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November 21st, 2014

The Last Straw for Irish Citizens: The Struggle Against Water Charges

By David Sánchez

IrishRight2WaterA European country in crisis. Men in black come to the rescue. With the complicity of the national government, they impose painful measures on the population. Men in black never forget to be nice to their friends, so the measures include a provision to privatise public water services. As a reaction, massive citizen’s mobilisations take place. The story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We have already experienced this situation in Greece, and just a few months ago, Greek citizens won the battle, and water will remain in public hands. Now history repeats itself, and the struggle against water privatisation and commodification is at boiling point in Ireland.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Irish Government and the men in black (also known as the Troika, formed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) provides for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a new water utility, Irish Water, easy to be privatised in the near future. In a nod to their cronies, the men in black tapped former Irish Minister of Environment Phil Hogan, who led the implementation of these changes, as the new European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Following months of protests and resistance, on November 1, more than 150,000 people mobilised across Ireland to oppose the changes. Water charges in Ireland will discriminate against those with less economic means and the unemployed, adding another regressive tax at a time when citizens have been asked to make too many sacrifices to solve an economic crisis which they did not cause. Ireland’s public water system is already paid for through general taxation, which is progressive, and charges commercial users. The Irish people have already shown that they wish it to remain that way.

Once again, European citizens should raise their voice against water privatisation and commodification. Food & Water Europe, together with our allies at the European Water Movement, want to express our solidarity with Irish citizens. Resisting water charges means fighting for access to water as a universal human right, and against the commodification of water. And it means blocking future privatisation attempts.

When will the European Commission finally get the message? Its provisions to privatise water failed in Greece, and they will fail in Ireland if citizens continue with their mobilisation. People in the streets of Dublin, Madrid or Athens; citizens voting in Thessaloniki, Rome or Berlin; nearly 2 million Europeans signing the Citizens Initiative on the Right to Water. All of them are claiming water as a public and common good. Men in black should be nice, for a change, to their citizens — not to their friends.

You can support the Irish campaign on the Right to Water here.

 

November 20th, 2014

FDA and Pfizer Take a Trip to Spin City

By Wenonah Hauter

Chicken_Drum_StickUntil last year, small, yet significant levels of arsenic may have laced your chicken dinner, but Big Pharma really didn’t want you to know. And once again, industry influence over government prevailed over protecting public health.

In a classic case of the fox guarding the chicken coop, Alpharma, a former subsidiary of the major pharmaceutical company Pfizer, was recently found to be colluding with the FDA behind closed doors to delay and downplay public release of important information about risks of one of its livestock drugs. Those closed doors have now been thrown wide open.

After filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and having to sue the agency to get the documents, Food & Water Watch recently obtained internal documents ranging from formal letters to e-mails, between Pfizer and the FDA. The trail of breadcrumbs reveals just how far Big Pharma will go to protect its interests, and just how easily the FDA gave in—at the expense of public health and food safety.

Here’s the deal: Decades ago, FDA approved the use of drugs containing arsenic for use in chickens, turkeys and pigs. It says these drugs can be used for growth promotion and to treat and prevent disease. The catch is, the FDA recognizes the organic form of arsenic as safe, while inorganic arsenic is considered a carcinogen that may lead to health effects from lung, bladder or skin cancer, to heart disease, diabetes, neurological problems in children and more. Read the full article…

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November 10th, 2014

Standing by Those Who Stand in the Way of Fracking Infrastructure

By Wenonah HauterBlogThumb_Wenonah1

It all began taking shape back in March of 2013, when Sandra Steingraber — the noted biologist, author, educator and advisor of Americans Against Fracking — and 11 other courageous individuals were arrested for blockading the entrance to a natural gas compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake, in the environmentally sensitive Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. These so-called “Seneca Lake 12” were simply doing what countless other Americans have done over generations when they knew their health and safety were threatened, when their elected leaders weren’t there to help, and when they had no other choice: they stood up for their neighbors, their families and themselves, and were hauled off to jail. Sandra spent 10 days behind bars after defiantly refusing to pay a fine.

The narrative of the Seneca Lake 12 is becoming all too familiar, as concerned residents across the nation are often finding no legal means of resistance against the incessant development of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure spurred on by fracking. Thanks to the decimation of campaign finance laws by the U.S. Supreme Court, state and federal politicians have become increasingly bought off by the unlimited wealth of the oil and gas industry. As such, pleas from desperate local officials and community groups to reject hazardous infrastructure projects fall on deaf ears.

