What Must Come After the Inflation Reduction Act

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Climate and Energy

Today, the House is poised to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which features billions of dollars in spending that is aimed at bolstering clean energy production. The IRA also devotes enormous additional resources to carbon capture, unproven industry-favored technologies that have thus far done nothing to reduce pollution. The legislation does not include any policies that require emissions reductions, and does not address measures to restrict fossil fuel development. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement:

“Serious climate action requires serious investments in clean, renewable energy alongside policies to dramatically restrict new fossil fuel development. The Inflation Reduction Act takes important steps to promote clean energy, but utterly fails to rein in toxic, destructive fossil fuel extraction.

“The Inflation Reduction Act can only be seen as the beginning of our response to the climate crisis. Much more is needed, specifically to restrict any and all new fossil fuel projects. Unfortunately the bill aims to actually promote additional drilling and fracking, an unconscionable trade off that will increase pollution in frontline and environmental justice communities.

“Our focus now must shift to stopping Senator Manchin’s awful ‘side deal’ to fast track fossil fuel permitting. This giveaway to big corporate polluters would doom any progress that might result from the passage of this legislation.”

Food & Water Watch Lawyers Are Fighting Carbon Pipelines

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Climate and Energy

by Emma Schmit and Adam Carlesco

Corporations have proposed three carbon pipelines that would cut through 2,000 miles of Iowa land — whether landowners want them or not. 

These pipelines are part of a larger scheme known as carbon capture and storage. Through these high-pressure pipelines, corporations want to transport CO2 from polluting ethanol and fertilizer plants. From there, the carbon could be used for enhanced oil recovery. Similar to fracking, oil companies inject carbon into near-depleted oil fields to draw up the very last dregs of oil.  Alternatively, corporations may sequester the carbon underground, giving them larger tax credits from the federal government.

Carbon capture is expensive and unsound technology that has sparked a host of concerns throughout affected communities, including in Iowa. These concerns include pipelines’ safety risks, the cost to taxpayers, corporations’ use of eminent domain and carbon capture’s dubious climate credentials. Now, Iowans from all walks of life have united in opposition. Polling from our partner organization, Food & Water Action, found that 80% of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for these projects. 

Food & Water Watch is ready to fight tooth and nail to stop the CO2 pipelines. Pipeline companies have a long road ahead of them before their projects can break ground. Our lawyers will be there at every step, ensuring that the public’s health, safety and quality of life take priority over corporate interests. Here’s how we’ll do it.

First, Carbon Pipelines Need Permits

Carbon pipelines are highly underregulated, particularly by the federal government. But pipeline corporations will have to worm their way around a few environmental safeguards. Companies need permits to cross waterways, federal lands and the habitats of endangered species. 

Before construction can begin, these pipeline proposals will need permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for any dredging and filling in a U.S. waterway. The developers must also receive a right-of-way from the Bureau of Land Management if the pipelines cross any federal lands. Permitting agencies will also consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure no endangered species are impacted by the project.

Many states are a regulatory Wild West for carbon pipelines. These are the first carbon pipelines ever proposed in Iowa, so agencies are essentially writing rules as the projects move ahead. That said, companies have to meet a variety of state-level requirements to obtain the permits needed to break ground. These can differ from state to state, but in Iowa, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) is responsible for approving or denying the proposed carbon pipelines.

FWW Will Stand Before The Iowa Utilities Board

For each of the three pipeline proposals, the three-member IUB must decide whether the project serves the public interest. (Members of the board were appointed by Governor Reynolds and her predecessor, former Governor Branstad. Notably, Branstad now works for Summit Carbon Solutions, the first pipeline company to begin IUB’s permitting process.) 

The IUB must consider the projects’ impacts on public health, the environment and safety. To do that, it relies on those impacted by the project to raise issues affecting them, through the proceeding’s docket. Based on those testimonies, the project’s purported need and any other factor bearing on the public interest, the IUB will decide whether to approve the proposals or not. 

We’ll Be With Iowans Every Step Of The Way

We have a long road ahead of us to push back on these pipelines. The timeline of IUB hearings will stretch well into 2023 — and that’s just for Summit’s project. But Food & Water Watch is committed to this fight and will be with Iowans every step of the way.

This month, Food & Water Watch became an official legal party to Summit Carbon Solution’s IUB docket. We now have legal standing to engage in the IUB’s permitting process. This allows us to better fight for the interests of our 24,000 Iowa members and supporters by voicing concerns throughout the permit hearings and requesting rehearings as needed. After the hearing, the IUB will deny or grant the permit, as well as the use of eminent domain. If the Board does greenlight Summit’s dangerous proposal, we’ll be ready to appeal.

We’re putting our all into this fight, from our lawyers, to our organizers, to our policy experts. But our most powerful support will come from you. Will you join us?

With so much on the line, it’s critical that the Iowa Utilities Board hears from you. Our opponents may spend billions to fight this issue, but they will never match the power created by people coming together. It’s up to us to hold the agencies designed to protect us accountable. We must demand that the IUB puts the interests of Iowans before the interests of private corporations. Tell the IUB that Iowans do not support hazardous carbon pipelines by sending a message now.

Tell the IUB: No Carbon Pipelines!

Will The Manchin Climate Bill Reduce Climate Pollution?

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Jim Walsh and Peter Hart

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) takes aim at a lot of things over the next decade — everything from prescription drug prices to corporate tax rates. For climate advocates, the headlining claim is this: the IRA would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 42%.

But that target isn’t actually in the bill. In fact, there are no emissions targets in the bill at all. Instead, this legislation relies on carrots (money to nudge private markets in the right direction) over sticks (actual mandates to reduce pollution).

So where does that 42% number come from? And is that reduction actually likely?

Several models claim to predict the IRA’s outcomes, but the one getting the most attention is from Princeton University’s REPEAT Project. Its model estimates that, without any new legislation, emissions will fall about 27% from 2005 highs. With the IRA, according to the model, emissions could fall about 42%.

But the model relies on some suspect reductions. For example, that 42% would need an astonishing turnaround for so-called carbon capture technologies. And it forecasts a massive increase in the deployment of clean energy — as well as tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles with requirements that no maker can meet yet.

The Analysis Makes A Bad Bet On Carbon Capture

The REPEAT analysis acknowledges that carbon capture is currently responsible for almost no emissions reductions. However, it projects that emissions reductions from carbon capture will reach 50 megatons of carbon by 2024 — mostly from coal plants -– and 200 million tons per year by 2030. 

There’s no explanation for this miraculous growth, but the analysis nonetheless suggests there will be “6 gigawatts of carbon capture retrofits at existing coal-fired power plants and 18 gigawatts of gas power plants with carbon capture installed by 2030.” These assumptions would require $17 billion in carbon capture tax credits in 2030 alone. That is far more than the $3.2 billion total 2022-2031 expenditure the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Overall, the analysis assumes that carbon capture would deliver “roughly one-sixth to one-fifth” of total emissions cuts. This is an unfathomable improvement for an industry that has failed to deliver emissions reductions after decades of research and billions in funding. 

The analysis also leaves its assumptions unclear on the actual emissions reductions of carbon capture technology. While the industry claims it can capture 90% of emissions, real-world analyses of full lifecycle emissions put that figure closer to 39%, at best. And captured CO2 is almost entirely used for more oil drilling, eliminating any supposed climate benefits.

Counting On Cars That Might Not Exist

The analysis also pins emissions reductions on changes to existing tax credits for electric vehicles. But there are serious questions about this policy. Several reports have already noted that there are currently no EVs that will meet the IRA’s requirements. The bill mandates that tax credits can only go to EVs with battery and mineral components sourced from the U.S. or favored trading partners. 

The supply chains to make these cars don’t even exist yet, but the model assumes they will. It seems logical to think a more generous tax credit would increase EV purchases. However, real-world limitations could significantly limit projected emissions reductions. 

The Model Misses Fossil Fuels And Frontline Communities 

The REPEAT analysis also assumes continued growth in fossil fuels; gas-fired power and coal stay strong in the energy mix. This is particularly concerning for communities near fossil fuel infrastructure. They’ll see more pollution from facilities receiving subsidies under the IRA. This is more than just wasting money on dirty infrastructure — it could increase pollution under the guise of climate action.

The fossil fuel industry is also pushing for a massive expansion of fossil fuel exports, which the REPEAT modeling acknowledges. Yet, it doesn’t account for those greenhouse gas emissions in its 42% claims. 

The model also doesn’t account for the “side deal” that secured the support of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, which calls for fast-tracking major new energy projects. Right now, we can’t calculate how that agreement might work, but it explicitly aims to build new sources of pollution more quickly. 

All of this — as well as the IRA’s unconscionable provisions on new drilling on public lands — will take a serious toll on communities near polluting facilities, and will lock us into continued climate emissions.

It Doesn’t Capture Leaking Methane

The IRA’s only provision that directly addresses oil and gas industry emissions is a fee on methane leaks. Under the bill, the fee would rise to $1,500 per ton in 2026. But negotiations with Senator Manchin substantially weakened this provision. Now, it won’t apply to the majority of the industry. 

While that is not part of the REPEAT analysis, we note that they rely on a 100-year timeframe to calculate the CO2 equivalence of methane (instead of 20 years). This is misleading because so much of methane’s climate impact comes in the near-term. 

Moreover, the analysis uses outdated assumptions from the EPA that significantly underestimate methane leakage and the impacts of gas on warming in general.

There’s A Difference Between Models And Reality

There are also fundamental questions about the type of forecasting used in the REPEAT analysis. How well do these models predict the future? What assumptions do they make?

On that count, the report includes caveats that readers might miss. “Optimization modeling used in this work assumes rational economic behavior from all actors,” the authors write. They add that “these results indicate what decisions make good economic sense for consumers and businesses to make … whether or not actors make such decisions in the real world depends on many factors we are unable to model.”

Energy industry actors don’t make rational decisions based on costs, consumer benefits or the public good. For instance, clean renewable power is cheap and abundant, yet utilities embrace fossil fuels. That’s in part because they profit from existing infrastructure that poisons communities and the climate. 

Additionally, the REPEAT modeling doesn’t calculate increases in water and air pollution that will come from carbon capture, hydrogen and other fossil fuel infrastructure likely under the IRA. Increases in harmful emissions other than carbon dioxide and methane will inevitably result from more fracking, pipelines and fossil fuel power plants, too. The burden will fall on disadvantaged communities. Models don’t show these impacts, but they’re real nonetheless.

42% isn’t even close — people need to know about the IRA’s real climate impact.

Corporations Add Fuel And Fan Flames In Our Wildfire Crisis

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

Deep in an old growth forest some 100 miles from the Pacific coast, a storm is brewing. First the thunder, then the lightning. Deer run for cover. Birds shield their chicks in their nests. A fork of lightning taps the top of a Douglas fir older than anyone alive in the town just a few miles away. 

In a few minutes, a single lick of flame will turn into an inferno. In less than 24 hours, thousands of acres will have turned to ash. 

We know wildfires are unpredictable, scary and devastating. We also know exactly who’s behind the crisis that millions of folks in the West and across the country face each year. 

Water-hungry and climate-wrecking corporations are turning our forests into tinderboxes. One of the drivers is Big Oil. And if the industry is allowed to continue, we’re looking at a much hotter, more dangerous future for our forests and our communities.

Unprecedented Wildfires Extend Their Reach

Megablazes, the kind of fires that take out more than 100,000 acres, used to be a once-in-a-career event for firefighters. But now, “during the summers we are seeing them on a weekly basis,” a program manager in the U.S. Fire Administration told the Guardian. 

In 2021, California saw 2.6 million acres lost to fire, blowing past the previous five years’ average of 1.4 million acres. Across the country, 70,000 communities are at risk for devastation by wildfire. 

Wildfires are growing across both space and time. Fire seasons that were once contained in the late summer and fall are now stretching earlier into the summer and later, even towards winter. 

On top of that, fires are becoming harder to fight. The high winds and dry conditions create fires that behave unpredictably and thus more dangerously. If we continue emitting at our current pace, climate models show the risk of large wildfires will grow 600% by 2050. 

Climate Change Adds Fuels To Forest Flames

The story behind today’s wildfires begins centuries ago. Once, indigenous communities purposely lit and managed fires. This prevented devastating fires by thinning out trees and shrubs, which would fuel a large flame. 

By the early 20th century, federal forest policy aimed to put out any fire as quickly as possible. Fuels like shrubs, dead plants and fallen branches built up for decades. More fuel means any spark — lightning, downed power lines, campfires — can turn into an intense and fast-moving inferno. 

But the problem has gotten far worse due to climate change. Climate change means less snow and rainfall, more high winds and more hot, dry weather. The forest has less moisture, and fuels become drier and more flammable. 

Climate change has more secondary effects, as well. For example, in West coast forests, bark beetles have grown more active thanks to the milder winters and drier trees.

The beetles bore into trees, killing them. Though the trees’ sap can push the beetles out of their bore holes, less moisture in the environment means less sap. The dry, dead trees then provide even more fuel for flames. 

Large fires also create climate feedback loops. The smoke sends more emissions into the air, which worsens climate change. This creates ideal conditions for wildfires, which send more emissions into the air, and so on. 

Big Oil Is Turning Up The Heat

California has been front and center in the news on wildfires for the past several years. But despite the state’s twin crises of drought and fire, it’s still our country’s 7th largest producer of crude oil. This is a recipe for worsening disaster.

The fossil fuel industry contributes to the state’s climate crises in several ways. It pumps carbon emissions into the air. It’s also an incredibly thirsty industry that threatens the entire region’s water cycle. From January 2018 to March 2021, fossil fuel companies in California used 3 billion gallons of water for drilling. 

When it’s not sucking up water, Big Oil is polluting it. For decades, oil corporations have gotten rid of their wastewater by injecting it deep underground. They also inject water into oil wells for enhanced oil recovery, a method for pushing out the last stubborn dregs of oil from a well. 

California is home to 1 in 3 U.S. oilfield injection wells, numbering int he tens of thousands. Every barrel of oil drilled results in 15 barrels of wastewater, which is full of salt, trace metals and toxic chemicals like benzene. 

The wells that hold this wastewater are poorly regulated and often leak, threatening groundwater supplies. Oil corporations have even injected wastewater directly into drinking water aquifers. 

If allowed to continue, the state’s fossil fuel corporations will continue worsening the drought. Less water in the environment means less rain and drier conditions — the key ingredients for wildfire.

We Know How To Reduce Our Wildfire Risk

Industry has run roughshod over our water supplies and our environment for too long. Big Oil and Big Ag are driving the climate crisis and fueling growing wildfires. If we are to slow down climate change, reduce wildfire risk and save millions more acres from a blaze, our elected leaders must act now. 

Currently, California is laying out its plans to address the climate crisis through a process at the California Air Resources Board. The board, appointed largely by Governor Newsom, will be setting the state’s strategy for addressing climate change. 

It’s critical that this process directly confronts the fossil fuel industry and that Newsom and CARB act with urgency. This means stopping new permits for drilling and fossil fuel infrastructure, phasing out all fossil fuel production by 2030 and rejecting industry scams like carbon capture that will only extend our dependence on fossil fuels.

In doing so, Governor Newsom could show real climate leadership — while addressing the wildfire crisis threatening communities in California and across the country.

Learn more from our allies in the Last Chance Alliance. This clip breaks down the factors behind California’s wildfires and how you can help tackle the industry responsible.

People power is our greatest tool to tackle climate change and the resulting wildfires. Help us build it.

What to Make of Joe Manchin’s Climate Deal

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart

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

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

The IRA Is A Mixed Deal For The Climate

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

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

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

Several Dirty Energy Devils Lurking in the IRA’s Details

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

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

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

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

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

Will The Inflation Reduction Act’s Climate Provisions Work?

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

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

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

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

Help your friends make sense of this issue.

Cryptocurrency Is A Catastrophe For The Climate

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Kat Ruane

Cryptocurrency has taken the digital world by storm, with a single Bitcoin costing $68,000 at its peak last November. Despite recent price drops, many in the industry argue that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t going anywhere.

This promise does not bode well for the climate.

Cryptocurrency creates emissions and electronic waste at massive scales, all while paying fossil fuel corporations to continue drilling and revive dying coal plants. At Food & Water Watch, we know that cryptocurrency is not the solution to the world’s problems. We cannot “build a utopia” on an industry that worsens the climate crisis. 

Cryptocurrency Needs Huge Amounts of Energy To Continue Growing

Cryptocurrency refers to digital currency, the most influential of which is Bitcoin. While Bitcoin makes up 44% of the market, there are thousands of crypto options to choose from. 

Bitcoin rose as a decentralized currency out of the distrust toward government and banks following the 2008 financial crisis. This is where cryptocurrency’s climate problems begin. Because there are no banks or governments overseeing transactions, the industry developed methods to ensure the security and validity of exchanges. The most popular of these methods, used by Bitcoin and most other coins, is proof of work

In proof of work, coins are rewarded to the first and fastest computer to solve a complex math equation. Over the years, as competition has grown, cryptocurrency “miners” have needed more and more powerful computers to accomplish this task. Massive data mining centers have sprung up to meet this demand. But crypto mining is an extremely energy-hungry process. Mining a single Bitcoin requires the equivalent of a household’s electricity use over 9 years.

Proof Of Work Chugs Out Emissions Comparable To Whole Countries

With such high electricity use comes high emissions. Research has found that proof of work incentivizes crypto miners to use as much power as possible. For crypto miners to get returns on investments or turn major profits, computers need to run 24/7. This kind of power consumption overextends the grid and emits at scales comparable to mid-sized countries. 

Bitcoin uses an estimated 200 terawatt-hours of energy annually, equivalent to Thailand’s energy consumption. This translates to about 100 megatons of carbon emissions per year, comparable to that of the Czech Republic. U.S. Bitcoin mining in 2020 alone emitted 40 billion pounds of CO2.

