More than a month after having cancelled a meeting to discuss frontline constituent concerns, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Community Ombudsman has repeatedly ignored advocate requests for a rescheduled meeting to resolve environmental justice complaints about factory farm biogas proposals. Constituents representing the Sussex Health and Environmental Network, Delaware Civil Rights Commission, Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and Food & Water Watch have conducted repeated outreach to the office by phone and email, to no avail. This silence comes ahead of a survey currently being conducted by Delaware State University on DNREC’s responsiveness to community concerns.
The community surrounding the Bioenergy Devco proposed biogas site is home to people of color and people living in poverty at about twice the rate of Sussex County as a whole, and advocate outreach has demonstrated a lack of DNREC communication with these community members, many of whom are Spanish speakers, about the details and dangers of the proposed facility. The office of the Community Ombudsman exists to serve as an advocate for communities such as these that are affected by DNREC projects and environmental injustices.
Advocates are requesting a meeting with the Community Ombudsman to present a number of complaints regarding the injustice that the proposed Bioenergy DevCo factory farm biogas facility poses. Advocate demands include that:
DNREC conduct outreach to the Spanish-speaking population near the proposed biogas facility to provide them with information about the industrial activity possibly coming to their neighborhood — and to help them participate meaningfully in the public decision-making process.
DNREC hold all upcoming permit public hearings for the project in both Spanish and English.
“Latinos, due to language isolation and modest socio-economic resources, deserve special accommodation in having their voices heard. Instead, DNREC has ignored requests of their representatives for weeks to discuss their concerns related to the proposed biogas plant near Seaford,” said Charito Calvachi-Matetyko, of the Delaware Civil Rights Commission. “DNREC’s silence shouts out: Brown lives don’t matter. They are insulting the people they have been employed to safeguard, and putting their health and safety at risk.”
“Inasmuch as community engagement is a part of DNREC’s operation, one can only wonder why the agency has not responded to requests to meet with the community and interested parties to discuss their concerns about health and safety risks associated with the proposed biogas plant in Sussex County,” said Marlene Saunders of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice. “In this case, the community is attempting to do its part as a partner with an agency charged with ensuring a healthy environment for all Delawareans.”
“Those charged with protecting communities from environmental injustice are ignoring the very communities on the frontlines of the fight against factory farm biogas,” said Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton. “Biogas facilities are industrial, polluting operations that threaten the health and safety of those who live nearby, making it imperative that frontline communities are a part of the conversation. To shut neighbors out of the process and ignore constituent requests for inclusive public education is unjust. We demand a meeting with the DNREC Ombudsman to right this wrong.”
“This is a total dereliction of duty that has been the norm for years within DNREC and it must change,” said Maria Payan, Senior Regional Representative of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-founder of Sussex Health & Environmental Network. “The duty of the Community Ombudsman, according to DNREC’s website, is to increase the flow of information between communities and the department, increase community participation, and facilitate dialogue among all stakeholders during the decision-making process. That has not happened. We will no longer stand silent.”
Los Angeles, CA – At a press conference marking the sixth anniversary of the worst natural gas blowout in U.S. history at Aliso Canyon’s SoCalGas facility, Senator Henry Stern (D-27) joined survivors and environmentalists to oppose a proposed expansion of the site’s natural gas storage capacity currently being considered the California Public Utilities Commission. Up for consideration are two separate proposals: one would increase the storage capacity limit to 80 percent full at 68.6 billion cubic feet (Bcf) and the other would set the limit at 47 percent at 41.6 Bcf. In 2019, Governor Newsom directed the CPUC to expedite the closure of Aliso Canyon. In the interim, the L.A. City Council as well as the L.A. Board of Supervisors have also voted in favor of shutting the facility down immediately.
At the end of September, SoCalGas proposed a settlement payout of $1.8 billion to the 36,000 plaintiffs involved in litigation against the company related to the blowout, but denied any wrongdoing.
“It’s good news for the victims of the tragedy but the risk remains,” said Senator Henry Stern (D-27). “But to assume that that’s the end of the problem is a big mistake. It’s not just for the people of the North Valley, it’s for the entire state of California and the future of climate policy. This CPUC decision will just be one more test of our will to actually shut Aliso Canyon down. I don’t want to see the public utility commissioners further add weight to the lie that we depend on fossil fuels and we will be lost without them. Because we know that we can move forward and I think the Public Utilities Commission knows that, too.”
The day before the press conference, Governor Newsom announced the country’s most ambitious health and safety setbacks, mandating 3,200 feet between new fossil fuel drilling operations and sensitive community sites. The rule made no mention of fossil fuel infrastructure like Aliso Canyon’s storage facility.
“We saw Governor Newsom take momentous action yesterday to address fossil fuels in California, but there’s so much left to be done,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Clearly our governor understands that protecting our public health, safety and climate is more important than fossil fuel profits. And let’s be clear: SoCalGas has a financial incentive to increase the storage limits at Aliso. So my question is really for the Governor: are you signing off on this increase at Aliso Canyon despite your promises to shut this place down? Or is it a failure of leadership to hold the PUC accountable for siding with SoCalGas?”
Tyson Siegele, Energy Analyst with the Protect Our Communities Foundation: “The fossil fuel industry is pushing a false narrative. An increase in the storage cap is not needed for reliability. The current storage limit or lower storage limits have provided for reliability for six years since the blowout. The 68.6 Bcf limit would only be required if one were to assume major outages on transmission pipelines, disappearance of gas supply limitations at other storage facilities, or zero adjustment for local generation and the coldest day in 35 years all occurring at the same time. Unless the PUC votes down both proposals on November 4, then SoCalGas and its allies will be granted unneeded storage in a prioritization of profits over people.”
”It’s extremely sad that we still have to be here fighting after six years,” said Kyoko Hibino, co-founder of Save Porter Ranch. “I look back every year on this date with the clear memory of the worst gas blowout in U.S. history. It’s still haunting. Last year’s anniversary was the hardest year. From my cancer diagnosis to the cancer journey to recovery to the passing of my cat. Every time I smell gas, I fear another gas blowout. I fear cancer reoccurring. It is a mental and emotional trauma.”
President and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch and 14-year resident of Porter Ranch, Matt Packuko: “So many people have permanent and ongoing health problems. The state’s own commissioned analysis of the root cause of the blowout was so damning that the CPUC themselves opened a separate safety investigation of SoCalGas’ safety culture. That’s yet another reason this facility’s usage should not be increased until this safety investigation is complete. Governor Newsom, it’s time to exercise your executive authority and keep your promise to shut down this facility.”
From Andrew Krowne, President and Cofounder of Environmental Health Research: “Today marks another sad and disappointing milestone. The community has taken the lead since Day 1. It took a local physician to start looking at patients during and immediately after the blowout. It took a member of the community to start a symptom tracker rather than wait years for the government to catch up. Why is the community needed to take the lead? Because of complete regulatory failure.”
Sacramento, CA — After years of grassroots organizing and pressure, today Governor Gavin Newsom announced the immediate establishment of 3,200 foot health and safety buffers between current drill sites and nearby communities — 700 feet more than the distance initially requested by environmental advocates . Newsom’s announcement comes just before he is set to take the stage at the world’s biggest climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow next week. Frontline communities have waited two years for the promised health and safety rule from CalGEM.
“Governor Newsom’s announcement is a victory for communities on the frontlines of drilling who suffer the daily health impacts of proximity to fossil fuel extraction, ” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy. “3,200 foot buffer zones between sensitive community sites and drill locations are a vital step in protecting Californians from the pollution and emissions of fossil fuels. But we know that there is only one way for Governor Newsom to truly protect Californians from the public health and environmental crises caused by fossil fuels: stop issuing oil and gas permits immediately.”
by Peter Hart, Ginny Kerslake, and Megan McDonough
From the very start, we knew Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 project — a 350 mile pipeline across Pennsylvania — would be a disaster.
We knew that Governor Tom Wolf pushed state agencies to approve the massive project, which carries fracked gas liquids to a port in Philadelphia, where they are shipped in tankers to Europe to make plastic junk.
We saw for ourselves how the pipeline construction ripped up communities, contaminated drinking water, created sinkholes, and spilled drilling mud into lakes and streams.
We knew that Sunoco and parent company Energy Transfer were getting away with what seemed like criminal behavior, and we have urged state officials to take more serious action.
On October 5, things changed. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Sunoco/Energy Transfer was charged with 48 crimes related to the construction of the pipeline. A grand jury investigation found that the company routinely failed to report spills of drilling-related industrial waste.
Everything We Already Knew About Mariner East Pipeline — Plus a Lot More
The details in the report are both familiar and horrifying to those who have followed this story. There was a consistent pattern: As they carried out horizontal directional drilling (HDD) at sites across the state, Sunoco’s contractors would spill drilling fluid, and the company mostly failed to report the accidents.
The drilling under Raystown Lake, for example, was a years-long disaster. The first contractor spilled 780,000 gallons of waste into the lake — but none of these eight ‘accidents’ were ever reported to the state. The next contractor had more problems, and Sunoco reported almost none of these either. All told, millions of gallons of waste was dumped into Raystown Lake.
The same was happening near other lakes and streams, next to apartment buildings, and in residential neighborhoods.
And as appalling as these details are, the grand jury is crystal clear about one thing: The problems are far worse than what they have documented. Their report focuses on waste spills at 21 locations, but that is just 16 percent of the horizontal drilling that took place across the state. We know the same things were occurring at other sites; dozens of spills that impacted bodies of water were reported to the state. But the patterns of behavior documented by the grand jury report indicate that Sunoco failed to report many, many more.
Sunoco’s Threat To Drinking Water
The report also covers some of the ways Sunoco ruined drinking water when drilling fluids entered water wells or an aquifer. One resident, Rosemary Fuller, experienced a range of problems almost as soon as construction began near her home. After she notified the state, Sunoco sampled her water, and told her that the problem was just harmless bentonite from the drilling fluid.
A few weeks later, the grand jury report says,
“she received a follow-up email informing her that additional test results indicated her water had tested high for e-coli and fecal coliform. In the intervening time period, her daughter drank the water and was hospitalized.”
The grand jury found that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a list of 183 people who have complained about water problems, And the problem could be bigger:
“The possibility exists that the number of families that have had their only water supply impacted by this project is larger than is known. Many of the agreements that Sunoco entered into with homeowners who were affected by pipeline construction included non-disclosure provisions. Some of these prohibit a homeowner from speaking even with DEP or other governmental entities at the township, borough, county, state or federal level.”
Sunoco Paid The Fines And Kept Polluting. It’s Time For Governor Wolf To Stop This.
Sunoco’s destructive behavior has not gone unpunished by the state. They have been issued more than a hundred violations and have paid millions of dollars in fines; at one point the state suspended reviews of new water permits due to the company’s record. There have been a series of investigations, and even reports of an FBI probe into the Wolf administration’s approval of the pipeline.
The criminal case against Sunoco is a step forward for accountability. But the ultimate decision about the fate of Mariner East — and the communities that have been abused and put at risk by this corporation — rests with Governor Wolf. All along, he has had the power to stop this. As the company finally faces legal challenges, will the governor finally do the right thing?
Tell Governor Wolf enough is enough. Mariner East has done too much damage already!
Today, Governor Hochul announced the start of construction of North America’s largest green hydrogen plant in Genesee County. The announcement came one month after her endorsement of the CPNY transmission line project to draw hydropower from upstate New York and Canada. Despite public commitments to clean up New York state’s energy grid through these endeavors, Governor Hochul remains silent on the most important priority in reforming the state’s grid — ending the use of fossil fuels.
In a report released today by the United Nations Environmental Program, the international body found that fossil fuel energy production and use must drop precipitously in order to achieve clean energy targets. Without eliminating fossil fuels from the energy grid, New York risks avoiding true grid clean up. While Governor Hochul celebrates investments in nascent technologies like hydrogen, fracked gas plants including Danskammer, Astoria NRG and Gowanus are continuing to move through the state permitting process, threatening to lock New York into dirty energy for years to come.
In response to Governor Hochul’s announcement, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region DirectorAlex Beauchamp issued the following statement:
“To be a true climate champion, Governor Hochul must double down on eliminating fossil fuels, cutting the dirty fuel sources out of New York’s energy grid for good. That means no Danskammer, no Astoria NRG, no Gowanus, no Greenidge Generation facility — no more fossil fuels, period. When we must be focused on shutting down fossil fuels and building wind and solar, diverting renewable energy to hydrogen production is a distraction. At its worst, hydrogen can even be a backdoor to continued fossil fuel use.”
Senator Joe Manchin’s reported unwillingness to support even the modest climate policies put forth in the Build Back Better reconciliation package is leaving Democratic lawmakers and the White House to consider several alternatives.
In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:
“Senate leadership and the White House seem to be entertaining two possibilities: A ‘clean energy’ program that carves out more room for deadly fossil fuels, or a regressive, ineffective carbon tax that would replace a clean electricity standard. Both of these scenarios would amount to dangerous failure.
“Modifying the standards in the Clean Electricity Payment Program in a way that would allow construction of new coal or gas-fired power plants—and to even count as sources of clean power — would render the program useless, at best. There is no value in trading meaningful emissions targets for dirty power loopholes or wishful thinking about carbon capture.
“Lawmakers frustrated by Manchin’s intransigence are also seizing on this as an opportunity to promote a carbon tax as an alternative to meaningful policies. Carbon taxes have never been shown to be effective, and would directly tie government revenues to continued drilling and fracking. This would be a remarkable and tragic betrayal at a historically significant moment for climate action.
“If the price of winning Joe Manchin’s vote is a greatly diminished clean power proposal that props up fossil fuels, then it is no win at all. The climate movement should focus its energy on fighting to pass meaningful legislation that does what is necessary.”
Washington, D.C. – Today the Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to better monitor and regulate perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” thousands of which are found in industrial and consumer goods and pervasively contaminate drinking water sources.
In response, Food & Water Watch’s Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant issued the following statement:
“The Biden administration’s new PFAS roadmap includes a number of long-overdue steps that could make significant strides in dealing with the rampant toxic contamination of our country’s drinking water. If implemented quickly and aggressively, the plan will set new enforceable limits on the two most studied forms of these ‘forever chemicals’ and help hold polluters themselves accountable for cleanup – potentially making meaningful improvements in water quality and public health.
“But in order to fully address the many existing threats to drinking water safety we are facing, EPA must go farther by regulating PFAS as a class. And Congress must act to ensure that adequate funding exists to allow public water providers, many of which are also struggling with lead contamination and failing infrastructure, to fully implement these critical new PFAS standards.”
How many people really know what fracking is? More people than ever have learned about it thanks to the 2020 U.S. presidential election — Google Trends shows searches for the term peaked during that season — but there are still not enough people who know what it is and what it’s doing to our planet and resources.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high quantity of water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure — high enough to crack the rock — which allows the once-trapped oil & gas to flow to the surface out to the head of the drilling well.
Here’s one fact: the fossil fuel industry is lying to us!
Oil & gas corporations such as Exxon Mobil or Chevron have been lying to the public for decades. They knew then and now know just how dangerous fracking is.
They purposefully mislead the public into believing that natural gas — obtained through fracking — is greener than coal. In fact, they are trying to sell us that fracked gas is the “bridge fuel” towards more renewable energy — actually, the only thing fracking is a bridge to is climate chaos.
9 Reasons Why Fracking Is Evil
Fracking accelerates climate change. Natural gas consists mostly of the potent greenhouse gas methane, which traps about 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks from oil and gas operations, including pipelines, are the number one source of human-caused methane pollution in the country. This means that the greenhouse gas footprint of fracked natural gas is actually worse than coal and oil because methane traps more heat in the atmosphere. Scientists warn that if our planet heats up 2° Celsius more, it could cause irreversibly destructive climate change. Fracked gas is no “bridge fuel” to renewables, it simply substitutes one dirty fuel (coal) for another (fracked gas), making climate change even more costly and destructive in the coming decades.
Fracking pollutes drinking water. Across the country — from Wyoming to Texas to Pennsylvania — fracking has caused widespread pollution of drinking water. In the most dire cases, communities have had to truck water to their homes when well water became too polluted to drink. These pollutants include methane and toxic chemicals linked to fracking. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed “widespread, systemic” impacts on drinking water from fracking.
