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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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October 22nd, 2014

UN Officials Echo Pleas to Restore Water Service in Detroit

By Lynna Kaucheck

Detroit_UN_Visit-BlogThumb

United Nations (UN) representatives Catarina de Albuquerque (left) and Leilani Farha (right) answer questions from local residents during a UN Fact-Finding Detroit Town Hall Meeting.

This past weekend, representatives from the United Nations visited Detroit to witness first-hand the repercussions of the city’s on-going water crisis. Needless to say, they were shocked, as I have been too, despite my many years fighting for water justice in the Motor City.

Ten years ago, when I first started working to preserve the right of Detroiters to safe, clean, affordable water, I never imagined the trajectory that work would take. Quite frankly, some of the politicking that has occurred in those areas over the past decade I couldn’t have anticipated in my wildest dreams.

After sitting under the thumb of a federal judge for 35 years, in March of 2013, the city of Detroit regained oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). That same month, Governor Rick Snyder sent emergency manager (EM) Kevyn Orr to Detroit to run the city, foregoing in the process, democracy and citizen participation. A few months later, the city declared bankruptcy and the threat of privatizing the DWSD became very real. This past March, after talks with suburban entities over a regional water authority broke down, Orr announced a plan to privatize the DWSD, issuing a request for information from interested parties. Within hours, the DWSD announced plans to pursue an aggressive shut-off plan in the city with a goal of denying water to 1,500 – 3,000 residences a week.

Of course, misinformation about the shutoffs abounded. This wasn’t simply a case of people opting not to pay their water bills. Some 40 percent of the city lives in poverty, victims of decades of misplaced civic priorities and policies that put profits ahead of people. Read the full article…

October 17th, 2014

The New Face of Green Energy: Profiting From Pollution in the Alberta Oil Sands

Image provided by Howl Arts Collective

Image provided by Howl Arts Collective

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

On September 29, Genalta Power of Alberta, Canada announced that it generated 8,208 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) carbon offsets from its Cadotte Peace River Power Generating Facility in 2013. The credits were created by converting waste gas — a byproduct of bitumen extraction in the oil sands — that is typically flared, or burned, into electric energy. This superficial, “environmentally-friendly” initiative is a sham, and here’s why:

First, offsets of any kind are a shell game. They allow a polluter to purchase emissions reduction credits instead of reducing their own emissions at the source. In the United States, for example, an oil refinery in California is allowed to meet a portion of its required emissions reductions by purchasing offsets from a landowner in Arkansas who has agreed to not cut down the forest on their land. Cutting down trees releases CO2 emissions, so the act of refraining from cutting them down counts as an “avoided emission,” and can be sold as an offset. Read the full article…

October 15th, 2014

The Global Frackdown 2014: A Recap

GlobalFrackdown2014Collage

By Mark Schlosberg

Last Saturday, thousands of people across the world gathered to participate in the Global Frackdown: an international day of action to demand a ban on fracking and other dangerous forms of oil extraction. By almost any measure, this year’s collection of rallies, performances, public speaking events and educational opportunities was the biggest and most powerful day of action yet — a reflection of the growing movement against fracking, fueled by mounting scientific evidence that this dangerous practice not only poses a significant threat to water, air, health and our communities, but also threatens the climate on which we all depend.

The first Global Frackdown in 2012 featured 200 international events. Last year, we noted over 250 and in 2014 we saw many more — well over 300 — and actually many more including all of the actions in Europe that were also connected with a day of action against three trade agreements. These agreements could make it much more difficult for European communities to prevent fracking. Last year, the Global Frackdown had events in 30 different countries; this year our day of action spread out to 34. Last year, in the U.S. there were actions in 30 states; this year there were actions in 33 states and the District of Columbia. And, this comes on the heals of the People’s Climate March, which was attended by 400,000 and was noted, in part, for the strength of the anti-fracking contingent.

Actions ran the gamut from large rallies to smaller leafleting, education, and planning events. In France, there were several actions across the country and an action in Geneva drew 2000 people from France and Switzerland.

In Germany, there were 20 events, including an event in Ueberlingen with at least 600 people. In London, hundreds took to the streets to protest HSBC Bank, which they dubbed the “frackers’ local bank.” An event in Wales attracted 400 demonstrators. Romania, where Chevron is currently drilling for shale gas, held more than ten events. And, other significant events were held across Europe including in Ireland, Spain, Bulgaria, and many more.

In Australia, there were several actions across the country and in Asia events were held in the Philippines, India and Bangladesh. In Africa there were events in Morocco, South Africa, and Cameroon and in South America, there were (or are still planned) actions in Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru and Argentina.

In North America there were events held across Mexico, the United States and Canada. Our allies at Council of Canadians released a poll just prior to the Global Frackdown showing that 70 percent of Canadians support a moratorium on fracking.

