Updates

Environment New Mexico shines a light on state's bright future with solar power

Environment New Mexico released a report on June 25 showing that the rewards of solar are greater than the costs. Attorney General Hector Balderas, Sen. Mimi Stewart, Positive Energy Solar, and our partners joined Environment New Mexico's Sanders Moore and Fund for the Public Interest canvassers for this event. Check out our report here. 

Trucks And Buses To Be More Efficient

On Friday, the Obama administration proposed a new emission-cutting standard for trucks and buses. This is the president's latest move to curb pollution fueling global warming.  

Following the announcement, Global Warming State Campaign Director Travis Madsen was quoted in Newsweek, NBC Philadelphia, and NGT News commenting on the new proposal:

“Anyone who’s ever been stuck behind a truck or bus knows how much they pollute,” said Madsen. ”Today’s action will mean cleaner air and help tackle the climate crisis. Making trucks go farther on a gallon of fuel can curb pollution, help save the planet and save money.”

Passenger cars and trucks remain the largest source of pollution within the transportation sector, and the Obama administration has already required them to go farther on a gallon of gas. That move--which made a host of ever-more efficient autos available to consumers--will save Americans roughly $31 billion annually at the gas pump, and cut pollution equivalent to shutting down more than two dozen coal-fired power plants.

Similarly, advocates have called for a 40 percent efficiency improvement for heavy trucks compared to 2010, which could save semi truck operators $30,000 per year on fuel, reducing freight costs and helping to lower the price of consumer goods. While Environment America and its allies are still reviewing the rule issued today, it appears to be very close to the 40 percent target.

City Transparency Victory In Portland

Last Friday, the City of Portland took a step to improve their ’D-‘ grade for transparency by publishing a searchable database showing where taxpayer funds are going. This was a project that came out of a report OSPIRG released in 2013 where we graded major cities for the transparency of their spending. Here's an article from Oregon Live highlighting the action. 

Following Data Breach U.S. PIRG Releases Tips

On Friday, we learned that the hack against the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was worse than originally reported, and that the personal data for 9 to 14 million federal employees, including those with national security clearances, has been compromised.

The breach may have exposed sensitive background information of current, former, and prospective federal employees. This information included Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses of workers. 

As Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski reminds us in a recent blog post: If you shop with credit or debit cards, have health insurance (recent breaches at Premera, Anthem and CareFirst, pay taxes (IRS breach), work for the federal government (OPM breach), or [fill in blank], you’re at risk of a data breach.

In response to the security breach U.S. PIRG released a list of tips to help consumers avoid, detect and deal with identity theft from a data breach -- from shredding documents containing personal information to disabling Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use. You can check out the tips here.

Environment California's Dan Jacobson Debunks The EPA's Fracking Report

The EPA released a report on fracking last week, finding that the process does not lead to water contamination. Environment California's Dan Jacobson took to the airwaves to debunk that finding. He was interviewed for local California news stations and appeared in an article on the report.

The report looked at only a small percentage of data, and the EPA used outside reports, which were often outdated, to conclude that there was no danger of contamination. In the interview, Dan said, "What they only looked at was the impacts on the water. But they didn't look at public health, and they didn't look at the impacts of the air pollution. So they were looking at an incredibly small scope of the dangers of fracking."

Bill To Amplify Small Donor Voices Introduced

With 2016 candidates already raising eye-popping amounts from large donors for their campaigns, Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) introduced legislation that would give new power to small donors in our elections.

The Fair Elections Now Act would enable more Americans to participate in the electoral process by establishing a $25 “my voice” refundable tax credit. Small contributions of less than $150 would then be matched with limited public funds at a rate of six-to-one for U.S. Senate candidates that agree to turn down big money, amplifying the voices of small donors.  

"The Fair Elections Now Act would put everyday people back in charge of elections,” said Dan Smith, democracy campaign director for U.S. PIRG. “Imagine if candidates could fund their campaigns by appealing to the people they’re seeking to represent instead of dialing for dollars to rake in a few big checks. That’s what this critical legislation does.”

The Fair Elections Now Act has 17 cosponsors and has been endorsed by over 40 organizations, including good government, environmental, small business, faith, labor, and civil rights organizations. Congressman John Sarbanes has introduced similar legislation for House races called the Government by the People Act, which has 148 cosponsors.

“Five years ago, the Citizens United ruling effectively gave corporations and the wealthy few a blank check to influence politics and politicians in our country,” said Sen. Durbin, the bill’s author. “Unless we curb the growing influence of big money in politics, our democracy is in serious trouble. I’m introducing the Fair Elections Now Act to ensure that our political system values the voices of everyday people, not just the people who write the biggest checks.”