Crypto Mining Is Creating A New Electronic Waste Market

Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to electronics like computers or phones that have reached the end of their useful life. Globally, 50 million tons of e-waste is thrown away annually, and only 20% is recycled properly. The rest is tossed into landfills or dismantled by hand by workers in low-income countries, at extreme risk to their health. 

We are now beginning to understand how much crypto mining contributes to this. Annually, miners generate e-waste equivalent to that of mid-sized countries. This is because proof of work mining computers, known as application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), cannot be reprogrammed and serve no other purpose. Once they reach the end of their useful life, they become e-waste. 

Additionally, computing power required for proof of work doubles every year and a half. These computers become obsolete within two years. One study estimated that at that rate, Bitcoin mining would produce 10,948 metric tons of e-waste each year. This averages out to 134.5 grams of e-waste per transaction, compared to negligible amounts per VISA transaction. 

Crypto Miners Are Teaming Up With Big Oil To Prop Up The Industry

In their never-ending search for cheap energy, miners have started going straight to the source: drill sites and power plants. At drill sites, Big Oil is capitalizing on flaring sell-offs. By flaring, oil drillers burn off excess natural gas that surfaces. They’d rather absorb the $1 billion annual loss than pay transportation and conversion costs. 

But now, with eager crypto miners waiting nearby, they don’t have to lose out. Miners park mobile trailers filled with ASICs next to these sites, paying the drillers handsomely to use the excess gas to fuel their operations.

Corporations like Exxon and ConocoPhillips are cashing in on the sell-offs, arguing it prevents flaring and therefore eliminates methane emissions. In reality, it only pads the pockets of Big Oil and incentivizes more extraction. Transferring emissions from one source to another will never solve what we know to be the root cause of climate change: drilling. 

Crypto miners are also helping to prop up fossil fuel plants across the country. They partner with floundering, broke coal plants to direct the polluting energy toward mining. After one such partnership in Pennsylvania, a single coal plant’s emissions rose from 12,000 tons in 2020 to 495,000 tons in 2021. 

We Need To Shut Down Big Oil’s Collaborators And Support Local Fights Against Crypto Mining 

It’s now clear that crypto miners are playing an oversized role in worsening the climate crisis. They’re pursuing profits at the expense of our planet and our future. For these reasons, Food & Water Watch does not accept cryptocurrency donations. We’re also joining the fight against crypto in New York, where communities are rallying for a moratorium on crypto mining collaborations with fossil fuel plants.

From New York and beyond, we won’t let the cryptocurrency industry mine our future for profit. And we won’t let corporations cling to another scheme to keep us hooked on fossil fuels. 

More people need to know about crypto’s climate consequences.

On The Right To Water With An Activist On The Front Lines

Categories

Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

This week marks the 12th anniversary of the United Nations’ recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation. To commemorate the anniversary, Digital Copywriter Mia DiFelice sat down with Maude Barlow, FWW board member and long-time international water rights activist. In this interview, Maude talks about her experiences fighting for the right to water, the current challenges we face and her hopes for the future. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Journey To The United Nations

How did you come into the water movement?

I came out of the women’s movement here in Canada, and I came into water absolutely by accident. Back in 1985, Canada negotiated a free trade agreement with the U.S. I was concerned about its effects on social security for women. All these goods would be subject to new rules of trade that basically said, “Government is hands-off, the corporations get to decide.” But when I read the annex at the back of this agreement, it listed all of the goods under the new rules, like running shoes, cars and so on — and there was water in all its forms.

I remember thinking, I don’t understand this at all, how is water a tradable good? Water is a public trust! And that’s what set me on a journey. I realized that there were corporate interests that recognized before most of us that the planet was running out of clean, accessible water. They saw we were taking it for granted, we weren’t treating it well. They saw that anyone who controlled it was going to be both powerful and potentially wealthy.

In the run up to the UN’s recognition, you were the Special Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly. What were the high and low points of that experience? 

In 2008, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann took over as president of the UN General Assembly. He called me and said, “Come work with me, we’re going to do this together. We’re going to make water and sanitation a human right.” We put our heads together with other activists and put the question to the General Assembly on July 28, 2010. I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it. My country [Canada] was leading the fight against the human right to water. The U.S. was opposed, Great Britain was opposed. The World Bank was opposed, all the big water companies were opposed, etc.

But during the campaign, we brought people in to tell their stories to the United Nations. When Pablo Sonam, the ambassador to Bolivia, stood before the General Assembly on July 28, 2010, he had a report in his hand from the World Health Organization. He read from the report, which said that every three and a half seconds, somewhere in the Global South, a child dies of waterborne disease. And he held up one finger. And then another. And another, and then just half a finger — and you could have heard a pin drop in the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was so powerful. 

The Importance Of The Right To Water

How has the UN’s recognition of the human right to water changed the playing field for activists, especially here in North America?

The right to water matters, even though some people say, “Well, everything didn’t change the next day.” Because rights turn it into an issue of justice, not charity. 

Since 2010, over four dozen countries have either amended their constitution, or introduced new legislation to guarantee the human right to water. Once it’s in the constitution of a nation state, it becomes the right of the citizens of that state, and those citizens can use it in legal cases. I’d like to see it more widely understood and widely used. But it was a really important beginning. And I consider it an evolutionary step forward for humanity.

In Canada, we launched this Blue Communities project where municipalities pledge to protect water as a human right, to not allow privatization and to start phasing out plastic bottled water on municipal premises. That’s been tremendously exciting. It’s now hit 337 municipalities around the world, including big ones like Berlin and Paris. 

Los Angeles became a blue community a couple of years ago. And you might think, Well, Los Angeles is so wealthy, why would they need to do this? But in the Greater Los Angeles area, there are a million people without proper access to water and sanitation. So people who think this is just an issue in the Global South are wrong. I want to disabuse us of this notion that it’s only in some poor countries, although, of course, the crisis is much more stark in some places than others. 

The Fight Ahead For The Right To Water

What do you see as the next steps and challenges in the fight?

I worry about the financialization of water, which is something Food & Water Watch is leading the fight against with legislation and with public outcry. I worry about the commodification of water in different ways. For example, in the Western United States, water markets are opening up and farmers can sell their excess water, like a cash crop. 

We are facing what I call “the perfect storm” of declining water sources, either polluted or decimated. We’re pulling water faster than it can be replenished by nature. The demand for water on our planet is going straight up and the supply is going straight down. It is absolutely startling. There’s also growing inequality within and between countries. And then there’s the rising cost of water, particularly when it’s privatized. 

Protecting and restoring watersheds, forest soils and wetlands is absolutely crucial. Yet we continue to take those forests and wetlands down as we build more stuff and we trade more stuff. We have this notion of unlimited growth. But we don’t yet understand how sacred water is and that water is life and that we’re part of water, we’re part of nature, we’re not separate from it.

What has helped you persist in what looks and feels like a very uphill battle?

The wonderful people in our movement, including Food & Water Watch and the leadership of Wenonah Hauter and others, gives me tremendous hope. And meeting young people from around the world who care and are doing something. 

I’ve just finished a new book called Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. In the book, I share that you never know where the wind is going to come from. As Rebecca Solnit wrote, “History is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways.” 

We can’t control the outcomes. But my definition of hope is a commitment to protecting all that is good for future generations and the planet, knowing that you can’t control the outcome. But you have faith that what you do matters. So you put your hand out and you touch the web of the universe, wherever you are. You can’t control everything else, and you’re not sure what others are doing. But you have to have faith that others are doing something. And that together, you’re moving forward. 

That’s the definition of what American spiritual leader Joan Halifax calls “wise hope.” I love the concept of wise hope. It’s not, “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry, be happy.” No. Having wise hope means knowing we have serious problems. But we look them in the eye, and we deal with them. 


What You Can Do: Volunteer To Turn Your Community Blue!

Hearing from Maude makes it clear how important it is for everyone to act locally to protect their resources. Communities around the world have passed local resolutions pledging to promote the human right to water and sanitation. These blue communities reject water privatization and promise to keep water in the public service. They also say “no” to bottled water in public buildings and events. With every blue community, we come closer to realizing our human right to clean, affordable water.

Learn how to advocate for your community to turn blue!

We’re Shipping Fracked Gas Abroad, Killing Our Wallets and Our Planet

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we are yet again reminded of the dangers posed by our dependence on fossil fuels. Companies and countries too easily manipulate the market for profit and political gain.

Following new European sanctions against Russia, American fracked gas companies were only too happy to take advantage of the crisis. They’re touting fracked gas as an alternative to Russian fossil fuels. But if allowed to continue, the industry will lock in huge profits — as well as a supercharged trans-Atlantic fossil fuel trade and continued U.S. and EU dependency on fossil fuels. 

To export fracked gas, companies liquefy it and ship it overseas — such gas is known as liquefied natural gas (LNG). America began exporting LNG thanks to the glut of gas brought by the fracking boom, starting about eight years ago. In that time, the U.S. has gone from importing gas to, this year, becoming the largest LNG exporter in the world. We cannot allow this growth to continue.

Fracked Gas Companies Plan To Profit While Prices Hurt Families

At the moment, global prices for LNG are nine times more than they were just two years ago. Those prices, in energy terms, are comparable to a $200 barrel of oil. (Even now, with oil prices in the news daily, a barrel of crude has hovered around $100.) The new demand from Europe disrupted fracked gas markets, and prices rose as more competitors vie for supplies. 

That includes prices here in the U.S. The growth of LNG exports caused the soaring home heating prices that slammed low-income families last winter. In June 2022, an explosion at a Texas LNG export facility took 20% of U.S. export capacity offline. The result: market prices for fracked gas dropped in just a few hours. The explosion stopped exports that would have gone abroad. That unexpected supply flooded U.S. markets, and U.S. prices fell. Exporting domestic supply to the highest bidder has clear impacts on our energy costs at home.

The growing export industry has allowed U.S. LNG companies to pull in millions of excess profits from these high prices. In 2022’s first quarter, four of the biggest gas companies reported growing sales, profits and stock buybacks. This year, Cheniere, America’s largest LNG company, reported double the revenues compared to last year.

At the same time, exporters are using the crisis in Europe as an opportunity to build out infrastructure on our shores. In February, Cheniere’s CEO said to investors, “…the fact that there’s a scarcity of LNG these days is driving more and more conversation on how to increase our infrastructure and secure monthly contracts for our European customers.” 

Yet, these new export terminals won’t help Europe much when there isn’t enough infrastructure there to move fracked gas. On top of that, a May report by E3G found that the EU’s energy sector can transition off Russian gas by 2025 without the need for any new LNG infrastructure. Renewables are the clear winner when it comes to securing energy security.

Fracked Gas Presents Terminal Health Risks To People And Planet

LNG isn’t nearly as climate-friendly as its proponents want us to believe. LNG exports require liquifying, regasifying and transporting processes, which are energy-intensive and create more pollution. Plus, LNG creates pressure in the tanks it’s stored in, making it necessary to vent some gas. The resulting leaks make LNG more damaging for the climate than coal. The emissions of all these processes nearly equal that of burning the gas itself — in other words, exported LNG has double the climate impact of fracked gas used domestically. 

Fracked gas infrastructure also comes with a host of health and safety risks for nearby communities. Every step of the supply chain, from drilling, to pipelines, to transport, comes with risks of explosion. Between 2010 and 2019, our government recorded 1,226 gas pipeline safety incidents, including fires and explosions. These incidents killed 25 people, injured 108 and caused $1.3 billion in damages. But only 5% of fracked gas pipelines must report incidents. The number of casualties is surely higher. 

One region threatened by proposed new LNG infrastructure is the Gulf coast. The projects there are set to decimate wildlife habitats, desecrate Indigenous historical sites and disproportionately impact marginalized communities with toxic pollution. This pollution can create smog, cause asthma and damage lungs. The risks are disproportionately borne by people of color. 

Fracked Gas Exports: No Quick Fixes, Only Long-Term Consequences

Anything corporations do to expand LNG today will not change prices or stop shortages in the months to come. In fact, pipelines and export facilities take years to come online.

The industry shows its hand as it pursues long-term contracts. This isn’t about helping other countries in a short-term crisis — it’s about locking in decades of business at the expense of marginalized communities and planetary wellbeing.

Any investment in expanding fossil fuels is wildly out of step with the current science on climate change. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that any such expansion “will rob us of our last chance to avert climate chaos.” 

And LNG infrastructure is no minor investment. A single export plant costs billions to build. If the industry has its way, the U.S. risks squandering enormous sums on a market that will likely dry up in a few years. The future of LNG is clear — billions wasted on stranded assets and ever more dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels. 

We already have the tools to face down climate change. The Future Generations Protections Act will stop fracked gas exports, among a host of other climate-saving measures. If we are to secure a brighter, greener future, we have to stop LNG exports now.

Tell Congress to support the Future Generations Protect Act.

Futures Trading: Another Threat To Our Right To Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In late 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) launched the first water futures market, called the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index Futures. This market allows financial speculators to literally gamble on the price of water. But how does that actually work? And what are the consequences?

Water Futures Open Water Rights To Gambling 

First, let’s start with water rights. Generally, states west of the Mississippi allocate water resources through a water rights system based on the doctrine of “first in time, first in right.” Because of the history of the West, those with the most senior water rights are usually those who use it for agricultural purposes. 

These rights are appropriative. Those who hold them have the legal right to divert water from its natural flow; for example, via crop irrigation. In California, as in other western states, rights holders can sell or lease the rights to use the water to others. 

The index that Nasdaq Veles created is a single number that estimates the prevailing price of water in California. This number changes as water prices change. It’s based on an algorithm and a supposedly representative list of transactions — both of which Nasdaq Veles keeps confidential.  

CME’s new market allows investors to bet on changes in the index. Investors do this by entering a futures contract. The buyer and seller of the contract bet on how the index price will change by a predetermined date in the future. The financial speculators who sell futures contracts hope the price goes down, so they get paid at that date. Those who buy futures contracts hope the price goes up, so they get paid at that date. 

When the contract period ends, neither the buyer nor seller will get any water or rights to water. Instead, the “winner” gets cash. They “win” the difference between the index price at the start of the contract and the price at the end. So if no actual water is changing hands, what harm can it do? Turns out, a lot.

Water Futures Are Bad News For Real-Life Water Access

Proponents of the market say that rather than a casino, the futures contracts will function more like insurance. Farmers who participate in the market can insulate themselves from volatile changes in water prices by securing another source of income.

But the water futures market has inherent risks. It opens up the doors for further commodification and privatization of water. It can reframe water not as it is — a basic human right and resource that should remain in the public trust — but rather as greedy speculators would like it to be — something to bet on, like oil or gold. And, in doing so, it opens up water to excessive speculation and market manipulation, with consequences on the price of actual water.

First, investors, especially if they have huge contracts and stand to make or lose a lot of money, may try to profit from the futures market by manipulating the underlying market for real-life water. A single investor is allowed to buy water futures contracts equal to 31% of the average annual water rights transactions. Market manipulation is rampant in other futures markets that are based on price indices. 

California is particularly vulnerable to market manipulation because it lacks price transparency for water rights transactions. This is even more concerning considering that the CME can keep the data and algorithm of its index secret, calling it “confidential business information.” The public has no way of knowing if the index is accurate.

Excessive speculation is the second way that the water futures market could lead to real world price hikes. The presence of many large speculators on the futures market could send price signals that the price of water will increase. So rights holders of real-life water may hoard their water in response. This would cause prices for water to rise. 

“You can’t put a value on water as you do with other commodities. Water belongs to everyone and is a public good. It is closely tied to all of our lives and livelihoods, and is an essential component to public health.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

If prices rise, small farmers will be among the hardest hit because agricultural users are the largest sellers of water rights. High prices would make irrigation unaffordable for many small farmers. They’ll close up shop and sell their land, usually to big agribusinesses. That means more farmland consolidation and more profits and power to big corporations.

We Need The Future Of Water Act To Protect Our Water

Financial speculators should not be allowed to gamble on and profit off of drought in California. As droughts, wildfires and climate chaos threaten our water supplies, we need to protect this invaluable resource as a public trust, managed in the public interest.

Water futures will incentivize the rich to protect their interests in water. Meanwhile, everyone else will face increasingly scarce and unaffordable water. 

Fortunately, in March 2022, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced legislation to ban water futures trading. The Future of Water Act will ensure water is not a financial toy for speculators to play with, hurting families and small farmers in the process. Passing this legislation is an essential step to secure our human right to water.

Tell Congress to cosponsor the Future of Water Act!

Why Food & Water Watch Works: Victory for GasFreeNYC

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

In New York, buildings are the top emitters of greenhouse gasses. Real estate moguls and Big Oil and Gas have spent big to keep it that way. But in 2021, Food & Water Watch joined local organizations to fight for a ban on gas hookups in new construction. We had 10 months to pull it off.

Here’s how we did it.

Choosing The Right Target

Then-Mayor Bill DeBlasio supported the ban, which was helpful politically. But what really mattered was getting the City Council on board, because that’s where the ban would be passed. Food & Water Watch joined New York Communities for Change (NYCC), NYPIRG and WE ACT for Environmental Justice in the #GasFreeNYC coalition. Together, we went to work. 

GasFreeNYC’s strategy focused on key decision-makers who had the most power to get a gas ban on the books. In New York City, the City Council Speaker is crucial to introduce and move bills through the Council. At the time, that was Council Member Corey Johnson, who was coincidentally running for city-wide office as comptroller. The first step was getting the speaker to allow the bill to be introduced. The coalition gathered volunteers for a huge call-in campaign to his office, funneling more than 100 calls in one day. It worked — Johnson introduced the gas ban bill in City Council.

Next, as Johnson campaigned for comptroller, FWW and our allies began showing up at his events. For instance, we held a rally in front of the Rockefeller Center as the comptroller electoral debate took place inside. 

