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December 18th, 2014

USDA Decks the Halls With…New GMOs?

By Genna Reed GMO_Farming_BlogThumb

In 2012, the USDA was considering 23 new GMO crops for approval. Since then, all but four have been approved. The most recent final Environmental Impact Statement and preliminary decision to approve a crop came this week for Monsanto’s “Xtend” dicamba-tolerant and Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton, yet another GMO crop engineered to tolerate multiple herbicides. Read the full article…

We Can Ban Fracking, New York Paves the Way

By Wenonah Hauter

CuomoBanFantastic news came from the state of New York this week when the Cuomo administration announced its decision to ban fracking in the state. This exciting decision is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard in New York to protect the state from the ravages experienced elsewhere from fracking.

Here’s the full story: On Wednesday, the Governor convened a cabinet meeting where Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker presented the findings of the Department of Health’s review on fracking. He described the peer- reviewed studies showing that fracking contaminates air and water and harms health, and he highlighted that many of the long-term health effects are still unknown, as epidemiological studies have not been conducted. Comissioner Zucker ended his presentation by saying, “Would I live in a community that would allow fracking? The answer is no.”

Then in this real-time drama, Joe Martens, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation indicated the department would issue “legally binding findings to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.” They will be included in the supplemental generic environmental impact study that will be released in the New Year, an approach that Governor Cuomo supports, and that will effectively ban fracking in New York.

This is particularly exciting because just three years ago, conventional wisdom in New York’s mainstream environmental community held that fracking was inevitable in New York and that strong regulation was the best we could hope for. But Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Water Defense, United for Action, Citizen Action of New York and several other organizations joined together to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF) – with the audacious goal of winning a complete ban in the state of New York. For the next three years, thousands of people engaged in activities around the state, from massive demonstrations, to sending in comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation on the health risks of fracking. NYAF grew to over 250 national, state, and local groups.

For the last two years, it has been impossible for Governor Cuomo to go anywhere in the state without fractivists by the dozens, hundreds, or thousands rallying outside his appearances, delivering the clear message: ban fracking now. At his polling place this November, Cuomo recognized the movement as the most powerful protest movement in the state.

I’m proud that Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to stand with the grassroots organizations and to call for a ban on fracking. This hard won victory shows that we can win when we build political power. It also shows that we can win when we organize around a clear message and an unambiguous goal. It should inspire reflection among those mainstream environmental groups reluctant to take a strong stand against fracking or those who attempt to split the difference by supporting both a moratorium and stronger regulations at the same time. We need to be clear and uncompromising in calling for a ban on fracking and other extreme extraction practices.

Governor Cuomo heeded this call, and has positioned himself as a national leader in the movement to shift to an energy policy that is safe and based on efficiency and 100 percent renewable energy. New York is a bellwether state for fracking nationally, and is the first shale state to take such bold action against fracking. This decision has implications for other states considering fracking like Maryland, Pennsylvania, California and others.

In contrast to Cuomo’s decision today, Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley recently released regulations for fracking in his state. The Obama Administration’s EPA has refused to reopen investigations on instances of water contamination from fracking. Governor Hickenlooper in Colorado continues to oppose even communities’ ability to prevent fracking, Governor Brown in California continues to burry his head in the sand when it comes to the real health and environmental impacts of fracking, and Governor-Elect Wolf in Pennsylvania is floating a severance tax as a way for the state to make money off fracking, rather than taking on this dangerous practice.

Politicians with national influence or larger political aspirations should take note that support for fracking nationally has fallen, especially among Democrats and Independents, over the past few years. A PEW poll issued this November found that a 47 percent plurality of Americans, 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents nationally oppose increased fracking. This ban in New York comes exactly one week after Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a bill to ban fracking on public lands, the strongest federal bill on fracking to date.

The decision in New York will have a ripple effect across the country and act to strengthen efforts against fracking nationwide. The story of how tens of thousands of fractivists fought and won in New York with their blood, sweat and tears is awe-inspiring and demonstrates that we should fight for what we want – not just the best that can be negotiated in a backroom deal or what others say is politically feasible. Instead we should work to change the political reality in order to win real improvements in people’s lives and protect our fragile planet for future generations.

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December 17th, 2014

Food & Water Watch’s Holiday Gift Guide

BlogThumb_GiftBy Briana Kerensky

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to start worrying about what to get your friends and family for the holidays. Are you searching for the best gifts to get your loved ones that won’t make you feel like you’re giving in to corporate holiday marketing schemes?