In Long Island, New York, 200 activists and several awesome surfers braved the rain to protest against fracking and a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility — it was one of 20 actions held across the state. In Illinois, residents from Chicago to the Shawnee National Forest took action to keep fracking out of their beautiful state. In Colorado, people toured fracking sites. And in North Carolina, groups joined together for a Frackdown “Getdown;” and three days later they delivered Governor McCrory 50,000 petitions in support of keeping North Carolina frack free. In California, there were over a dozen actions across the state largely focused on movement building as the campaign to pressure Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking in California continues to ramp up. And there were many many more…

While these events happened in hundreds of communities across the world, they were all united by a common goal of stopping the extreme energy extraction methods that are jeopardizing our future. Together, communities around the globe called for an end to fracking and a swift transition to a 100 percent renewable energy future.

That message was brought home by a coalition letter signed on by over 250 groups from 39 countries and delivered to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, calling on him to not include fracking as part of the United Nations’ Sustainability for All Initiative.

The three years of the Global Frackown have provided an important connection between the collective struggles of communities across the world, and have elevated the call for a ban on fracking into the mainstream. The oil and gas industry has virtually unlimited financial resources, but we know that when we organize, make strong demands that are backed by science, and work together, we can win.

So, lets celebrate the Global Frackdown, draw (clean) energy from it, and continue together to fight for the renewable energy future that we so desperately need.

View our full photo album here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152520160993031.1073741841.50982313030&type=1

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October 14th, 2014

California Carbon Offsets: Valid Until Proven Faulty

Factory_PollutionBy Elizabeth Nussbaumer

With the release of the EPA Power Plant Rule in June, California’s carbon cap-and-trade program has been held out as a model for other states to follow, making it remarkable that it could shortly invalidate almost a quarter of a million of its offset credits. On May 29, 2014 the California Air Resources Board (CARB) began an investigation into the validity of 4.3 million carbon offsets, and last week the CARB Executive Officer issued a preliminary determination that 231,154 of these offsets face invalidation. If they become void, it will show just how tenuous and mercurial the California market is. A mechanism meant to create permanent emissions reductions can easily be undone. How will this “solution” ever achieve anything if its supposed emissions reductions can be invalidated at a moments notice?

As I wrote in a blog last year, offsets offer polluters in California a cheaper way to meet up to 8 percent of their required emissions reductions under the state’s cap-and-trade system. In effect, an offset allows a polluter to purchase emissions reductions that happen elsewhere — a landowner in Oregon avoids emissions by not cutting down her forests (cutting down trees releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) and can then sell these “avoided” emissions as offsets to an oil refinery, or other polluter, in California. The oil refinery counts these offsets as part of their emissions reductions, while their pollution continues onsite. It’s a pay-to-pollute scam. Read the full article…

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October 10th, 2014

Susan G. Komen, Fracking and “Pink Sh*t”

By Wenonah Hauter

BlogThumb_PinkDrill

What the frack? A pink fracking drill bit.

This week Susan G. Komen announced a partnership with Baker Hughes, a massive oilfield service company that operates in 90 countries. Throughout the month of October, Baker Hughes will “do their bit” in the fight against breast cancer by selling pink fracking drill bits.

While I fully support efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer, as a long-time consumer and environmental activist, I simply can’t abide such blatant pinkwashing, particularly when it willfully ignores the very obvious connection between fracking and breast cancer.

Our newest report, “The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking,” reveals that the practice of fracking utilizes over 100 dangerous chemicals known to cause life-threatening illnesses. Exposure to at least one of these chemicals, benzene, has been confirmed to increase people’s risk of developing cancer. And fracking waste can’t just be thrown into a dump or landfill with the rest of the trash. It’s highly toxic, often radioactive, and can easily seep into the atmosphere and water. In a handful of incidents, oil and gas companies have injected fracking fluids or wastes very close to, if not directly into, underground sources of drinking water.

If fracking is so dangerous, and if the corporations that do it are knowingly releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment, why on earth would the world’s largest breast cancer nonprofit think it’s a good idea to go into a partnership with them? This completely goes against the organization’s mission to “end breast cancer forever.”

To be honest, Susan G. Komen’s relationship with Baker Hughes is the cherry on top of a chemical-laden, toxic sundae. From pink water bottles containing BPAs to pink buckets of KFC containing carcinogenic ingredients, Susan G. Komen has made it clear they are prioritizing their pink bottom line over people they’re supposed to be helping.

Ultimately, the national nonprofit Breast Cancer Action summed this debacle up best in a recent press release:

“Breast Cancer Action today thanked Susan G. Komen and Baker Hughes for partnering on the most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t they’ve seen all year – 1,000 shiny pink drill bits. BCAction hailed this partnership as the most egregious example of “pinkwashing” they’ve ever seen and heartily lauded Komen and Baker Hughes for doing their bit to increase women’s risk of breast cancer with their toxic fracking chemicals.”

We concur.

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