As for FERC, the federal commission charged with regulating the construction and operation of our nation’s energy supply, forget about it. The faceless, bureaucratic agency is simply a machine-like rubber stamp for the whims of the fossil fuel industry and a president who usually backs them.

And so, the numerous infrastructure components required to support and enhance the productivity of fracking operations – pipelines, compressor stations, toxic waste facilities, export terminals, etc. – are sprouting up and branching out through our communities at an alarming rate. The compressor stations, in particular, are downright nasty to live near. They’re intolerably loud, and they regularly emit vast plumes of toxic gasses, including benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, into surrounding environs.

Which brings us back to the Seneca Lake 12, arrested last March for an act of civil disobedience that sought to draw attention to the hazards inherent in a new Inergy (subsequently bought by Texas-based Crestwood-Midstream) compressor station on Seneca Lake, in Reading, New York. Were this any typical gas compressor station about to come on line, community resistance to it would be fully understandable. Though this was no ordinary compressor station.

The Crestwood facility is intended to serve a much more audacious industry goal. The intended expansion project aims to compress and pump billions of cubic feet of natural gas, and millions of gallons of liquid petroleum gas, into vast, underground salt caverns that lie along Seneca Lake. These unlined salt caverns have existed for more than a century. The underground caverns abut the pristine lake, one of New York State’s largest drinking water sources. The repurposing of caverns like these are known to leak, collapse and explode. All fracked gas infrastructure is dangerous and polluting. Salt cavern storage is simply absurd.

Flash forward to October 24, 2014: FERC has just approved – rubber-stamped – Crestwood’s plan to ramp up operation at the Seneca Lake compressor station and salt caverns, and construction is authorized to begin. All means of local community appeal, veto or delay of the project, have been exhausted. And Sandra Steingraber and a dedicated, determined band of community members unwilling to be quietly dismissed are again blocking an entrance to the Seneca Lake Crestwood gas storage facility. Sandra wasn’t arrested again on Oct. 24, but she was a week later.

By early November, dozens of community members, organized and supported by the grassroots We Are Seneca Lake campaign, had been arrested for actions of nonviolent civil disobedience at Crestwood Seneca Lake. No doubt these courageous, intelligent demonstrations of community resistance and education will continue and expand at Seneca Lake, and in countless locations nationwide. Until our elected leaders and government institutions stand up for the health and safety of all residents, and against the profiteering interests of the oil and gas industry, arrests will surely mount.

I am proud to stand in solidarity with Sandra Steingraber and all the brave, nonviolent activists in the Finger Lakes region, and all those engaged in similarly righteous acts of resistance and education elsewhere throughout the nation.

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November 5th, 2014

Using Our Voice and Our Votes to Fight Corporate Interests

By Wenonah Hauter

1411_FBHL_ElectionsQuote-C1I can’t say that I was surprised as the returns came in from the bruising midterm election last night. It’s no accident that a group of die-hard reactionaries were elected in many states from the flood of dark money, in combination with low turnout and shocking voting rights abuses. Once again, the Democratic strategy of sounding “Republican Light” and relying on TV ads to win seats in a handful of swing states has proven ineffective.

The fact is, no matter which party is in control of Congress, our way forward remains clear: We must continue to organize and keep elected officials accountable on the issues we care about.

While news programs spent most of yesterday and today talking about big wins for the Republican Party and corporations, the American people still managed to make a considerable difference. Voters went to the polls in Reading, Pennsylvania and Sussex Borough, New Jersey to prevent corporations from privatizing their respective water systems. In addition, the people of Athens, Ohio, San Benito County and Mendocino County, California and Denton, Texas all successfully voted to ban fracking in their communities.

This midterm election put communities and corporations up against one another in a very unfair fight. Plain and simple, Big Oil and Gas tried to use money to bludgeon its opposition. In San Benito County alone, the oil industry spent about $2 million in order to spread misinformation about fracking and lead residents astray.

But what did local residents have to fight against this dangerous campaign of lies? They wielded true facts about fracking, backed up by independent scientific research. And these dedicated activists pounded the pavement, talking with neighbors and building a network of trust.

People dedicated to banning fracking in their communities may have been outspent 13 to 1. But they still managed to win, and preserve the wellbeing of the places they live for future generations. To date, 136 communities in the U.S. have banned fracking, and that number is only likely to grow.

By gutting campaign finance laws, the U.S. Supreme Court put a gaping wound in our democratic process. The Koch Brothers and other greedy sources of dark money have given corporate interests a soapbox and a megaphone to push a dangerous, selfish agenda.

Things will be very tough in Congress now, and we expect more McCarthy-like tactics. But Food & Water Watch and our supporters will not be cowed or frightened.