This year, we’ve got you covered. Steer clear of the shopping mall and check out these seven meaningful gift ideas for the holidays.

  1. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in Americaby Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water WatchRead all about how our food system came to be controlled by a handful of companies—and what you can do to fix it.
  2. Homemade candy or baked goods. Fight the Foodopoly and make your friends and family some sweet treats this season, like peppermint bark or gingerbread cookies.
  3. Food & Water Watch gift membership. Give the gift of safe food and clean water for all… with gift memberships to Food & Water Watch.
  4. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. In this excellent new book, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein skillfully explains how the climate crisis and gaping inequalities in our global economy are tied together, and what we can do to make a difference.
  5. Cookbooks. A number of chefs and professional foodies are great allies in supporting safe food and clean water. Why not show them your support and purchase some of their cookbooks for your loved ones this year? For example, Chef Alice Waters is not only a culinary legend, but is also extremely active in the fight to ban fracking as a member of Chefs for the Marcellus.
  6. Gift certificate to a local restaurant. Everyone loves being treated to a nice meal, so why not treat your friend and support your local economy at the same time? For sustainably minded restaurant ideas, visit the Eat Well Guide.
  7. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Following the death of her mother, divorce, and a descent into drugs, author Cheryl Strayed decided to take control of her life by hiking solo across a 1,100 mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. While Strayed’s journey is the focus of the story (and a new film featuring Reese Witherspoon), the beauty of the Pacific Northwest is certainly more than a bit part. Spanning 25 national forests and seven national parks, the Pacific Crest Trail is one of our most treasured places – and it’s at risk of getting fracked. Learn more about the danger of fracking on public lands and what you can do to stop it.

Do you have other meaningful gift ideas? Tell us in the comments below.

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December 16th, 2014

Don’t Let Fracking Destroy Her Legacy

By Alex Nagy

Dianne Thomas

Dianne Thomas, anti-fracking activist.

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Dianne is one of the amazing people I get to work with as the Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Dianne and her late husband worked hard to build a home in Carson, California to leave behind for their children, but the oil and gas industry could destroy their legacy.

When Dianne found out that Occidental Petroleum (“Oxy”) was planning to drill 200 new wells over the next 10 years, she asked if there would be fracking: they answered yes. The night before, she had caught a special on TV about extreme oil extraction — she saw homes cracking and falling apart because of fracking.

That’s when Dianne and her neighbors reached out to Food & Water Watch. They had heard about the work we were doing with communities to ban fracking.

Dianne and I started to meet weekly to strategize about the campaign — how to get Carson’s story in the news and how to build more public support. It was clear that Dianne was passionate, and as a skilled community activist she would give Oxy a fight. I helped by providing the information and resources to fight this fracking proposal, including reports from our research team and insight from other organizers working to stop fracking in towns across the country.

With your support, we can continue to partner with local activists like Dianne and provide the resources to ban fracking!

While the City Council was considering Oxy’s proposal, we convinced them to put a 45-day hold on all new drilling in Carson. During that time, the community rallied support to convince the Council to put a permanent ban on new drilling. At several City Council meetings, there were so many people that supported the ban, we couldn’t all fit in the room!

Oxy used a lot of dirty tricks to overturn the temporary ban and get approval to start drilling. They even bribed people by offering gift cards to generate support for fracking at City Council meetings. They also pulled some powerful political strings, with a local paper reporting that Governor Jerry Brown called Carson’s mayor to urge him to kill the fracking ban. Clearly the community was doing something right if Big Oil and Gas were trying so hard to shut them down.

When it came down to it, we knew the vote was close. The movement against fracking in Carson was strong, but Oxy’s connections were powerful and they had spent a lot of money to fight the ban. Unfortunately, Oxy’s money and lobbying won out, and the Council voted against the ban on drilling.

But our fight is far from over — we are continuing to work together to keep fracking out of Carson, and out of other communities in California and across the country. We know we can’t let up, that we have to work even harder because if we don’t stop it, new oil drilling could start in Carson in 2015. Will you stand with us to ban fracking in communities across the country by making a generous gift?

Dianne is in this fight because Carson is her home, it’s where she bought a house and has worked hard to create a legacy for her children and grandchildren. I’m committed to this work because, like Dianne, I can’t just sit by as some corporation comes into a community and destroys the land, water and health of real people. This is all of our fight, because no one should be at risk of the dangers of fracking.