Fracking produces toxic — even radioactive — wastewater. Some of the chemical-laced water used to frack gas wells returns to the surface as wastewater. This wastewater contains not only the original fracking fluids, but also potentially dangerous levels of harmful underground contaminants and radioactive material. These chemicals can cause cancer, harm sensory organs and the respiratory system and damage the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
Fracking makes people sick and causes a host of public health problems. Dozens of scientific studies have confirmed the firsthand accounts of frontline communities: Fracking can make people sick. This is particularly true for people living close to drilling and fracking operations that are exposed to air pollution or water contamination. Fracking is associated with health problems including difficulty breathing, asthma, throat and nose irritation, skin problems, abdominal issues, headaches, nosebleeds, eye irritation, cancer and hair loss. Some women have had reproductive health problems since fracking is linked to infertility, miscarriages and birth defects. The shale gas workers are also plagued with health issues. Workers can be exposed to hazardous chemicals, radioactive toxins, extreme temperatures, airborne pollutants and respiratory irritants.
Fracking is exempt from federal environmental laws allowing industry to conceal contents of chemical cocktails. One provision in the 2005 Energy Policy Act — which is giveaway-laden in favor of the energy industry — explicitly exempted fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allowed fracking companies to hide the chemical contents of their drilling fluid. This “Halliburton Loophole” has prevented federal oversight of the perilous, polluting and poisoning practice of fracking. Instead of the EPA, only state governments regulate fracking and most allow oil and gas companies to conceal the fracking chemicals as so-called “trade secrets.” The known and commonly used chemicals include 14 known or possible human carcinogens and many linked to developmental health and reproductive problems. But companies routinely refuse to disclose more than 10 percent of the chemicals pumped into wells.
Fracking and the disposal of fracking wastewater cause earthquakes. Fracking-related tremors and earthquakes have occurred across North America. Both the process of fracking and the underground disposal of fracking wastewater are known to cause earthquakes (the ones large enough to feel are most commonly caused by re-injecting fracking wastewater for disposal deep underground). In Oklahoma, the sudden and violent increase in frackquakes have largely been triggered by the high-pressure, underground disposal of toxic fracking wastewater. From 1975 to 2008, Oklahoma averaged only one to three 3.0 magnitude (or greater) earthquakes annually. In 2009 the state had 20 of these 3.0 magnitude or greater earthquakes (the magnitude that is generally needed to be felt). In 2015, that number exploded 45-fold to 902.
Fracking is driving a huge petrochemical and plastics boom. This may come as a surprise to some, but plastic can be made from fracked gas and the plastics industry is reaping under-the-radar benefits from fracking. The fracking boom created a gas glut that encouraged the petrochemical and plastics industries to expand and build new facilities to make more plastic — most of which will just end up as litter or in landfills. It’s a vicious cycle where more fracking drives more petrochemical production and more plastics manufacturing, and in turn encourages more fracking. These petrochemical and plastics plants emit massive amounts of air and climate pollutants and are expanding in the Gulf Coast and popping up in Appalachia. This plastic doesn’t decompose and has polluted rivers, landscapes, oceans and marine life and microplastic molecules end up in everything — sea salt, bottled water, organic compost and much more. On average, people are consuming about 5 grams of this residual plastic weekly — roughly the same as one credit card.
Fracking is expanding pipeline infrastructure across the country. The oil and gas industry is expanding its sprawling maze of pipelines to transport fracked oil and gas to power plants, export facilities, petrochemical factories and more. The labyrinth of built and proposed pipelines lock in decades more dependence on fossil fuels, leak massive volumes of the greenhouse gas methane and damage the environment and ecosystems along their routes. The pipeline companies literally bulldoze over local opposition — including Native American tribes, local landowners, farmers and conservationists. Pipeline construction threatens wildlife habitats and the environment, compromises soil quality, causes erosion, creates dangerous sinkholes, releases air pollutants, and contaminates streams, rivers and aquifers. And once a pipeline is built, unlucky landowners along its path will have to accept living with the constant risk of accidents and explosions forever.
Fracking imposes heavy social costs and quality of life burdens. In addition to the obvious environmental and public health impacts brought about by fracking, fracking also impacts the quality of life for rural communities where most wells are drilled. Energy booms create intense pressures on local communities. The flood of out-of-state workers burden small towns with limited capacities to meet the growing needs and new challenges, such as oversaturating local housing, police and public health capacities. The increased traffic on rural streets from fleets of trucks transporting fracking products to and from drilling sites can bring big city traffic jams to previously uncongested roads. There is also a heightened risk for traffic accidents, which can spill hazardous materials into nearby freshwater bodies, farmland and private property.
We Need Your Help To Urge Biden To Ban Fracking For Good
We know the only way toward a clean, renewable energy future is to ban fracking and stop all new fossil fuel development. We need to ban fracking everywhere, but the first step is saving our public lands from the free-for-all fracking permits that Trump ushered through. Will yousign the petition now to push President Biden to take swift, bold action to ban fracking on public lands?
Hearing from constituents helps elected leaders make their decisions. Your signature can help!
Last night, the Edison Township Council voted unanimously in support of a resolution opposing plans for a gas-fired power plant in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge Township, and calling on the administration of Governor Phil Murphy to reject the facility’s air permit application.
With this action, Edison became the first municipality to formally oppose the fossil fuel infrastructure project.
The Competitive Power Ventures plan would place a 630 megawatt plant amid a densely populated community already overburdened with fossil fuel pollution. The company — which was embroiled in a high-profile corruption scandal in New York over approval for a facility in Orange County — already operates a fracked gas power plant adjacent to the proposed site.
“I am pleased that the Edison council was able to take a stand against an unneeded fossil fuel power plant during this time of climate emergency,” said John Hsu, an Edison resident and Food & Water Watch volunteer. “People sometimes wonder what residents can do at the local level, but efforts like this added up together will make a world of a difference.”
Middlesex County residents were alarmed to learn of the large amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases that the plant would emit into the atmosphere here.
“Two of the leading causes of death in Middlesex County are heart disease and cancer, and lung disease causes 4.1% of deaths in our county. The pollutants from this proposed power plant will only contribute to these numbers,” said Aishwarya Devarajan, an Edison resident and Food & Water Watch volunteer.
“We have to look after our environment. This plan was strictly a money grab for a large corporation, and it would come at the expense of our health,” said Edison Councilman Richard Brescher.
The resolution was introduced by Councilman Brescher, following months of persistent advocacy from Food & Water Watch and local residents. Its adoption comes as state officials develop and implement rules under a new environmental justice law, which will make it harder for polluting projects like this one to be sited in overburdened communities.
Competitive Power Ventures is “trying to get in under the wire to foist an unnecessary, health-endangering facility on local citizens solely for the sake of their bottom line,” said Keith Voos, Chair of the Environmental Justice Committee of the Metuchen-Edison Branch of the NAACP.
If approved by the Murphy administration, the proposed new facility would be a significant source of air and climate pollution. Each of the towns located within 5 miles of the proposed site (Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Metuchen, and Edison) are considered overburdened, with 73% of all census block groups meeting one or more of the environmental justice criteria.
“There is simply no need to add another source of air and climate pollution in this part of the state, or anywhere else for that matter,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Charlie Kratovil. “If Governor Murphy wants us to believe he is ready to be a climate leader, he will reject the Keasbey plant.”
Santa Barbara, CA — While the Alisal Fire burns through Santa Barbara County and edges closer to an abandoned oil facility, environmentalists are renewing calls for an end to new fossil fuel permits before Governor Newsom heads to the UN Climate Summit in November.
“We knew the Dixie Fire would likely not be the last wildfire this season to force evacuations of Californians from their homes,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy. “And now the Alisal Fire is taking its place as another devastating consequence of climate change and the fossil fuels driving it. While the fire inches ever closer to an abandoned ExxonMobile oil facility the danger intensifies. Oil infrastructure is prone to combustion even without severe drought, but with increasingly hot temperatures, dry winds and parched landscapes the likelihood of disaster skyrockets. Every second of Governor Newsom’s inaction on fossil fuel phaseout endangers Californians on the frontlines of climate disasters. Governor Newsom must act before the next Dixie Fire, before the next Orange County oil spill, and before he stands before the world as a climate leader at the COP 26. He must end all new fossil fuel permits now.”
Sacramento, CA – Today the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch released “Big Ag, Big Oil and California’s Big Water Problem,” a report detailing for the first time California’s most egregious corporate water misuses. The piece pinpoints industrial agriculture as among the worst offenders, swallowing large portions of California’s water resources and exporting billions of gallons of water overseas through heavily irrigated crops like almond and alfalfa as well as dairy.
Among the report’s detailed findings is the fact that all the water used to maintain California’s mega-dairies could provide enough water for all the residents of San Diego and San Jose combined. Foreign and domestic corporations also use California’s limited water to irrigate crops that are then exported to feed dairy cows overseas. Saudi dairy company Almarai owns 15,000 acres in Blythe, CA for just such a purpose, purchased after Saudi Arabia deemed water-intensive crops like alfalfa were not a beneficial use of the country’s limited water resources.
Extreme drought conditions exacerbated by climate change currently envelop 88 percent of California and fuel wildfires of ever-increasing intensity. The report’s analysis highlights the trillions of gallons of water currently headed to corporate coffers and not Californians’ faucets, potentially leading to thousands of wells across the state going dry by the end of next year.
“What this research reveals is an astonishing precedent of water mismanagement and preferential treatment given to corporate entities in our state,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy upon the report’s release. “Fossil fuels and industrial agriculture like mega-dairies not only pollute our climate, they drain California of valuable water resources that should belong to the people. One million Californians are without clean drinking water. Climate disasters like drought and wildfires are increasing in frequency and intensity. Without action from Governor Newsom to end the parasitic hold Big Ag and Big Oil have on our water resources, California’s inequities will sharpen and its communities will suffer.”
Among the recommendations laid out by the white paper for Governor Newsom are an immediate statewide declaration of drought, end to new oil and gas drilling permits, and the designation of groundwater used for almonds and alfalfa in the southwest San Joaquin Valley as wasteful.
This afternoon, community and environmental activists rallied outside Senator Schumer’s Brooklyn apartment, calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Each year, $15 billion worth of federal taxpayer dollars are spent buoying the profits of fossil fuel companies through tax breaks, loopholes and other forms of government subsidies. As the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Schumer has a critical role to play in ending the polluting industry’s lifeline.
Activists rallied around the need to end fossil fuel subsidies by commemorating the victims of the latest climate change charged disaster to hit New York City – Hurricane Ida. They then staged a “die in” to dramatically and visually highlight the deadly reality of the climate crisis.
“Senator Schumer has the opportunity — indeed the moral imperative — to end fossil fuel subsidies now,” said Food & Water Watch Volunteer Ken Schles. “Any cent that goes toward the destructive fossil fuel industry is a notch in our own coffin. Public money should go toward the public good, not toward extending a lifeline to an industry that is killing us. Senator Schumer, it’s time to stop fossil fuel subsidies once and for all.
“Senator Schumer has opposed fossil fuel subsidies, which further oil and gas extraction, environmental racism and the climate crisis. We welcome his stance. Now, it’s time to deliver,” said Alice Hu, federal climate campaigner at New York Communities for Change.
“Every day, more innocent people are becoming victims of climate change while Exxon and other large corporations responsible for this crisis are bailed out by American taxpayers. The tax code protects and supports the fossil fuel industry, with taxpayers footing the bill for billions in fossil fuel subsidies. In order to prevent further climate destruction and save future potential victims of climate change, Senator Schumer needs to be a climate leader and end fossil fuel subsidies. Our government can no longer continue to put polluters over people,” said Abigayle Reese, Grassroots Organizer with Friends of the Earth.
“Fossil fuels killed 8.7 million people globally in 2018 alone. Between 2010 and 2019, the United States experienced 119 climate disasters that each caused damages of $1 billion or more. By using the Build Back Better act to facilitate the inevitable transition to renewable energy while eliminating toxic fossil fuel subsidies, Congress will set the course for a future that allows our communities to not just survive, but thrive. Sen. Schumer and Democrats must seize the once in a generation opportunity to invest in life saving climate action,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner John Noël.
Yesterday, BGE became the first utility in Maryland to gain regulatory approval for the use of “renewable natural gas” in state pipelines. What industry calls “renewable natural gas” is really biogas — a false climate solution that provides a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry by keeping dirty energy infrastructure like pipelines on the grid. Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer Lily Hawkins said:
“Biogas is nothing more than an industry greenwashing scam. Instead of moving our state onto truly clean, renewable energy, Maryland has established a renewable portfolio standard that allows loopholes for dirty energy sources like biogas. Maryland needs to clean up its act and cut polluting energy sources out of our energy grid — starting with biogas.”
Bioenergy Devco will be the first company to bring biogas online in Maryland. The company is exploring multiple biogas facilities in the region, including one using factory farm gas in Delaware and one using food waste in Howard County. Both projects have been met with staunch opposition from local residents concerned by the public health, safety and environmental threats posed by the polluting industry.
“Facing declining sales to power plants and buildings, the gas industry wants to lock in continued production and use. The industry has embraced biogas as so-called Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), promoting its use to maintain and extend current gas infrastructure. We are working to move Howard County and Maryland to all-electric homes in the coming decades — we do not want the gas industry using RNG to justify the continued use of gas in homes and other buildings,” said Ruth White of HowardCountyClimateAction.org.
This afternoon, 43 elected officials issued a letter to Governor Hochul, demanding that she stop the Gowanus fracked gas plant repowering proposal in Sunset Park. Officials at all levels of New York government signed onto the letter urging Governor Hochul to stop the fossil fuel project, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, New York State Senators and Assemblymembers, and New York City Council Members.
At a press conference held this afternoon, elected officials stood with environmental advocates from Food & Water Watch, New York Communities for Change, New York Youth Climate Leaders and 350 Brooklyn in highlighting the threats the repowering project poses to the climate, environmental justice and public health. Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Santosh Nandabalan said:
“New Yorkers are adamant in our demands to move the state off fossil fuels. Instead of buying the fossil fuel industry’s bait-and-switch tactics, we are proud that elected officials at all levels of city and state government stand with the people in opposing projects like the Gowanus fracked gas power plant. Governor Hochul must listen to us and shut down the Gowanus fracked gas plant.”
The project would bring more fossil fuels onto the grid in New York at a time when the state is working to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and it would do so while endangering public health in an already overburdened environmental justice community. Encouraged by the state’s decision to reject the permits for the Williams NESE fracked gas pipeline, letter signatories made clear the need to disallow the construction of new fossil fuel power plants in the state to keep with mandated emissions reductions targets as outlined in the Community Leadership & Community Protection Act.
“More fossil fuel infrastructure is the opposite of what our community needs for a healthier and more sustainable future,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “New York’s ambitious and essential climate goals require that we make the shift now, not later, to fully renewable green energy. Rejecting the Gowanus gas plant extension and all other new fossil fuel infrastructure is a necessary step towards those goals.”
“Since taking office, the Borough president has been committed to building a more equitable energy plan,” said Jeff Lowell, Policy Director for Borough President Eric Adams. “Our city has goals to reduce emissions, and the Gowanus repowering project is a step in the wrong direction. This is our opportunity to commit to a greener New York. Our borough’s health and wellness requires a better, more equitable approach. It’s time for us to live up to our environmental goals, and time to put action behind our words.”
“The possibility of a new fracked gas plant in Gowanus will only interfere with our State’s goals set by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, while steering us away from equitably addressing the effects of climate change. It is fundamentally important to consider this at a time when our frontline working-class communities like Gowanus and Sunset Park are still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Ida and decades of intentional environmental injustices,” said Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes. “Our priorities should be to continue to push to end the dependency on fossil fuels and, instead, invest in renewable energy that is clean, affordable, and accessible to all New Yorkers regardless of income or zip code. We should not return to forcing our frontline working-class communities to deal with the most immediate impacts of climate change on their own.”
“The Gowanus fracked gas plant repowering proposal flies in the face of the goals of Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. If New York is going to live up to its stated goals of reducing emissions by 85% by 2040, we must only invest in renewable energy generation. Governor Hochul should seize this opportunity and reject this proposal and all new fracked gas proposals in New York; that would be real climate leadership,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll.
“The time to end investments in fossil fuel infrastructure has long since passed. Our society absolutely should not spend another dime on extending the use of antiquated technology that pollutes our communities and accelerates climate change,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz. “This money needs to be instead focused on renewable and clean energy sources, and I am proud to stand with Food & Water Watch and allies to oppose the investment of new money in the Gowanus fracked gas plant.”