Wisconsin Boondoggle Denied Funding

Thanks to a report released by WISPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group, a federal court ruled to deny funding to a costly highway boondoggle on Wednesday. Wisconsin's Department of Transportation (DOT) used faulty traffic projections to show the need for a $146 million widening of Highway 23. The report, "Fork in the Road," highlighted the faulty data, challenging the necessity of expanding the highway -- and a federal court agreed.

It ruled against Wisconsin DOT in a suit, deciding that the expansion cannot receive federal funds, although Wisconsin can still use state funding. Now, Wisconsin DOT must revise its traffic projections or call it quits on the project. 

Crushing Cars In California To Tackle Global Warming

Environment California's Dan Jacobson and Michelle Kinman were in Sacramento on Wednesday for a big Charge Ahead California news event we helped organize with Sen. Kevin De Leon’s office. We helped spearhead the Charge Ahead Initiative over the past year in a half, from idea to law, that will help move California's fleet of cars toward low- and zero-emissions vehicles to help fight global warming.

Some of our key champions, including Sen. De Leon, Sen. Fran Pavley, Assemblymember Susan Eggman (Stockton), and Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, came together with a family of eight from Stockton to crush their old high-polluting 1984 pick-up truck, (yes, they crushed a car on the Capitol lawn) and hand them the keys to a Toyota Plug-in Prius, made possible thanks to Charge Ahead incentives. 

See Dan's remarks here.

 

Jose Mendoza, a father of six from Stockton was the first person to qualify for the new program, “When we were told we could replace our dirty old truck with the cleanest car on the market it was the answer to our prayers. With our limited budget this is the perfect program to help us clean up our community.”

 

“Today, we celebrate more than the crushing of a single car,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California, a leading organization in the Charge Ahead California initiative. “Thanks to Senate Pro Tem De León, Governor Brown and the ARB, California is crushing our reliance on the dirty transportation of last century that has poisoned the health of our communities and our planet for too long. We are now driving toward a cleaner future for all Californians—and setting a strong example for the country and the world—by putting climate change solutions to work.”

Victory: Clean Water Rule Announced

Over half of the nation’s streams, which feed drinking water sources for one in three Americans, will regain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The measure restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly 10 years.

"Our rivers, lakes, and drinking water can only be clean if the streams that flow into them are protected,” said Margie Alt, executive director with Environment America. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.” 

By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, Wednesday’s announcement returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed and major water bodies from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound, including drinking water supplies for 117 million Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law. 

The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1,500 investigations against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times.

First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. More than 1,000 mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers from across the country have joined a throng of citizens to submit more than 800,000 comments and register support for the rule. Those same supporters celebrated Wednesday’s action. 

Buzz From The White House: New Steps Announced To Save The Bees

The White House issued a wide-ranging new plan to stem the deaths of pollinators on Tuesday, with the goal of reducing the honey bee colony losses to no more than 15 percent within 10 years and increasing the Eastern monarch butterfly population to 225 million by 2020. The initiative directs federal buildings across the country to construct new pollinator gardens and seeks to restore 7 million acres of federally managed lands in a manner friendly to pollinators. The plan fails to ban existing uses of the pesticides, called neonicotinoids, known to cause the most harm to bees and other pollinators. Environment America’s Executive Director Margie Alt issued the following statement in response: 
 
“Honeybees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators help maintain a healthy planet and a healthy food supply. Bees alone pollinate 70 percent of the world’s most common crops, and everyone should be alarmed that colonies are dying off in record numbers. It’s great that President Obama and his administration want to act to stem the loss of our pollinators. 
 
“While restoring habitat and planting gardens will help, these measures skirt the root of the problem of dying bees and butterflies. We can’t save the bees unless we ban the pesticides that are killing them, and that’s where the White House plan falls far short.”

Amtrak Derailment Reminds Us Of Need For Investment -- But Is Met With Funding Cuts

Last week's tragic Amtrak derailment reminds us of the dire need to address funding for the country's transit infrastructure, maintenance and repair -- yet just hours after the May 12 accident, which left eight people dead, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak funding by $260 million. 

“It's unbelievable that Congress would vote to cut Amtrak funding just hours after this tragedy,” said John Olivieri, PIRG's national campaign director for transportation. “The nation’s intercity rail network has seen growing ridership and Americans increasingly are looking for alternatives to driving. They should be increasing the Amtrak budget, not cutting it.”

That's why PIRG is urging our members to send a clear message to Congress: Stop the Amtrak funding cuts! With increasing amounts of Americans using rail transit each year, it's more important than ever to bring our rail system up to speed. With ridership of 11.6 million, the Northeast Corridor -- the route the derailed train was traveling on -- rail had its highest ridership year ever in fiscal year 2014, up 3.3 percent from the prior year. Yet, America's rail system still lags behind Europe's or Japan's, where trains travel up to 200 mph routinely. Last week's Amtrak train was traveling at 106 mph on a 50 mph curve when it derailed.  