When we still didn’t have Johnson’s commitment on the bill, we turned to other council members. GasFreeNYC mobilized constituents to contact their council members again and again, racking up cosponsors on the bill. We held “street lobby” days, speaking with members on sidewalks as they headed into Council meetings. We even held a die-in outside City Hall to mourn those who died from flooding during Hurricane Ida — yet another storm supercharged by climate change. The result of all this organizing: more than 20 council members cosponsored the bill by mid-September. By the end of the month, Johnson stated publicly that he supported the bill. 

Getting The Ban On The Books

Now, GasFreeNYC had to fight for a public hearing. Without a public hearing, the bill would fade, but with a hearing, it would almost surely pass. We needed to convince the Council’s Environmental Committee Chair to schedule the hearing. Chair Jim Gennaro’s election to City Council was supported by significant contributions from the real estate industry, which opposed the bill. Needless to say, Gennaro was a hard sell.

After two months of pressing the council member, though, a flip switched. While we can’t know for certain why he changed his mind, it’s clear that the bill would not have passed without the support of the Mayor, the Speaker and thousands of mobilized constituents.

Getting to the public hearing was one of the most important steps in the fight, and GasFreeNYC didn’t hold back. Before the hearing, over 100 supporters and elected officials gathered at a virtual rally. Then, five-hours-worth of testimony from GasFreeNYC activists, industry professionals and everyday residents brought the bill to final negotiations. 

Finally, all parties met at the negotiating table. 

Staying The Course In The Homestretch

FWW has a long history of pushing political boundaries and steadfastly sticking to its positions. It’s a bold strategy that few other national environmental organizations have used, but it’s won us vital victories — perhaps most notably, New York’s fracking ban. 

On the gas ban campaign, that strategy worked once again. We stopped eleventh-hour loopholes pushed by opponents. All the months of organizing proved to council members that GasFreeNYC’s line had public attention and power. They knew that if GasFreeNYC wasn’t happy with the final bill, it wouldn’t pass. 

At the council’s final meeting of the session, Food & Water Watch and the GasFreeNYC coalition won a gas-hookup ban for all new construction and retrofits. That ban means 2,000 new buildings per year will be fossil fuel free. 

Why We Won

The GasFreeNYC campaign worked because it represented the communities at stake. Local activists and residents of color were integral to the fight. We also centered housing and justice issues in the conversation. The arguments and members of the Coalition showed that this was a movement of everyday New Yorkers, not elites or outsiders.

Additionally, activists and residents were committed to people power. They showed up at rallies, protests and events. That showed council members how important this issue was to voters, and it garnered media attention that propelled the movement further. 

As a large organization with its own base in different states, FWW prioritizes organizations on the ground. It leverages its national donor base and its resources, while centering the voices of those closest to the issue. In NYC, this meant contributing organizers and a large group of activists with long histories of fighting fossil fuel interests in New York, through pipeline and power plant projects, all the way back to the original ban on fracking. 

GasFreeNYC showed the power of real grassroots organizing — Food & Water Watch’s bread and butter. No amount of behind-the-scenes lobbying or dark money donations could win against constituents demanding change, en masse, from the representatives they elected. 

We win with help from supporters like you.

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Tarah Heinzen

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

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

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

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

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

2. Continue Taking The Fossil Fuel Industry To Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Vote Like We Live Here

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

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

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

Big Oil’s Bet On Plastic Is Gambling With Our Future

Categories

Climate and Energy

CC BY 2.0, Dying Regime / Flickr
by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

Although we have a long fight ahead of us to transition off fossil fuels, the tide is turning. Consumers around the world are demanding greener power and more action on climate change. 

Big Oil has read the writing on the wall and has added a new tool to its arsenal — plastics. While public opinion turns against dirty energy, corporations are pushing petrochemicals to keep us hooked on fossil fuels.

Big Oil Is Betting Billions On Plastic

In the 2010s, the fracking boom created such a glut of natural gas that the industry scrambled to find new markets for it. Petrochemical companies were happy to step in. Ethane, a main raw material in many plastics, has doubled production in the U.S. from 2013 to 2021. Desperate to offload the surplus, U.S. companies send it around the world, often at bargain-bin prices. Ethane exported from the U.S. has gone from nonexistent to 300,000 barrels a day. The result — an explosion of plastic. Now, experts expect plastic production and consumption to triple by 2060.

The construction planned to expand the industry needs to stay in the blueprints. From cracker plants to pipelines, this infrastructure is expensive and dangerous. If all the planned projects are completed, emissions from plastics will double by 2050. These projects include 350 chemical plants that would introduce health risks to nearby communities. But since 2010, petrochemical companies have already spent $200 billion to expand plastics manufacturing infrastructure. 

At the same time, public opinion is getting hip to our plastic problem. Cities and states across America are banning certain kinds of single-use plastic. On a global level, Canada, India, France, and many other countries have placed their own bans just this year. Such measures predict shifting prices and future failure. Big Oil’s bet on the industry will entrench billions of dollars into infrastructure that will likely become unprofitable in a few years. 

Plastic Pose Growing Public Health Problems

If allowed to grow, the plastics industry stands to harm our families and communities in so many ways. For one, plastics release toxic chemicals all throughout their life cycle. From volatile organic compounds emitted during fracking, to heavy metals released during recycling, we absorb these toxins by breathing, eating or simply touching them.

Then, there are the pipelines. To make plastics, companies first extract ethane from natural gas liquids. Moving those NGLs requires miles of new pipelines. But NGLs are volatile and flammable, meaning pipelines have a host of health, safety and environmental risks. Yet, most of these lines aren’t regulated, sited or permitted by the federal government. Many states don’t step in, so miles and miles of hazardous pipelines have no oversight at all.

On top of that, the petrochemical industry has a long history of environmental racism. Companies have often cited polluting plants near low-income communities and communities of color. In Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” dozens of petrochemical plants dapple the shores of the Mississippi for 80 miles. The emissions from those plants rain yellow droplets of pollution and kill birds mid-flight. The mostly black and brown residents in the region have some of the greatest risks for cancer in the country.

Despite What Big Oil Tells Us, Recycling Doesn’t Work

For decades, petrochemical companies — often owned by the same oil and gas giants — touted ad campaigns (to the tune of $50 million a year) to keep us buying more plastic. They funded projects and created regulations, signaling that we could solve our plastic problem with some blue bins. But most of what we throw in those blue bins will never see a recycling facility. Only 1 in 10 plastics made from 1950 to 2015 have been recycled. In 2021, that number dropped to 1 in 20. 

Even the plastics that make it to a recycling center can’t be properly recycled. Instead, they’re downcycled, or turned into a lower-quality plastic. After that, they can only be downcycled once or twice more before they have to be tossed into a landfill. 

The newest flavor of the recycling myth goes by “advanced recycling,” which uses chemicals and high heat to break down plastics. The process, which is expensive and emissions-intensive, usually just results in a low-grade fossil fuel. Advanced recycling actually creates more greenhouse gasses than sending the plastic to a landfill or incinerating it. 

Yet, the plastics industry has pushed several states to loosen advanced recycling regulations, or even subsidize them. Taxpayers are funding Big Oil’s schemes to make plastic socially acceptable — when in fact, they’ll just create more problems and worsen climate change. 

We Can’t Let Big Oil Get Away With Plastics

Plastics are a danger to human health and climate. While they have a few important uses, Big Oil is pushing way more plastic than we need. The lie of consumer demand needs to be unraveled. In reality, packaging makes up 40% of produced plastics — which consumers have little say in.

The more Big Oil builds out its infrastructure and floods the market with plastics, the bigger the problem becomes. 

We can stop them in their tracks, starting with:

  1. Banning single-use plastics. These include water bottles, packaging and utensils, and they make up most of plastic waste. They end up in landfills, incinerators and our waterways. Like all plastics, they break down into microplastics, where they move much more easily and stealthily. Now, we find plastic in our sea salt, seafood, beer, honey, sugar and so much more.
  2. Banning fracking and new petrochemical facilities. We’ve known for years that fracking does irreparable damage to our environment and our communities. Petrochemical facilities are just as harmful. They’re also feeding the plastic problem, and stand to make it much, much worse. 

We need all hands on deck to stop Big Oil’s Plan B.

Drilling Won’t Lower Gas Prices. Here’s What Will.

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this content originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

It’s the hallmark experience of summer 2022. You’re rolling down your local street, heat waves shimmering off the asphalt, breeze blowing through open car windows. But when you stop at the light, an impossible number catches your eye. Huge and stark, the sign proclaims “REGULAR: $4.95.” It was $4.70 just last week!

Gas prices have been rising for months. Experts first pointed to an unexpected, rapid demand as global COVID lockdowns lifted. Oil and gas corporations saw bankruptcies and negative gas prices in the worst months of the pandemic. But rather than respond to returned demand, industry titans doubled down on profits.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, countries around the world began sanctioning Russian oil. Eye-watering gas prices have piled onto a seemingly endless list of crises and pain points for consumers. 

So of course, gas has become a political tool that Republicans use to condemn the climate policies of the Biden administration. Pointing at the president is a convenient pretense as they defend the interests of fossil fuel corporations.

But media coverage of gas prices swings between incomplete, misleading and downright false. The truth is, gas prices have little to do with White House decisions, and there are few quick fixes.

Consumers — especially the most vulnerable — need relief. But that won’t come from more drilling, as many politicians are demanding. In fact, more drilling would keep us at the mercy of future oil shocks. And it would attach our economic and environmental health to an industry with a long history of volatility and corporate greed.

Let’s break it down. 

White hand pumps gas into a white car.

More Drilling Is Not A Quick Fix For Gas Prices

Citing economic principles of supply and demand, political pundits call for Biden to increase the U.S. oil supply — that is, to drill more. We need more gas than we’ve got, the logic goes. Prices have risen. If supply grows to meet demand, prices will drop.

This argument misses key facts. First, Biden is not blocking the flow of American oil. In fact, he’s opened the tap more than Trump. The current administration issued more than 3,500 drilling permits in 2020 alone; that’s a third more than during Trump’s first year. And under Biden, U.S. oil production has grown from 9.7 million barrels a day to 11.6 million.

Yet oil and gas corporations are staying away from new drilling projects. Currently, 4,400 approved and drilled wells have yet to produce oil. Oil and gas executives show no sign of ramping up production. 

High Gas Prices Are A Boon For Investors

Oil executives themselves have revealed the reason for their inaction — profits. The oil and gas industry is seeing record cash flow. In the first quarter of 2022, the five biggest fossil fuel companies made their highest profits in more than a decade. Last year, four major companies (Shell, BP, Chevron and Exxon) made $75 billion. 

Their investors are demanding more of that windfall. So, instead of investing record profits in more drilling infrastructure, oil corporations are sending money back to investors through stock buybacks and payouts. In a March poll, 59% of oil executives admitted that investor pressure for profit, not government regulation, is the real reason they’re not drilling.

But blabber about drilling misses the mark. And it’s not like we usually use lots of Russian oil that we’re now missing. Of all the petroleum products used in the U.S. in the last decade, only 2% were Russian imports. So how do Russian sanctions affect U.S. gas prices?

The Oil Market Is A Complex Rollercoaster

Oil is a global market, which means prices are set by global supply and demand. The market could be rocked by tons of factors outside of U.S. control. Factors like natural disasters near production centers, the whims of oil-producing states and war. Such events create uncertainty about the future of supply and demand, which leads to more volatile prices. On top of that, speculators and their fleet of AI routinely bet on the future of the oil market. When prices go up, investors see dollar signs — and the more money they put down, the higher prices fly. 

In 2021, the U.S. exported more oil than it imported for the first time. Our crude oil production is soaring to record highs. Yet the price we pay for oil has still fluctuated wildly over the past few years. We are still vulnerable to oil price shocks.

The additional drilling pundits have proposed are a drop in the bucket of global supply. Far more influential are international disasters that clog supply chains, worry investors and prevent new development. Domestic production won’t insulate the U.S. from the global oil market. In fact, if more of our economy ran on fossil fuels, it would make us even more vulnerable to turbulent markets.

Price Controls and Renewables Are Real Solutions to Rising Gas Prices 

In the short-term, our government can help consumers with two tools. First, price controls would keep gas prices low, especially for those who need it most. Our country’s dirty oil addiction should not hurt workers and families. Second, we need an export ban on gasoline and other fuels. Despite the current crisis, U.S. exports on gasoline and diesel are nearing record-highs. With such exports, corporations send our domestic supply to the highest bidder. This ramps up market prices for everyone — including those of us who depend on gas for daily life and work.

Looking ahead, we need long-term solutions that will get us off the oil market rollercoaster. That means ramping up renewable energy. Renewables will insulate us from global oil shocks much more than domestic drilling ever could. But we have to pick up the pace of development while stopping new oil and gas. Our infrastructure and investment decisions today will have ripple effects for decades. More drilling won’t help struggling Americans tomorrow or even this year — but it will lock us into a future of dangerous emissions, climate disasters and high prices. 

Help us fight misinformation on gas prices.

This Climate Case Confirms: The Supreme Court Is On A Dark Path

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice and Angie Aker

Since the 1970s, the Clean Air Act has protected us from a host of environmental pollutants. Does the Clean Air Act allow the EPA to create rules that reduce carbon emissions from power plants? It’s an easy “Yes!” for most of us, which is why the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan to transition away from dirty power plants in 2015. But it’s a resounding “No” from an industry that prefers to run unchecked. That’s why a group of attorneys general sued over it, and the Supreme Court shelved the Plan before it could even go into effect. 

This June, the Supreme Court issued a decision in West Virginia v. EPA. The case took on the never implemented and now irrelevant Clean Power Plan. The Court ruled that the EPA cannot use the Clean Air Act to regulate power plants’ climate emissions by mandating an industry transition to cleaner energy. In its ruling, the conservative supermajority on the bench has yet again shown their hand. These activist justices are using their position to push corporate interests, while eliminating a vital tool against climate change.

The Court’s Decision Is A Threat to Climate Action

Laws like the Clean Air Act are intentionally broad to allow expert agency regulators to adapt to new issues and tackle new problems. This is especially important for issues like pollution and, of course, climate change. Our recent history has made it clear — climate action is now too urgent to wait on action from a gridlocked Congress. 

The fight for sweeping climate action is far from over, but WV v. EPA will make such action all the harder. The ruling endangers the Biden administration’s goal to decarbonize U.S. electricity by 2035. This is especially concerning because power plants are our second largest source of climate pollution. On top of that, our largest emitter, transportation, can only decarbonize if we have the clean electricity to power it. This decision makes emissions regulations — as well as other, future environmental regulations — all the more vulnerable to judicial overreach.

“The court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decision maker on climate policy.

I cannot think of many things more frightening.” 

— Justice Elena Kagan in her dissenting opinion.

We Have Major Questions About The Court’s Logic

The Court justified its decision by relying on the so-called “major questions doctrine.” This doctrine suggests that regulations are invalid if they address “major” political and economic issues and Congress has not explicitly told agencies how to act. By relying on this doctrine, the Court’s decision in WV v. EPA signals that future EPA rules — and actions from any other agency — are at risk.

But the major questions doctrine has a murky history and a supreme lack of logic. It flies in the face of so-called “textualism,” which conservative judges have relied on for decades to justify strict readings of statutes. This framework for interpreting law focuses on the text of the law itself. But as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion on WV v. EPA, “The current court is textualist only when being so suits it. When that method would frustrate broader goals, special canons like the ‘major questions doctrine’ magically appear as get-out-of-text-free cards.”

The doctrine also lacks any kind of test or threshold. And since the Court has not agreed on what counts as a “major question,” legal scholars point out that anything can be a major question if the justices on the bench deem it so. In short, the doctrine is a judicial power grab, encroaching on both Congress and the Executive branch. It threatens agencies’ ability to do their jobs — that is, implementing our most important laws.

Conservatives Captured The Court, And They Won’t Let Go Anytime Soon

For decades, conservative groups and funders — many backed by fossil fuel money — have worked to transform our judicial landscape. The same groups and funders supported the attorney generals suing in WV v. EPA; the campaigns that helped nominate and confirm five of SCOTUS’s current conservative supermajority; and dozens of other federal cases against climate policies. 

One such group is the Federalist Society, a national radical rightwing legal organization. All of the Republican-nominated justices on the bench have been either members of the Federalist Society or endorsed by it. The Society is funded by the likes of Chevron, Koch Industries and an array of conservative billionaires. Likewise, WV v. EPA was supported by the Republican Attorneys General Association, which is funded by our country’s biggest fossil fuel companies and coal executives.

WV v. EPA is the latest in a string of Supreme Court decisions from the Republican-nominated majority on the bench. These decisions quash Constitutional rights, public health and safety measures and decades-old precedents. WV v. EPA is part of the same antidemocratic judicial movement that has devastated our fundamental rights to bodily autonomy, our Fifth amendment rights, states’ ability to enact gun violence protections and more. 

And it likely will not be the last; legal experts expect that WV v. EPA will affect regulations on everything from consumer protection, to workers’ safety, to public health. When the Court returns to session in October, it will decide a slate of environmental cases through the same lens — further jeopardizing our right to a livable planet.

Our Fight For The Climate Is Far From Over

WV v. EPA underscores our urgent need for climate policies and federal action. The decision, while distressing, does not eliminate the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Biden Administration must issue the strongest rule possible to regulate climate pollution. Congress must also step up to the plate to stop oil and gas exports and new fossil fuel development. At the same time, states must pursue the strong climate policies that we need.

Food & Water Watch has been in this fight for 17 years. We will continue pressuring agencies and elected officials at all levels of government for climate action. We cannot afford to do anything else.

Everyone needs to know what’s at stake.

Iowans: Is Your County Taking a Stand Against Pipelines?