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December 15th, 2014

No Surprise: Congress Gets it Wrong on GMO Labels

By Genna Reed

Genna_ReedThe FDA issued voluntary guidance for labeling GMO foods in 2001 and has basically been inactive on the topic ever since. Since the agency has for years neglected citizen petitions to require the mandatory labeling of GMOs, a movement is afoot to introduce bills on the state level. In 2012 and 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed bills with trigger mechanisms that would require additional New England states to pass similar bills of their own. And just this year, Vermont passed a labeling bill, with no strings attached, which is now being fought in court by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA)Read the full article…

December 10th, 2014

How to Burst Monsanto’s Bubble

By Sarah Alexander

BlogThumb_GMOcampus

We need your support to keep legislators from passing Monsanto’s dream bill.

We’re within 800 votes of winning GMO labeling at the ballot in Oregon, and the measure is currently in a recount! Win or lose, coming this close to defeating Monsanto, Dow and other Big Food companies, despite their record-shattering spending to mislead voters, shows that we’re close to winning labeling for everyone!

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Can you make a year-end donation right now to help make sure we can continue to fight for labeling genetically engineered (GMO) foods? Thanks to a special 2-to-1 match, the impact of your donation right will be tripled!

Food & Water Watch has been on the front lines in Oregon for the ballot initiative to label GMO foods since last January. Along with our allies, as a member of the campaign steering committee in Oregon:

  • We helped plan out the campaign’s grassroots effort, which qualified the initiative for the ballot with volunteers who helped gather more than 150,000 signatures over the summer.
  • We had five staff on the ground working to register people to vote and to get likely supporters to turn in their ballots, including special outreach to young voters on five college campuses.
  • Our national organizers in more than 17 offices throughout the U.S. helped engage volunteers from across the country to make more than 50,000 calls into Oregon voters from outside the state.
  • In the final days of the election, our staff and volunteers helped knock on more than 24,000 doors, make more than 500,000 calls, and turn people out to vote.

Our efforts are what helped make this election so much closer than previous ballot initiatives in Washington and California. We know that the only way we can counter the propaganda of Monsanto, Dow and other Big Ag companies, who have collectively spent more than $105 million to defeat labeling ballot initiatives in the last three elections, is to have one-on-one conversations with voters. But it takes staff and resources to recruit, train and organize volunteers, and we need to have more people working on these types of electoral efforts if we’re going to be able to make sure you can know what you’re eating and feeding your family.

Most Americans are pretty far removed from the production of their food. Grandparents may not realize that the cereal they are feeding to their grandkids is dramatically different from the cereal they fed their own children. Our food system has radically changed within one generation.

By genetically engineering food, these big chemical companies are changing plants and animals in a way that could never happen in nature, or through traditional cross-breeding. It’s crazy for some people to think that they can take DNA from a completely unrelated organism and insert it into the DNA of a plant or animal without having unknown consequences. And most of these crops are engineered to withstand higher applications of toxic chemicals or to actually produce toxic chemicals in their cells that kill bugs that eat the crop. What happens when we eat them?

Even worse, these GMO crops are untested, unlabeled and could be unsafe. The Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, all tasked with regulating different aspects of GMO crops, have no real regulations in place to look at the impacts of genetically engineered organisms on our health or our environment.

We believe that everyone deserves safe and healthy food, and that starts with labeling so people can make informed choices. Can you make a year-end donation today to help us continue the fight for labeling in 2015?

Countries around the world do not allow the growing or importation of GMO crops, and 64 countries require the labeling of all GMO foods. Why not in the U.S.? Because big food corporations want to protect their profits, regardless of what’s healthy for you and your family.

We’re standing up to these corporations that want to keep us in the dark about what is actually in our food. In fact, these companies have found support in Congress to introduce Monsanto’s dream bill (aka the DARK Act) that keeps states from labeling GMO foods, and they are having a hearing tomorrow!

We have a plan to help stop this bill from moving through Congress in 2015 by targeting specific members of Congress, but we’ll need your support to work both inside Congress and in states across the country to keep legislators from passing Monsanto’s dream bill.

In addition to fighting at the federal level, we’ll be working with our partners and volunteers in many states like New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and California to further state efforts to label GMOs. We just need your help to make sure we can implement our plans for genetically engineered food labeling.

With your help, it’s onward to victory!