“Additional energy fueled by fossil sources does not comply with our stated state agenda for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein. “We must act now and shut down fracked gas at Gowanus and around our state. We must advance renewable energy sources and this plant does not support those goals.”
“Hurricane Ida flooded the basement I live in and destroyed my belongings. I’m just lucky I got out alive,” said Luis, member of New York Communities for Change and resident of Sunset Park. “I hope Governor Hochul thinks of me and so many others affected by climate change, and rejects the permits for the proposed Gowanus fracked gas plant in my neighborhood.” (Translated from Spanish)
Today, Food & Water Watch, alongside and on behalf of local residents, filed a legal challenge to a recent zoning decision in Sussex County, regarding CleanBay Renewables’ planned factory farm biogas facility in Georgetown. The appellants argue that the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to sustain the company’s conditional use permit, which gives CleanBay permission to build its heavy industrial facility in an agricultural and residential area, was made unlawfully. Specifically, appellants allege that the Commission not only exceeded its authority by making the decision in the first place, but it also acted without proof of “substantially underway” construction as defined in Sussex County Code.
Appellants are asking the Sussex County Board of Adjustment to reverse the Commission’s decision and declare the company’s permit null and void. The CleanBay Renewables project is one of two factory farm biogas facilities vying for environmental permits in Delaware, along with the nearby Bioenergy Devco facility proposed near Seaford. These factory farm biogas projects are part of a growing trend in agribusiness companies’ exploitation of clean energy mandates, while not actually reducing emissions or agricultural pollution. Given the public health, safety and environmental threats of factory farm biogas, a voided permit would be a victory for nearby residents, who staunchly opposed the facility when it was first proposed in 2018.
With the filing, Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton issued the following statement:
“Factory farm biogas has no place in our communities. We already bear the brunt of agricultural pollution from factory farms taking over our rural areas. Factory farm biogas operations like CleanBay’s will only further pollute our air, our water and make dangerous truck traffic the norm on our roads. Stopping factory farm biogas from taking root in our region begins by holding our local government accountable to the people — not industry. The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission noted that this company did not do what they needed to do to maintain their conditional use permit and chose to look the other way. The Board must reverse their unlawful decision and declare CleanBay Renewables’ permit null and void.”
Washington, D.C. — More than 330 U.S. research scientists sent a letter to President Biden today urging him to use his executive authority to stop all new fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency — actions they say are necessary to avoid the worst damages of the climate crisis and deliver on environmental justice.
The letter was organized by two prominent public-health and climate scientists, Drs. Sandra Steingraber and Peter Kalmus, and national advocacy groups Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch. It’s signed by leading scientists including Michael Mann, Robert Bullard, Aradhna Tripati, Robert Howarth, Kim Cobb, Mark Jacobson and Drew Shindell.
The letter directly supports the core demands of frontline communities to the president in the massive People vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization taking place at the White House next week. Scientists including Dr. Steingraber plan to participate in the action and risk arrest.
“U.S. scientists are done speaking calmly in the face of inaction,” said Steingraber. “Terrified by our own data, we stand in solidarity with the People vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization and its demands. President Biden, listening to science means acting on science. It means stopping new fossil fuel projects, opposing industry delay tactics, and declaring a national climate emergency.
“Climate change is genuinely an emergency, and we need to start treating it as such,” said Kalmus. “It does no good to speak of an ‘existential crisis’ while continuing to expand the fossil fuel industry.”
To end fossil fuel expansion, the letter calls on Biden to use his authority to end new fracking and drilling on public lands and waters, stop the approval of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and end fossil fuel exports and subsidies. The scientists further urge the president to declare a climate emergency to advance a rapid, just buildout of clean renewable energy.
The letter highlights that Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor communities bear the brunt of the climate disasters and serious health harms caused by fossil fuel pollution, and that ending the fossil fuel era is necessary to protect frontline communities.
“Our communities are living every day with the toxic chemicals that are shutting down beaches in California right now,” said Dr. Robert Bullard, distinguished professor and director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University and a signatory of the letter. “We hear President Biden making lots of promises, but Black, Brown and Indigenous communities are waiting for action. We’re waiting on the president to stop the fossil fuel projects that are killing us and deliver on the environmental justice he promised.”
The scientists also urge the president to reject fossil fuel industry delay tactics like carbon capture and storage, blue hydrogen, and carbon offsets that impede the rapid transition to renewable energy and perpetuate a racist fossil fuel system.
“The climate emergency is caused by burning fossil fuels, and the only way out is to quickly ramp down and end the fossil fuel industry,” said Kalmus. “Carbon indulgences and hypothetical tech solutions are dangerous distractions. Far too much time has been wasted already.”
“The science is clear: To stand a chance of avoiding complete climate catastrophe, we must halt all new fossil fuel development now. Today, not tomorrow,” said Dr. Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University and a board member of Food & Water Watch.
Other prominent scientist signatories on the letter include Anthony Ingraffea, Peter Gleick, William Ripple, Terry Root, Lucile Jones, Doreen Stabinsky and Sarah Myhre.
“When scientists across the U.S. are imploring the president to get the country off fossil fuels, it’s time to listen,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A crisis this big demands more than crossed fingers and compromise. Biden must use his substantial powers to make a rapid transition to clean energy if we want a livable future.”
Food & Water Watch just won a major court victory against factory farm pollution: the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) statewide Clean Water Act permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Idaho illegally let these factory farms off the hook for water pollution monitoring.
EPA Loopholes Have Shielded Factory Farm Pollution From The Public
The federal Clean Water Act is supposed to protect our waterways, keeping them safe for recreation and wildlife. One of the most important ways it does that is by requiring polluters – including CAFOs — to follow strict discharge permits that limit pollution. And those permits do not work on an honor system; permitted dischargers are required to show their work through testing their discharges and generating publicly available monitoring reports that demonstrate whether they are meeting permit limits. If a facility violates its permit, citizens and regulators can use the self-reported monitoring information to enforce the law. Monitoring is essential to holding polluters accountable and cleaning up our rivers and streams.
Despite this, EPA and states have carved out an exception for factory farms, issuing permits that leave monitoring out entirely. These permits simply assume that if a factory farm adopts certain practices to manage its waste, it will meet permit requirements. That approach wouldn’t pass the laugh test with wastewater treatment plants and factories, and we have known for years that it is just as illegal for livestock operations responsible for discharging pharmaceuticals, pathogens, heavy metals, and nutrients that cause harmful algal blooms into our waterways.
Striking a Blow Against EPA’s Special Treatment For The Factory Farm Industry
When EPA issued a permit for Idaho CAFOs that again left out monitoring, Food & Water Watch, along with our allies Snake River Waterkeeper and Earthrise Law Center, took it to court. This was a unique and strategic opportunity to bring our case in federal court because most Clean Water Act permits are issued by states, not EPA, and challenges go to less favorable state forums.
And our strategy paid off. The three-judge Ninth Circuit panel recognized that Idaho CAFOs are a significant source of water pollution and that they threaten water quality through the risk of discharges off of land application fields and from leaching of manure lagoons into waterways. And it agreed that the Idaho permit didn’t contain the monitoring needed to know if a factory farm is complying with the Clean Water Act, or if this unauthorized pollution was taking place, striking down EPA’s permit as unlawful.
This Win Against Factory Farm Pollution Doesn’t Stop In Idaho
Going forward, this means that polluting factory farms in Idaho will now be required to comprehensively monitor and report on their waste discharges and water pollution for the first time. But even more importantly, the Ninth Circuit’s precedent is relevant everywhere factory farm permits take the same illegal approach as in Idaho – which is, essentially, everywhere. We will be working across the country to ensure this win will have broad implications for how pollution from the factory farm industry is regulated going forward.
Factory farms are a large and growing source of water pollution in Idaho and across the country, but without pollution monitoring, they have been able to pollute at will and hide this pollution from citizens and regulators. This victory is a critical first step towards holding factory farms accountable for illegal pollution and stands to provide the information needed not only to enforce the law and advocate for stronger pollution regulation, but to make the case to ban factory farms altogether. The decision also struck a major blow against EPA’s practice of granting illegal exceptions and special treatment to the factory farm industry — and we’ll work to make sure it’s the first of many.
Smart legal work like this is a part of our strategy to save our planet. Will you chip in?
With historic drought, fires, hurricanes, and floods, the impacts of our collapsing climate are being felt all across the country, but despite his rhetoric about climate change being an “existential threat,” President Biden and his team have continued to advance a fossil fuel-friendly agenda.
That’s why we’re working with our allies to organize people across the country whenever and wherever Biden and team go.
We’ve challenged Biden directly in California, Ohio, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey. When he came to survey damage from climate disasters, we told him to stop fossil fuels.
Biden, Sacramento, 9/13/21
Biden, New York + New Jersey, 9/7/21
Biden, Alexandria, 7/23/21
Biden, Cincinnati, 7/21/21
McCarthy, San Diego, 8/17/21
When Climate Czar Gina McCarthy came to California and promoted fracked gas as she did during the Obama administration, we were there to confront her.
Granholm, Berkeley, 8/20/21
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is a big proponent of liquified fracked gas exports and when she came to California and New Jersey, we were there with a clear message: No more fossil fuels, ban fracking now!
Granholm, New Jersey, 7/14/21
This is just in the last couple of months and we’re just getting started. You can join our next actions in Washington, DC from October 11-15 to urge Biden to finally choose the good of the people over handouts for the fossil fuel industry.
Join us in DC to demand Biden choose People Vs Fossil Fuels!
Nature is remarkable! It’s always amazing how a tree, flower, plant, fish, animal, or insect evolves to be perfectly suited for survival in a specific habitat. Or how the Monarch butterfly travels 2,500 miles to hibernate in the forests of central Mexico. Or how Emperor penguins, polar bears, and leopard seals survive sub-zero temperatures.
It’s worth repeating — nature is remarkable! This process of perfection took millions of years but habitat loss, pollution, and human-induced climate change is disrupting and destroying all of it.
Climate Change is Forcing Animals to ‘Shapeshift’ And Flee Their Homes
This may seem like something out of the X-Men, but research shows that animals are ‘shapeshifting.’ They are developing smaller bodies, larger legs, beaks, and ears to help better regulate their body temperatures as the planet heats up, with birds being particularly affected. The strongest evidence of this can be found in Australian parrots, where the surface area of their bills has increased 4-10% since 1871 as the planet keep getting warmer.
And, a recent study of over 70,000 migratory birds representing over 50 species showed the birds’ bodies are getting smaller and their wingspan wider in response to a warming climate.
Nature is also feeling the effects of climate change in other ways. Since 1995, Dragonfly species such as the emperor dragonfly, migrant hawker, ruddy darter, black-tailed skimmer, and small red-eyed damselfly have extended their range north across Britain and Ireland to escape the heat from southern Europe.
Polar bears depend on sea ice for survival but as their habitat melts, polar bears can’t hunt for their food and their habitat becomes fragmented. They are being evicted by climate change. Research shows that habitat fragmentation is causing polar bears to inbreed, further reducing their chances of surviving climate change.
Isn’t This Natural Evolution, and not a Reaction to Climate Change?
Climate change is putting pressure on nature to adapt and evolve in a faster time frame.
As our planet heats up due to human-induced climate change animals need to find ways to regulate their body temperature. Birds use their beaks to regulate their body temperature, other animals might use their ears, but failure to regulate body temperature means death. And, scientists don’t see this as a positive.
“We also don’t know whether these shape-shifts actually aid in survival (and therefore are beneficial) or not. This phenomenon of shape-shifting shouldn’t be seen as a positive, but rather it is alarming that climate change is pushing animals to evolve like this, under such a relatively short timeframe.”
— Sara Ryding, Ecology Researcher
Protecting Nature Means Fighting Climate Change
The bottom line is human-caused climate change is forcing nature to evolve faster, endangering their habitats, and the survival of humans and animals. Scientific studies have indicated that just a temperature rise of 1.8- 2℃ would threaten a million species with extinction over the next fifty years.
But there is still hope. If we go all-in with ending the use of fossil fuels and drastically reduce our emissions we can save many species and habitats that share this planet. That’s why Food & Water Watch is fighting to ban fracking, end new fossil fuel infrastructure, power plants, and pipelines — all sources of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet, and we are fighting to make sure our environmental laws are strengthened.
You can help fight the forces causing climate change by donating now.
Today, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a range of criminal charges against Sunoco parent company Energy Transfer connected to the construction of its Mariner East pipelines.
The 48 criminal charges cover activities across the state, from failure to report releases of drilling fluid to the use of unapproved additives.
The charges come after years of community organizing to stop this dangerous project.
In response, Food & Water Watch organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerslake released the following statement:
“Today’s announcement confirms, once again, that Sunoco’s dangerous Mariner East pipelines pose an ongoing threat to communities across our state. The Wolf administration championed Sunoco’s corporate interests over the health and safety of neighborhoods that have been turned into sacrifice zones. We have lived with sinkholes, water contamination, construction disturbances, property destruction, and the degradation of rivers and streams.
“The Mariner East disaster is Governor Wolf’s responsibility. He must stop this right now, and we will continue to fight to make sure that he does. Our communities should not be jeopardized so that a major polluter can have another pipeline to ship dangerous liquids that will be turned into plastic junk.”
Huntington Beach, CA — Efforts to contain the biggest oil spill in recent memory are underway inHuntington Beach after an offshore drilling platform sent at least 126,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Coastlines have been closed and crews are still working to identify the full extent of the damage to local ecosystems.
Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy released this statement in response to the oil spill:
“We didn’t need further proof of the devastation wreaked by fossil fuels on our environment, but here it is. The 126,000 gallons of crude oil leaching onto the shores of Huntington Beach directly threatens nearby communities, wildlife and ecosystems. It is past time for a just transition away from dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure, whether on land or at sea. The hard truth is that fossil fuels breed bigger disasters as our climate warms. The Huntington Beach oil spill is the worst in recent memory. It will likely not be the last. Governor Newsom must end all new permitting for fossil fuel drilling right now to protect Californians from worse disasters to come.”
Washington, D.C. – Yesterday while discussing with the media a memo that outlines his demands for a potential budget reconciliation bill, Senator Joe Manchin directed his remarks to focus on climate and energy aspects of the pending legislation. He stated: “I’d love to have carbon capture, but we don’t have the technology because we really haven’t gotten to that point. And it’s so darn expensive that it makes it almost impossible.”
In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones issued the following statement:
“It’s rare that we agree with Senator Manchin, but when he slips up and tells the truth, we’ll back him on it. Carbon capture doesn’t work. It never has, and if it did, it would indeed be so expensive as to be pointless. Carbon capture is a faulty concept being pushed by the fossil fuel industry in order to encourage more public handouts to keep its polluting business running. Manchin and many of his fellow Democrats have consistently touted carbon capture and other phony technology schemes as justification for continuing to pump massive funding and tax breaks to oil and gas interests. This shocking moment of truth from Manchin should do as much to debunk the logic of continuing to prop up fossil fuels as anything clean energy advocates like us have been screaming for years.”
House Democrats’ $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act fails to remove massive existing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including:
A subsidy enacted in 1916 (Sections 263(c) and 291) allowing many fossil fuel producers to deduct 100 percent of many costs associated with extraction;
A subsidy enacted in 1926 (Sections 611 through 613A and 291) that allows many producers to deduct 15 percent of gross income annually, which often results in a deduction greater than the value of actual assets;
A tax credit for “carbon capture and sequestration” (Section 45Q), an unrealized, faulty technological process that is falsely characterized by the industry as a solution to toxic climate emissions.
This week, the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment held a second set of public hearings on Danskammer LLC’s proposal to expand their fracked gas power plant in Newburgh.
The hearings are the second opportunity for public comment under the Article 10 process, following an earlier set of hearings in March 2021, which ran for more than nine hours and drove more than 10,000 comments in opposition to the project. The new hearings were scheduled in response to activist calls for additional hearings to accommodate the opposition.
In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the need to move off of climate-destroying fossil fuels is clearer than ever. If Danskammer’s expansion is approved, it will be the first power plant in the state to move forward under New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), and threatens to lock New York into a fossil fuel future. While Governor Hochul focuses clean energy commitments on New York City, activists are clear in the need to move the whole state off fossil fuels, including the Hudson Valley.