Categories

Climate and Energy

Nevada, Iowa. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Photolibrarian / Flickr
by Emma Schmit and Phoebe Galt

The Midwest has become a new frontier in a battle against carbon pipelines. Corporations are moving fast to cash in on the fossil fuel industry’s latest bogus climate solution. Central to pipeline developers plans: Iowa. With these projects, Iowa could see 1,930 new miles of hazardous pipeline laid across 58 counties. If these companies get their way, two proposals alone would almost double the length of CO2 pipelines in the U.S.

On top of that, they’re scheming to build through private lands under eminent domain, with no need for landowners’ permission. This would introduce explosive health risks to communities — for example, a ruptured pipeline can leak deadly amounts of odorless CO2 for miles. But across Iowa, local governments are taking a stand.

See how your county is fighting back.

What Power Do Local Governments Have?

Carbon pipelines are dangerously under-regulated. They rely on minor state-level approvals and limited federal permits to secure eminent domain authority and start construction. But local governments have an important role to play.

County Boards of Supervisors are charged with protecting the health and safety of their communities and their constituents. They have a crucial role to play in stopping carbon pipeline construction. From zoning restrictions to political leverage, inspector hiring to Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) docket intervention, they have plenty of tools at their disposal. 

Counties are also taking legal action against the carbon pipelines. For example, legally binding ordinances would place strict parameters on pipeline construction. Under the Model Ordinance drafted by Food & Water Watch put forward to Supervisors in all impacted counties, they can decide how far away from hospitals, schools and homes pipelines must be built. They can also require specific emergency response service capacity before pipelines can operate. With these decisions, local governments wield critical power to keep their constituents safe. 

More Than Half Of Impacted Iowa Counties Object to Carbon Pipelines

Summit Carbon Solutions is the first company to move through the IUB permitting process. The company is behind the proposal for the world’s largest carbon pipeline (2,000 miles), a third of which will pass through Iowa. Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures is behind the second pipeline, proposed to cover roughly 1,300 miles, two-thirds of which would pass through Iowa. ADM/Wolf are behind a third 350-mile pipeline.

The IUB docket for Summit’s project is already chock-full of formal objections from County Boards of Supervisors. Local governments are joining their constituents in submitting official opposition statements to the IUB, which will decide the projects’ fate. The message is clear — dangerous carbon pipelines are unwelcome in Iowa.

As of July 5:

  • 57% of all Iowa counties impacted by carbon pipeline proposals have submitted formal objections.
  • 75% of the Iowa counties impacted by both Summit and Navigator have submitted formal objections.
  • 76% of the Iowa counties impacted by Summit have submitted formal objections.
  • 41% of the counties impacted by Navigator have submitted formal objections.

Will Pipelines Affect Your County?

A staggering swath of Iowa counties is going to be affected by the push for planned pipelines. Objections? They have more than a few.

We Need Everybody On Board: Add Your Voice 

We need to use every tool in our toolbox to fight these pipelines. Whether or not your county has yet submitted a formal objection, you can ask them to pass a Model Ordinance that will protect your community. Call on your county supervisors to do their part and stand up to these dangerous projects now:

Tell Your County Supervisors: No CO2 Pipelines in Iowa!

California’s Climate Mirage: How Newsom’s Blueprint Falls Short

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Jessica Gable

While struggling through a historic drought, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is drafting its plan for addressing climate change. The Board took comments on the plan in June and thousands of Californians submitted comments calling for aggressive action. But the draft plan dodges any real action on climate change. Instead, it opts for a “carbon neutrality” deadline of 2045 while relying on industry schemes like carbon capture to get there.

Governor Gavin Newsom likes to characterize California’s climate leadership as bold and aggressive, but this plan is neither. To really lead, Newsom must tell CARB to go back to the drawing board. The governor appoints most of the board’s members. That means he can show leadership by demanding real solutions and a quick timeline in line with science. 

California must move off fossil fuels by 2035; 2045 falls far short

Climate scientists are clear that we need to immediately stop expanding fossil fuel production and infrastructure. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report warns that with any delay, we risk missing “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” 

In response to the CARB plan, we’ve partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Center for Biological Diversity to organize a letter to Newsom and CARB calling for bolder action. Signed by more than 150 organizations, the letter calls for California to reach near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. It also calls for a completely green electric grid by 2030. Finally, it demands faster timelines in transportation and buildings and a rejection of industry schemes like carbon capture.

Climate Leadership Means Rapid Action on Transportation and Infrastructure

Any serious plan to address the climate crisis needs to aggressively address transportation and infrastructure. This means big investments in public transportation and requirements for all new car sales to be electric by 2030. At the same time, we need goals for trucks and faster electrification of trains and ports. These will make sure that we reach 100% electric by 2035. 

A meaningful climate plan must also take on gas infrastructure in buildings. Many California cities have already passed bans on gas in new buildings. Now, we need state mandates to immediately end the use of fossil fuels in new construction and require electric appliances for all new buildings by 2025. These requirements must come with support for low- and moderate-income households in the transition. 

Climate Leadership Means Rejecting Industry Scams like Carbon Capture

Most glaringly, the proposed plans rely on industry schemes like carbon capture. Yet carbon capture is expensive and unproven. It’s a boondoggle that will only serve to lock in fossil fuel use for years to come. Other scams like offsets, factory farm gas and hydrogen power are packaged in ways that sound good. But they won’t do a thing to help the climate or communities. 

“Governor Newsom has an opportunity to change [California’s] destructive legacy by revising the 2022 draft Scoping Plan to stop the release of fossil fuel emissions at the source and end carbon neutrality mechanisms that prop up industry scams like carbon capture techno-fixes, carbon trading and offsets, hydrogen and bioenergy. These are not real solutions that will halt the devastation of fires and extreme water shortage. The time is now for the California Air Resources Board to put our communities first; before the polluting corporations.”

Thomas Joseph, Hoopa Valley Tribal member, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, and co-author of our coalition letter

Current plans fall far short of what we need to address the climate crisis, but Governor Newsom still has time to act. He should urge CARB to return to the drawing board and come back with a plan that rises to the challenge. He could make a real and rapid transition off fossil fuels the centerpiece of his administration’s agenda. And, he could use the power of his office and bully pulpit to move a bold agenda. This would show real climate leadership — leadership that could move other states, the country, and other nations. 

In the coming months, we’ll see whether Newsom and CARB are serious about the climate crisis, or if all their climate talk is just a mirage in the drought. 

Spread the word: California deserves better climate action!

We Need To Get The Lead Out. Now.

Categories

Clean Water

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0© Theen Moy / Flickr.com
by Mia DiFelice and Mary Grant

We’ve heard this story so many times, it’s lost its shock. Lead found in our cities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our plumbing. Since the scandal in Flint, Michigan came to light in 2016, lead in our water has been a running story in our newsfeeds. And no wonder — every state in the country has lead service lines. 

A reminder: there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and it’s especially dangerous for children. It can lead to developmental disorders, damage to the nervous system and blood cells, and more. In 2021, out of a million children in the U.S. tested, half showed detectable levels of lead in their blood. Lead exposure is much more likely for poorer children and children of color, reinforcing historical inequities. 

Replacing lead lines is a human rights issue, a public health issue and a social justice issue. Yet, our elected officials have dragged their feet on full funding to fix this problem. Meanwhile, corporations are targeting municipal governments for privatization — which only stands to worsen the crisis.

The Link Between Lead And The Loss Of Local Control 

Flint’s lead crisis began when a state-appointed emergency manager took control of the city and changed its water source, supposedly to cut costs. Then-Governor Rick Snyder used the state emergency manager law to strip majority Black cities of democratic decision-making. This put money for bondholders before the health and wellbeing of residents. Immediately after the switch, residents raised the alarm about the gross, discolored water. The state emergency manager’s response? To repeatedly insist that the water was safe to drink. 

In 2014, Veolia, the world’s largest water corporation, was hired to study Flint’s water system and offer advice. It told the city that the water was safe. Now, the company faces a lawsuit from Flint children who were poisoned. It wasn’t until October 2015 that public health community organizing and advocacy got the emergency manager to switch the water supply back.

After Flint’s crisis came Pittsburgh’s. Pittsburgh also relied on a deal with Veolia that failed to protect public safety. As in Flint, the City was strapped for cash. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the City needed billions of dollars to get its water system up to snuff. So Pittsburgh called on Veolia to cut costs and manage the system. 

Veolia’s contract with Pittsburgh, as with many of its other clients, paid the company a percentage of the savings it touted. This explicitly incentivized Veolia to cut costs as much as possible. One of the items on the chopping block during its tenure was water treatment. The system switched to a cheaper corrosion control chemical — a change made without necessary state approval. And the consequences, as in Flint, were dire. Lead contamination surpassed the EPA’s action levels, or the level at which water systems must take action. It blew past the level of contamination deemed safe by public health officials — that is, zero. 

We Need Clean And Affordable Water

Nationally, privatization is wreaking havoc on our water supply. On average, utility bills are 59% higher for those on private systems versus public. At the same time, the incentives for quality plummet. Cutting costs for profit means cutting corners. Ultimately, residents pay the price.  

This summer, Rep. Rashida Tlaib led a tour of Michigan for the “Get The Lead Out” Caucus. The caucus is digging deeper into the issue of lead in our drinking water through research and conversations with residents on the ground. As they prepare recommendations for the House, we need to make clear our demands for clean, affordable, lead-free water. 

Get the lead out in…

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In 2016, 17% of Pittsburgh houses were turning up with lead contamination above the EPA’s action level. Since then, the local water authority has replaced 52-miles-worth of public and private lead service lines. However, the City has much more work ahead of it. About 8,000 service lines still need to be replaced, with aims to finish by 2026. Meanwhile, about 400 children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in the City each year.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

The Wet Well is where all of the wastewater enters the plant. CC BY-SA 2.0; 90.5 WESA, Flickr
Get the lead out in…

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.’s lead crisis began in November 2000 when the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority changed a water treatment chemical. Lead rose to dangerous levels among the city’s 25,000 residences with known lead service lines. The DCWSA tried downplaying the risks of lead. They knew the lead levels were elevated in 2002, but the public didn’t know until the Washington Post published an exposé in 2004. By failing to properly notify the public, DCWSA violated our national lead-in-water rule. Now, twenty years later, NRDC estimates that D.C. has almost 32,000 lead service lines. The District’s officials and utility company have taken little action to address the ongoing threat.

Construction workers check on progress inside a CSO tunnel for the Clean Rivers Project in D.C.
Get the lead out in…

Benton Harbor, Michigan

Since 2018, lead testing has revealed dozens of homes in Benton Harbor with dangerously high levels. Last fall, a coalition petitioned the EPA for emergency action to bring those levels down. In response, the Governor signed an executive order to give residents alternative water and filters. It will cost $30 million to replace the City’s service lines, as nearly all were confirmed to have lead or could possibly have lead in 2020. By June 2022, two-thirds of the city’s lead service lines had been replaced. Residents continue to call for a stronger response to the crisis, including faster assistance to replace all lead service lines.

Get the lead out in…

Flint, Michigan

Eight years have passed since Flint’s water crisis shone a national spotlight on the lead in our pipes. Yet, Flint residents still struggle with untrustworthy water and unaffordable water bills. In 2015, tests showed that Flint’s water exceeded 25 ppb of lead in most samples, with some reaching over 100 or even 1,000 ppb. City and state officials repeatedly insisted the water was safe to drink, but local organizing forced the emergency manager to switch back water sources. Flint is aiming to finish all lead service line replacements by September 2022. 

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; George Thomas, Flickr

A Strong Lead-in-Water Rule

By October 2024, President Biden’s administration has promised a stronger Lead and Copper Rule. For years, community groups have urged action to fix the broken lead-in-water regulation. Our government needs to lower the action level as close to zero as possible, improve sampling and require full lead service line replacement within a decade. These changes will help ensure that we get lead out of our water. 

At the same time, communities must get the funding they need to ensure everyone can access clean water — water that isn’t poisoned by lead.

A Solution In The WATER Act

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill directed $15 billion a year for lead service line replacements. It distributes about half of that through loans instead of grants dedicated to disadvantaged communities. This is not enough. In fact, it’s only a quarter of what the water industry says we need to replace every lead service line in the country. 

We have another option — the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act led by Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Ro Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders. This legislation has more than 100 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 6 in the Senate. The WATER Act would dedicate $35 billion each and every year to update our water systems, including replacing lead service lines. It would send $1 billion a year specifically to schools to improve water pipes and fixtures. And, the WATER Act is the only water funding proposal that explicitly calls for water to remain in public hands.

Call on Congress to support the WATER Act.

Announcing 100+ Sponsors for the WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

by Mary Grant

More than eight years ago, millions of people watched the water crisis in Flint, Michigan unfold on national television. An entire city was poisoned when decades of federal disinvestment in water infrastructure collided with a racist emergency management regime imposed by former Governor Rick Snyder. Justice was denied to Flint on June 28, 2022, when the state supreme court threw out charges to hold Snyder accountable based on a technicality. 

In early 2016, driven by the crisis in Flint, Food & Water Watch worked with our allies on a pivotal piece of legislation: the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act — the WATER Act. This month, we reached a major milestone in this six-year campaign. Since it was introduced by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Ro Khanna and Sen. Sanders, more than 100 representatives and 6 senators now officially support this legislation. With more than 550 endorsing organizations, we are continuing to grow support in Congress to pass the WATER Act as the landmark water law of the 21st century. We have a lot more work to do to ensure water justice.

A Permanent Water Solution 

The WATER Act is the only comprehensive approach to improving our drinking water and wastewater systems. It will create a trust fund to provide funding to meet the level that the EPA says is necessary to update and repair our public and household water systems. To do that, the Act will provide $35 billion annually to restore the nation’s public water infrastructure, including: 

  • $15.2 billion a year to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to upgrade and improve public drinking water systems (including lead pipe removal and treatment for PFAS contamination); 
  • $15.7 billion a year to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to pay for publicly owned wastewater system upgrades;
  • $1.1 billion a year to fix drinking water infrastructure in schools, including replacing lead pipes and fixtures; 
  • $1.2 billion a year to help update and install household septic systems and wells;
  • $1.4 billion a year to protect drinking water sources from pollution; and
  • $349 million a year for technical assistance to rural, small and Indigenous wastewater and drinking water providers. 

The WATER Act will help prevent another water crisis like Flint by restoring federal funding to safe water. And it will ensure local communities have the support they need to provide every person access to clean water. 

Deepening Water Crises 

Many of the water and sewer pipes under our streets were built in the years immediately following World War II. They are outdated and wearing out. Since that era, we’ve learned about many new toxic chemicals that their treatment systems aren’t built to remove. On top of that, they were not built for today’s climate reality. 

For many, the signs of our aging water systems erupt to surface in the form of water breaks and sewer overflows. Each year, we waste 2 trillion gallons of drinking water from hundreds of thousands of water main breaks. And in a dire threat to public health, more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage spills into basements, homes, roads and waterways.

For some communities — disportionately Black and Indigenous communities and communities of color — the harm has been more profound. Communities like Flint and Benton Harbor, Michigan face toxic lead poisoning, while communities like Jackson, Mississippi and Puerto Rico have faced climate change-fueled catastrophic system failures. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Fell Short 

When President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure package into law last year, it provided a downpayment on our water improvements. But it falls far short of what our water systems and our communities desperately need. 

According to the EPA’s latest assessments, our water systems require at least $744 billion in investment over the next 20 years. That’s more than $35 billion a year — just to comply with existing federal law.  

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided only 7% of the funding that our communities require to meet existing water quality standards. Congress needs to hear that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law cannot be the end of support to fund clean and safe water for everyone. 

We need a permanent water solution. We need the WATER Act.

Tell Your Congress Members to Cosponsor the WATER Act Today!

Pandemic Profiteering: How Corporations Are Capitalizing on the Crisis

Categories

Food SystemClimate and Energy

by Peter Hart and Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: This content originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

From the beginning of the COVID crisis, corporate oligarchs manipulated markets to maximize profits. The giants that control the meat industry stoked bogus fears of a shortage to jack up prices on consumers — with lies so egregious that we filed suit against one of the worst offenders, pork giant Smithfield.

Of course, the problems mounted. Inflation spiked across the economy. Shops swung between long waits and huge shortages. Big companies blamed supply chain shocks and increasing production costs, which were certainly part of it.

But when a handful of corporations control markets, they can essentially name their price — and shovel obscene profits to CEOs and Wall Street speculators.

Oil Companies Are Winning

The squeeze on working families intensified with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, global dependence on fossil fuels reached a breaking point. U.S. gasoline prices soared while gas supplies to Europe plunged into chaos. 

In response, politicians and their media enablers demanded a dramatic increase in fracking. But energy giants quietly rebuffed these drilling demands. Not for any new concern for the environment — but rather because they are pulling in billions in record profits. Twisted market logic meant that limiting supply would pay off for their Wall Street investors.

From January to March this year, CEOs of eight fossil fuel corporations saw their share values grow by nearly $100 million. Windfall profits have not resulted in lower prices or better conditions for workers. Instead, these CEOs sold their shares for millions of personal profit.

The horror in Ukraine has created a new global energy crisis. Unfortunately, too many political leaders are clinging to the wrong solution. They want to “fix” a fossil fuel crisis by pushing more fossil fuels. That political support has given frackers a license to spring for long-term gas export terminals. American company EQT even called their mega-polluting gas export scheme “the Largest Green Initiative On the Planet.”

As a result, 25 new LNG projects are currently underway in our country. Fossil fuel companies are not only profiteering from today’s misery — they’re locking us into decades of pollution and emissions. We can’t let this continue. The International Energy Agency warned just last year that fossil fuel production must stop growing immediately if we’re to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

Cornering the Market at The Supermarket

At the start of the pandemic, broadcasts and news feeds were fixated on one recurring image: empty grocery store shelves. Periodic shortages kept some consumers on our toes, while many were simply forced to go without.

