are pushing factory farm expansion, further driving up greenhouse gas emissions, while family-scale livestock farms struggle to survive.
Further, while factory farms drive water shortages through climate-induced droughts, they also directly poison vast quantities of freshwater across the country through the waste they produce.
Agriculture is the leading known cause of pollution in U.S. rivers and streams and is the second-largest known contributor to the contamination of wetlands. Pollution from animal feeding operations threatens or impairs over 13,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams and 60,000 acres of lakes and ponds. In one stark example, nearly 500,000 dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California produce more manure waste than the human residents of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
We need to break this vicious cycle of factory farms polluting water and driving climate change, which causes water crises for people and the environment.
An Even More Urgent Case For a Ban on Factory Farms
Food & Water Watch called for a ban on factory farms in early 2018 because we knew the fragility of our food system. For years, our team has been educating and organizing against extensive corporate control and how it harms family farmers, rural communities, food chain workers and consumers. We knew that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must address industrial agriculture.
Less than two years later we were proud to work with lead sponsors Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna to introduce the Farm System Reform Act in U.S. Congress, a visionary bill that includes a ban on new and expanding factory farms and a phaseout of existing facilities by 2040. Originally introduced in the Senate in December of 2019 and in the House in March of 2020, the Farm System Reform Act helped people to see that a better way is possible — and in fact critical — if we are to protect our water and climate as well as protect food chain workers, and ensure a safe and plentiful food supply.
And now we’re doing it again — even bigger and bolder than last time.
Introducing the Farm System Reform Act in 2021
In July 2021, Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act in the new Congress with three original Senate co-sponsors and a number of new House co-sponsors. The bill is endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations including Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Family Farm Action, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Over 100 individual farmers have also already signed a letter in support of the bill, with more joining every day.
This groundbreaking bill has quickly become the north star of the movement to ban factory farms and end corporate control of our food system and should be a key pillar of national efforts to address climate change. In addition to an immediate ban on new and expanding large factory farms and a phase-out of existing facilities by 2040, the Farm System Reform Act would also:
Create a transition program to allow farmers to escape the contract model and shift to more sustainable forms of agriculture
Enact a series of market reforms that would make it possible for small growers to compete
Hold corporations responsible for their pollution
The Farm System Reform Act is a bold and yet commonsense approach that would move us toward a food and farm system that works for us — instead of wealthy corporations only concerned with their own bottom lines. It would help to build the kind of resilient, regionally-based food system that we advocate for in our new report, Well-Fed. It would level the playing field for family-scale farms and help rebuild rural America. And it would provide a real solution to addressing the climate impacts of industrial agriculture — instead of more false solutions like factory farm gas (biogas) or carbon markets.
Do you share our vision for a just food system? Send a message to your Senators and Representatives today.
Political leaders need to hear from you. Send a quick message!
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.