Food & Water Watch Hudson Valley Organizer Emily Skydel issued the following statement:
“New York does not need newer, bigger fracked gas plants, and we certainly don’t want them. At every opportunity, New Yorkers have made our demands clear — it is time to shut down Danskammer. Governor Hochul must honor the repeated, sustained calls from her constituents and say no to Danskammer and fossil fuels in New York.”
Recordings of the public hearings are available on the Department of Public Service YouTube channel here.
Los Angeles, CA – At a press conference the day after SoCalGas announced it had reached an agreement to end litigation related to the Aliso Canyon gas blowout, plaintiffs in the suit and community members impacted by the blowout made it clear that Governor Newsom must shut down the facility immediately.
Governor Newsom directed the California Public Utilities Commission to expedite the closure of Aliso Canyon in November 2019. Despite this, the CPUC is considering a proposal by SoCalGas to increase the storage limits at the field, and use of Aliso Canyon has ramped up in the last two years. Community leaders urged Gov. Newsom to show bold leadership and put a timeline in place to close the facility immediately.
“No amount of money can make up for the suffering Los Angeles communities have endured after the Aliso Canyon gas blowout,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Governor Newsom has survived the recall and yet this community has not seen justice served. Every time this facility is used, the community immediately reports health issues. It is a constant trauma for this community as long as the SoCalGas facility remains open. We are calling on Governor Newsom to keep his promise and shut this facility down.”
97 percent of the plaintiffs must agree with the payout SoCalGas is proposing for the settlement to become final. SoCalGas has yet to reveal any details on how the $1.8 billion would be distributed among the 36,000 plaintiffs.
“It’s actually an insulting number,” said Matt Pakucko, co-founder of Save Porter Ranch and 14-year resident of Porter Ranch. “The most important issue is not the one that’s in the headlines. It’s shutting down Aliso Canyon. So we’re calling on Gavin Newsom to do what you promised to do in your campaign and shut this facility down. This place needs to be shut down with your executive order. It’s already been proven so many times that it’s not needed for energy.”
From Andrew Krowne, President and Cofounder of Environmental Health Research: “That settlement is a tiny amount compared to the pain and suffering people have gone through. What I want to know is where is the multibillion dollar long term medical fund for the people that live here? No amount of money is going to restore the mental health or safety of all the people that live in the North San Fernando Valley while this monster still exists in these hills.”
“I now have asthma, COPD and two nodules on my lungs and one on my kidney and my thigh bone. Four people on my street have cancer. Two have died. We need to come to a better settlement. They should have asked us before they made a settlement,” said Maureen Capra, a 47-year resident of Porter ranch.
Leading climate, environmental justice and grassroots activist groups released a letter to top Senate and House Democrats urging them to reject last-minute efforts to include a carbon tax in the Build Back Better infrastructure proposal.
The groups – Climate Justice Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Our Revolution, and Progressive Democrats of America – argue that carbon taxes only serve to deepen our dependence on fossil fuels by linking revenue from pollution to ongoing government services. The letter also points out that the costs associated with such a tax will ultimately be paid by working people, which would violate President Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on households making less than $400,000.
“Carbon taxes have fallen out of serious climate discussions for good reasons: They do not reduce emissions, they put a squeeze on working families, and they are embraced by polluters as a ploy to look concerned about climate while continuing business as usual,” said Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones. “As if that record isn’t bad enough, adding a carbon tax as a last minute revenue raiser in the spending bill would only make our economy more dependent on dirty fossil fuels. If lawmakers are really concerned about holding the costs of this spending bill, they should get rid of the billions of dollars we waste every year on subsidies to polluters.”
Carbon taxes have gained popularity among fossil fuel companies in recent years. In lieu of strong policies that would mandate pollution reductions, a small tax would allow corporations to largely maintain the status quo.
“Using a carbon tax to fund the Build Back Better Act to cover the costs of the package does nothing to address the climate crisis,” stated Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “A carbon tax distracts from the urgent need to keep oil, coal and gas in the ground. It would be a tax scheme benefiting the polluters, that does not cut emissions at source at the level that is needed to get the world to 1.5º C. It will result in the continuation of environmental injustice displacing families, affecting Indigenous treaty rights and upending local economies.”
As the letter states,
“the inclusion of a carbon tax would create an inequitable, discriminatory, ineffective and ultimately regressive proposal that gives a green light for the biggest climate scofflaws to pay to pollute and maintain a harmful status quo. We urge you to oppose a carbon tax and instead pursue other revenue streams to pay for critical infrastructure, such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.”
Los Angeles, CA — Six years after the Aliso Canyon gas blowout that sent more than 100,000 metric tons of methane, metals, aerosolized oil and volatile organic compounds into the air, displaced 8,000 families, and sickened countless more, SoCalGas has agreed to a charge of $1.1 billion. Members of the nearby Porter Ranch community have consistently reported public health impacts from headaches and nosebleeds to asthma and cancer ever since the blowout.
“Money alone will never atone for the horrors the blowout unleashed on thousands of Los Angeles families,” Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy said in response to the announcement. “Nor will it erase the legacy of SoCalGas’ negligence. Community members still suffer daily from the health impacts of poisonous gases released into their neighborhoods then and now. If SoCalGas thinks $1.1 billion is enough to buy their silence or muddle their memories, it is sorely mistaken. Governor Newsom has directed the CPUC to shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility. Nothing other than the immediate closure of Aliso Canyon will protect the safety of nearby communities or honor their experiences.”
“Don’t get too excited by this agreement,” said Save Porter Ranch President and Cofounder Matt Pakucko. “You can’t put a price tag on human suffering. SoCalGas’ devastating blowout will never be behind us until the Aliso Canyon storage facility is shut down and the danger it poses to the community is permanently eliminated. We are nowhere near a resolution.”
New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich released a letter yesterday to several environmental groups confirming that he supports ending federal subsidies to oil and gas companies.
“You asked for my support for ending fossil fuel subsidies, and you have it,” the senator’s letter reads.
Heinrich’s message came in response to a letter from environmental groups and lawmakers across the state, who have been urging action on eliminating subsidies as part of the upcoming spending packages.
“As the negotiations over the Build Back Better Act intensify over the next few days, it is encouraging to know that Senator Heinrich is ready to fight to end these unconscionable government kickbacks to polluters, said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Margaret Wadsworth. “We know we must transition New Mexico’s economy away from fossil fuels, not continue to subsidize an industry that is driving the climate crisis, wasting precious water resources, and polluting our air.”
“We are in a critical moment to address the climate crisis and must build toward a climate-justice-centered framework that puts people, not industry polluters first,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Organizer Miya King-Flaherty. “Ending federal fossil fuel subsidies is fiscally responsible. We must invest in a clean, renewable energy future, and end handouts to industry polluters. It’s great to see Senator Heinrich support ending fossil fuel subsidies as budget reconciliation talks continue. He is a great environmental champion for New Mexico.”
“Senator Heinrich’s commitment to repeal fossil fuel subsidies sets the standard for climate leadership,” said Friends of the Earth Campaigner Raena Garcia. “In the face of a climate emergency, we need progressive action to transform our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and end support for an industry that is destroying New Mexico’s people and places. Thank you Senator Heinrich for answering the call.”
Sacramento, CA — Amid the backdrop of trees swathed in tarps to protect them from the wildfires raging across Northern California, Governor Newsom signed a $15 billion climate package — the heftiest investment in the country. Despite the evocative setting and emphasis on climate change’s role in wildfires, however, the Governor made no mention of immediate action on phasing out fossil fuels.
Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy issued this statement in response:
“Governor Newsom’s $15 billion climate package is impressive in its scope and emphasis on electrification and fire prevention, but it lacks the ultimate fire prevention method: stopping new permits for the drilling of fossil fuels. There can be no discussion of resiliency in the face of wildfires without stopping the rampant expansion of fossil fuel drilling and infrastructure immediately. Under Newsom’s administration over 9,000 oil and gas permits have been granted to fossil fuel companies, directly fueling the flames of these scorching wildfires. Governor Newsom is absolutely correct in his assertion that our climate crisis has accelerated to the point where wildfire season is all year round. But leaving out such a key climate change accelerator as fossil fuels from the most ambitious climate package in the country is wildly shortsighted.”
Today, 75 activists staged a die-in outside New York City Hall in memoriam of the lives lost in Hurricane Ida, and to demand the City Council pass the Gas-Free NYC Bill, Int 2317. Activists, Ida-impacted New Yorkers and elected officials spoke at the somber rally, urging Speaker Johnson to give the bill a hearing and pass the critical legislation.
The extraction and burning of fossil fuels such as fracked gas supercharges storms like Ida, making natural disasters more deadly and more frequent. Speakers warned that Hurricane Ida, which killed fourteen people in New York City and caused extensive property damage, is a sign of what is to come should the City Council fail to enact bold policies like the Gas-Free NYC Bill. Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman said:
“Lives are being lost, and fossil fuels are to blame. Speaker Johnson and the New York City Council must pass the Gas-Free NYC Bill to move New York off the fossil fuels that supercharge storms like Ida. Speaker Johnson must take bold action by committing to voting on Intro 2317 without any further delay.”
Buildings currently produce more than 70% of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions, making construction a critical opportunity for pollution reduction. The Gas-Free NYC Bill would immediately ban all fracked gas in new construction and gut renovations within New York City, helping the city make big strides towards lowering climate change-driving emissions. The bill would also create new jobs in clean energy and improve local air quality, saving lives.
“My family lost everything in Sandy, and we were hurt again in Ida. How many climate disasters are enough to make the point? Speaker Johnson and the Council should end gas in new construction and gut renovations now,” said Rachel Rivera, a member of New York Communities for Change.
“Despite the desperate calls for action from frontline communities, scientists, and my generation, the fossil fuel industry and other entrenched interests dig in their heels against climate action. We’re calling on Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council to get a hearing on the calendar for Intro 2317, the Gas-Free NYC bill, without delay. The climate-change fueled tragedies we saw during Hurricane Ida cannot become the new status quo,” said Sadiya Hoque, Brooklyn College student and NYPIRG Board of Directors Chairperson.
“Politicians keep talking about the need to take bold action on the climate crisis, a theme we’ve heard often – even before Climate Week. Meanwhile, communities of color continue to suffer from the disparate impacts of climate change,” said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Here’s an opportunity to take some bold action to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions. The City Council must step up and pass Intro 2317. Delays are no longer an option. How many more people need to die? How many more storms and heat waves will it take? How much more damage must be inflicted before Councilmembers muster the courage to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions?”
Washington, DC — Today, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on voluntary offset markets, without hearing from Black, Indigenous and environmental justice communities and smaller-scale sustainable farmers that would be most impacted by carbon offset markets.
Several organizations are raising concerns about this glaring omission of impacted communities from the Committee Witness list, which mostly reads like a who’s who of chemical companies and large agricultural interests that will profit from such a move at the expense of sustainable farmers and environmental justice communities.
Earlier this year, a broad coalition of organizations sent a letter to Congress raising significant concerns with the Growing Climate Solutions Act, legislation that would create the voluntary offset markets the hearing is discussing.
“The Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA) under the USDA will pay Big Ag to provide moral cover for Big Oil,” stated Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation. “My Ponca People continue to live in the violence of the toxic fossil fuel industries creating nothing less than environmental genocide. These polluting corporations have long been buying carbon credits and they have not reduced pollution. In fact, they have expanded their operations and called themselves ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net-zero.’ A carbon market for soils and agriculture, as proposed in the GCSA, privatizes Mother Earth, the air and waters, commodifying the Sacred. This program will further the destruction of biodiversity by paying for farming techniques that prop up large pharma-monoculture-GMO multinational corporations at the expense of sacred seeds and life on this planet. Climate change threatens every aspect of life. We do not have time for these soil and agricultural offset schemes. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground and we must respect and uphold Indigenous Traditional Knowledge-based farming methods.”
Smaller sustainable farmers, who were not heard by the committee, are concerned that these voluntary offset programs will prop up big agricultural interests, which will likely increase consolidation and undermine those farmers already engaging in sustainable practices.
“Carbon markets do not adequately account for the ecosystem services provided by smaller-scale farms using organic practices. These farms sequester carbon and build organic matter through soil health practices that are fundamental to their operations but they are unlikely to benefit from carbon market programs that pay per acre for individual practices, disproportionately benefiting large farms and financial intermediaries,” said Katie Baildon, Policy Coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.
“The House Agriculture Committee does a dis-service to its members when it refuses to hear critical perspectives on carbon markets,” said Ben Lilliston, Director of Climate Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “After more than a decade of experience, it’s clear these markets are largely for polluters, agribusiness project developers and Wall Street traders — not farmers or the planet.”
When President Biden visited Queens communities who had been devastated by recent flooding, we met him there with calls for him to declare a climate emergency. We’re not just asking Biden to change his language — we want him to back it up with action. And while we push Congress to support climate progress, there are plenty of actions that Biden can take himself, via executive action.
Thanks to concerted efforts from activists, Biden campaigned on big climate promises. But disappointingly, his administration has been conceding to the main contributors of the climate crisis at every step, from fracking to fossil fuel subsidies. If we are to have any hope of a livable future, he must do better. There are obstacles in his way (such as a senator whose last name starts with M and rhymes with ‘anchin,’) but that’s not an acceptable excuse.
Biden Can Take Action on Climate, Even Without Congressional Approval
The President’s executive power is more significant than many Democrats are willing to admit. Biden can take executive action to protect communities who have borne the brunt of the climate crisis, block new fossil fuel projects and reduce the strength of preexisting ones, and launch efforts to Build Back Fossil Free — to rebuild our economy in a way that moves money away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and other efforts towards future where we all can thrive. These actions can all be launched via executive order, resistant senators or not.
President Biden has so many options for executive orders on climate! Here are some of the top ones that come to mind:
Fossil fuel infrastructure is often built in under-resourced communities and/or communities of color. He can stop this by issuing a moratorium on new fossil fuel operations in environmental justice communities.
He could make his pause on fracking on federal lands a permanent ban.
He could revoke permits for Line 3, Dakota Access, and all major fossil fuel projects.
The president also has legal options to improve how the federal government researches and develops climate policy:
Federal actions — activities taken or supported by any department or agency of the federal government — are not contingent upon the climate impact of their projects, and departments aren’t required to share their findings even if those impacts are studied. Biden could change this by requiring cumulative pollution impact assessments of all applicable federal policies, regulations, and actions.
We know that climate change harms Indigenous communities; it is within Biden’s authority to establish a committee to investigate federal responsibility for starting to repair this legacy of violence and environmental degradation.
President Biden can — and must — shift our climate legacy, during and beyond his administration.
Biden Has Opportunities to Be Bold on Climate. He Must Take Them.
No one is pretending that it is easy for a Democratic president to single-handedly steer this planet away from the worsening climate crisis. However, climate deniers in the Senate are not an excuse not to act at all. President Biden has taken some steps in the right direction, but he can and must do much more.
We know the President can do more for climate — and we’re going to hold him accountable to make sure he does it. Will you join us in Washington, DC, October 11th-15th, for the People vs. Fossil Fuels week of action? Thousands of people will be joining together to make sure that our government works for US and helps deliver the livable future we need.
Today, a broad coalition of dozens of national and New York organizations released a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Schumer to reject billions of dollars in federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry in the reconciliation bill being negotiated by Congressional leaders this week. The Congressional Democrats’ Build Back Better Act is a historic opportunity to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, including:
A subsidy enacted in 1916 (Sections 263(c) and 291) allowing many fossil fuel producers to deduct 100 percent of many costs associated with extraction;
A subsidy enacted in 1926 (Sections 611 through 613A and 291) that allows many producers to deduct 15 percent of gross income annually, which often results in a deduction greater than the value of actual assets;
A tax credit for “carbon capture and sequestration” (Section 45Q), an unrealized, faulty technological process that is falsely characterized by the industry as a solution to toxic climate emissions.
Just last week, the House failed to meet the moment, advancing fossil fuel subsidies within the reconciliation package, and even adding new ones like those for false solutions like carbon capture. As the Act moves into the Senate, groups across New York expect Senator Schumer to champion the issue and ensure no fossil fuel subsidies are left in the bill that passes the Senate.
Senator Schumer has called for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies in the Act, and environmental, youth and justice organizations across the state, representing a wide swath of the Senator’s constituents expect him to deliver on his promise. With New York still reeling from deadly Hurricane Ida, a crisis supercharged by fossil fuel-driven climate change, the imperative to move off of fossil fuels is clearer than ever.