“Our policy makers should take the long view. We need commitment to creating a world-class passenger rail system where traveling 106 miles per hour would be seen as shockingly slow, not fast," said Olivieri. "High-performance tracks and other technology should enable substantially faster speeds.” 

Duke Energy To Pay Millions For N.C. Spill

On Thursday, Duke Energy pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act, stemming from a February 2014 pipeline collapse where more than 39,000 tons of coal ash spread 70 miles down North Carolina's Dan River. The company agreed to pay $102 million in fines and fees related to the coal ash spill, as well as other environmental violations.

According to the New York Times, the fine is believed to be among the highest criminal penalties assessed under the Clean Water Act since it was passed in 1972.

Earlier this year, Duke Energy was fined more than $25 million by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural resources, due to groundwater contamination from coal ash.

Environment North Carolina has been working to protect the Tar Heel State from the threat of coal ash. Last September, they delivered more than 40,000 comments from North Carolinians to Gov. Pat McCrory calling on him to require Duke Energy to clean up every coal ash site in the state.

U.S. PIRG Hosts Event To Discuss Big Money In Politics

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) hosts event with University of Maryland Law School Professor Frank Pasquale featuring a discussion of his new book “The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information,” as well as panels of civil society and government experts to discuss how to empower citizens and consumers in today's digitally-driven financial services era.

“Looking Inside the Black Box Society” is one in a series of events hosted by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and CDD to promote needed discussion of digital marketplace impacts on economic opportunity. The project has also authored path-breaking research, including the Suffolk University Law Review article “Selling Consumers, Not Lists" and the report, “Big Data Means Big Opportunities and Big Challenges: Promoting Financial Inclusion and Consumer Protection in the “Big Data” Financial Era.”

Change Corps Wins Gun Background Checks In Oregon

Change Corps celebrated a big win May 4 as Oregon lawmakers passed a bill to require background checks for the sale of firearms. This bill makes Oregon the 18th state to require criminal background checks on all handgun sales, and the 12th the require them on all gun sales. 

Change Corps organizers have been working since last fall with allies Everytown for Gun Safety, Ceasefire Oregon, and Americans for Responsible Solutions to first defeat a candidate who voted against this bill last year in the fall elections, and then organize public support to pass background checks this spring.

Everytown for Gun Safety posted on their Facebook page: "This is an incredible victory for Oregon -- but also for gun sense across the country -- because it shows what happens when we come together and stand up to the gun lobby. Not only do we win, we win BIG."

Dogwood Alliance Thanks Green Corps Organizers

For the past few months, Green Corps organizers Katya English, John Qua and Rita Frost have been working with the Dogwood Alliance on their campaign "Our Forests Aren't Fuel." The campaign seeks to save Southern forests from the growing threat of the biomass industry, which is increasingly cutting down Southern forests to use for fuel. 

In their three months there, the organizers were able to collect nearly 3,000 messages to save southern forests, bring 500 people to 5 different events, and generate 31 media hits.

The Dogwood Alliance thanked Katya, John and Rita for their work on the campaign, saying, "Their passion and dedication to forest protection sparked a growing movement in the cities where they worked – Baton Rouge, Wilmington and Savannah. In these port cities, where our Southern forests are exported away to be burned as fuel, residents are standing up to send a clear message to policy makers and industry leaders: Our forests aren’t fuel.

"The leadership and energy of these three organizers was instrumental in growing a movement that will protect our southern forests now and long into the future." 

10,000 Petitions To Sen. Murray For Clean Water Protections

On Monday afternoon, WashPIRG Students' Organizing Director Toni Bellante reported, "We had an awesome meeting and delivered over 10,000 petition signatures to Sen. Patty Murray's staff, as well as pictures from our Clean Water campaign and letters of support from student groups and business owners."

WashPIRG Students, Environment Washington and the Fund's canvass joined the meeting to urge Sen. Murray to be a clean water champion, as we work to restore clear protections for all of America's waterways.

Who Pays For Roads?

The latest report from U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group, released via webinar Tuesday, has the answer: General taxes paid by all taxpayers cover nearly as much of the cost of building and maintaining highways as the gas tax and other fees paid by drivers. So that old adage that roads pay for themselves? Not true. 

The new report comes with just a month left before expiration of the federal transportation act, and with the federal Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency. Revenues from gas taxes and other user fees this year are expected to come up $16 billion short of the level needed to maintain current federal transportation spending, leading to the need for urgent congressional action.

 “Congress is stuck in an endless loop,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report. “Either Congress will have to raise gas taxes to the high levels that would be needed to fully pay for the costs of highways or it will have to admit that the ‘users pay’ system no longer exists and needs to be reformed.”

