Is Biden’s Clean Electricity Standard…Clean?

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Peter Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friends need to see this.

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

Categories

Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

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

The Transition Away From Family Farms In Oregon Has Been Disastrous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urge Governor Kate Brown to deny permitting to Easterday Farms.

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friends need to see this.

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

Categories

Clean Water

by Rianna Eckel

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

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

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

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

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

American Jobs Plan — $13.9 billion annually

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

The WATER Act — $35 billion annually

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

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

Funding Priorities For Minority And Disadvantaged Communities

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicating Funding Specifically For Lead and PFAS Contamination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Water Corporations From Raiding Federal Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Leaders Must Protect Our Water Access While Planning For Infrastructure 

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

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

Sign on to show your support for the WATER Act!

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Adam Carlesco, Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney

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

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

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

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

The Department Of Interior Can – and Should – Ban Fracking

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

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

Food & Water Watch Spelled Out The Legal Case For Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing On Public Lands

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

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

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

Become a part of the movement to save our planet. A monthly donation of any amount powers this work.

The Joe Manchin Problem In This Climate Moment

Categories

Climate and Energy

PHOTO CC-BY © SENATE DEMOCRATS / FLICKR.COM

by Peter Hart

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

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

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

Manchin’s Fossil Fuel Friendly Record is a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

Your friends need to see this.

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

Categories

Climate and Energy

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

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

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

A monthly donation of any amount powers work like this.

Systemic Racism and Violence Are No Accident

Categories

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

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

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

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

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

Iowans Want to Stop Factory Farms. Why Don’t Our Legislators?

Categories

Food System

by Emma Schmit

Over the past several years our campaign to stop factory farms has grown from a fledgling idea into a powerful movement. In 2021, legislation calling for a moratorium was introduced in the Iowa General Assembly for the fourth year in a row. What once felt like a long shot to address Iowa’s factory farm crisis has become a policy goal supported by the majority of Iowans. This urgent movement has also had implications far beyond Iowa and played an important role in introducing a national bill to ban factory farms. The progress we’ve made — from influencing the national conversation on factory farming to gaining support among Iowa’s legislators — has far exceeded what we once thought possible.

The movement against factory farming faced real challenges in 2020

Though we’ve come a long way, 2020 was a tough year. Growing a people-powered movement during a global pandemic is a difficult task anywhere, but in Iowa, Governor Reynold’s refusal to enact common-sense protections made it even more difficult. Nearly 350,000 Iowans, including one of our staff and several volunteers, contracted COVID-19. Many more were impacted by the illness or loss of a loved one, financial setbacks, the temporary closure of schools, and the day-to-day challenges of living in isolation. Building a transformative movement in an entirely virtual space presented a lot of obstacles that we had to overcome.

Help us fix our broken farm system by signing to stop factory farms.

And the pandemic wasn’t the only challenge we faced over the past year in Iowa. The derecho — a prolonged wind storm —that ripped through the state in August left more than half a million people without power and caused an estimated $11 billion in damages across the Midwest. Over 8,000 homes were destroyed or extensively damaged, nearly 12 million acres of cropland were destroyed in Iowa alone, and then-President Donald Trump provided only a portion of the requested disaster relief funding. 

As they say, bad things come in threes and in 2020 the third hit for Iowa came on election day when the state voted for Donald Trump with a 53% majority. Across the state, folks had high hopes that the Iowa House would flip to Democratic control in 2020. And by all rights it should have. Instead, we woke up on November 4th to see the Republican party had gained an even greater hold over our state.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly have long refused to consider any legislation that bucks the status quo — hyper-consolidation of Iowa’s agricultural economy — and the 2021 legislative session proved no different. Despite 63% of Iowans supporting a factory farm moratorium, Republican officials refused to assign the moratorium bills to subcommittee for debate. They’re clearly not feeling accountable to their constituents — instead they are carrying water for corporate farming giants like Iowa Select whose owners, Jeff and Deb Hansen, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into their campaigns. 