“For decades, our federal government has used public money to prop up polluters,” said Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp. “And New Yorkers like those who lost their lives or loved ones in Ida pay the consequences. Senator Schumer must stand up to this powerful industry and cut off their taxpayer lifeline — New Yorkers will be watching to see if he matches his words with action, and backs up his rhetoric with leadership.”
“Since the House dropped the ball on repealing domestic fossil fuel subsidies, Senator Schumer’s climate leadership is more important than ever,” said Britten Evans, Senior Regional Organizer with Friends of the Earth. “It’s bad enough that Big Oil poisons our planet; they shouldn’t get $15,000,000,000 in taxpayer dollars per year to do it.”
“Including fossil fuel subsidies in the infrastructure package spits in the face of the working class choking to death on toxic smog and dying in climate disasters like Hurricane Ida,” said Stylianos Karolidis, Organizer with the New York City Democratic Socialists of America. “We urge Senator Schumer to accept the science and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from the infrastructure package. If he fails to do so he will continue this country’s coal, oil, and gas fueled march to global apocalypse.”
“New Yorkers know the extreme dangers of the climate crisis first-hand, with the recent deaths from Hurricane Ida serving as yet another tragic reminder,” said Pete Sikora, Climate and Inequality Campaigns Director with New York Communities for Change. “Now, we need Senator Schumer to stand strong and eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel companies poisoning our communities for corporate profit.”
“Democrats need to deliver on their promises to voters, and Senator Schumer should take action to fulfill Democrats’ promises on the climate crisis, inducing ending fossil fuel subsidies,” said Paco Fabián, Director of Communications and Campaigns at Our Revolution. “Failing to deliver on ending fossil fuel subsidies will have consequences at the ballot box during the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.”
Santa Fe, NM – Nearly a month after delivering a letter to New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich (D) and Ben Ray Luján (D), lawmakers and environmental advocates held a press conference to demand a response from the senators and a commitment to oppose the inclusion of fossil fuel subsidies in the federal budget reconciliation package.
President Joe Biden has proposed repealing the $121 billion in subsidies from the federal government to the fossil fuel industries, but the bill currently moving through the House of Representatives features no such cuts. While both Senators Heinrich and Luján have acknowledged that New Mexico must move away from relying on the oil and gas industry for state revenue, they have yet to openly support the President’s initiative.
“It is untenable to continue providing free kickbacks to the fossil fuel industry in the middle of a climate crisis that they are responsible for fueling,” Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Margaret Wadsworth said. “Senators Henrich and Luján know the importance of transitioning New Mexico’s economy away from fossil fuel dependence. Subsidies offer a dangerous prop to an industry that is not only contributing to global warming and usurping water resources, but also holding New Mexico back from a just recovery.”
The letter laid out why the myriad organizations support a pause on fracking and includes a well documented list of serious public health concerns that include increased risk for cancer and pregnancy complications. New research from Food & Water Watch confirms these heavy costs of fracking, borne disproportionately by frontline communities that are often rural, lower income and/or communities of color. New Mexico is the second-largest oil-producing state in the country and also one of the poorest states in the nation.
“To help the oil and gas industry right now just seems so counter to our values, not only as New Mexicans, but as Americans,” said New MexicoStateRepresentative Andrea Romero D-46. “We are in a very tough position as legislators because it is such a big moneymaker for our state. We definitely need to get out of that and we should certainly not be subsidizing the businesses that continue to harm our communities and our environment. We need to find better ways to spend that money and reinvest into the people of New Mexico and not to the folks that are causing the problems.”
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Organizer Miya King-Flaherty: “Fossil fuel subsidies were designed to lower the costs of production, but they don’t account for the direct impacts to the environment, to public health, and to our air and water quality, and they serve to encourage more development that historically harms marginalized and poor communities of color. This perpetuates the cycle of sacrifice zones. In New Mexico, communities in the Greater Chaco region and the Permian experience public health impacts and other environmental harms directly caused by fossil fuel extraction.”
The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change’s latest report issued a dire warning, indicating the climate is warming faster than initially anticipated and zeroing in on fossil fuel emissions as a primary culprit.
“The oil and gas in the ground on state and federal lands belongs to the ultimate sovereigns: the people,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez D-16. “It does not belong to the corporations who make money by exploiting this resource. Historically, oil and gas were seen as part of the nation’s energy policy with the idea that pursuing oil and gas was what was best for the nation. But we know now that oil and gas drilling and combustion are contributing greatly to climate change. And this is not climate change anymore, but rather a climate crisis.”
“This should not be a difficult position for our Senators to take,” said Raena Garcia, Fossil Fuels and Lands Campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “In fact, they’ve already pledged to repeal fossil fuel subsidies in the past. In 2008, Senator Luján called for repealing Big Oil subsidies in order to pay for investments in renewables. Senator Heinrich also called for ending these subsidies in 2015 and has a similar track record for voting for Big Oil subsidy repeal. We need ambitious climate policy if we are going to achieve a sustainable future. And when we are looking for revenue to invest in our future, these Big Oil handouts should be the first thing on the chopping block.”
The United States and the European Union announced a methane pledge that aims to achieve at least 30 percent reductions by 2030 (compared with 2020 levels).
The most recent IPCC report added new urgency to the need to drastically reduce emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.
In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement:
“While it is encouraging to see governments’ pledge to take serious action, the emissions target should be much stronger. We know that more aggressive cuts in methane are well within reach over the next decade, and are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis. There are also serious concerns about how to gauge progress, since agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency have continually underestimated methane emissions.
“It is equally important that these emissions targets do not include factory farm biogas as a so-called solution to the methane problem. These schemes seek to entrench harmful industrial agriculture practices, or to even encourage their expansion under the guise of climate action.
“Any plan to reduce methane emissions should start from the root source of the problem: Fossil fuel extraction. Meaningful climate action must be rooted in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels. The Biden administration can and must stop all new fossil fuel projects, including an end to dirty energy exploitation of our public lands.
“We have known for years that the fracking boom — cheered on by so many political leaders — is creating an increase in methane emissions, water contamination, and air pollution. Instead of merely pledging to do better, governments around the world must put an end to the drilling and fracking that is fueling the climate emergency.”
Boise, Idaho — Today the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, along with Snake River Waterkeeper, won a Ninth Circuit challenge to EPA’s statewide water pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) in Idaho. The three-judge panel unanimously held that the permit arbitrarily let factory farms off the hook for monitoring their pollution discharges into waterways.
Simply put, CAFOs in Idaho will now be required to comprehensively monitor and report on their waste discharge and water pollution for the first time. This case may have broad implications for how pollution from the factory farm industry is regulated across the country in the future.
“Today’s decision strikes a major blow against EPA’s practice of granting illegal exceptions and special treatment to the factory farm industry,” said Tarah Heinzen, Legal Director at Food & Water Watch. “Factory farms are a huge source of water pollution in Idaho and across the country, but without pollution monitoring, they have been able to pollute at will and hide this pollution from citizens and regulators. Monitoring is a critical first step towards holding factory farms accountable for illegal pollution.
“We are confident that this is the first domino to fall on the path to comprehensive pollution monitoring and accountability for America’s corporate factory farm industry,” Heinzen added.
CAFOs confine hundreds or thousands of animals and their waste, which they store in impoundments prone to leaching and ultimately dispose of on fields where it can run off into waterways. These facilities are a significant source of water pollution, including nitrates, pathogens, and pharmaceuticals, and have contributed to pollution impairments in waterways across Idaho. Because of this pollution risk, CAFOs are supposed to be regulated as “point sources” under the federal Clean Water Act, which requires polluters to follow permits that limit discharges and require monitoring to demonstrate if a facility is in compliance.
EPA’s Idaho Permit did not require factory farms to monitor for discharges through waste impoundments or from land application fields, instead assuming that facilities would satisfy the permit’s “zero discharge” limits. Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper argued that this violated the Clean Water Act’s requirement that permits contain “representative” monitoring capable of showing if a facility is meeting or violating its permit.
The Court agreed with the petitioners, holding that EPA’s Idaho Permit is unlawful because without such monitoring, “there is no way to ensure that a CAFO is complying with the Permit’s … no-discharge requirement.”
“This victory changes the face of permitting and accountability for an industry that has avoided the requirements of the Clean Water Act’s pollution safeguards for far too long,” said Buck Ryan, Executive Director of Snake River Waterkeeper. “The public deserves to know what is being put into waterways by the State’s worst polluters, and with this decision we can begin to understand the actual levels of factory farm effluent being discharged into the Snake River in order to address their sources and ecological impact.”
The Court vacated EPA’s Idaho Permit, requiring the agency to draft a new permit with the monitoring provisions required by federal law. Because EPA and state agencies routinely omit monitoring in CAFO permits with similar pollution risks, today’s decision will pave the way for similar requirements in CAFO permits across the country.
The Petitioners were represented in this case by Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School.
This week President Biden traveled to Western states to sound the alarm on climate action. But his administration has so far failed to deliver on one of its signature campaign promises: stopping drilling and fracking on public lands.
During the campaign, Biden made it clear where he stood: “No more drilling on federal lands, period.” From a climate perspective, Biden’s pledge was prudent and necessary; fossil fuel development on federal lands accounts for almost a quarter of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
Since taking office, however, the Biden administration has approved thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits, while simultaneously pursuing a public lands strategy vulnerable to legal challenges. Food & Water Watch has been comprehensively tracking the many pro-fossil fuels statements and decisions made since the start of the administration.
The administration has clear legal authority to immediately halt new drilling and fracking on federal lands. The fact that it continues to offer new leases (and approve new drilling/fracking permits on existing leases) is an intentional choice – one that blatantly defies Biden’s campaign pledges.
Solid Legal Basis for Drilling and Fracking Ban
Shortly after taking office, the Biden administration announced a pause on new oil and gas lease sales while it reviewed the federal program. As Food & Water Watch noted in comments to the Interior Department filed in April, the statutes that give the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management the authority to conduct oil and gas leases also grant them ample discretion in whether or not to block fossil fuel leasing and drilling.
The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 stipulates that lands “may be leased by the Interior Secretary,” but that is a discretionary policy, not a requirement. The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) requires that public lands “be managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values.” It also stipulates that the Secretary of the Interior “shall, by regulation or otherwise, take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands.” And the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act specifies that offshore drilling “subject to environmental safeguards” and must be done “in a manner which is consistent with… other national needs.”
Simply put, there are a variety of legal arguments the administration could make to justify stopping new oil and gas drilling on public lands – if it truly wanted to.
Biden Crumbles to Industry Pushback
The industry fought back in court against the White House leasing pause. In a June decision, US District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty — a Trump appointee — issued a temporary injunction that essentially blocked Biden’s executive order temporarily pausing new leases. But instead of aggressively defending its initial, modest attempt to temporarily halt new leasing (while new permits for existing leases were still being aggressively approved), the White House rolled over at the first signs of industry pushback.
While the administration could have sought a stay of the injunction when it appealed that decision, it chose not to. The Interior Secretary also could have issued an evidence-based finding at any time over the past nine months declaring continued oil and gas expansion as being detrimental to the multiple use and sustained yield requirements of FLPMA; however, no such finding was issued. Furthermore, while pending appeal, Judge Doughty’s decision is only legally binding within the Western District of Louisiana. The administration could have chosen to constrain lease sales only to that area; instead it reintroduced sales nationwide.
Just days after Hurricane Ida wreaked devastation from the Gulf Coast to New York City, the administration announced a massive new lease sale of 90 million acres (nearly all the remaining leasable land) in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration downplayed the climate risks, even refusing to revise the Trump administration’s environmental analysis of this awful scheme.
There is a clear path for the administration to halt new fossil fuel drilling and fracking on public lands – in a way that complies with relevant statutes and the Administrative Procedure Act. Unfortunately, every indication thus far is that the White House has no actual desire to do so. An administration that took office promising to end fracking on our public lands has approved thousands of drilling permits, is paving the way for thousands more, and shows no sign of even wanting to fight to win one of its most important climate policies.
Today, Food & Water Watch and Sussex Health and Environmental Network issued a letter to the Sussex County Council and Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission, notifying them as to the unlawful actions of the Commission last week in allowing a clearly lapsed conditional use permit to remain in effect for CleanBay Renewables’ factory farm biogas facility in Georgetown. Citing photo and video evidence that demonstrate the company’s failure to construct at the site before the August 1, 2021 deadline established in Sussex County Code, the groups are requesting the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission reconsider their unlawful approval of the company’s lapsed permit.
Factory farm biogas facilities are a growing trend in agribusiness companies’ taking advantage of clean energy mandates, while not actually reducing emissions or agricultural pollution. Until the CleanBay permit legally lapsed in August, the project was one of two poultry factory farm biogas digesters in motion in Delaware, along with the nearby Bioenergy DevCo project, moving forward near Seaford. Given the significant risks to public health, safety and the environment posed by these industrial facilities, it is imperative that Sussex County officials scrutinize these proposals seriously, not give corporate developers the “benefit of the doubt.”
Given the unlawful decision, Food & Water Watch and Sussex Health and Environmental Network request that the the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission reconsider its determination, and inform CleanBay that their conditional use permit “is null and void as of August 1, 2021, and that therefore no construction or use of the site under that non-existent conditional use approval is permitted.”
Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney Emily Miller issued the following statement:
“Factory farm gas entrenches the dirtiest factory farming practices and keeps fossil fuel infrastructure on the grid. By creating a monetary incentive for factory farm waste production, projects like CleanBay’s that seek to produce gas for the regional energy grid, are a nightmare in the making. Sussex County has issued an unlawful determination that CleanBay’s clearly lapsed zoning approval was still in effect, paving the way for the polluting facility to endanger local residents’ health, safety and the environment, while handing the corporation a blank check. The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission must notify CleanBay Renewables of their lapsed permit, putting an end to this destructive project.”
Yesterday, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation public comment period for the Danskammer fracked gas power plant expansion ended. New Yorkers filed more than 9,000 comments in opposition to the project, which would take the Danskammer “peaker” plant from operating less than one percent of the time, to operating nearly all the time, emitting dangerous fossil fuel pollution into surrounding communities and contributing greenhouse gasses to the worsening climate crisis.
In addition to the thousands of comments submitted in opposition to the fossil fuel power plant, 175 New Yorkers testified at public hearings last month against the project — only 19 speakers at the hearings spoke in support. Advocates pledged to turn out further opposition at the next hearings on the project, scheduled for September 28th and 29th with the New York Public Service Commission.
Food & Water Watch Hudson Valley Organizer Emily Skydel issued the following statement:
“For more than a year, New Yorkers have made our staunch opposition to Danskammer’s fracked gas power plant clear. A bigger Danskammer facility will bring more polluting fossil fuels into the Hudson Valley at the very time that we need to quickly ramp down our reliance on these destructive energy sources. It’s time for Governor Hochul to put an end to this scheme, and direct her DEC to deny Danskammer its permits. In the meantime, we’ll keep making our voices heard.”
Today, the New York City Council held a hearing on Hurricane Ida, the deadliest storm to hit New York City since Hurricane Sandy. As council members discussed the serious storm impacts, activists urged passage of the Gas Free NYC bill, Int 2317. The legislation, which currently has 23 co-sponsors, would end gas use in new construction and gut renovations in New York City.
Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:
“Fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis, and they’re super-charging disasters like Ida that took the lives of thirteen New Yorkers. Speaker Johnson and the New York City Council have the moral imperative to take bold action to combat the climate crisis. That starts with the Council’s passage of the Gas Free NYC bill. To make progress on climate, we need to stop burning fossil fuels — New York can and must lead the way.”
Yesterday, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation public comment period for the Astoria NRG fracked gas power plant ended. Over two and a half months, 6,000 comments were filed in opposition to the project, which would bring more fossil fuels onto the grid and intensify the pollution in Astoria, a neighborhood which already bears the moniker, “asthma alley.”
In addition to the thousands of comments submitted in opposition to the fossil fuel power plant, 156 New Yorkers testified at public hearings last month against the project — only 12 speakers at the hearings spoke in support. With the close of the public comment period yesterday, Gov. Hochul and her Department of Environmental Conservation now have 45 days to decide whether or not to approve the project.
The No Astoria NRG Plant Coalition issued the following statement:
“The people of New York have spoken — there is no need and no desire to bring more dirty, polluting fossil fuel projects into Astoria. As Hurricane Ida made crystal clear, the impacts of climate change are upon us now. It’s time to get serious about climate change, and that means that New York simply cannot bring any more fossil fuels onto the grid. Governor Hochul must listen to New Yorkers and stop the Astoria NRG fracked gas power plant.”