As with oil and gas, we face giant corporations that would rather gobble profits than prioritize the needs of families. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen the cost of meat rise while small farmers’ and ranchers’ profits fell. While COVID ran rampant, we saw corporations limit hazard pay for workers, while investing in stock buybacks to line the pockets of executives.

The meat industry is one of the core players in this problem. A mere four corporations process 85% of all beef and 70% of pork in the U.S. This extreme concentration gives these companies the power to control supply chains, prices and wages. Experts suspect they’re using inflation and supply chain problems as a cover to boost profits. In fact, net profit margins for those top four companies are up over 300%.

Plus, lean supply chains in any industry are dangerous for crises. With one disaster, a few broken links send huge ripples throughout a system without the backups and resilience to recover. For example, a COVID outbreak in a single Smithfield hog plant took out 5 percent of the nation’s hog processing capacity. 

Corporations Are Selling Us Misery

It’s never been clearer: When the essentials for life itself are controlled by corporate cartels, the future of our communities, our families and our planet are at their mercy. For decades, corporate America has told us that bigger is better, that consolidation would lower prices and eliminate inefficiencies. 

We know this is a lie. 

The latest heartbreaking example: the wealthiest nation on Earth is running out of baby formula because of problems at a single factory, thanks to a market controlled by four corporations.

At Food & Water Watch, we know that these problems have solutions. That’s why we’re fighting to break up the grocery cartels and stop corporate water profiteers. It’s why we’re demanding an end to the polluting factory farms that harm communities and farmers. Why we fight on the ground across the country to stop the fossil fuel projects driving the climate emergency. In an era of compounding crises, we must fight to transform the present and protect the future.

We can’t fight Corporate America without you.

Big Oil’s Lies Are Killing Our Planet — And Us

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

For decades, the fossil fuel industry has lied to us and covered up their climate impacts. Thankfully, Big Oil is finally facing consequences. Several cities and states have sued fossil fuel corporations for their lies. For instance, Massachusetts’ attorney general alleges Exxon broke consumer protection laws and lied to investors about the risks climate change poses to their business. 

But as the industry faces new heat, it’s turning to new lies to keep us hooked. Here are five myths Big Oil is pushing on us, and the reality they don’t want us to know.

Lie #1: Good Food Needs Gas

The best cooking is done on an open flame. This line has been pushed by the natural gas industry for decades. Gas stoves have become symbols of food and family, hearth and home. But whatever merits gas has for cooking, they don’t outweigh its dangerous health and climate impacts. 

Just an hour of running a gas stove and oven creates unsafe pollutant levels in the whole house, not just the kitchen. Nitrogen oxides, a family of such stove-emitting pollutants, are linked to heart and respiratory problems. In fact, children in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to have asthma than those in homes that use electric. And a whopping 10% of all U.S. emissions come just from burning gas in commercial and residential buildings. 

Despite these hazards, new single-family homes built with gas hookups increased by 20% from the 1970s to 2019. That’s because the gas industry has flooded our airwaves, our magazines and even our social media feeds with ads. For example, the American Gas Association’s #cookingwithgas campaign pulled chefs from around the country to drum up support. It’s also paid influencers to “gush” about gas stoves on Instagram. 

The fossil fuel industry has a vested interest in keeping gas in our homes. But the fact is electric stoves are way more efficient, less polluting and kinder to the planet.

Lie #2: “Natural” Gas Is Our Bridge To Clean Energy

When the fracking boom arrived in the 2010s, the industry claimed that gas would be a bridge to clean energy. By replacing dirty coal, the story went, gas could get our emissions in check while renewable technology grew cheaper and scalable. 

But fracked gas has barely tipped the scale on emissions. In the past ten years, emissions from coal and gas fell by only 10%. Methane leaks from fracking infrastructure counteracts any claim of a benefit. In 2020, we did the math and found that if gas remains our dominant source of electricity, emissions will actually rise in the coming decades. Meanwhile, we know that renewables are ready to scale, affordable and critical to eliminating fossil fuels in the electricity, building and transportation sectors. We just need the political will to build them as quickly as possible.

As fossil fuel companies build out new fracking infrastructure, they’re locking us into gas for another generation at least. The average lifespan of a gas power plant is 4 to 5 decades. By investing in new gas plants, we’re either dooming the Earth to runaway climate change or wasting billions (often subsidized with public money) on facilities that must be decommissioned in just a few years. 

Lie #3: More Fossil Fuels = More Jobs

Opponents to decarbonization love to say that slashing fossil fuels will slash jobs. In 2021, the American Petroleum Institute claimed 2.5 million people work directly in oil and gas. But we checked their work and found that their report double-counted and overcounted by over 2 million jobs. 

Moreover, fossil fuel companies are not genuinely concerned with preserving employment. Even as production and profits increased in the U.S. over the years, the industry has hemorrhaged jobs. This is because oil and gas companies eagerly pursue automation to cut costs.

On the other hand, growing green industries like efficiency, ecosystem restoration and renewables will create more jobs than doubling down on fossil fuels. Fossil-fuel reliant communities shouldn’t be tied to dying industries that’ll leave pollution for decades to come. Rather, they need — and demand — a just transition that creates good jobs in clean energy. 

Lie #4: Carbon Capture Will Solve The Climate Crisis

The new darling of the fossil fuel industry is carbon capture and storage, which pulls carbon out of power plant emissions. Proponents say this will change the game on lowering emissions, as it prevents emitted CO2 from ever reaching the atmosphere. CCS has received a lot of press recently — and a lot of cash. The Biden administration has dedicated more than $10 billion of taxpayer funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build out CCS infrastructure. 

But CCS demonstration projects have already received $6.9 billion of our money. And these projects actually proved that carbon capture is not a viable climate solution. Plagued with budget overshoots and underperformance, by 2016 only 4% of planned CCS capacity saw operations.

We’ve seen plenty of proof that these projects require new, expensive infrastructure and way too much energy to justify ever building them. Carbon capture systems essentially need a whole new power plant to fuel them. As a result, CCS projects in the U.S. have been net emitters, rather than reducers. And, in an outrageous turn of events, much of the carbon captured in CCS is used for enhanced oil recovery. This practice injects carbon into wells to help extract even more fossil fuels.

Ultimately, the best and fastest solution to decarbonize is to transition to 100% renewable energy. This, plus energy efficiency and rolling back demand, are our best bets to soften the blow of climate change. Oil companies saying otherwise are trying to distract us from the solutions that threaten their bottom line.

Lie #5: Oil & Gas Wants To Help Us Get Green

Since the Paris Climate agreement was signed in 2015, Big Oil has spent hundreds of millions of dollars rebranding itself. They’ve touted algae biofuels, recycling programs, clean energy investments and more to portray themselves as partners in a green transition. But while they loudly talk the talk, they, unsurprisingly, have failed to walk the walk. 

This year, researchers dug into the financial statements and annual reports of four major oil companies. Even though the companies sprinkled reports with phrases like “low-carbon energy” and “clean-energy transition,” they’ve actually increased fossil fuel production and barely dipped their toes in clean energy investments. 

Instead, as another report found, the five biggest oil and gas companies spent $200 million a year lobbying against climate legislation in the five years after Paris.

To make matters worse, the 12 largest oil and gas companies have committed to pouring $387 million a day on oil and gas extraction through 2030. Their planned projects (60% of which have broken ground) total 646 billion tons of emissions. That doesn’t sound like a “clean-energy transition” to us.

Big Oil’s Lies Are Ugly, And The Consequences If We Believe Them Will Be Uglier

Big Oil is trying to paint itself as part of a new, green future. But the industry has not substantially pivoted to clean energy, halted development or meaningfully reduced emissions. Instead, it’s doubling down on fossil fuels while pushing false narratives and pretending to develop “solutions.” 

We have to make it clear that Big Oil can no longer get away with misleading us. Our planet don’t need expensive technology or feel-good stories. It needs us to abandon fossil fuels now.

Knowledge is power.
Take it back from Big Oil.

How Biogas Factories Could Put Our Lowest State Underwater

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Greg Layton

We know we’re running out of time on climate change. Without a rapid drawdown on fossil fuels, catastrophic effects of global warming will become unavoidable. But in Delaware, the poultry industry and its allies are going in the opposite direction. They’re promoting a new fuel: methane derived from poultry waste. Rather than reduce emissions, biogas will only worsen the climate effects, like sea-level rise, for our country’s lowest-lying state.

Biogas Will Lock in Climate-Warming Emissions

Plans to extract methane from poultry waste in Sussex County threaten to add to  greenhouse gas emissions for years to come.

Delaware currently faces two proposed projects, one by Bioenergy DevCo and one by CleanBay Renewables. These projects would release massive amounts of methane, the greenhouse gas 90 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Emissions from the Bioenergy DevCo project alone would have the same per-year climate impact of a typical car driving almost 100 million miles

Poultry waste itself doesn’t emit significant amounts of methane. However, the biogas projects planned for Delaware deliberately create new greenhouse gases to “capture” for profit. To do that, they need to haul in factory farm waste from around the tri-state area. All that means more emissions, to the tune of more than 20,000 diesel-powered truck trips per year. 

On top of that, it appears that the methane from Bioenergy DevCo would not be used instead of fracked gas; it would be used in addition to fracked gas. This will entrench fossil fuels in addition to factory farms, while allowing the industry to slap the “renewable” label on the same old climate-destroying gas system.

Without serious climate action, here’s what Delawareans can expect.

Hotter Weather

The average temperature in Delaware has risen about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895. Within 50 to 60 years, scientists expect the state’s average temperature to exceed its preindustrial average by more than 4 degrees. Extremely hot days will likely also increase. Currently, Delawareans experience an average of two days over 100 degrees each year, but scientists predict we’ll experience as many as 28 days above 100 degrees by 2100. Heat waves are already the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States, and climate change will only make them worse.

Sea-Level Rise

Melting polar ice sheets have caused the world’s oceans and bays to rise, and Delaware, already the lowest-lying state in the nation, is sinking at the same time. (In fact, sea level is rising at Bowers Beach, Del. faster than anywhere else on the East Coast.) Sea level along Delaware’s coasts has already risen more than one foot since 1900. With continued warming, Delaware’s coasts will likely disappear under anywhere from 16 to 48 inches in the next century.

Property Loss

If Delaware’s coastal sea levels rise even two feet, the state will lose about 8% of its land (a little over 110,000 acres) and nearly all of its protected wetlands.  Dozens — if not hundreds — of homes would be destroyed. Currently, about 22,000 Delawareans are at risk from coastal flooding, but that number could surpass 30,000 in just a few decades. Millions of dollars of damage are almost inevitable, and would be devastating to Delaware’s beachside tourism industry.

Pests and Disease 

Climate change will warm the state earlier in the year and bring more rain — and more puddles. This is like rolling out a welcome mat for mosquitos. Though already, researchers estimate that Delaware’s mosquito season has extended weeks beyond its historical average. And more mosquitoes means more opportunity for blood-borne diseases like Zika and West Nile Virus to spread. 

Ecological Mayhem

Finally, climate change will displace wildlife and their habitats. For instance, each spring, nearly a million migratory shorebirds feast on horseshoe crab eggs in tidal flats and beaches. But those tidal flats and beaches will likely disappear underwater. 

Additionally, rising sea levels will bring salt water further up rivers, eventually intruding into aquifers near the coast. Soils might become too salty for crops and trees that currently grow in low-lying areas. Upland, early warm weather could prompt many wildflowers and woodland plants to grow and blossom too soon for the migratory animals that feed on them. 

How You Can Fight Back

Ultimately, we must transition off of carbon-based fuels like methane as quickly as possible. Pursuing new sources is unconscionable. Delaware’s elected officials must instead urgently pursue real solutions to the climate crisis. Biogas has no part in that solution.

The companies behind the biogas scheme need state permits to go ahead with their dirty projects. Governor John Carney has the power to say NO to biogas. Use your voice to tell him that Delaware doesn’t need another source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Tell Governor Carney that Delaware is done with greenhouse gases.

PFAS: No Sticking, No Staining … And Not Going Anywhere

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

By Mia DiFelice

The story begins in 1938, with the accidental invention of Teflon. Made famous by the miraculous “nonstick” cookware, Teflon flooded American kitchens in the 1960s. But Teflon’s stick- and stain-fighting power comes from the chemical PFOA. As Teflon sold the miracle of PFOA to consumers, new, similar chemicals flooded the market. Those chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are showing up in our baby clothes, our burger wrappers, our blood. And they’re not going away any time soon.

Is That a Bad Thing?

Very — and PFAS manufacturers have known this for a long time. In 2005, the EPA fined Dupont, the maker of Teflon, $16.5 million. The fine penalized Dupont for covering up decades of studies that linked PFOA to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. Dupont and 3M, the maker of another PFAS chemical, knew back in the ’60s that these substances could be dangerous.

Now, we see studies linking PFAS to thyroid disease, decreased fertility, endocrine disruption, cognitive problems and immune system impacts (for example, reduced response to vaccines). There is even evidence linking PFAS exposure to greater risk of COVID and more severe COVID symptoms.

Despite this research, the U.S. still lacks federal regulations for PFAS. Chemical companies can keep information on PFAS close to the chest, so we often can’t know if a product we purchase contains the chemicals. Our federal government does not regulate all industrial PFAS wastewater discharges, either. On top of that, it has not designated PFAS as hazardous substances, which would help clean up contamination sites.

Where Do We Find PFAS?

In short, everywhere. If a product is labeled non-stick, stain-resistant or water-resistant, there’s a good chance it contains PFAS. And once PFAS are in the environment, they spread and persist. When we toss garbage with PFAS in it, the chemicals leach from the landfill into our air, water and soil. Then they can get into the groundwater. Scientists have even found PFAS in places thought to be undamaged by humans, like the Arctic and the deep ocean. In the U.S., researchers estimate they’re in 97% of people’s blood.

And PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” are nearly impossible to get rid of. If a manufacturer stopped using PFAS right now, they could still find traces in products coming out of that plant a decade later.

The Stuff We Buy

Stain-resistant and water-resistant fabrics usually have PFAS. For instance, a recent study found 60% of fabrics used in children’s products labeled “waterproof” or “stain-resistant” contained PFAS. When PFAS-treated upholstery or carpeting wears down, we inhale the dust. We can eat PFAS when they slide off our water-resistant food packaging. They’re also in our cosmetics and our toiletries, where they are most likely to get into our systems through our eyes.

The Food We Eat

When we flush products with PFAS down the drain, the chemicals build up in our sewers. Many wastewater treatment plants filter out the solids and clean the water. But those solids have to go somewhere, and often, they go to farms. Farms have long-used sewer sludge as fertilizer. As a result, the Environmental Working Group estimates that 20 million acres of US cropland could be contaminated with PFAS. The chemicals now appear in the crops of PFAS-affected farmland — and in the meat and milk of animals that eat those feed crops.

The Water We Drink

In 2021, EWG found PFAS contaminants in the public and private water of all 50 states. We might drink from the tap several times a day, so if PFAS are in the water, our bodies are continuously contaminated. Researchers have found PFAS in the drinking water of towns near factories that work with the chemicals. They’ve found the chemicals in the drinking water of towns near military bases, which use PFAS-laden firefighting foam for training exercises. We depend on water to survive — our government should not allow it to be laced with toxic forever chemicals.

What Can We Do About PFAS?

Many companies have voluntarily phased out PFAS, especially in the last twenty years as their dangers came to light. However, the EPA has not set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water, nor required manufacturers to help clean up contamination.

In 2021, the agency released its “PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” committing the agency to several measures to combat PFAS in the next few years. And just this week, it designated $1 billion of Infrastructure Bill funds to help local communities address PFAS. In the same announcement, the EPA published health advisories on four major PFAS chemicals — but this is out of thousands in the family.

While these are important steps in the right direction, the advisories aren’t enforceable, and communities have already waited decades for action. There is so much more work to be done. 

Food & Water Watch calls for:
  1. PFAS to be regulated as a class of chemicals, not on an individual level. Much of the work on PFAS so far has focused on PFOA and PFOS, allowing dozens of other PFAS to come onto the market with little scrutiny. When PFOA came under fire, Dupont was quick to replace it with GenX, shorter-chain compounds that share many of the same toxic traits as its sibling chemicals. But GenX may be even more toxic and could be more difficult to remove from drinking water. Without addressing PFAS as a category, the EPA will continue playing whack-a-mole with the thousands of varieties.
  2. Enforceable national drinking water limits, not only for legacy PFAS chemicals but all the chemicals in the family.
  3. Hazardous substance designation under the Superfund law for PFAS as class to jump start the cleanup of contaminated areas. 
  4. Passage of the WATER Act, which provides greater support for local water systems to test and treat for PFAS in drinking water and wastewater systems. This support must reach both public water utilities and household wells. If remediation isn’t possible, Congress must provide support to connect communities with contaminated water  to new, clean water sources. 

We need more funding and better policy for PFAS. Tell Congress to pass the WATER Act!

How Big Ag & Aging Infrastructure Are Blighting Our Beaches

Categories

Clean Water

by Michael Doerrer

For many families, summer means time at the beach! Streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are huge recreational draws — and they should be. They’re a natural resource we should all be able to enjoy. But broken wastewater infrastructure and giant corporations are bringing on summertime sadness. Beach closings are on the rise.

From Bathrooms to Beaches

We all know sewage spills hurt the environment. They pollute rivers, streams and other waters. Their toxins and pathogens endanger our health. Toxic overflows destroy aquatic ecosystems, kill fish and close shellfish harvesting areas. And as we try to enjoy the summer season, sewage spills have made many waters too polluted to swim, boat or fish in. Over the last five years, about a third of U.S. beaches have had at least one advisory or closing each year. 

Aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems lead to closures. Sewer spills led to nearly 15% of beach closing and advisories with known causes. Many more with unknown causes were certainly related to wastewater events.