We will continue to fight for our right to clean drinking water and safe food; for our right to know what ingredients are used in our food; for our right to preserve our health and our environment; for our right to create a better, healthier world for our children and future generations.

That’s why no matter what the results of the elections at any given time, we must continue to raise our voices and engage politically so that we can build the political power to create the world we want for our children and grandchildren.

That’s what we’ll continue to do in 2015.

Can 1 Million People Stop a Bad Trade Deal for Europe?

By Eve Mitchell

This Is One Doozey of a Trade Deal
This trade deal is such a doozey, it made more than 721,000 EU citizens hopping mad in a couple of weeks. Nothing makes citizens angry faster than being ignored. The executive director of War on Want and one of the citizens named in the official Stop TTIP ECI proposal summed it up nicely: “These trade deals are already facing unprecedented opposition for their secrecy and unaccountability, but now we are denied even the right to petition our own EU leaders. An unelected executive [the Commission], facing growing vocal opposition, has put its hands over its ears.”We don’t want the TTIP.We have to stop the TTIP.

Act now.

Take Action to stop the TTIP.

In July, a group of people set off to do a hard thing, but an important thing.

They wanted to collect 1 million signatures.

Once attained, those 1 million signatures would force the European Commission to discuss an immediate halt to the ongoing trade talks between the EU and U.S. These talks are known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. For short, they are called the TTIP.

Having already achieved nearly three-quarters of the signatures through the European Commission’s official process — the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) — we should be celebrating.

We aren’t celebrating. Here’s why:

On 11 September, just days before the ECI was to launch publicly by 230 organisations in 21 countries, the Commission announced that it was rejecting the ECI altogether. It claimed that the call to stop the TTIP “falls outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union”. The Commission argued that we could use an ECI to request an agreement, but we can’t use an ECI to stop something we didn’t ask for and don’t want.

We are not waiting for permission to try to stop this very bad trade deal.

As Karl Baer on the Stop TTIP ECI steering committee aptly points out, “Democracy arises through social intervention and participation in the political process; it is not something to be granted or denied by Brussels.”

So the ECI has re-formed and will carry on regardless of the Commission’s disapproval. In fact, not only are we collecting signatures to halt the TTIP talks, we are appealing to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against the Commission’s rejection of the official ECI.

It’s a wide-ranging mess that threatens to lower the standards that it took us generations to secure in employment and social policy, environmental protection, food safety, privacy, consumers’ rights, the deregulation of public services like water and everything else swept into these secretive discussions. It controversially includes a so-called investor-state dispute settlement mechanism that would enable companies to side-step our courts if we change our laws to protect ourselves. It can’t be allowed to happen.

Instead of a nice calm petition, the Commission now faces a legal challenge in the ECJ and an investigation by the European Ombudsman into transparency in the TTIP negotiations. Already an independent legal opinion issued by Professor Dr. Bernhard Kempen, University of Cologne, says that the decision to reject the ECI was wrong.

All of this lit the touchpaper of public anger over not just the TTIP but the very basis of EU trade policy.

For those keeping score:

Citizens: 1
Commission: nil

We need a new approach to trade and investment policy in the EU that puts people and genuine ecological sustainability at the very heart of discussions. To get that, we need to stop the TTIP.

Please sign our ECI now to help stop the TTIP. If there wasn’t so much at stake, the Commission wouldn’t be trying to stop us.

 

October 31st, 2014

Water Markets: A False Solution to a Real Crisis

Water_Protest_VolunteersPutting a public resource in the hands of the wealthy will not solve California’s water crisis

By Mitch Jones

If we have learned anything from the water shut-offs in Detroit and the ongoing water crisis in the Western U.S., it is that every community deserves access to safe and reliable water, regardless of its ability to pay. Yet a new movement is afoot to transfer control of our water to new water markets. Despite the evidence privatizing water doesn’t work, water privatization and market-based schemes are still being pushed upon the public as a solution. Specifically, we are seeing the idea of water markets gain attention, especially in response to the Western drought.

While not a new idea, the widespread use of water markets, which represents the financialization of all of our common resources, is relatively new. They are a false solution that assigns the benefits of our investment in this common resource to a small few at the expense of everyone else, and do little to ensure adequate supply to anyone.

We know that large financial institutions dream of water markets. In fact, Willem Buiter, Chief Economist at Citigroup, has written of his desire to see a global water market: “I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps — both exchange-traded and OTC will follow…. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Read the full article…

Frackers in Bed with Dr. Evil: Covers Pulled Off

By Lane Brooks Corporate_BS_Detector

It’s hard to forget that moment in the 2012 presidential race when Mitt Romney, speaking before guests at a $50,000 a-plate fundraiser, uttered his now infamous 47% remark. Thanks to the wonders of modern smart phone technology, the speech was caught on camera, leaked to the public and became a major talking point for the Obama campaign.