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December 9th, 2014

Climate Deniers Watch: Congress’s Climate Change Deniers (Brought to You by the Oil and Gas Industry)

By Mitch Jones

Global_Climate_Change_MapIn the 114th Congress, a shift in power in the Senate means that a group of climate change deniers, funded by the oil and gas industry, will be taking over key committees. Their goals: advancing an agenda to frack more for oil and gas, export more dirty fossil fuels, and attack an already weak EPA. We’re not going to let them get away with it.

We are launching a special feature on our blog – Climate Denier Watch – that will expose the ties between the oil and gas industry, the Koch Brothers, and other climate change deniers and their representatives in Congress. Because, let’s not be fooled, these climate change deniers are the representatives of the oil and gas companies, not of the voters.

Take, for instance, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the incoming Chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW). Sen. Inhofe is a leader of the climate deniers in Congress, having proclaimed climate change “the greatest hoax.” In his role as chairman, we can expect Inhofe to continue his attacks on climate scientists, the EPA, and public interest groups working to prevent climate change. Why? Because the oil and gas industry has donated at least $1.7 million to his campaigns during his career, more than twice what any other industry group has given. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Senator Inhofe isn’t the only climate denier serving in Congress on the oil and gas industry’s dime. As Ranking Member on EPW in the 113th Congress, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has used public money and staff resources to release malicious reports attacking Food & Water Watch and other public interest groups fighting to protect the environment. The attacks serve two purposes: First, to aid Vitter in his run for governor; and second, to try to intimidate Food & Water Watch and others into not standing up for the environment and the public interest. In the past, Vitter has voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and voted for protecting oil and gas subsidies. It shouldn’t surprise us that Vitter is aiming for us; he has said evidence of climate change is “ridiculous pseudo-science garbage”. Add to that the over $1.2 million in contributions from the oil and gas industry, and you can see Vitter is doing what he’s being paid to do.

All told, the Republican members on EPW have received over $5 million from the oil and gas industry throughout their careers. That’s a major investment, and we can expect those companies will want to see a big return on it. That’s why we can expect more climate denial, more attacks on EPA’s weak regulations, a bigger push to frack us and ship the oil and gas abroad, and more attacks on the groups that stand up to fight them.

But we aren’t going to be intimidated by their imitation McCarthyism. We’ll continue to expose their climate denial, expose the connections between the deniers and their paymasters in the oil and gas industry, and most importantly we’ll continue to push to ban fracking, to have real solutions to the emissions of greenhouse gases, and to protect our food and water.

December 5th, 2014

ALEC Targets EPA and the Planet

Conservative front group reveals their agenda to promote fracking, gut the EPA, and deny climate change

By Mitch Jones

ALECThe American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing organization that links conservative legislators to corporations better known as ALEC, is in Washington this week for their “Policy Summit.” They posted a copy of a 40-page memo for their “Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force” on their website. It’s as outrageous as you’d imagine, only more so.

This year ALEC has linked up with Rick Berman the corporate PR consultant known for setting up front groups to attack public interest organizations. He’s on the agenda to talk about his “Big Green Radicals” attack on groups such as Food & Water Watch. But that’s just the beginning of ALEC’s reactionary agenda.

ALEC is pushing a range of policies that will be bad for our country, our environment, and our citizens. They have draft proposals of resolutions for state legislatures calling for state regulation of fracking and for expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling. And, they have draft legislation to undermine the Endangered Species Act.

Probably the craziest proposal they have is a resolution calling for the dissolution of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is an old goal of major polluters and their paid hacks in Washington. What’s new and frightening about ALEC’s proposal is its call to replace the EPA with a 300-member committee made up of employees of the 50 states’ environmental departments. The committee would decide which regulations should be kept and which should be gotten rid of, and all enforcement of any environmental regulations would fall strictly to the states.

The plan would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that in 24 states next year Republicans – the major source of ALEC’s influence – will be in complete control of state government.

It’s clear, ALEC, Berman, and their friends in Congress like Sen. James Inhofe are gearing up to undermine our environmental protections. Whether through state resolutions, absurd attacks on public interest groups, or climate denial in Washington we know their agenda. But we aren’t going to back down or be intimidated by their attacks on us or our environment.

 

 

 

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December 1st, 2014

United Water Living Large, Customers Stuck with the Bill

By Mitch Jones

Mitch_Jones_BlogThumbIn the wake of the defeat of its plan to build an unnecessary desalination plant in Rockland County, United Water New York finds itself under investigation by the New York Public Service Commission (PSC). The reason? Alleged financial impropriety. In other words: while United Water executives have been partying, ratepayers have been picking up the bill.