The No Astoria NRG Plant Coalition is made up of Food & Water Watch, NY DSA, Sane Energy Project, Queens Climate Project, NYPIRG, Sierra Club, New York Communities for Change and 350Brooklyn.
Tampa, FL — Today, climate and youth activists representing Food & Water Watch, Sunrise Movement, Tampa Bay Climate Alliance, Physicians for Social Responsibility Florida, Florida Student Power Network and Central Florida Jobs with Justice rallied at US Representative Castor’s Tampa office, urging her to end fossil fuel subsidies.
“The time for climate symbolism is over — now is our time to act,” said Brooke Errett, Food & Water Watch Florida Senior Organizer. “Our actions today to keep fossil fuels in the ground and cut off taxpayer-funded subsidies, ending the fossil fuel industry’s lifeline, will pay dividends for generations to come. Representative Castor has repeatedly called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and it’s time she used her position of influence to show up for the end of these destructive subsidies. We need to end fossil fuel subsidies now, and expect Rep. Castor to lead on making it happen.”
As Chair of the Select Committee on Climate Crisis, Rep. Castor has a crucial role to play in showing up to end fossil fuel subsidies. Activists delivered a sign on letter from twenty-six Tampa Bay organizations urging her to do just that. In tandem with the rally, activists invited Rep. Castor to champion the issue by ‘cutting up the check’ to end subsidies to fossil fuels by the House of Representatives’ projected September 27th vote.
“Ending fossil fuel subsidies means a livable planet for my generation,” said Mary-Elizabeth Estrada, Florida Student Power Network. “This industry has spent billions of dollars lobbying for subsidies to actively destroy our planet, when they could have been investing in clean renewable energy for our future. The time is now to cut the check to fossil fuel companies.”
Images of the event are available here, and a livestream is available here.
Teaneck residents and Food & Water Watch won in court on Monday against the township for their refusal to accept petitions that were signed electronically during the COVID-19 pandemic in support of an ordinance for a 100% renewable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program.
This ordinance would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates.
Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any group of five residents (the Committee of Petitioners) can introduce an ordinance via a petition with signatures from ten percent of the number of votes from the last state assembly election. That amounts to 791 signatures in Teaneck. Typically these petitions are circulated on paper. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Murphy signed several executive orders allowing signatures to be collected electronically to protect public health.
Residents and clean energy advocates collected signatures electronically until the executive order expired on July 4, and switched entirely to paper petitions after that. Residents and activists delivered approximately 875 to the clerk for review in early July. Following the 20 day review period, the committee of petitioners were notified that all signatures collected electronically were rejected because they were delivered after the executive order expired. Food & Water Watch and Teaneck residents understood that the end of the executive order meant that electronic signature gathering must cease and petitions must be submitted in person. But that did not mean that petitions with electronic signatures must be turned in before the expiration.
“The Climate Emergency is here. Moving Teaneck to 100% Renewable Energy would be an important step to prevent things from getting worse. Teaneck’s attempted rejection of electronic signatures mandated by Governor Murphy to keep people safe during the covid pandemic is shameful,” said Paula Rogovin, Teaneck resident and plaintiff. “We are pleased that the court has ruled in favor of placing the ordinance on the ballot for the people to decide in the November election. We anticipate a massive yes vote from residents. This will be a victory for our Earth and for democracy!”
“As a CCA co-sponsor, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee strongly supports the people’s effort to switch to cost-effective clean energy alternatives. It’s unfortunate that in order to ensure (that) democracy prevails in Teaneck, we had to go to court,” said Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, Chairperson of the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee. “CCA is about giving the residents of Teaneck the choice to make an informed decision about the township’s energy sources, environmental responsibility, and the preservation of our future.”
Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Red Bank. This year, the organization also supported residents to submit petitions for this program in Woodbridge, Long Branch, and North Brunswick whose councils all adopted the ordinance in August.
“The devastating impacts of Hurricane Ida that we felt across the region just two weeks ago remind us we cannot wait any longer to take bold climate action. “A community choice aggregation program to achieve 100% clean energy sources by 2030 is a critical tool for fighting climate change at the local level,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam DiFalco. “We are excited the court ruled in favor of the people and we will be on the ballot so Teaneck residents can vote YES for clean energy this November.”
The plaintiffs were represented by the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, which has experience dealing with legal issues associated with Faulkner Act petitions.
“This is not just a win for clean energy activists but a win for democracy,” said Renée Steinhagen, attorney with NJ Appleseed representing the plaintiffs in this case. “Teaneck residents have the right to public participation in government, so despite the township’s attempt to undermine the democratic will of their constituents, we are glad the judge ruled in our favor.”
Washington, D.C. – Today the House Ways & Means Committee is advancing a massive budget reconciliation funding bill associated with Congressional Democrats’ Build Back Better Act, which would invest $3.5 trillion in an infrastructure spending package. The bill fails to remove massive existing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including:
A subsidy enacted in 1916 (Sections 263(c) and 291) allowing many fossil fuel producers to deduct 100 percent of many costs associated with extraction;
A subsidy enacted in 1926 (Sections 611 through 613A and 291) that allows many producers to deduct 15 percent of gross income annually, which often results in a deduction greater than the value of actual assets;
A tax credit for “carbon capture and sequestration” (Section 45Q), an unrealized, faulty technological process that is falsely characterized by the industry as a solution to toxic climate emissions.
In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones issued the following statement:
“As climate-driven fires and floods ravage our country, Chairman Neal’s failure to tackle billions of dollars in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry is an egregious dereliction of duty. We must be halting new oil and gas drilling and fracking, not encouraging decades more of it. This abject failure to stand against polluting fossil fuels and stand up for a livable planet now leads to a firm demand to the Senate and the Biden administration: No handouts for fossil fuels can be allowed. Not one dollar will be tolerated.”
As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that water shutoff moratoria are an important public health tool to prevent the spread of disease.
Since March 2020, 34 states took action to limit water shutoffs during the pandemic, and 20 of these states imposed comprehensive moratoria that apply to all water systems. The research found that these statewide protections prevented Covid infections and deaths.
Despite the Delta wave increasing cases and hospitalizations across the country, nearly all of these shutoff protections have expired. Only California, New Jersey and Washington have comprehensive moratoria still in place, and both California’s and Washington’s moratoria expire at the end of the month. The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs had significantly lower growth rates for COVID infections and deaths.
“This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by COVID pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families,“ said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: Debt forgiveness with a moratorium on shutoffs through the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Long-term, Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”
“Our model uses more than 12 thousand data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of COVID-19 infection and deaths,” said Dr. Xue Zhang, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell. “Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates. We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future.”
“Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic,” said Dr. Mildred E. Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell University. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.”
The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. At the peak of protection, in June 2020, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of 2020, just 12 states had a moratorium in place, and 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered. This total included 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile, which are the households most at risk of having their service shut off.
Congress has provided limited support for water access in the infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. Although the House Energy & Commerce Committee seeks an additional $500 million in the federal budget to the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, there are no shutoff protections attached to the funding. Advocates continue to call for the passage of the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, from Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to eliminate utility debt accrued during the moratoria and extend shutoff protections through the recovery period.
Image above: Ventura County March. Photo by Hannah Benet
by Mark Schlosberg
Water shutoffs in economically challenged areas, power plants in communities of color already overburdened by environmental pollution, a proposed factory farm gas plant in a town already blighted by a superfund site. While climate change and environmental pollution impact everyone in the United States, not all of us are impacted the same way or to the same degree. Across the country, lower wealth communities and Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution, a lack of access to clean water, and the impacts of climate change.
Food & Water Watch has been fighting against environmental injustices alongside community partners since our inception; the fight continues today.
Environmental Justice Has Been Woven Into The Fabric of Our Early Work
Food & Water Watch’s earliest campaigns were efforts to stop water privatization and strengthen public water infrastructure across the United States and in the global south. We partnered with local groups by bringing national research and organizing resources to defeat water privatization, which disproportionately threatens lower-income communities, in dozens of cities including Milwaukee, Chicago, and Akron. We also worked with water justice movements internationally to move the United Nations to recognize the human right to water.
In subsequent years, we continued to support community-led efforts to protect water and local environments from the threat of factory farms, fracking, pipelines, power plants, and other polluting fossil fuel infrastructure.
We devoted significant resources to these campaigns and in support of our community partners because we believe in the core values of justice for all, economic fairness, and human dignity. But we also understand that to win bold, urgent, and meaningful changes at the federal level to protect our food, water, and climate we must also work to end historic and ongoing discrimination. We must uplift, support, and strengthen a diverse and robust movement for justice.
To that end, we can sometimes provide legal support or research, like the work we did to expose how Flint residents paid the highest water rates in the country at the height of the water crisis there. And exposing the funders behind the Dakota Access Pipeline as the Indigenous community was organizing opposition at Standing Rock is another example of how our strategic, groundbreaking research made a difference.
Our On-The-Ground Work With Coalitions And Partners is at The Heart of Our Mission
Often we are on the ground, working with grassroots environmental justice groups to protect water access and stop dirty energy projects. In doing so, we prioritize building meaningful partnerships and developing smart, strategic campaigns that not only win real improvements in people’s lives but also strengthen our grassroots partners. This approach succeeded in many communities across the country.
The stories below go deeper into the fights we’ve taken on with partners and coalitions all over the country.
Baltimore, MD:Water Justice In An Affordability Crisis
When Pastor Mark James saw a notice on the front door of his church in March 2016 that there was an impending foreclosure, he was shocked. His small congregation, founded by his late mother over 30 years ago, had paid off their mortgage and had made a payment plan with the city for their outstanding water bill. But it was the balance on the water bill combined with an old citation that had forced his church onto the tax sale foreclosure list. A lien on his property was auctioned off by Baltimore City to an out-of-state investor in California.
But Pastor James wasn’t willing to give up his community’s beloved church without a fight. He partnered with State Senator Mary Washington, Food & Water Watch and the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to not only save his church, but also prevent thousands of families and congregations from facing the threat of tax sale foreclosure over our most basic necessity: water.
Baltimore And The Nation Face A Water Affordability Crisis
According to the United Nations, water is affordable when it is no more than 3% of a family’s income. Nearly half of Baltimoreans are billed more than 3% of their household income for water, with some being billed up to 10%. When families inevitably couldn’t afford to pay these bills, like Pastor James, they faced potentially losing their homes through the tax sale foreclosure – for as little as $750 in unaffordable water bills. Coupled with billing errors that sent many incorrect, inflated bills – some as high as $86,000 – that took years to resolve, thousands of Baltimore families and congregations faced the tax sale foreclosure process for water bills each year.
Tax sale foreclosure for unaffordable or incorrect water bills disproportionately impacted lower wealth people, people of color, and seniors. According to Senator Washington, seventy percent of those impacted were Black or people of color, forty percent were disabled, and eleven percent were veterans. The practice of foreclosing was a water injustice, a health injustice, a housing injustice, and a racial injustice. Pastor James was swept into this harmful system because the practice also applied to houses of worship.
Food & Water Watch’s Partnerships Against Water Injustice In Baltimore
Prior to learning about Pastor James’ case, Food & Water Watch had already been working to stop this unjust practice. We had started working on water affordability issues in Baltimore in 2015 after seeing how significant an issue water rates were in the community. The average bill had doubled since 2010 and we heard horrifying stories of people faced with losing their homes or places of worship, or facing water shutoffs due to inability to pay.
We reached out to leaders in the community and community organizations, and helped form the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to fight for water justice. The coalition includes dozens of organizations, including Jews United for Justice, Public Justice Center, University of Baltimore-Community Development Clinic, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Pro Bono Resource Center, and Homeless Persons Representation Project, as well as Pastor James and other religious leaders. Senator Washington (then-Delegate) had sponsored legislation to remove water bills from the tax sale process, and knew that our growing coalition could bring the people-power to win.
With Help From Allies, We Were Able To Help Pastor James Save His Church And Help Others
For two years, Pastor James spoke out against the grave injustice of families losing their homes and churches for unaffordable or incorrect water bills. While in the middle of the fight to keep his church, he spoke out and testified to the legislature and in the media about the importance of the human right to water, and the urgent need for legislative change.
His story humanized this complex and sometimes complicated process, and showed Baltimoreans just what the tax sale process does to community members. He was dedicated to the greater good, and we were dedicated to working with him. Through the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, we helped find legal counsel to represent him and his church while we continued to fight together for legislation to end this practice.
At the 11th hour — just fifteen minutes before the eviction was set to begin — Pastor James won legal reprieve. It was a moment of joy and relief. He would keep his family’s church. But he knew it was not a complete victory until we ensured that families and communities of worship across the city wouldn’t have to face the same battle as he did. Pastor James continued to fight with us to successfully pass state legislation that prevented tax lien sales due to inability to pay water bills and the bill was signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan in 2019.
The campaign succeeded because of a number of factors, but most significant was the strong community partnerships that were formed, and the impacted community members like Pastor James who were willing to share their stories. For Food & Water Watch, it was critical to build trust with local leaders and allies. We showed up and listened to people’s concerns. We participated in their events and actions. We worked hard to build consensus within the coalition and we all worked together towards a common strategy and goal.
Joining Forces To Elevate Voices Of Impacted Community Members Fuels Justice
According to Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer Rianna Eckel, developing strong partnerships and elevating stories about people who were being directly impacted were critical. “My approach was to cast a wide net to groups that were already organizing and working directly with impacted community members,” said Rianna. “We have really strong partnerships with legal aid organizations who are able to bring in experiences and stories of people who are impacted by water injustices in our city. Everyone in the city knew that water affordability was a real problem. We had the capacity to build the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, bringing together the advocates to come up with solutions, and building the power to get them passed .”
In passing the legislation to stop tax lien sales over unaffordable or incorrect water bills, we all celebrated the significant victory, but the fight for water justice was far from over. While the campaign helped thousands of Baltimore residents, it also shifted the political dynamic around the issue, and brought water justice front and center. During the time of the state legislative effort, we successfully passed a local measure that prohibited water privatization in Baltimore and in late 2019, we passed the Water Accountability and Equity Act through City Council to ensure that water is affordable and accessible to all Baltimoreans. None of this would have been possible without strong and enduring partnerships with grassroots allies that continue today and with whom we continue to fight for water justice.
Learn more about the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition by following the coalition on Facebook.
Kearny, NJ: Coalition Was The Key To Fighting Pollution
Fracked gas power plants pose a significant threat to our global climate, but they also produce emissions that threaten local environments and public health. That would have been the case in Kearny, New Jersey, if Food & Water Watch and our grassroots partners had not mounted an aggressive and coordinated campaign to pressure Governor Phil Murphy to put the brakes on what would have been a grave environmental injustice.
Kearny, New Jersey is a small, working-class, largely Latinx community on the Hackensack River. As the home of a superfund site at the location of a former oil reprocessing facility, the area is overburdened with environmental pollution. It’s also surrounded by some of the state’s largest cities that are heavy sources of pollution, the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, the Port of Newark with thousands of diesel truck trips occurring daily, and a trash incinerator in Newark just across the Kearny border.
We Engaged Organizations Locally When We Heard About A Proposed Gas Power Plant
When we heard of plans by New Jersey Transit to place a 140 megawatt gas power plant in the community, we knew the environmental and health impacts on this overburdened community would only increase. We had just celebrated a significant win with a robust coalition in defeating a proposed power plant ten miles up the river, so we decided to engage in this fight too.
Our first step was to reach out to the local impacted community. We knew many of the leading environmental justice organizations from our previous work on power plants and fighting water privatization. Many were overstretched with existing work and were glad to have our expertise and participation. We formed a coalition that included leading environmental and social justice groups including Ironbound Community Corporation, La Casa de Don Pedro and Newark Water Coalition, a local environmental justice group that was working largely on issues around lead pipes but saw the connection between these issues.
According to Anthony Diaz, Co-Founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “Transit headquarters is in Newark and we’re constantly being impacted by a sludge facility, an oil plant, and incinerators…We have to draw the line somewhere. Becoming a part of this coalition allowed me to take the hyper-local fight we were involved in and apply it to the statewide level and even the global level and I’m really really thankful for that.”