Big Ag’s Waste Coming Ashore

Pollution from industrial agriculture and other sources leaves two-thirds of U.S. estuary waters at greater risk for harmful algal blooms. And that means more unhealthy and even dangerous waters and beaches. For example, less than a third of the shoreline along the Great Lakes is in good biological condition. A third is in fair or poor condition.

Agricultural pollution wreaks havoc on all types of water bodies and waterways. More than 50% of rivers and streams, 40% of lakes and 20% of coasts are polluted with excess nutrients that cause algal growth and fish kills. On top of that, more than 70% of wetlands have lost plant life, stressing the ecosystems there.

How You Can Help Protect Our Beaches

The handful of giant multinational corporations that control U.S. agriculture care more about profit than human health. They brazenly pollute, while would-be government regulators do little to stop them. 

But we can step in to defend our beaches. We can demand funding to improve wastewater systems and address stormwater. And we can stand up for commonsense policies and legislation like the WATER Act to help save our water and our beaches. 

Food & Water Watch is fighting to spread the word about this landmark legislation — the bill already has more than 100 co-sponsors in Congress! It’s the best way to start restoring federal support for water protections. At the same time, we’re standing up to the corporate polluters ruining our beaches and waterways.

This summer, as millions of us head for the sand, let’s remember that our waterways need our help. Our beaches — and our summertime traditions — depend on our action. 

Help save our shores. Tell Congress to support the WATER Act!

Against All Odds: A Benefit to Protect Our Planet

Categories

Climate and Energy

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

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

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

About the Event

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

Virtual Program

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

New York City Reception

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


The program will feature:

Elisa Gambino

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

Bill Gee and Sue Crothers

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


Annual Benefit: Against All Odds

Ticket Information

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

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

| Join Us Virtually

Tickets


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

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

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

Sponsorships


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

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

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

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

| Join Us in New York City

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

Tickets


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

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

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

Sponsorships


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

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

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

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

Highlights from our 2021 Virtual Conference & Benefit

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


Become a Sponsor

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

Congress Confirms: Smithfield Lied. We Won’t Let Them Get Away With It.

Categories

Food System

Photo CC-BY-FARMWATCH_FLKR
by Emily Miller

Last month, Congress’s explosive report revealed how the country’s largest meatpackers lied to the public and endangered their workers. The companies, including pork giant Smithfield Foods, falsely claimed meat shortages. Then they aggressively lobbied the federal government to keep plants running with “glaringly deficient” safety protocols, despite the terrible risk to workers’ lives. 

The report’s findings are truly disturbing. But sadly, they are not surprising. In fact, we’ve known that Smithfield was lying from the start, which is why we sued the company last year. Unbelievably, just two days after Congress released its findings, Smithfield demanded that the court dismiss our case. They argued our detailed allegations have no merit — a bold position in the wake of the Congressional report. The investigation documents in painstaking detail just how egregious Smithfield’s lies were. See for yourself — here are just a few excerpts exposing Smithfield’s central role in drumming up panic and endangering workers:  

Lie #1: That we were “Perilously Close to the Edge in Terms of our Nation’s Meat Supply.”

“While meatpacking companies—Smithfield and Tyson in particular—asserted that reduced plant operations and worker absenteeism were making the food supply chain ‘vulnerable,’ documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee suggest that this narrative lacked any basis in fact and show that others in the industry believed it was false. For example, on April 12, 2020, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan issued a public statement admonishing that the closure of one of its plants was ‘pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our [nation’s] meat supply,’ and would have ‘severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain.’ But just three days later, Smithfield asked their industry representatives to issue a statement that ‘there was plenty of meat, enough that it was [sic] for them to export,’ while Smithfield simultaneously was ‘tell[ing] importers they have enough meat.’ When discussing Sullivan’s statements about the meat supply, meatpacking industry representatives described it as ‘intentionally scaring people,’ ‘whipp[ing] everyone into a frenzy,’ and creating a ‘mess’ that others would have to ‘clean up.’ When meatpacking industry representatives inquired into where any actual shortages were occurring, they were unable to find any.” 

Lie #2: That Smithfield has “done everything possible to protect employee health and safety.”

“When meatpacking companies’ attempts to stifle state and local health department regulation did not yield sufficiently comprehensive results, Smithfield and Tyson conceived of a ‘federal directive’ that would ensure state and local health authorities were powerless to impose coronavirus health and safety precautions in the plants. The meatpacking companies drafted and pitched an executive order to the Trump White House, which promptly issued it after less than a week of review and revision. The final order that was eventually issued adopted the themes and statutory directive laid out in the meatpacking industry’s draft, invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure meatpacking plants ‘continue operations.’”

“Meatpacking companies and USDA officials sought the ‘critical infrastructure’ designation without first attempting to address the glaringly deficient coronavirus precautions in plants. This conduct is particularly egregious considering that, as discussed above, the nation’s meat supply was not actually at risk.”

Lie #3: That Smithfield wasn’t “unwilling to implement worker protections for the sake of profits.”

The truth is, Smithfield was unwilling from the beginning. They avoided implementing worker protections and worked with federal agencies to keep avoiding them throughout the pandemic. Congress reports that:

“Emails obtained by the Select Subcommittee and statements given during transcribed interviews show that meatpacking companies communicated regularly with USDA regarding USDA’s discussions with CDC and OSHA about coronavirus mitigation guidance and recommendations to ensure they would allow plants to continue operating without critical science-based prevention and mitigation measures.” 

One such example centered on an “outbreak [that] occurred in April 2020 in Smithfield’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant, which left at least 900 workers infected and two workers dead. When CDC issued recommendations to address the coronavirus outbreak in the facility, the recommendations included precatory language and qualifiers that effectively made the guidance optional for Smithfield. It later came to light that the CDC recommendations had been watered down from an earlier draft that lacked these types of qualifiers.” 

“Internal meatpacking company documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee now illustrate how these edits came about—namely, that Smithfield intercepted the draft CDC recommendations, provided extensive comments to CDC, USDA, and the South Dakota Governor’s office, and ultimately succeeded in having CDC water them down before being issued.” 

“Even though the guidance had been significantly watered down per Smithfield’s efforts, CEO Ken Sullivan said upon its release that ‘this is worse than nothing’ and a ‘Middle finger from govt.’”

“Smithfield’s changes to CDC’s recommendations had potentially dire consequences for Smithfield’s workers. During the first year of the pandemic, Smithfield saw 9,666 worker infections and 25 worker deaths. Smithfield’s lethal role in weakening federal meatpacking worker protections was not limited to its own employees. The company’s lobbying efforts with respect to the Sioux Falls recommendations carried over into shaping CDC/OSHA guidance for all federally-inspected meatpacking plants.”

What’s Our Next Step?

Our legal team is fighting Smithfield’s attempt to dismiss our case. We won’t let it stop the court from deciding for itself whether Smithfield’s pandemic statements were unlawfully false and misleading. Armed with Congress’ findings, we are confident we can overcome Smithfield’s meritless arguments. Once we do, we will start demanding the company turn over relevant records and witnesses. That’ll allow us to continue building our case and expose Smithfield’s lies for what they are.

We’re holding Smithfield accountable. Help us spread the word.

Whistleblowers Say EPA’s Toxic Management Greenlights Toxic Chemicals

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In the 1960s, the United States was drowning in pollution. Air pollution killed hundreds of New Yorkers, towns stank with sludge and smog, an Ohio river burst into flames. In response to public fears and public pressure, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since then, the EPA has committed to “protecting human health and the environment” with regulations, education and funding for state and local programs. It claims to rely on “best available scientific information” to promote clean air, land and water for everyone. Yet, the agency has failed to keep up with emerging threats — in part because of industry sway.

Big corporations have made it their business to co-opt agencies meant to guard us from danger. Now, rather than fulfill its mission, the EPA too often protects the interests of polluting corporations instead. Nothing makes that clearer than information coming straight from four whistleblowing scientists. In July of last year, scientists from EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety shared evidence alleging abuse and corruption that give toxic chemicals a pass onto the market.

“The depth of it is pretty horrifying. I don’t sleep at night knowing what I know from the whistleblowers.”

Kyla Bennett, New England director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Their attorneys represent the whistleblowers.

The Office of Chemical Safety Does Not Stop all Unsafe Chemicals

Companies are constantly introducing new chemicals for manufacturing, construction, agribusiness and more. EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention studies these chemicals and keeps dangerous ones off the market. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

In 2021, whistleblowers revealed how management undermined scientific findings and pressured scientists to change their reports for numerous chemicals. Or, perhaps worse, supervisors changed the reports’ conclusions without scientists knowing until after the fact. These scientists detailed a culture of intimidation, corruption and retaliation, which allows thousands of toxic chemicals into our homes and workplaces. Chemicals that were given a pass have been linked to cancer, developmental disorders and neurological effects, among other health risks.

It looks like the executives hired to protect the public are more worried about protecting the profits of chemical companies. And these whistleblowers say they’re willing to cheat, bully and lie to their staff to do so.

Is the EPA Loyal to Chemical Companies Over Public Health and Safety?

Throughout these instances of pressure and abuse, whistleblowers report, management often prioritized the chemical companies submitting chemicals for assessment. They emphasized how upset companies would be if the work was too slow. They even dangled the threat of lawsuits over scientists’ heads, if the assessment came out unfavorably. Moreover, according to one toxicologist at the agency, “It is the unwritten rule that to get promotions, all pesticides need to pass.”

All this happens because EPA management routinely jumps into the chemicals industry after leaving the agency. In fact, since 1974, all seven former EPA pesticide directors who continued working after their time at the EPA did so at pesticide companies. Other EPA officials have gone on to work as consultants and board members at agrochemical companies. 

This revolving door has devastating impacts for our health and our environment. For instance, from June 2016 to July 2021, 3,835 new chemical applications were submitted to the EPA. Not a single chemical was kept off-market. This included 40 PFAS compounds. Studies that companies submitted linked these chemicals to neurotoxicity, cancers, convulsions and more. Yet, all 40 PFAS chemicals have been allowed, largely unregulated, onto the market.

PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” do not break down naturally but will persist in the environment. By siding with the chemicals industry, senior officials put short-term career ambitions before the forever effects of toxic chemicals. 

This Isn’t the EPA’s First Alleged Chemical Cover-up

The EPA was already in the spotlight in 2018 for its inaction on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller. Bayer-Monsanto, owner of Roundup, has faced hundreds of thousands of lawsuits by people alleging a link between their cancer and Roundup. Contrary to warnings from the World Health Organization and numerous scientific studies, the EPA insists that glyphosate is not a human carcinogen.

Yet, in 2016, the agency had done an internal analysis on glyphosate linking the chemical to cancer. But it kept the study under wraps. Instead, drafts of the EPA’s human risk assessment for glyphosate (first published that same year) gave the chemical the lowest possible cancer rating: “Not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  

In a common industry strategy, Monsanto ghostwrote research and paid academics to put their names on it. The EPA used this scientifically dubious research, as well as dozens of other industry-funded, unpublished studies, to reach its equally meritless conclusions on glyphosate. 

Interestingly, Bayer-Monsanto has announced it will stop selling glyphosate-based products for home use, but not because the EPA stopped them. It seems entirely prompted instead by the tidal wave of lawsuits the corporation has faced. The EPA should have stepped in long before that point — and banned all uses of glyphosate. 

The EPA’s Two-Pronged Problem Puts Us All At Risk

EPA managers putting their thumb on the scale of critical scientific assessments threatens our health, safety and environment. And it will only get worse as corporations strengthen their influence. The market for glyphosate is expected to grow by billions of dollars in the next few years, despite the controversy. And researchers have found PFAS everywhere from widely used pesticides to children’s clothing and everything in between.

Making matters worse, the EPA struggles with severe lack of resources, funding and staffing. Administrator Michael Regan told Congress that the agency has only 50% of what it needs to “review the safety of new chemicals quickly in the way that the law requires.” Monsanto-Bayer spent more cash defending glyphosate in court than the entire budget of the Office of Pesticide Programs. The EPA does not have the capacity to stand up to chemical companies or even do its job correctly. Besides vulnerability to corruption, this results in backlogs of work, rushed assessments and hurried acceptance of industry “science.” 

Even with the EPA’s recent change of hands in the Biden Administration, the agency faces deep-rooted cultural problems that will be hard to shake off. In 2022, an internal survey showed that EPA scientists in the New Chemicals Division still suffer from burnout and fears of retaliation. Staff reported that a culture of fear, retribution and abuse at senior levels remains common. 

EPA executives are wooed by corporate influence at the top, while scrambling to make do with scarce resources from below. The result? An agency that is failing to protect us from the toxic threats seeping into our everyday lives. 

Food & Water Watch won’t stop fighting to hold EPA accountable to public health and the environment — not corporate profits. We can’t do it without you.

Help us continue the fight.

Emily Robinson Turns Our Plastic Garbage Into Stunning Visual Essays

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Angie Aker

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

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

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

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

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Plastic Pollution At Her Feet, Social Commentary In Her Hands

I asked Emily how this journey began for her. 

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

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

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

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

The Big Problem That Plastic Pollution Signifies

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

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

MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

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

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

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

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

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

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

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

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

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

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

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

We all want and have too much stuff. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

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

Share some hope with your friends.

Big Water Abusers Ignored As California Drought Persists

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California’s crushing drought continues and urban water usage increased 19% in March compared to 2021. Yet, Governor Newsom has only done more of the same. He called for increased voluntary conservation by residents and pledged an ad campaign to encourage conservation. But hoping voluntary measures will avoid the impacts of this climate change-induced drought is just wishful thinking. And it gives a pass to the largest corporate water abusers in the state. 

Most Water Use is by Big Agribusiness

Eighty percent of California water goes to agriculture, with most going to big agribusiness. For example, almonds and other tree nuts use 20% of that agricultural water. Most almonds are exported by large corporate interests overseas for massive profits. The Wonderful Company is one such corporation, and its billionaire owners contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Newsom’s campaigns. The acreage of these thirsty crops have only grown since our last drought. 

Mega-dairies, which help drive climate change and water pollution, are also big water abusers. California mega-dairies suck up 142 million gallons of water every day to operate. That’s the same amount needed to supply every person in San Diego and San Jose with their needed daily water.

During droughts, these big interests draw massive amounts of groundwater, which is still largely unregulated in the state. Over-withdrawal of groundwater causes the land to sink, leading to a litany of problems. For example, people who rely on well water for drinking will find it harder to reach and use, and some of their wells will go dry. 

Meanwhile, over a million Californians lack access to clean water. Tulare County houses the most mega-dairies of any CA county. Half of its water supplies are predicted to go dry this year. Governor Newsom could show leadership by working to fast track ground water regulation and stopping the expansion of these industries. 

The Oil and Gas Industry is Also a Big Water Consumer and Polluter

From January 2018 to March 2021, oil and gas companies used more than 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. This same amount of water could sustain everyone in the city of Ventura, for example, for 16 months. At the same time, oil and gas development pollutes and threatens California’s finite freshwater resources. Some corporations have routinely injected oil wastewater directly into the state’s aquifers.This toxic wastewater contains fracking fluids, contaminants, brines and radioactive materials. Newsom should stop new drilling permits and aggressively accelerate our transition off oil and gas. 

In response to the drought, Governor Newsom has largely ignored these large corporate water sources. Instead, he has taken small measures aimed at the most wasteful of urban water uses, asked for voluntary conservation and championed climate-intensive and destructive desalination projects (thankfully, the Coastal Commission has the good sense to reject this proposal). This is a mistake that will end up costing Californians. It’s up to us to make sure he hears loud and clear that the time for voluntary measures is over. For our water future and current needs, Newsom must take on Big Ag and Big Oil, while mandating reductions for urban water use as well. 

Demand that Newsom hold big water abusers accountable.

Capitalists, Cronies And Crooked Deals: Iowa’s Carbon Pipeline Scam

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Emma Schmit and Phoebe Galt

Three corporations have proposed nearly 2,000 miles of hazardous carbon pipelines across Iowa. Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Archer-Daniels Midland/Wolf Carbon Solutions hope to cash in on carbon capture. And they’ll use public money to do it — at the expense of Iowans, our land and our futures.

In order to build the pipelines, the three corporations will claim eminent domain. This will allow them to seize private lands for “public use”; in this case, for the pipelines. We won’t let this happen — 80% of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines. But Iowa’s 2022 legislative session has been a glaring disappointment. Across every corner of the state, constituent concerns have been ignored in favor of corporate interests. Despite overwhelming public pressure, the legislature failed to address carbon pipelines this session. The biggest reason? Money.

Federal Taxpayer Dollars are Funding the Carbon Pipeline Boom

The catalyst behind the recent surge in CCS development is government funding. Our tax dollars have become a cash cow for Wall Street, guaranteeing investors massive profits. FWW analysis found that more than 20 billion of our tax dollars could finance Iowa’s three proposed carbon pipelines. A single federal tax credit, Section 45Q, could funnel almost $2 billion a year to Summit, Navigator and ADM/Wolf. Over the 12 years that the projects are eligible for the Section 45Q credit, the companies would make $23 billion.

And the federal money doesn’t stop there. The 2021 infrastructure bill included billions of public dollars for a massive CCS infrastructure buildout. This adds to the nearly $10 billion already invested in demo-projects and research over the past decade. Our government directed over $12 billion last year alone to prove something we already know. CCS does not work.

Archer Daniels-Midland already knows this. In 2017, the company began capturing carbon from its Illinois ethanol plant. The facility consistently captures just half of its yearly CO2 target. Biofuels still emit CO2 when combusted, and the captured CO2 accounts for only 3% of ADM’s total CO2 emissions. This same story has played out everywhere CCS has been tried at scale. But now, thanks to our tax dollars, Summit, Navigator and ADM/Wolf are guaranteed to profit from these ventures. 