Well, it seems that Richard Berman, the man known as “Dr. Evil” and the “arch-enemy” of do-gooders had a bit of a Mitt Romney moment himself a few months ago. The New York Times recently reported that Berman and his associate Jack Hubbard were taped giving a speech before the Western Energy Alliance, a trade association for the oil and gas industry, where they shared a few pages from their playbook for attacking and attempting to discredit progressive causes. Check out The Center for Media and Democracy for an overview of those tactics.

As public opposition to fracking grows, the oil and gas industry is obviously feeling the heat. That’s why it’s deployed Berman, and this transcript only reinforces that fact. The industry is truly scraping the bottom of the proverbial oil barrel, turning to deceptive tactics because the truth is against it. Berman isn’t the entire problem here, but he and his associates embody the corporate greed that has allowed destructive oil and gas practices to proliferate.

Berman and Hubbard also name check several of their foes, including the organizations they selected to attack through their Big Green Radicals initiative. That’s when our ears started to burn. You may remember that Food & Water Watch was included in this initiative to discredit the movement to protect the public from fracking.

In detailing their work to discredit advocacy organizations, Hubbard boasted of their tendency to “get personal,” by digging up dirt on board members, even going so far as to research the title information for their cars. What’s next, going through their trash? We wouldn’t put it past them.

As damning as the recording of Berman and Hubbard is, it wasn’t exactly shocking. Their tactics are obvious to anyone who reads newspapers or watches television. But what was priceless about catching Berman and Hubbard on tape is the fact that the speech was recorded and leaked by an oil and gas industry executive apparently offended by Berman and Hubbard’s bravado.

It’s definitely a sign you’ve gone too far when the oil and gas industry, not exactly known for its decency, is offended by your tactics.

What effect will Berman and Hubbard’s gaffe have on the debate over fracking and our nation’s energy future? It’s too soon to tell. But next time you see an ad on TV touting the so-called possibilities of fracked oil and gas, remember that it could have Berman & Company’s fingerprints all over it.

Ultimately, it’s important to note that nobody would be employing Berman & Company if they didn’t feel truly threatened by the national movement to ban fracking. The industry might possess bottomless coffers, but we’re armed with something more important—the truth—that fracking poisons our most essential resources, contributing to climate change and undermining the future of our planet. So, keep on fighting to protect your communities from fracking, and we’ll continue to use factual research and organizing power to push for a global ban on fracking. We may also start locking our trashcans at night.

Read the transcript here.

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October 28th, 2014

Sysco-US Foods Merger More Trick Than Treat

Fork_Plate_SpoonLast December, Sysco, the United States’ largest food distribution company, announced it wanted to buy its largest competitor, US Foods. These two firms are really the only national chains that deliver food to restaurants, cafeterias, stadiums, hotels, nursing homes and other foodservice locations. The deal would give Sysco unbelievable dominance in foodservice delivery that would ultimately drive up prices for consumers and reduce the prices farmers receive.

Food & Water Watch called on federal antitrust regulators to block the mega-merger back in January, but the Federal Trade Commission has taken nearly eleven months to decide what to do. Recently, the FTC’s wall of silence began to melt and there are now inklings that the antitrust agency will decide whether or not to block the merger by the end of the month. Will it be a Halloween with a spooky antitrust enforcement surprise?

Federal regulators are trying to see whether Sysco would sell enough warehouses and distribution centers to make sure that the post-merger Sysco cannot run roughshod over its rivals and price gouge restaurants, cafeterias and ultimately, consumers. Sysco and US Foods are already so much bigger than their regional rivals, that it would be hard for these firms to either buy many warehouses or step up to provide real competition to the new, even bigger Sysco.

Recently, the leaders of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Ranking Member Mike Lee (R-Utah), sent a letter to the FTC that raised concerns about whether these rivals could viably compete against the behemoth, post-merger Sysco. Hopefully, the FTC will heed the Senators’ warning and file suit to block this merger, because another mega-merger would be really scary for consumers.

 

 

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October 25th, 2014

Filmmaker: Dear Governor Brown is about “Democracy versus Dollars”

 

Bunker Seyfert portrait

“Dear Governor Brown” filmmaker Bunker Seyfert

Food & Water Watch’s new “Dear Governor Brown” video series highlights the grassroots movement to ban fracking in California. The first videos, released this week, encourage viewers to support two fracking bans on the November ballot: Measure J in San Benito County, and Measure P in Santa Barbara County. Additional videos will be released throughout the end of this year.