The new report pulls back the veil on the “users pay” myth, finding that:

  • Gas taxes and other fees paid by drivers now cover less than half of road construction and maintenance costs nationally – down from more than 70 percent in the 1960s – with the balance coming chiefly from income, sales and property taxes and other levies on general taxpayers.
  • General taxpayers at all levels of government now subsidize highway construction and maintenance to the tune of $69 billion per year – an amount exceeding the expenditure of general tax funds to support transit, bicycling, walking and passenger rail combined.
  • Regardless of how much they drive, the average American household bears an annual financial burden of more than $1,100 in taxes and indirect costs from driving – over and above any gas taxes or other fees they pay that are connected with driving.

“The ‘users pay’ myth is deeply ingrained in U.S. transportation policy, shaping how billions of dollars in transportation funds are raised and spent each year,” said Tony Dutzik, co-author of the report and senior analyst at Frontier Group, a non-profit think tank. “More and more, though, all of us are bearing the cost of transportation in our tax bills, regardless of how much we drive.”

Our First Line Of Defense At Risk

Our nation's wetlands are our first line of defense against flooding. But according to "Shelter from the Storm," a new report written by Lindsey Hallock, Tom Van Heeke and Judee Burr, of Frontier Group and John Rumpler with Environment America Research & Policy Center, a loophole in the Clean Water Act is correlating with a dramatic turn in loss of wetlands, putting communities at risk from damaging floods. And, as global warming continues to progress, the extreme rain events that often trigger flooding are likely to become more common.

Last March, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to all wetlands, along with streams that feed drinking water supplies for one in three Americans. Though restored clean water and wetland protections have won support from hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers, small businesses, and local officials, many have bitterly opposed the rule, including the oil and gas industry, developers and their allies in Congress. The United States is left with only 53 percent of the more than 221 million acres of wetlands that dotted colonial America.

Released April 29, the report demonstrates for 15 states how wetlands protect against flooding, the most common natural disaster in the U.S. It includes data for communities especially susceptible to flooding, including those represented by Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., all of whom have voted to block the wetlands protections rule.

Read the report's news release here, which links to the report. 

Protecting Our Troops From High-Cost Loans

After a key vote for consumer protection late Thursday night, PIRG commended U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL), a veteran, for leading the bi-partisan fight to strike language from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have delayed important new protections for servicemembers and veterans from high-cost loans by up to a year or more.

"The vote to strike language delaying PIRG-backed improvements to the Military Lending Act of 2007 was 32-30, with five Republicans joining all 27 Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee in support," said Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski in our statement.

We're disappointed that predatory lenders, led by the American Financial Services Association and payday lenders, had originally prevailed in subcommittee to insert the provision that would have delayed the much-needed improvements. We expect further attacks on the Department of Defense's important new rules, on the House floor and in the Senate, but are prepared to stand alongside Rep. Duckworth, Sen. Jack Reed (RI), and others who are working to "protect our troops," while others who may often say "support our troops" are working against them.

Representatives Honor Earth Day With Bill To Protect Public Lands From Fracking

In honor of Earth Day, Reps. Mark Pocan (WI) and Jan Schakowsky (IL) introduced The Protect Our Public Lands Act (POPLA), the first-ever Congressional effort to ban fracking on public lands, which would protect precious areas from Florida’s Everglades to New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.

The Introduction of POPLA comes just one month after the administration released rules regulating fracking on public lands.

“We’ve seen fracking contaminate our drinking water, put our families’ health at risk, and turn treasured open spaces into industrial zones,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling Program. “Some places are just too precious to drill and frack, and that includes our parks, canyons and forests.”

The Protect our Public Lands Act would ban fracking in areas that provide critical drinking water sources for millions of Americans, such as the Delaware River Basin and the George Washington National Forest, and on all federally managed lands. The move comes as oil and gas companies have already secured leases on 36 million acres of public lands and expressed interest in fracking 12 million more acres of public parks, forests and other lands.

Each place fracking has touched in the United States has been wrought with widespread environmental damage -- from polluting waterways to increasing air pollution and disrupting wildlife. The process generates millions of gallons of toxic wastewater laced with benzene, caustic salts and even radioactive material. Waste pits have contaminated groundwater at more than 400 sites in New Mexico alone. In the Pinedale Mesa region, extensive gas development has coincided with a significant reduction in the region’s population of mule deer.

“From contaminated drinking water and air pollution, to heavy traffic and exploding pipelines, this kind of industrial activity has no place in the heart of our country’s most precious federal lands,” Richardson said. “While the only way to protect our health and communities from this dirty drilling practice is to ban it altogether, banning fracking on public lands is an important first step to ensuring our prized forests and natural areas are protected from the devastation fracking causes.”

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