Risk for Iowans, Reward for Private Interests

Carbon pipelines will take private land from Iowans, while posing serious safety risks. For example, if a pipeline ruptures, odorless, colorless CO2 could spread in lethal amounts up to four and a half miles away. CO2 exposure can cause respiratory arrest, cardiac arrhythmia, long-term brain damage and other fatal conditions. 

But none of Summit, Navigator and ADM/Wolf’s private investors will face these risks. Instead, they’ll be sitting back, feet up, watching their profits skyrocket. 

Pursuing Profits, Shady Private Sector Investors are Hopping on the CSS Bandwagon

Summit, Navigator and ADM/Wolf have a roster of investors pockmarked with problematic corporations. These investors include John Deere, Continental Resources and Valero. They’ll also rake in a neat sum from the carbon pipelines proposed for Iowa.

Last year, more than 10,000 unionized workers at John Deere went on strike. They know John Deer cannot be trusted — this company does not work for the little guy. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies Continental Resources and Valero are fracking and drilling our planet past a livable tipping point. These shady bedfellows behind the Iowa CCS projects speak volumes. They’re focused on profits, not public good, and they should not be trusted with our land, lives and futures.

Private Money is Rigging Our Politics

In early 2022, the Iowa legislature scrambled to address constituents’ overwhelming opposition to the pipelines. Numerous bills were introduced in both chambers. These bills responded directly to constituent demands and effectively proposed a halt to the projects. 

An amendment for an 11-month moratorium on eminent domain claims for the pipelines even passed the House. But in the end, these efforts failed. Thanks to the sway of private money, no legislation to stop carbon pipelines passed this session.

Meanwhile, nearly every top Republican politician in Iowa has cashed hefty checks from Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions. The same can be said for executives at Navigator CO2 Ventures. They donated thousands to House Majority Leader Pat Grassley, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Governor Kim Reynolds right before the 2022 legislative session.

Now, the pipeline corporations have to seek permits for the CCS scheme. In Iowa, that means approval from the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), a three-person board appointed by the Governor. That process, too, is wrought with private monied interests. Governor Reynolds accepted $163,902 in campaign contributions from Summit’s Rastetter. 

Iowans Won’t Be Sold Out

The people we elected to serve us are selling us out. But it’s not too late to stop them. Ultimately, Iowans across the state are deeply opposed to the carbon capture scams and we will not back down.

The campaign to stop carbon pipelines from crisscrossing Iowa is far from over. The permit approval process will stretch into 2023 and 2024. We will continue fighting for the land, communities and future of Iowa every step of the way.

Demand that the Iowa Utilities Board deny all permits for the proposed carbon pipelines.

Climate Changes Your Everyday Life — Here Are 5 Ways

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Yonit Friedman

Many of us are lucky to have never faced the climate crises that make the news, like hurricanes or wildfires. Even so, climate change changes all of our lives in both large and small ways. As we continue organizing for a livable future, everyday climate impacts can remind us what we’re working for.

Here are five ways climate change affects us every day:

Shifting Seasons Will Cause
Headaches For Allergy Sufferers

Ahhhh-choo! Have you noticed that you’ve been sneezing more? You’re not imagining things–allergy season has gotten longer, and many people are reporting worse symptoms. Climate change means that spring is starting earlier and that there’s more pollen in the air. For some people, this can go beyond an inconvenience and seriously threaten their health. For example, asthma rates are higher in neighborhoods with more pollution. The United States’ racist past and present means that historically redlined neighborhoods now have lower air quality

Changing Climate is Sending
Utility Bills Through the Roof

It seems pretty straightforward: hotter summers mean more people turning on the air conditioning, which raises utility bills alongside temperatures. It gets worse, though. When these prices plunge people into debt, companies can shut off customers’ utilities. Over the past few years, utilities have shut off heat during winter storms and water during the pandemic. Restricting warmth and access to hand washing during these times can have disastrous consequences, even more so for low-income Americans.

Climate Disruptions Are
Supply Chain Disruptions

Is shopping becoming more of a struggle? If you’re having a hard time finding products that used to be commonplace, climate change might be to blame. Transportation infrastructure is vulnerable to disruptions from fires, storms, and other extreme weather events traced back to climate change. This translates to emptier shelves and longer waits for delivery, even after the news moves on. For those who need necessities delivered (think medicines and baby formula), these delays can put their health at risk. Meanwhile, workers who keep the supply chain moving are forced to labor under dangerous conditions during climate crises. Worsening climate change threatens consumers and workers alike.

Higher Temperatures
Will Spark More Pandemics

We’ve entered into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve been exhausting, stressful, infuriating, and grief-filled years, and we’re ready for COVID-19 to be over. Unfortunately, climate change is linked to a higher likelihood of new viral pandemics. What’s behind this connection? As temperatures rise, animals migrate, sometimes bringing them into closer proximity to people. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of a “viral jump,” when a pathogen moves from one species to another. Viral risks associated with places like wildlife markets could become more widespread, putting more people at risk. Fighting climate change is key to preventing more pandemic-induced misery.

Climate Change Will Lower Birth Rates

This one goes out to everyone who’s hoping for grandchildren one day. Lots of millennials and zoomers cite the climate crisis as one reason why they might have fewer or no children. To be clear, everyone should have the right to make their own choices whether or not to have children. It’s also true that everyone should have the right to raise their children in safe environments. Climate change directly violates that right. We must continue fighting climate change so current and future generations can live and thrive on this planet.

These everyday occurrences might be less noteworthy than massive hurricanes or wildfires. However, they all cause ongoing and corrosive damage to people’s lives. We all deserve the opportunity to build safe, fulfilling lives, without paying the price of fossil fuel corporations’ destructive practices.

Our loved ones need to know the stakes.

Florida’s Manatees Are Starving to Death. Big Ag and Big Oil Are Behind It.

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Kat Ruane

Florida’s manatees have swum into the spotlight since wildlife officials launched a program to feed them almost 200,000 pounds of lettuce. The manatees have eaten “every scrap” they’ve been given, one official remarked, since the program kicked off in January. 

But the feeding program has a darker side, too. Its purpose is to address record levels of manatee deaths, primarily from starvation. And what may seem like the natural, albeit heartbreaking, cycle of life is actually an “unusual mortality event.” Such events are defined by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration as a sudden, significant die-off demanding quick response. And we can trace the sudden deaths of Florida manatees to agricultural pollution and climate change. The crisis underscores the urgent need to take action against Big Ag and Big Oil.

A Record-Breaking 1,100 Manatees Died in 2021, and There’s No End in Sight

Florida manatees have rebounded from the numbers that put them on the endangered species list in the 1990s. However, scientists and wildlife advocates continue to raise the alarm about the sea creatures’ lingering vulnerability. In 2021, that alarm came to a panicked roar. Manatee deaths nearly doubled from the previous year and blew past the previous record by over 200 deaths

In the first few months of 2022, 488 deaths have already been recorded. This pace is unsustainable. Manatees’ natural lifespan is over 60 years. Yet, only half of those who reach maturity are expected to reach their twenties due to current high mortality rates. If we continue along our path of increased pollution and warming, the threat of extinction will rise.

Big Ag Is Killing Off Manatee Food Sources and Worsening Deadly Red Tide Outbreaks 

Manatees need a lot of food to survive. In the wild, they consume 10 to 15 percent of their body weight daily. Predominantly herbivores, their food sources are different types of aquatic vegetation, largely seagrasses. These grasses are sensitive, requiring light and clean water to flourish. 

Big Ag is disrupting this delicate balance, as agricultural runoff flows into waterways and pollutes them. Fertilizers contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, contributing to massive algal blooms on the water’s surface. This process, known as eutrophication, blocks the needed sunlight from reaching seagrasses and depletes oxygen, creating dead zones.

Florida’s Manatees Are Starving to Death. Big Ag and Big Oil are Behind It.

Since 2009, over half of the seagrass in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon has vanished. Some areas have seen losses up to 95 percent. The lagoon is a historic gathering place for manatees fleeing cold weather. In recent years, though, the loss of seagrass is starving them out. 

Not only are manatees losing their food source, but polluted water adds another layer of danger. Red tides, a type of algae bloom, can be deadly for manatees. Since they must surface to breathe, manatee constantly inhale red tide toxins, which can cause neurological and respiratory damage. Sometimes, a single inhale is enough to kill a manatee. While red tides can occur naturally, high nutrient counts exacerbate the size, concentration, and duration of these outbreaks. The outbreaks, compounded by pesticide-filled waters, are deteriorating manatee immune systems.

Big Oil-Induced Climate Change Exacerbates the Crisis

It isn’t only Big Ag posing threats. The oil industry’s crusade to entrench fossil fuels will have a catastrophic effect on manatee populations. With 2°C of warming, the Everglades will be submerged by the sea, and the saltwater will further decimate seagrass growth. 

As waters warm, manatees are moving further and further north, introducing unfamiliar boats and people as new threats. The expanding range draws them away from safe breeding grounds, leaving them stranded when temperatures drop. Warmer waters will also encourage even more red tide blooms. 

Climate change also threatens all marine wildlife with increased extreme weather events, new diseases, ocean acidification, and more. The list goes on and on, but none of it bodes well for the manatees.

We Need Large-Scale Shifts Away From Factory Farming and Fossil Fuels Before It’s Too Late

Temporary feedings are only a stopgap. Regrowing aquatic vegetation is an essential start, but that progress won’t matter if pollution and climate change continue unabated. As Florida’s official state marine mammal, manatees are deeply loved by locals and tourists alike. Their plight is a reminder that Big Ag and Big Oil threatens everyone, on land and in the sea.

Knowing is half the battle. Will you share this with your friends?

Food, Water, And Climate Are Under Attack. We Must Protect Them.

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Peter Hart
Editor’s Note: This content originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

With the Western United States engulfed in megadrought and climate change supercharged weather disasters increasing everywhere, the future can seem bleak. This is especially true given that our dysfunctional Congress has failed to pass any meaningful climate legislation. 

But now isn’t the time to surrender. It’s time to double down to advance a bold food, water, and climate agenda. This moment calls for visionary plans that will inspire people across the country and meet the challenges we face.

We need to organize around the real solutions that will address our food, water, and climate problems. 

A Proven Theory To Address Climate Change And Resource Problems

At Food & Water Action and our affiliated organization, Food & Water Watch, we’ve never backed down from a fight. Our theory of change — how we believe real change happens — is two-fold. First, we propose bold policies that will solve real problems that people face. And just as importantly, we organize around those solutions, even when others say they are politically unreasonable. 

It’s how we’ve:

  • Changed the national debate on fracking and won a ban in New York, Maryland and communities nationwide. 
  • Blocked water privatization attempts in dozens of communities.
  • Begun changing the debate around factory farms. 

At the federal level, we cannot afford to waste time on industry schemes like carbon capture and so-called “renewable” biogas. These are delay tactics that will lock us into decades of fossil fuels, incentivize the spread of factory farms and subsequently pollute our water. We need to advance legislation that takes on the fossil fuel industry, big agribusiness, and the water privatizers. That’s exactly what we’re doing. 

Climate Change Is Inseparably Connected With Food And Water Concerns

The issues of food, water and climate are deeply connected. The historically punishing drought in the West, for example, is driven by climate change. Climate change, in turn, is being fueled by greenhouse gasses from factory farms and fracking and drilling. Industrial agriculture is also a massive water user and polluter in dry western states, as is the fossil fuel industry.

So we have a reckless cycle: 

  • Fracking and factory farms use and pollute water. 
  • The greenhouse emissions they create drive climate change. 
  • Climate change leads to drought and less water, which also affects food supply. 

All the while, a small number of giant corporations and wealthy titans profit while ordinary people suffer.

This Climate Change Cycle Can Only Be Broken Through Systemic Shifts In Policy

We need to break this cycle. And that’s what we aim to do with three landmark pieces of legislation in Congress. Passing the Future Generations Protection Act, the Farm System Reform Act, and the WATER act will not happen in the current weak Congress. But laying the groundwork now is critical. Real federal solutions are essential to avoid worsening climate chaos, depleted water systems, and a further consolidated food system that hurts everyone, including family farmers. 

THREE LANDMARK BILLS

The Farm System Reform Act (FSRA) will make our food system safe, healthy, and sustainable. This critical legislation will ban the construction of new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones. The FSRA will phase out existing factory farms by 2040. It will also ensure we’re enforcing environmental laws on existing factory farms, including holding Big Ag companies responsible for their pollution. 

Our aging water systems are crumbling. Meanwhile, giant corporations are scrambling to privatize public water systems to profit from the basic human right to water. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to the current water-funding gap. It will achieve this by rolling back a small portion of the Trump’s administration’s corporate income tax cuts. The WATER Act will significantly fund the protection of our drinking water and create almost one million jobs. The WATER Act will help renew our commitment to public water, ensuring everyone has access to affordable water service.

The Future Generations Protection Act (FGPA) is groundbreaking legislation that would move us toward the fossil-fuel-free future we need. The FGPA will: 

  • Ban greenhouse gas emissions from all new power plants
  • Ban fracking
  • Ban crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids exports 

It’s the only bill in Congress that would ban fracking nationally — a critical step to ending climate chaos.

Your Support Is Needed In The Fight To Preserve Our Resources

The first step is having the right solutions to the problems that face our generation. Now that we have those, we need your support at all levels to build the power over the long-term to enact them. Will you add your name to show Congress the power these solutions have?

Urge Congress to support the Future Generations Protection Act!

Fracked Gas Bomb Trains Are Moving Through South Florida

Categories

Climate and Energy

By Michelle Allen and Phoebe Galt

A dense coastal landscape, Broward County never expected to be a battlefield for the fossil fuel industry. More accustomed to tourists and traffic jams than drilling and hazardous trucks, Broward County wanted to keep it that way. So they banned fracking. Within a year, the fracked gas industry moved to town, undeterred, with their latest scheme. It was a liquefied fracked gas (LNG) export out of Broward’s busy Port Everglades.

Now, LNG tankers dock alongside cruise ships, as New Fortress Energy quietly expands fossil fuel operations in South Florida. Fracked gas from out of state is brought via pipeline to a liquefaction facility in Medley. That’s where it is transformed from a volatile gas to a volatile liquid – liquefied fracked gas. That is then loaded onto truck and rail cars and transported over 30 miles to Port Everglades, where it’s Caribbean-bound. 

Transporting Volatile Fracked Gas Puts Floridians Directly In Harm’s Way

LNG transport and export keep our region locked into the very fossil fuels supercharging climate chaos, threatening our drinking water and way of life. It’s also putting Floridians directly in harm’s way. Liquefied fracked gas is no safer than regular fracked gas. It’s extremely volatile — leaks at the Medley facility or in transport to Port Everglades can form a flammable vapor cloud. If ignited, these vapor clouds can cause explosions up to a mile wide. 

Those explosions have been fatal. In 2020, A gas tanker truck in China exploded on the highway, killing 19 and injuring over 100 people. It’s simply too dangerous to put trucks carrying volatile liquefied fracked gas on the roads, especially on high traffic highways like I-95 where a collision with a vehicle could spell disaster. 

South Floridians are Unknowing Volunteers In A Dangerous Bomb Train Experiment

The use of trains in transporting liquefied fracked gas is new, untested, and extremely dangerous. South Florida is one of only three U.S. cities where the hazardous material can legally be transported by rail. All three of these dangerous rail transport approvals occurred during the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration has taken steps against the dangerous practice but stopped short of ending rail transport in South Florida. That makes South Floridians unknowing volunteers in a dangerous bomb train experiment.   

To make matters worse, South Florida’s liquefied fracked gas “bomb trains” are transported on the same rail line as Brightline. That’s the high-speed train with the highest death rate of any line in the U.S. Adding fracked gas bomb trains to the mix, sharing tracks with passenger rail, is a terrible idea. 

Despite Immense Risks, This Fracked Gas Project Escaped Public Oversight 

South Florida’s liquefied fracked gas export operation has been active for several years, but not many people know about it. Why? Because New Fortress Energy, the company behind the scheme, sought as few permits as possible, generating almost no public oversight.

First, the corporation used loopholes in federal law to evade the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) jurisdiction. FERC is supposed to oversee gas liquefaction facilities, but New Fortress Energy successfully argued their way out of that process. New Fortress Energy got an air permit from Miami-Dade for the liquefaction facility. However, there wasn’t any oversight from the Broward County Commission when Port Everglades struck a deal with New Fortress Energy. This lack of government oversight means there were too few opportunities for public input. The public deserves an opportunity to weigh in on an operation that puts so many directly in harm’s way. 

The Broward County Commission Must Halt The Transport of Liquefied Fracked Gas At Port Everglades

For too long, South Floridians have been subjected to the dangers of New Fortress Energy’s profiteering liquefied fracked gas transport. Luckily, the Broward County Commission can do something about it. We’re calling on the Broward County Commission to halt the transport of liquefied fracked gas and investigate the risky operation.  

Port Everglades’ project was the first liquefied fracked gas export project in Florida. Not only has it endangered South Florida residents, but it sparked a push from the fossil fuel industry for more. Jacksonville is now also home to fracked gas exports. Alarmingly, there have been proposals for even more, including in the Panhandle and Tampa Bay. Furthermore, last fall New Fortress Energy doubled its operation in South Florida, sending more liquefied fracked gas into Broward communities. What’s to stop them from continuing to expand? 

The Broward County Commission must halt the transport of liquefied fracked gas and conduct an investigation into the operation.

Urge Broward County Commissioners to protect the public from this danger.

These Are The Fossil Fuel Titans Profiting As The World Burns

Categories

Climate and Energy

An analysis of leading fossil fuel interests shows executives are profiting from the Ukrainian crisis. While carnage decimates others’ way of life, these predators are taking advantage of global price increases that have sent company stocks soaring. They include: 

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

Who are these players? Here are a few (and we’ll highlight more of them in the future).