The push to enact a factory farm moratorium has stayed strong

Despite these hardships, our members and the movement have persevered. A year like 2020 could have easily destroyed the momentum behind a factory farm moratorium. Instead, as we abruptly halted in-person organizing for COVID-19 safety and navigated one calamity after another, the power behind a moratorium continued to grow. Iowans’ unyielding determination for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms can’t be derailed by a pandemic, natural disaster, or unfavorable leadership. And it certainly won’t be thwarted by the money or might of Big Ag.

While detractors can point out both moratorium bills dying in committee in an attempt to undermine the movement, we know that isn’t a legitimate metric at this juncture. Not when Iowa is ruled by a destructive, self-serving trifecta. Not when the House Speaker refused to even discuss the legislation because he profits from our dysfunctional system of agriculture. In spite of these obstacles the moratorium campaign still encountered unprecedented success. We recruited a record number of co-sponsors, received a record amount of media attention, and engaged record numbers of people in pressuring their legislators to support a moratorium on factory farms. That’s a better metric to measure this movement by than the actions of a couple industry-backed elected officials blocking the bills.

The ripple effects of our campaign are felt nationally

This movement has implications far beyond Iowa. The 2020 caucus provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to highlight the impacts of industrial agriculture — contaminated drinking water, hollowed out rural communities, the number of family-scale farms in freefall. Eight Democratic presidential candidates publicly supported a factory farm moratorium after seeing firsthand what corporate agriculture has done to Iowa and after hearing from people who live in factory farm-impacted communities across the state. Following the caucus, Senator Cory Booker introduced the Farm System Reform Act which was later introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna in the House of Representatives. This visionary legislation proposes to completely overhaul our farm system and ban new large factory farms after 2040. In addition to building the national movement to rein in factory farms, the FSRA has also ignited a series of state and local efforts, with moratoria bills now introduced in several states and local officials considering what they can do to stop the spread of factory farms. Without this work in Iowa, the national call to stop factory farming would still be a whisper.

In 2018, when factory farm moratorium legislation was first introduced at the Capitol, 10 Representatives and 1 Senator co-sponsored the bills. Most legislators wouldn’t even dare discuss a moratorium at that time. Our opponents didn’t even bother to comment on the bills because they thought the idea was too outlandish to ever get off the ground. But things have changed. The number of co-sponsors has now more than doubled with several members of the Democratic leadership co-sponsoring or expressing support for the legislation, and even some Republicans have been interested in meeting with us and with constituents to discuss the bills.  And in response to this rising power, House Speaker Grassley and powerful industry groups like the Iowa Pork Producers are promoting their false narratives about a moratorium in the media  — we’ve clearly caught their attention. ButIowans aren’t falling for it. Not when we can see the increasing number — now 774 — of water impairments across our state or the 40% of farm workers who have lost their jobs over the past two decades. Not as our rural communities are struggling to survive and the impacts of the climate crisis continue to compound. People are increasingly aware that our state, our communities, and our people cannot thrive alongside this system of corporate agriculture.

Iowans want a food and farm system that works for us, not against us. While our current elected officials may kneel to the factory farm industry, the people of Iowa are fighting back — and fighting for our right to clean water, for a system of agriculture that empowers independent farmers and builds resiliency in our rural communities, and for our interests to be put before the profits of multi-billion dollar agribusinesses. Our bills may not have advanced during this legislative session, but it’s coming. Iowa is a critical policy forum in which to advance this work, and we’re building an incredibly powerful movement in Iowa and beyond. There is nothing the barons of Big Ag can do to stop us.

Add your name now to stop factory farms.

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

Categories

Food System

by Tarah Heinzen

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

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

Factory farms get a pass from reporting emissions

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

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

Slaughterhouses get to inspect themselves — at a dangerous speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friends should know about this.