According to news reports, the company reported a “$7.1 million ‘misstatement’ of revenue” between 2010 and 2014. The “misstatement” led to three United Water New York executives losing their jobs.

A new report by a local NBC affiliate uncovered even more odd expenses. The company paid close to $80,000 for private school tuition for executives’ kids. On top of that, it paid $16,000 a month to rent a house for its CEO, Bertrand Camus, despite the fact that Mr. Camus is both the CEO of United Water and of its parent company, Suez Environment North America. Surely he can afford to pay his own rent.

But what’s even more ridiculous is that the company spent about $6,000 for golf balls in 2012. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you about the efficiencies of the private sector.

While the company was paying for these perks for its executives, it was seeking outrageous rate hikes for its customers. The company asked for a 28.9 percent rate increase this summer. Thankfully for its customers, New York PSC refused to grant such a large increase and approved one for 13.3 percent instead. During the proceedings on the rate increase, the PSC questioned expenses reported by the company for “holiday parties, award events, gifts, etc.,” as well as for a “wives breakfast” (seriously?) and for alcohol for corporate parties. Ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay more for their water service so that United Water New York can throw itself boozy parties.

Of course, United Water New York didn’t see any problem with including the parties in its request. It told the PSC that it would “provide more benefits than cost.” I doubt your typical Rockland County ratepayer benefits more from a corporate “wives breakfast” than it costs.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior. We’ve chronicled United Water’s failures for years as it attempts to make a profit out of privatizing water service. But lack of surprise doesn’t mean a lack of outrage. For the increasing rates that they’re paying, United Water’s customers deserve better.

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A Decision No Family Should Have To Make

BlogThumb_TripleGiftHikers

Every family deserves to be protected from fracking.

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By Ann, Food & Water Watch Supporter

Oil and gas companies are poisoning more and more communities in their mad rush to “drill, baby, drill.” After watching my family in Texas face this reality, I know for certain that I don’t want to see fracking expanded in backyards, schoolyards or in our national forests.

That’s why I am offering to triple your gift to Food & Water Watch to protect more families from fracking.

My nephew’s son was constantly getting sick – from chest colds to ear infections – and doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause. My nephew began to wonder if the rumors of oil and gas pollution in their town were true. What would you do?

Because of his son’s health, he made the excruciatingly difficult decision to uproot his family from their small town and move across the state line to a frack-free part of New Mexico. My family was able to get away, but the fact of the matter is that not all families have the means to leave, and no family should have to make that decision.

Since moving away, the illnesses that plagued my nephew’s son have disappeared and he’s a happy, healthy second grader. My nephew hasn’t been able to find work in New Mexico, so he still operates his business in Texas during the week and drives four hours each way to be with his family in New Mexico on the weekends.

I can’t prove that the oil and gas industry was to blame, but I know my nephew’s son got healthy when he left the town and I’ve heard too many similar stories to discount them. As long as the oil and gas industry is allowed to expand fracking and make its own rules, more families will wonder if their water is safe to drink, if the air at the playground is safe to breathe and if they need to make a tough decision to sell their house at a lower price just to get out.

We know that fracking companies consistently cut corners to put profits before people, so it’s up to us to stop them. And I believe that Food & Water Watch’s approach is truly one of the best. That’s why I’ve decided to put my full-fledged support behind them. Donate today and I’ll triple the impact of your gift.

Food & Water Watch gives people the information they need to see through the smoke screens that big oil and gas companies put up, they have staff across the country in 16 states helping communities stop fracking locally, they advocate on behalf of people who don’t want to see fracking expanded and they hold our elected officials accountable for their actions — from small towns all the way to the White House.

Food & Water Watch has helped win victories against fracking that nobody thought were possible, like keeping fracking out of New York, passing more than 400 measures to protect communities from fracking, stopping Congress from fast tracking approval of a slew of new facilities to export fracked gas abroad and working to introduce a bill to ban fracking on public lands and in national forests.

I hope my offer will inspire you to give to help more communities fight fracking before it affects more families like mine. No family should have to wonder if fracking is making their child sick.

If you donate before Friday, December 19, I will match your gift to triple the impact you can have to protect more families from fracking. That means if you donate $50, I will make that gift $150!

I hope you will join with me today.

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