The American Oligarchs Profiting From Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are one of the top drivers of climate change and need to be replaced by renewables now. These CEOs do everything so we can’t get out from under fossil fuels and the damage will last for decades. It’s stomach-churning to realize that people are profiting off an international crisis, even as they continue to drive climate chaos. These actions impact people and the environment in the present day and in the future.

Those who parcel out our future climate security in exchange for payouts should be known by name. We’ll keep making sure they are.

Make them famous for their greed — share this with your friends!

A Federal Energy Agency Could Make A Change That Thwarts Climate Offenders

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Adam Carlesco

For the first time in over two decades, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued two new proposed permitting policies. The policies will inform how FERC considers whether an interstate gas infrastructure project is in the public interest before permitting. The first policy revises its gas certification policy, which has been unchanged since 1998. The second proposes an interim policy concerning how FERC will analyze the climate impacts of proposed infrastructure projects. For years, Food & Water Watch has been pushing FERC to improve its certification policy through litigation and legal comments. It appears FERC may be poised to finally consider the true climate and community impacts of fossil fuel gas projects.

These policies indicate that FERC and its new Commissioners may begin taking their duties under the Natural Gas Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) more seriously. So does FERC’s Strategic Plan for 2022-2026. The Natural Gas Act requires projects to be in the public interest. NEPA requires agencies to evaluate the environmental impacts of proposed federal actions like pipeline approvals. But it stands to be seen how these policies will be applied in practice. Under pressure from fossil fuel interests, will FERC commissioners stand strong against permits for gas projects that will cause environmental harm? 

FERC Has A History Of Rubber-Stamping New Gas Projects

During the fracking boom of the early 21st century, FERC’s flexibility was a convenience for the gas pipeline industry’s vast expansion plans. In that time, FERC granted 1,021 approvals over twenty years and rejected only six. Simultaneously, FERC glossed over the harmful effects of gas infrastructure, including greenhouse gas emissions, downwind air pollution, and threats to public safety. It also completely ignored the big picture. Pipelines need expanded fracking operations to feed them, meaning more fossil fuel extraction over the decades-long lifetime of the infrastructure. However, there has also been consistent pressure from the public, court decisions, and a change in administration. Because of that, FERC has finally re-evaluated how it will determine if a project is in the public interest. 

FERC’s New Certification and Greenhouse Gas Policies

In issuing its new gas certification policy, FERC strengthens its review of new and modified gas infrastructure in several ways. These include: 

  • Requiring more information from project applicants on foreseeable but indirect impacts (e.g., fracking) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the eventual burning of the piped gas; 
  • Greater evidence of “need” for the pipeline that cannot otherwise be addressed, 
  • And collection of information on the cumulative harms to nearby communities. 

FERC has also for the first time proposed a separate policy on the consideration of GHGs. The draft features an emissions threshold that would categorize most new or modified gas infrastructure as having “significant” climate impact. This is an important change because a significance finding means FERC must do a more rigorous environmental review under NEPA. However, this policy is still just a proposal and the Commission is seeking input from the public until April 25th.

Pressure From Watchdog Groups And Communities Is Crucial For Enforcement

Food & Water Watch’s work in the courts is keeping pressure on FERC to adopt strong policies. In March, the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Food & Water Watch v. FERC issued an important decision. It held that the Commission could no longer ignore the emissions from gas delivered to local distribution companies. The court found FERC must review the indirect, but foreseeable, greenhouse gas emissions from even a single compressor station replacement. 

This is only the beginning, however, as a policy is only as strong as it is enacted and enforced. At a time when fossil fuel interests are pushing to build infrastructure to export fracked gas around the world, FERC Chairman Glick, recently stated

“FERC has never rejected an LNG project based on climate change [concerns]…” 

He went on to say that he doesn’t “think there’s a linkage between climate change and limitations on exports.”  Food & Water Watch will continue to pressure FERC to take into account the full climate impacts of fossil fuel projects. We’ll hold the agency accountable if it continues rubber-stamping gas infrastructure development. 

You Can Do Something Easy Right Now To Make This Change Official

FERC Commissioners are under tremendous pressure from the gas industry and the politicians funded by them. That’s why it’s so important FERC commissioners hear from you! 

Tell FERC that climate change is a reasonably foreseeable impact of gas infrastructure approval, and that it must consider fracking’s impacts when approving pipelines. Most importantly, tell the commissioners that FERC must deny new gas infrastructure applications as contrary to the public interest. The comment period on FERC’s draft gas certification and  GHG policies is open until April 25th – weigh in now!

Urge FERC to finalize these new policies.* It just takes a moment!

*Please reference Docket Nos. PL18-1-000 and PL21-3-000 in your comment to FERC.

Scientists To Biden: Don’t Ramp Up Fossil Fuels

Categories

Climate and Energy

By Mark Schlosberg

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

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

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

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

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

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterre

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Nations Secretary-General Guterres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organic Dairy Is Getting Squeezed By Big Ag

Categories

Food System

by Rebecca Wolf

In the 1980s, Tamara Tripp spent her days doing chores on a small dairy farm in Minnesota. The future FWW Managing Director of Philanthropy was helping her mom and dad milk 60 cows. They sold their milk to Land O’Lakes, took care of the land and were comfortable enough to raise four children.

By the late 1990s, corporate mergers and the systematically-crafted farm crisis had taken their toll — Tamara’s parents sold the cows. 

Big Ag Mergers In Organic Dairy Mean Fewer Buyers

We hear this story over and over again. Corporate bullies gobble up the market, enabled by corporate-friendly federal government policies. Since the advent of the organic milk label, the U.S. has failed to protect small organic dairy farmers from cutthroat corporate mergers.

In 2020, Dairy Farmers of America bought the dairy giant Dean Foods with little oversight from federal regulators. Before this $433 million-dollar buy, Dean Foods had swallowed up Horizon, AltaDena and Organic Cow of Vermont. Other notable shifts:

  • The licensing of Stonyfield Farm’s fluid milk brand to H.P. Hood
  • The growth of organic store brands in large grocery chains like Safeway, WalMart, Target and Trader Joe’s.

These changes left very few buyers for milk from organic family dairy farmers.

Organic Dairy Industry Becomes Another “Get Big or Get Out” Story

The dairy industry has been wholly transformed, from the cows to the cooperatives securing its prices and the processors packaging milk for consumers. Massive mega-dairies confine dairy cows and may use antibiotics and growth hormones to boost production. Then milk is shipped nationwide to be mechanically separated and resold as everything from ice cream to industrial protein concentrates. These days, consumers no longer know where their milk comes from — or what is actually in much of the dairy they consume.

It was hard for families like the Tripps who refused to use growth hormones like Monsanto’s Bovine Somatotropin (bST). And today’s industry doesn’t work for small- and mid-sized organic family farmers, either. They face pressure to “get big or get out.” The New York Times recently published a piece featuring the last New England organic family dairies. They struggle to survive in a market where just a few large cooperatives are the buyers — therefore setting the prices. Large processors also prefer to buy from a few large, polluting mega-dairy operations instead of family-scale ones with 60 cows. The growth of Western Goliaths producing organic milk on factory farms adds more pressure on small organic family dairies. They also happen to create massive amounts of liquid waste that jeopardize our air and water.

Higher Prices For Consumers, Smaller Profits For Farmers

While all this is happening, consumers are paying higher prices at the grocery store. It seems like everyone is losing, except for the corporate middlemen and speculators who skim off all the cream. 

The organic movement in the United States originally built support for sustainably-produced food. Sustainable methods preserve the health of the land, the animals and the farming families. At first, organic producers received great prices with standards administered by the USDA. But increasingly, even the organic label has been eroded by consolidation, the influence of corporate bullies and profiteering. Because of co-op Goliaths, the organic milk market is now dominated by factory farms, sometimes housing tens of thousands of cows. The almost total corporate control of prices and standards in our food system is a bad deal for farmers and consumers. 

The Crisis And Consolidation Of Organic Dairy Is A Policy Choice 

The good news is that with good policies, farming like Tamara’s family enjoyed is a possible vision for our future. We can have a real market for organic milk. Consumers, the environment, animals and farmers can all share in the abundance of a healthy food system. 

These changes will require shifting our food system using bold and essential federal legislation. The Farm System Reform Act will help us transition away from factory farms. Further, the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Review Act will break the corporate stranglehold on our food system. Crisis and consolidation in organic dairy are policy choices that we can change.

Urge your Congressperson to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart and Mark Schlosberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware Is Doubling Down On Factory Farm Biogas. It’s Not A Good Thing.

Categories

Food SystemClimate and Energy

by Greg Layton

For more than a year, local residents and our allies have joined with Food & Water Watch in a critical mission. We’ve teamed up to fight the nation’s first poultry waste factory farm biogas facility in Delaware. Now a new front has emerged, and the community is fighting back.

Eastern Shore Natural Gas (ESNG) has proposed expanding its pipeline facility in Sussex County, right next to an elementary school. Why? To pipe in biogas from the Bioenergy DevCo facility we’ve been fighting a few miles away.

Factory Farm Biogas Is Just As Explosive As ‘Traditional Gas’

ESNG asked Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission for a conditional use permit to expand its facility on Black Cherry Drive. Most significantly, the subsidiary of Chesapeake Utilities wants three new terminals to receive truckloads of “non-traditional” gas. We know what that means — factory farm biogas. Bioenergy DevCo has been teasing this expansion for months.

That could mean 18 truckloads of explosive gas daily to a site with almost no current traffic, a company spokesman said. The company could seek further expansion in the future, he said. All the while, local driverss and children at elementary school next door will be in harm’s way. After all, “non-traditional” biogas is just as explosive as “traditional gas.” In fact, factory farm biogas is absolutely identical to fracked gas.

This is a bad idea, and there are a lot of reasons why. 

Proximity To Schools And Neighborhoods Isn’t Smart When It Comes To Biogas

The proposed pipeline expansion is adjacent to Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. The school’s playground would lie less than 1,100 feet from the gas facility. The school itself would lie just 1,300 feet away, according to the ESNG spokesman. We’re not sure where these figures come from, because at a glance Google Maps suggests they are actually much closer. 

The nearest home would be just 330 feet from where the proposed facility meets the main gas line. This information is from a letter ESNG sent to the Planning & Zoning Commission. There are many additional homes in the area. 

The largest pipe would carry gas under 800 pounds of pressure per square inch, the ESNG spokesman said. He also mentioned a “catastrophic failure” of the facility would have an “impact radius” of 200 feet. History suggests this figure could be misleading. In 1974, a gas pipeline facility in Bealeton, Va. exploded, burning an area as wide as 700 feet. That blast originated from a pipeline also under 800 pounds of pressure. During his commission testimony, the spokesman didn’t say how far from the facility neighbors could expect damage from potential explosions. Given that these explosions could cause widespread burning, broken windows, and serious injury, we think these details matter.

And then there are the bomb trucks. Nearly 7,000 bomb trucks annually would carry factory farm biogas from Bioenergy DevCo through the residential community into the site. This transport is not safe. The recent explosion of a fuel-laden bomb truck in New York underscores the danger posed by these vehicles. This hazard is not only at the Black Cherry Drive location, but to motorists, homes and businesses all along the haul route.

Environmental Justice Issues Raise Concern About Factory Farm Biogas

Residents within one mile of the proposed facility are significantly more likely than the average Sussex County resident to be people of color. More than a third of these residents live in low-income households. And rounding out the inequity, more than a third of them are 65 years of age or older. Placing a potentially explosive facility in a vulnerable neighborhood would worsen community members’ difficulties, while lowering their property values. In testimony before the commission, one opponent said the fact that this project was even proposed constitutes “environmental racism.” They’re right.

It’s All So Bioenergy DevCo Can Make A Buck From A False ‘Climate Solution’

The proposed pipeline facility expansion is clearly tied to the Bioenergy DevCo factory farm gas facility proposed for Seaford. It’s no big secret. Chesapeake Utilities, ESNG’s parent company, struck an agreement with Bioenergy DevCo in June 2020, and announced it widely.

The Bioenergy DevCo proposal would bring 200,000 tons of poultry slaughterhouse waste annually from three states; Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It would go to a digester and methane refinery near Seaford, all to sell biogas into regional pipelines. That gas would be trucked to Bridgeville to be injected into the Chesapeake Utilities pipeline. Without this pipeline facility expansion, Bioenergy DevCo has nowhere to take their bomb trucks, and nowhere to sell their gas.

This proposal would justify the pollution of factory-farmed poultry and amplify the contamination it already causes. Rather than solving the climate crisis, its damage would manifest in other toxic byproducts, some worse than the original issue.

Concerned Residents Will Speak Out Against This Dirty Biogas Scheme

Concerned Delawareans submitted nearly 30 written comments to the Sussex Planning & Zoning Commission in opposition to the ESNG pipeline proposal. Several also spoke out at the hearing. After this pressure, the Commission deferred its decision until March 10. But Food & Water Watch is prepared.

Food & Water Watch and allies will be protesting outside the Sussex Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on March 10. 

Join us in protest at the Commission meeting on March 10.

Bring a sign opposing pipeline expansion, and join Food & Water Watch on March 10, 2022. We will gather outside the Sussex County Administration Building at 2 The Circle in Georgetown, DE.

A Day In The Life Of Our Staff As We Fight To Protect Our Environment

Categories

Climate and Energy

The people who make up Food & Water Watch fight for safe food, clean water, and a livable climate for all of us. As expert advocates, they bring a complex mix of skills and experience to organize people to build the political power needed for real change. Whether they work in our Washington, DC headquarters or in home offices from Oregon to Maine, our team members rely on you and your generosity to advance our mission on the ground.

That’s because rich and powerful corporations are working desperately to exploit our resources for their own profit. And they’ve seized control of the institutions meant to protect us. But with your investment, our team is fighting back. They’re mobilizing people to reclaim political power, hold elected officials accountable, and resist corporate control — ensuring we all have the essential resources we need to thrive. This is a fight we must win.

And our team is fiercely dedicated to that fight. They have the skills and audacity to win real solutions. These are the people who lead the fight to protect our food, water, and climate.


Meet Santosh

Food & Water Watch’s Senior New York Organizer, located in Brooklyn, NY

Santosh is constantly on the streets and in our communities mobilizing people power to push for New York to become THE climate policy trendsetter, as it is for other industries. Working with other Food & Water Watch New York City and state staff to champion our work, Santosh builds strong coalitions of both individuals and organizations in support of our campaigns, such as our fight to ban the use of gas in new construction statewide, and much more.

7:00 AM
Wake up, make a Morir Soñando (Milk and Orange Juice) to-go and head out on a morning walk through Brooklyn with my dog, Pepper.

9:30 AM
Heading into the Food & Water Watch Brooklyn office earlier than usual today. My bike is busted so I take the 2 subway line.

10:45 AM
After catching up on emails and calls, I meet with our new intern Sakshi and we map out a future canvasing route together.

12:30 PM
I rush into Manhattan and meet up with some of our volunteers. We start making calls to New York Governor Kathy Hochul to push her to enact a gas ban in one year statewide.

2:05 PM
With our coalition, Food & Water Watch is putting pressure on the Governor to include the NY Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA) in the 2022 Executive Budget. We’re gaining a crowd and we occupy the street outside of Gov. Hochul’s office in midtown Manhattan.

4:15 PM
Such a busy day! I rush over to Fort Greene to meet a volunteer to gather petition signatures to help us amp up our message to the Governor even more.

5:45 PM
I head home to grab a bite to eat and get to some emails from the day that I didn’t have time to answer while petitioning and traveling. I’m never quite caught up on emails but I make a point to check in again when home to finalize everything that’s urgent for the day.

7:30 PM
I go home to Pepper and crash. Tomorrow is another busy day fighting for the planet!

Meet Jessica

Food & Water Watch’s Media Relations Officer based in
Los Angeles, CA

Jessica works with our western U.S. campaigns to engage reporters and shift the narrative on the issues Food & Water Watch advocates for. She often spends her days drafting press releases, crafting op-eds that will be pitched to newspapers, or offering media training to colleagues across the policy, organizing, research and legal teams to help when they’re interacting with reporters. Food & Water Watch is doing incredible work to protect our planet and ensure its resources are available for everyone and Jessica is the one who helps tell the world about it!

6:45 AM
Good morning! I wake up, feed the cat and have my breakfast. Ready to tackle the day.

10:34 AM
I start the day by catching up on emails and reading articles Food & Water Watch has been featured in the day before. Then I watch California Governor Gavin Newsom’s press conference.

11:05 AM
After the press conference I type up the statement that I’ll release to the media in the next hour or so. The Governor didn’t mention any concrete steps to phase out fossil fuels in his budget, so it’s important to hold him accountable.

11:40 AM
Need a quick break after writing the statement on the budget so I step away for a cup of decaf Earl Grey tea.

1:15 PM
I join a CA coalition call discussing the budget and what other organizations are planning to say in response. Always good to have an idea of what other environmental advocates think!

2:15 PM
I take another break and go for a walk. I tend to go for walks after a series of meetings to get some fresh air. Today I walk through my South Pasadena neighborhood before prepping for a media interview later in the evening.

5:45 PM
Radio station KPFA invited me to speak on their live show, to talk about the deficiencies in Gov. Newsom’s budget.

7:30 PM
I come home from the radio interview and decide to destress after work with some Vinyasa Yoga. I’m so passionate about the work we do but I also know how important it is to take care of my physical and mental health too. It’s all about balance!

That’s just a small glimpse at the commitment our staff demonstrates in their personal and professional lives on a daily basis.

Our team is fiercely dedicated to their role in this larger movement, and they have the skills and grit to win our biggest campaigns. When you invest in our work, you directly support our staff who are on the ground actively fighting to protect our planet. Together, we will fight for the better future we ALL deserve.

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

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Clean Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Factory Farms Use And Pollute Water While Driving The Climate Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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