Food & Water Watch Finds Ways To Be Of Service To Those We Partner With
Food & Water Watch contributed organizers, research capacity, online tools, and the strategic experience we gained from previous campaigns. Our community partners provided leadership with on-the-ground knowledge of the community and executing key campaign tactics. Together, we built a formidable coalition with more than 60 organizations opposed to the power plant and successfully passed 16 municipal resolutions opposing it including major impacted communities of Newark, Kearny, Jersey City, and Hoboken. We also went door-to-door in the nearby community, informing residents of what was being planned and engaging them to take action.
Significantly, the campaign was diverse in nearly every way. Of particular importance was the intergenerational aspect of the effort. There was an incredibly strong contingent of young leaders who worked alongside seniors and colleagues of all ages. All the work resulted in a decision by New Jersey Transit to stop the gas power plant and instead invest in what will be the largest renewable energy microgrid in the world.
“Working with Food & Water Watch undoubtedly you will get shit done. I’ve seen from the sign- on letters to the direct actions to the door-knocking,” said Anthony Diaz. “There are few organizations that I’m out with heavily and I admire, and it’s a very, very short list I assure you…And I would say FWW is one of those few folks that I do trust.”
Our Partnerships Grow As We Fight The Next Gas Power Plant Together
In the ever-evolving world of politics and government, almost all our victories are incomplete or temporary. While we defeated the gas power plant, we still need to see the renewable energy plans completed. And months following our victory, we learned about plans for another gas plant just two miles away. But we’re in an even better position to defeat that one due to the victory in Kearny, and the organizations we partnered with in the fight are also stronger and many of them are with us again in this next campaign. We are all in a better position to build on our wins to deliver even bigger and more significant change in the years to come.
Learn more about the Newark Water Coalition and how to support their efforts by visiting their website.
Delmarva Peninsula: Fighting Injustice In Our Food System
The food system in the United States is industrialized, consolidated, and rooted in inequality and racism. Stemming from a system based on stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen resources, our food system perpetuates injustice. This is most apparent on factory farms, with farmers often locked into abusive contracts, local environments overrun with pollution, and low wealth communities and communities of color bearing the burden.
Chicken Factory Farms On The Eastern Shore Poison Air and Water
Since our start, Food & Water Watch has worked at the national level to fight an unjust food system and for the bold changes needed for sustainability and justice. An area of focus for us for nearly a decade has been the industrial poultry operations on the Delmarva Peninsula – on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware where massive factory chicken farms poison the air and water.
The factory farm industry is massive in relation to the population and size of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The millions of “broilers” – chickens raised for eating – produce hundredsof millions of pounds of excrement resulting in air and water pollution and related public health impacts. In 2017, factory farmed broilers were responsible for 560 million pounds of waste and in places like Somerset County —which is 43 percent African American and has the lowest average household income of any county in Maryland — factory farm chicken waste is produced at three times the rate of human waste.
Public Health Impacts Are Worst For Vulnerable Communities Near Chicken Factory Farms
The impacts of these factory farms on public health are staggering. Somerset County has some of the worst health outcomes in the state including some of the highest cancer rates.The counties with large numbers of factory farms also have some of the highest rates of lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes in the state. In some parts of the region, up to one in four children suffers from asthma.
The impacts of factory farms fall disproportionately on poor and Black communities due to how and where these facilities are placed. In Wicomico county, for example, the industry tried to site what would have been the largest chicken operation ever — a ten-house complex holding 483,000 chickens — in a community that is 80% African American. Food & Water Watch has partnered for years with the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, Wicomico County NAACP and other local groups to fight proposals like this and pass state legislation requiring the state to monitor air pollution from chicken factory farms, assess health risks to people living nearby, and require transparent recommendations to lawmakers to improve air quality.
We Joined Forces With The Community To Combat A Major Polluter And Won
In addition, communities are also impacted by the processing plants and biogas facilities that take on the waste from both the growing and processing of poultry. In Delaware, we worked with Gina Burton, the granddaughter of a sharecropper who lost her son due to environmental pollution caused by mega poultry processor Mountaire. Mountaire moved into Millsboro, Delaware promising to bring good jobs and be good neighbors. Instead, they brought polluted air and dirty drinking water. A significant number of wells in nearby communities had such high levels of nitrates that citizens were at risk of serious health problems, including “blue baby syndrome,” some forms of cancer and autoimmune disease.
With the help of organizations like the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Gina and her neighbors started to mobilize their community and reached out to Public Justice and Food & Water Watch for legal, organizing, and media support. Food & Water Watch worked with Public Justice to put Mountaire on notice that we would sue them under federal law if they didn’t clean up their act. We also helped the community to reach media outlets, and we set up meetings for them to pressure some of the most powerful decision-makers in Delaware, including Senator Tom Carper.
Due to this pressure, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control entered into an agreement with Mountaire including much of what Millsboro citizens were seeking in their lawsuit. Mountaire must now provide clean drinking water to the community, build a state-of-the-art treatment plant to deal with the plant’s waste and to ensure third-party monitoring of groundwater and spray fields to ensure proper compliance with the law.
This victory proves that when communities come together they can take on moneyed interests and win. One of our strongest partners who is on the front lines in Delaware is Maria Payan, Southern Region Coordinator with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-chair of Sussex County Health and Environmental Network. Maria works closely with communities fighting factory farms and we have worked together for over a decade. She was instrumental in the Mountaire fight, and she’s also one of the leaders in the fight against the latest destructive industry proposal – a massive factory farm gas facility in her county.
Defeating Pollution Multipliers Like Biogas Schemes Are A Big Focus In Our Partnerships
The factory farm gas proposal, from the firm Bioenergy, would build a large anaerobic digester to generate methane from over 200,000 tons of waste from factory farmed chicken growing and processing –the manure and also the blood, guts, and feathers left over from slaughtering. The project is slated to be placed in a community that has twice the number of people of color and is twice as poor as the rest of the surrounding Sussex County and residents will be forced to bear the brunt of the inevitable air and water pollution from the plant and the constant truck traffic that goes along with it.
This project will also drive even more expansion of factory farms, as Bioenergy has already contracted with mega grower Perdue for their waste. Further, the factory farm gas is essentially methane – a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 years period. Leaks through the production and transportation process will help accelerate climate change.
Strong Partnerships Are How We Win Against Factory Farms And Biogas Schemes
Defeating the Bioenergy project – like our efforts to rein in factory farms on Maryland’s eastern shore and the fight against Mountaire – is an uphill battle. Industry has massive amounts of money and political connections. But we know from our previous success banning arsenic in chicken feed in Maryland several years back and our recent success in Delaware battling Mountaire that we can win when we are able to build strong partnerships with regional, state, and grassroots allies on the ground.
We have spent years developing strong relationships in Delaware and Maryland with grassroots partners based on mutual trust and support. According to Maria Payan, the partnerships work because of our approach. “When Food & Water Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in the communities and advance something, but those local groups have a seat at the table and that’s so important. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something on and go on their own and do it…It is the community fighting their fight with the assistance of Food & Watch.”
As we move forward to ensure that Mountaire complies with its settlement agreement and to fight the factory farm gas plant in Seaford we are continuing that approach, reaching out to local leaders for advice and partnership. We have an organizer on the ground in Delaware working with residents and local leaders to re-energize and build upon the powerful coalition and campaign started against Mountaire to stop the factory farm gas facility from ever being built.
It will take a tremendous effort from a broad cross-section of organizations at the federal, state, and local level to bring justice to our food system. Food & Water Watch is committed to working with community partners across Maryland, Delaware, and the rest of the country for the long haul to make this transformation happen.
Learn more about the Sussex County Health and Environmental Network and how to support their efforts by visiting their website.
Ventura County, CA: Coalition Work Wins The Day
Just off the California coast between Malibu and Santa Barbara, Oxnard is an often overlooked community of 200,000 largely working-class people. The city — seventy-five percent Latinx — is the largest in Ventura County and spans from the coast inland, bordering a big agricultural region where strawberries are grown, among other crops. Oxnard’s piece of the iconic California coast is dotted by fossil fuel power plants and its residents have suffered environmental injustices at the hands of the fossil fuel industry.
How We Got Started In Oxnard
Food & Water Watch had engaged in a limited way in Ventura County early on in our campaign to ban fracking in California. But in 2014, we placed a full-time organizer there because the county is a large oil and gas producing region; helping curb the fossil fuel industry there would have significant impacts across the state.
We planned on working to stop fracking and drilling, but we quickly learned that the more immediate fight in the community centered on a proposed fracked gas power plant that would further harm residents. Many parts of Oxnard already have asthma rates above the 90th percentile in California, and Oxnard has more power plants along its coast than any other city in California. Members of the community and grassroots organizations told us that this was a major priority. We clearly saw the connection between fracked gas infrastructure and the need to stop drilling altogether.
Joining Forces With CAUSE And Other Allies In Ventura County
Food & Water Watch leapt into action, partnering with Central Coast United Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), the lead grassroots group organizing the fight against the power plant. We helped petition, make calls, organize rallies, conducted trainings and hired interns for the campaign. We engaged people by going door to door and talking with people about the power plant, its impacts, and what people could do about it. With CAUSE, we built a coalition around defeating the power plant with dozens of groups. Our coalition met monthly to plot strategy and develop tactics. We merged our campaign expertise from running dozens of campaigns across the country with the local knowledge and experience of our partners.
According to Tomás Rebecchi, Central Coast Organizing Manager at Food & Water Watch, a key to building these strong partnerships was being intentional and putting in time to develop relationships. “You can’t just drop in and say this is what we’re doing. Food & Water Watch had our back and gave us space and time to build those relationships. Building trust and relationships take time but by showing up, lending support, and listening, we were able to build a powerful campaign and coalition which has changed the face of Ventura County.”
The campaign also prioritized justice and impacted residents. We worked hard to give all members of the community the tools they needed to speak out at City Council meetings, including language access through translation which was not previously provided. We had to fight for that, but in the end, some decision-makers said those comments helped impact their decision the most.
Showing Each Other Winning Is Possible Through People Power
All of this resulted in a historic victory for the people of Oxnard against the fossil fuel industry. After four years, we defeated the proposed power plant. More significantly, we shifted the balance of power in a county that had been dominated by oil and gas interests for years. Prior to the power plant campaign, fracking and drilling permits were rubber-stamped and environmental and health concerns were always set to the side. But this campaign showed people what’s possible through organizing.
“Food & Water Watch has led so many campaigns that have put Ventura County on the map about pushing back against oil and gas. There is so much work to do but our organizations are… working together to transform what our communities look like and transforming them to serve our frontline communities,” said Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE. “That’s what keeps me in this work – the partnerships and the folks that we work with together — we’re really making these changes and bringing in the most impacted communities to be part of the fight, and Food & Water Watch is very intentional about that.”
The power plant campaign spun off other related efforts. We worked – also in partnership with CAUSE and other community allies – to block dozens of new proposed oil wells and win a setback — the strongest in the state — to prevent oil drilling near homes and schools.
None of this would have happened without strong partnerships with local community allies. Learning from local leaders, honoring their local knowledge, and respectfully partnering with them to advance their priorities was critical. Our work in Oxnard and Ventura County is far from done, but we are now stronger than ever and our collective power is apparent.
The Work Continues In Ventura County To Beat Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
SoCalGas recently announced plans to double the size of a toxic gas compressor across the street from an elementary school in a disadvantaged community, but we were ready with our coalition of allies to fight back and protect our communities. Defeating that project is the next step in our efforts going forward as we work towards a more just, healthy and environmentally sustainable Ventura County.
Learn more about CAUSE and how to support their efforts in Ventura by visiting their website.
Water Justice In Baltimore
In Baltimore, we’ve worked for more than a decade on issues related to water access and privatization. When Pastor Mark James was threatened with foreclosure on his community’s church, Food & Water Watch partnered with him and other local and state allies in the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to pass legislation that would prevent foreclosures and tax sales for failure to pay water bills. For a city with significant poverty where thousands of people are burdened by unaffordable bills, this was a major victory. Pastor James’ Barnes Memorial Church faced imminent foreclosure, but Food & Water Watch assisted him in finding legal counsel, and together we worked to get the law changed. It was a successful and fruitful partnership that resolved the foreclosure action, but also led to statewide legislation impacting thousands of people. According to Pastor James, “the work that Food & Water Watch does really is a model to be studied…It’s a trend setter to watch how they operate and how they communicate and how they with little means can be so effective.”
The Fight Against Fracked Gas Plants In Oxnard, California
In Ventura County, California, Food & Water Watch has successfully partnered with local allies to stop a polluting fracked gas power plant in the largely Latinx and environmentally over-burdened community of Oxnard. Our partnership with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which began in 2015, resulted in not only the defeat of the power plant, but subsequent wins blocking proposed oil drilling and water privatization. As Lucia Marquez, Senior Policy Advocate with CAUSE said, “Working with Food & Water Watch is like working with community. There are two forms of power out there. There’s the power of money and there’s the power of community — the power of organizing…Food & Water watch brings…their state relationships with reporters and organizations and lawyers and resources… [they are] such a vital partner of ours and we’re so happy to be working on these campaigns together throughout the years and throughout our communities, because when we’ve worked together, we’ve had very real success…”
New Jersey Coalition Work Has Been Crucial In Stopping Fracked Gas
In New Jersey, we have worked to build strong coalitions to fight against power plants near Newark and Jersey City. Working closely with the Newark Water Coalition and others from 2019-2020 when we defeated the proposed New Jersey Transit fracked gas power plant in a largely Latinx community in Kearny, New Jersey, that was impacted by several other sources of industrial pollution. Not only was the campaign successful, but the Newark Water Coalition was stronger as a result of the campaign. According to Anthony Diaz, co-founder of the Newark Water Coalition, “the coalition fight against this power plant legitimized Newark Water Coalition on the statewide level, allowed us to have so many connections, and join a world that historically as an activist and organizer I was never part of.”
Factory Farm Fights In Maryland and Delaware
On the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland and part of Delaware, communities are overburdened by the impacts of factory farms – the waste from over 300 million chickens that in some places is so bad that one in four children have asthma as a result. Food & Water Watch is partnering with groups to stop a massive factory farm gas facility in Delaware that would drive further expansion of factory farms and have significant local impacts in a lower income largely Latinx community that is already burdened by a superfund site. Maria Payan, co-founder of Sussex Health and Environmental Network is glad to have Food & Water Watch in the fight because “when Food & Water Watch is a partner, they are there to support the local fights in communities. Food & Water Watch doesn’t come, take something, and go on their own and do it.”
Building strong community partnerships to advance environmental justice doesn’t happen by accident. It flows from our organizational values, intentional interaction with partners, listening, supporting, and showing up. Working to build the power needed to win campaigns against powerful adversaries isn’t easy, but we know that to win at the local, state, or national level, we need to center justice, work to strengthen local organizations, and build powerful diverse coalitions.
Local, Grassroots Work Is Integral To State And National Campaigns
These partnerships lead to winning campaigns, but they have also helped advance state and national efforts. Championing water access in Baltimore was critical to advancing state legislation and supports the call for national water legislation, which we are pursuing through the WATER Act. Fighting power plants in Ventura and New Jersey supports broader statewide efforts to get two key Democratic Governors to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the national campaign to ban fracking everywhere. Working to stop a major factory farm gas facility in Delaware and factory farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland help elevate the need to ban factory farms at the national level through the Farm System Reform Act and for President Biden to reject factory farm gas as part of our national energy program – especially important as his home state is Delaware.
Ultimately, Food & Water Watch wants to help drive systemic changes that will lead to economic, environmental, and racial justice. That means building power so that we can hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make and push them to advance the bold change we need.
To win real improvements in people’s lives and build the kind of society we want, we must engage in districts where there are key members of Congress and places that will be important to move our elected officials. We’re not a large organization. That means we have to be strategic about where we engage to make the most progress in stopping destructive measures and passing the legislation that will create the country we want.
At a time of great racial and economic inequality, we reaffirm our values and continue to strive to improve how Food & Water Watch works alongside and in support of our allies. One thing we are certain of is this: to win long term and meaningful solutions to our food, water, and climate challenges, we must continue to support communities that have borne the brunt of environmental pollution and continue to build meaningful and lasting partnerships, so we can be more powerful together and win the fundamental changes that are so badly needed.
Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!
On September 8, the Jersey City Council passed a resolution opposing the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s (PVSC) plans for a new fracked gas power plant in Newark, and called on Governor Murphy to direct the agency to shift to a renewable energy alternative.