Bunker Seyfert, the filmmaker behind this compelling series, travelled to 15 California cities and interviewed 32 different people. Seyfert is no stranger to moving around. Born in Los Angeles, Bunker spent his childhood in Mexico, Germany,and Long Island, New York.

“Having moved around a lot as a younger person, I became interested in people’s stories,” Seyfert said. “I got into filmmaking because it struck me as the best way to communicate those stories to the largest audiences. It makes sense that I chose documentary as my form, since it often requires travel. I think I’m traveling most of the time. And I love it.”

In fact, Seyfert has crossed the United States eight times over the past four years. He has shot videos about fracking fights in New York – where he first became interested in the issue – as well as in Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

“I was most shocked by my interviews in West Virginia, where permitting and environmental regulations are incredibly lax,” Seyfert said. “People had natural gas bubbling up right in their front yards.”

It’s a different scene in California, with its long history of environmental stewardship. “In California, the story is about protecting what people have already worked so hard to protect,” he said. “People understand the problems with fracking, they understand what’s at stake – polluted air and water – and they’re mobilized against it. The only reason it seems like a fight is that there are millions of dollars being poured into it by one of the wealthiest industries in the world.”

The filmmaker makes a poignant connection between the grassroots movement against fracking in California and those who cover fracking. “In the community movements to ban fracking, people are working hard, but there’s also this sense of joy, of collaboration,” Seyfert said. “It’s the same among those of us who are documenting it. We share content. We help each other out.”

In addition to the “Dear Governor Brown” series, the filmmaker is currently working – primarily as a camera operator – “on about 15 other projects,” covering fracking, mountaintop removal, and other topics of interest to those following Food & Water Watch. He is particularly looking forward to the upcoming release of a feature-length documentary “The Commons,” by a Delaware geophysicist about the resurgence of community-based efforts to protect our common resources.

“That’s really what the ‘Dear Governor Brown’ videos are about, too, isn’t it?” asked Seyfert. “People fighting corporate power, democracy versus dollars.”

 

 

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October 23rd, 2014

When Will EPA Meet with Residents Harmed by Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

For over a year now, residents from communities affected by drilling and fracking for natural gas have tried to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Specifically, residents from three affected communities – Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming; and Parker County, Texas—have tried to meet with McCarthy to discuss the EPA’s failure to complete the critical investigations into the connection between their contaminated drinking water and the gas development in their communities.

On October 10, residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania and advocacy organizations held a press conference in front of EPA. During this event, Tom Reynolds, the Associate Administrator of the Office of Public Affairs at EPA, came down to speak with the residents and he promised to respond with available dates for a meeting with Gina McCarthy by Friday, October 17. But we still have not heard back from him.

In July 2013, an EPA region 3 whistleblower leaked a Powerpoint presentation to the Los Angeles Times showing that local EPA officials were concerned about contamination in the drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The presentation showed that the contamination was likely caused by gas drilling and fracking, contradicting findings of EPA water testing deeming the water in Dimock safe to drink. The EPA had also returned the Pavilion water contamination investigation to the state of Wyoming and dropped its litigation in Parker County, Texas –two other cases where evidence showed that the water contamination was likely caused by drilling and fracking, revealing a disturbing trend.

As a new administrator of the EPA, the residents and advocates wanted to meet with Gina McCarthy, update her on what had happened in these three communities and make sure she understood that residents were still living with contaminated water. Last September, affected residents delivered 250,000 petitions calling on the EPA to reopen the investigations and met with EPA officials in the public affairs office, but Administrator McCarthy did not attend the meeting. Since that time, she has refused to meet with the residents despite formal requests, thousands of emails and phone calls from people across the country, and even in-person requests of the administrator at public events.

At Food & Water Watch, we recently reviewed Administrator McCarthy’s public schedule and it shows that in the past year she has met with the CEO of BP twice; the head of the two major gas industry trade associations, the American National Gas Association (ANGA) and the American Gas Association (AGA); the head of the American Chemistry Council, which uses the natural gas liquids; and the CEOs of two major electricity utilities that depend on fossil fuels—Exelon and NRG.

1410_FBHL-OilGasMeetings-C1

 

It is disturbing that Gina McCarthy made the time to meet with the oil and gas industry, but not with the residents who are living with contaminated water. The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, not to protect the interests of oil and gas industry. Call on Administrator McCarthy to uphold the EPA’s mission and ask her to meet with the residents affected by drilling and fracking.

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