Jersey City is the third municipality to formally oppose the project, following Hoboken and Livingston.
“If we are going to seriously address the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida, we need to not only explore long-term sustainable alternatives, but adopt them,” said Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro. “I hope the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission takes note of Jersey City’s position and acts accordingly.”
The power plant would be built at PVSC’s massive sewage processing facility in the Ironbound section of Newark, part of a resiliency project that was proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. That storm caused the sewerage plant to lose power and spill billions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the Passaic River. The project would provide backup power to the treatment plant when the grid is down, but PVSC also plans to run the facility to offset their power needs from the grid at other times.
“We applaud the Jersey City administration for taking a stand against the dirty energy plant and supporting the well-being of our community and climate,” said Melanie Segal, Jersey City resident and board member of The Climate Mobilization North Jersey. “The welfare of New Jersey residents depends on Governor Murphy rejecting the proposed power plant in Newark and promoting a renewable alternative in line with New Jersey’s own pledge for 100% clean energy in the next 30 years. We hope to see Jersey City continuing to take bold and necessary steps in the fight against climate change.”
“As we can see from the recent storm in our area, our environment is changing. Any step that we can take to protect our residents, maintain natural resources, and apply green practices will assist in making our Earth a better place,” said Jersey City Councilwoman Denise Ridley. “Thank you to the advocates who are bringing these issues to the attention of lawmakers.”
While local community members and advocates agree about the importance of improving infrastructure resiliency in the face of a worsening climate crisis, they are demanding a clean renewable energy project that will not increase the pollution burden in the Ironbound and the surrounding region, which has historically faced the brunt of New Jersey’s pollution burden and decades of environmental injustice.
“If Governor Murphy wants to live up to his clean energy, environmental justice, and climate commitments, then he must direct his own agency to stop all plans for a massive new fracked gas power plant in the Ironbound, and to redesign the project with a clean, renewable energy-based source of power,” said Matt Smith, Food & Water Watch NJ State Director. “We commend the Jersey City Council for being the first municipality to oppose plans for another fossil fuel project in this region. In order to protect our climate and the health of residents across our state, other municipalities must join with Hoboken, Jersey City, and Livingston and call on Governor Murphy to stop PVSC’s dirty energy proposal.”
Washington, D.C. — In a victory for clean water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it will update water pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry following a December 2019 lawsuit from community and conservation organizations.
“It’s a great first step that EPA has decided to finally modernize the standards for meat and poultry plants across the country, which had not been updated since at least 2004,” said Sylvia Lam, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We now expect EPA to let us know when they plan to propose updated standards to protect our waterways and communities, since the current limits are allowing an excessive amount of pollution.”
Earthjustice attorney Alexis Andiman added: “Slaughterhouses are leading sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and their pollution disproportionately harms under-resourced communities, low-income communities, and communities of color. We applaud EPA for recognizing that it’s time to update the outdated standards governing pollution from slaughterhouses. Together with our partners, we look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the new standards adequately protect people and the environment.”
“We are glad that the EPA will finally strengthen its outdated, unprotective water pollution standards for the slaughterhouse industry. These facilities are a major source of pollution in communities across the country,” said Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen. “But our work is far from over – we will participate in EPA’s rulemaking and are prepared to hold the agency accountable if its new standards again fall short of protecting communities directly impacted by water pollution.”
In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, EPA announced that it will initiate a rulemaking process to reduce pollution from three industries: Meat and poultry processing plants, which include slaughterhouses; metal finishing businesses; and manufacturers of organic chemicals that discharge polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Along with its announcement, EPA reported that 74 percent of slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into rivers and streams are within one mile of under-resourced communities, low-income communities, or communities of color.
“This finding makes it even more imperative for EPA to issue standards that protect the public as soon as possible,” said Lam.
In December 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit against EPA on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States, and Waterkeeper Alliance. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s prior refusal to modernize pollution standards for slaughterhouses, in light of evidence demonstrating that revision is necessary.
More than 8 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle are processed each year in more than 7,000 slaughterhouses across the country. An estimated 4,700 of these slaughterhouses discharge polluted water to waterways, including the iconic Chesapeake Bay, either directly or indirectly through municipal sewage treatment plants.
The federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to set industry-wide water pollution standards for slaughterhouses and other industries and to review those standards each year to decide whether updates are appropriate to keep pace with advances in pollution-control technology.
During the Trump Administration, EPA announced that it would not revise the federal water pollution standards for slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into waterways, and it would not create standards for slaughterhouses that send their pollution to sewage plants before discharging into rivers or streams. This is despite the fact that EPA identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of nitrogen water pollution without updated standards.
An October 2018 report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” reviewed the records of 98 meat and poultry processing plants across the U.S. and found that the median facility released an average of 331 pounds of total nitrogen per day into local rivers and streams, about as much as the amount contained in in raw sewage from a town of 14,000 people.
Many slaughterhouses released far more, with the JBS USA pork processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, for example, releasing 1,849 pounds of nitrogen a day in 2017 to an Illinois River tributary—equivalent to the load in raw sewage from a city of 79,000 people. This showed that the national standards were no longer driving the industry to reduce its water pollution, as intended by the Clean Water Act.
In its September 8 announcement, EPA also identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of phosphorus water pollution in the nation. Moreover, EPA expressed a need to develop pretreatment standards for slaughterhouses—finding that 73 percent of local sewage plants that receive wastewater from slaughterhouses have violated pollution limits in their Clean Water Act permits for pollutants found in slaughterhouse effluent.
The White House has announced it intends to nominate Willie L. Phillips to fill the vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Phillips is currently the chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia.
The appointment comes at a critical time; as the agency tasked with approving a range of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, FERC could very well determine the fate of the administration’s climate agenda.
In response to the news, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:
“This is a disappointing selection. Willie Phillips has spent his career working on the side of the oil and gas industry and electric utility giants. We need a climate champion at FERC, someone who has a demonstrated record of challenging the fossil fuel industry and putting the public interest before corporate utility profits. Unfortunately, nothing in Phillips’ career thus far has shown that he will be that champion; in fact, quite the opposite.”
Queens, NY — This afternoon, President Biden visited areas of Queens ravaged by Hurricane Ida’s flash flooding and heavy rainfall. President Biden’s trip comes as climate groups are pushing his administration for more aggressive action to stop fossil fuel projects and to live up to his campaign pledge to end leasing federal land for fossil fuel extraction – a pledge he has failed to fulfill. Activists representing Food & Water Watch, New York Communities for Change and other environmental groups, held up signs and chanted loudly, picketing the President’s appearance in the storm ravaged neighborhood.
As Queens and the broader region struggle to recover from yet another extreme weather event supercharged by climate change, which is caused by emissions from fossil fuels, New Yorkers rallied outside President Biden’s appearance in Queens to send a strong message that he must reject, not continue to approve, fossil fuel projects.
In response, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp issued the following statement:
“Fossil fuels are destroying our climate with direct impacts in our own backyard. It’s time President Biden doubled down on his campaign commitments to end our reliance on fossil fuels by stopping the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction and halting the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure projects.
In New York, Governor Hochul must do her part to end the fossil fuel projects like the NRG Astoria plant moving forward mere blocks from Biden’s visit today, to ensure New York doesn’t bring any more disastrous fossil fuel projects onto the grid. The fossil fuel age is over — our leaders must commit real action to moving us into an era of clean energy.”
Leading national climate, community and environmental groups released a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer today urging them to not to include funds in the infrastructure packages that would expand hydrogen-based technologies that are being touted as climate solutions by the fossil fuel industry.
The letter points out that while the world must quickly transition away from dirty energy, the vast majority of hydrogen is created from fossil fuels (gas and coal). Corporate interests are using hydrogen to greenwash fossil fuels and bolster support for ineffective technologies like carbon capture, which will lock us into decades of more fossil fuel dependency.
“Congress is considering unprecedented infrastructure spending that can lay the foundation for a new sustainable energy system, but not if they chose to buy into the fossil fuel industry’s hydrogen hype. The wrong choices now will bring us more of the same dirty energy that is poisoning the air and water of environmental justice communities and destroying our climate,” said Mitch Jones, Policy Director of Food & Water Watch. “Congress must end subsidies for fossil fuels, not hand out more money for the next round of fossil fuel industry scams.”
New research from scientists at Cornell and Stanford demonstrates that fossil fuel-based “blue” hydrogen, even when coupled with carbon capture and storage, creates more greenhouse gas emissions than coal — totally undermining claims that it is a ‘low-carbon’ fuel source.
The letter states that we must “exhibit caution when hydrogen is being proposed as a panacea to climate woes and fossil fuel reliance, and urge more evaluation and study of hydrogen before we support a large-scale build out.”
The letter was led by Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth U.S., Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, the Center for International Environmental Law, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and Zero Hour.
Encouraging an expansion of hydrogen will have other negative impacts as well. Industrial agriculture corporations are looking to cash in on hydrogen hype by promoting the use of factory farm biogas as a fuel source, which will exacerbate the problems associated with this heavily polluting agricultural model. Fossil fuel interests are also proposing schemes to capture carbon from hydrogen production and to even use it as a feedstock for the creation of more plastics.
While there is an available technology called “green hydrogen” — extracted from water that uses solar and wind energy — there is a risk that it will be used as a cover for the development of fossil fuel-based hydrogen infrastructure.
The letter argues that direct electrification is a better solution in most cases than any form of hydrogen, and therefore urges Congress to reject proposed hydrogen subsidies in any upcoming infrastructure spending proposals.
“It was hip hop legends Public Enemy who told us, ‘Remember there’s a need to get alarmed’ in their classic tune Don’t Believe the Hype. They may have just as well been speaking about hydrogen combustion. The last two weeks have profoundly elucidated the extent of the climate crisis and the disproportionate impacts felt by Indigenous, Black, Brown, and poor white folk. So Democratic leadership needs to ask themselves why they would fund our own destruction by dedicating one dime to technologies like hydrogen that extend the fossil fuel lifeline with more pernicious pipelines,” said Anthony Rogers-Wright, Director of Environmental Justice, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We need climate justice leadership, not climate justice lip service. It’s time for Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer to put OUR money where their mouths are; we want regenerative economies fueled by 100% renewable energy. We have the technology to do it, what we’re lacking are lawmakers with political will and political valor.”
Richmond, VA — On Friday, the company behind the mysterious Chickahominy Pipeline proposed for central Virginia filed for SCC declaratory judgement, requesting the state confirm that the agency responsible for vetting fossil fuel infrastructure construction does not have jurisdiction over the project. The company, Chickahominy Pipeline LLC, has also requested an expedited decision from SCC on the matter, hoping for an answer as to SCC’s jurisdiction by November 1st. If the declaratory judgement is approved, the Chickahominy Pipeline would move forward without any public or governmental oversight from SCC.
In response, Food & Water Watch Virginia Organizer Jolene Mafnas issued the following statement:
“Chickahominy Pipeline’s filing is notable for all the information it fails to include. The proposed pipeline plans to service Chickahominy Power Station which has faced public outrage because if built, the fracked gas plant would pollute environmental justice communities. From the multiple counties this pipeline would run through to the vast number of private landowners’ property that would be needed to build the pipeline infrastructure, this project is a nightmare in the making. Not only should this project receive full governmental and public oversight, but it must be denied if we are to make any progress towards achieving emissions reductions in Virginia. Governor Northam and state agencies must stop this project.”
Iowa legislators are determined to hide dirty factory farm practices from the public. Across the country, Big Ag has been pushing unconstitutional statutes known as “Ag-Gag” laws — anti-transparency laws designed to silence journalists, activists, and impacted community members who dare to expose food safety violations, animal abuse, and environmental degradation at factory farms. They do so by criminalizing essential free speech activity like undercover investigations.
Iowa enacted its first Ag-Gag law in 2012, and has since passed three more in response to court decisions striking down these laws for violating the First Amendment. Rather than protecting Iowans’ rights, Iowa’s industry-controlled legislators tweak their illegal approach in repeated attempts to skirt the Constitution. Which leads us to “Ag-Gag 4.0,” Iowa’s latest attempt to silence voices the factory farm industry doesn’t want the public to hear, in a way that legislators hope will survive legal challenge.
Ag-Gag 4.0 takes a slightly different approach than previous attempts by making camera usage or data collection while trespassing an “aggravated” misdemeanor; this carries stiffer fines and jail time than a simple trespass. Legislators have brought absurd claims about the risk of “industrial espionage” to justify the law — the latest in a string of absurd reasons for infringing on Iowans’ constitutional rights. But we know their real goal is shielding Big Ag from public scrutiny. Which is why Food & Water Watch has joined a lawsuit to strike down Ag-Gag 4.0, just as so many other similar laws have been struck down in Iowa and across the country.
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Unconstitutionally Infringing on Civil Liberties, Iowa Continues Pushing More Ag-Gag Laws
Given that the intent of Ag-Gag laws is to silence unwelcomed viewpoints protected by the First Amendment, it should come as no surprise that many Ag-Gag laws have been struck down or put on hold. The key provision of Iowa’s original 2012 Ag-Gag law, which criminalized false statements made by undercover investigators while seeking employment at factory farms, was just struck down by a court of appeals. Even more recently, another court of appeals struck down a core provision of Kansas’s Ag-Gag law. These losses follow in the footsteps of similar court decisions throwing out Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Utah, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Despite the clear message from federal courts that Ag-Gag laws are unconstitutional, Iowa’s legislators have forged ahead undeterred.
Ag-Gag Laws Protect The Financial Interests Of Iowa’s Corrupt Legislators And Their Donors
If you are wondering why Iowa legislators would keep trying so hard to implement an Ag-Gag law that sticks, look no further than what comes to light whenever public interest advocates show what’s happening on factory farms. Undercover investigations consistently expose rampant food safety violations, environmental concerns, and disturbing animal abuse. So it’s no wonder the industry wants to put a stop to them!
And in Iowa, some legislators are the industry. One of the leading proponents of multiple Iowa Ag-Gag laws is state senator Ken Rozenboom. Senator Rozenboom owns multiple factory farms in Iowa, and has blocked proposals for a factory farm moratorium and stronger regulations of factory farm pollution. His factory farms were the subject of an undercover investigation showing appalling animal abuses — exactly the type of investigation his Ag-Gag laws seek to criminalize. This is a clear conflict of interest.
That’s why Food & Water Action, FWW’s sister organization, filed an ethics complaint against Senator Rozenboom in August 2020 for violating the Iowa Senate’s Code of Ethics by pushing for legislation clearly designed to protect his personal financial interests. Senator Rozenboom tried to appear disturbed and upset by the abuse and deplorable conditions documented at his factory farms and tried to blame lower level management, but he knows that what was uncovered was business as usual. Factory farming’s only hope is to keep the public in the dark as long as possible.
We Have a Right to Know How Our Food Is Produced
More than a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed the horrors of early 20th century meatpacking. That transparency led to a sea change in U.S. food production, ushering in food safety laws still on the books today. But factory farms still operate largely in the dark, and shedding light on how animals are raised, slaughtered, and processed into food remains of great importance today. The factory farm industry understands that its business as usual practices would be shocking and unacceptable to their customers and the public at large, if exposed to the light of day. So, rather than clean up their act, they have lobbied hard to punish those who would expose the truth. As the Iowa Pork Producers Association explained, Ag-Gag laws protect factory farms “from various people [who] have hidden agendas and things like that.”
But there is nothing hidden about our agenda. Food & Water Watch will continue fighting for transparency in Iowa and across the country. We will not rest so long as Iowa’s industry-bought legislators continue to abuse their power to silence dissent and keep factory farming in the shadows.
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Los Angeles, CA — The vote to move Los Angeles to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 represents the most ambitious timeline for a public-owned utility to make the transition to carbon-free power. In a unanimous vote, the City Council directed the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to include a scenario for carbon-free energy by 2035 in its Strategic Long Term Resource Plan (SLTRP). The City Council also passed its Green Hiring Plan, ensuring that high-paying green jobs are prioritized in the transition to clean energy.
“Los Angeles is leading California on the road to renewable energy,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Jasmin Vargas. “The vote by the City Council requiring LADWP to create a plan to power L.A. with 100 percent clean energy by 2035 is nothing short of groundbreaking. The next step for our city is clear. LADWP must follow the demands of the community and abandon its reliance on fossil fuels and false solutions like methane gas from factory farms or hydrogen. As the largest public owned utility in the country, LADWP works for us and it’s about time they take our lead.”