Progress On Democracy: Majority Of Senate Votes To Overturn Citizens United

U.S. PIRG's Executive Director Andre Delattre reports that on Thursday, we saw the U.S. Senate take its much-anticipated vote on Senate Joint Resolution 19, the constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, after a week of high-intensity organizing and debate.

The measure got majority support, a party-line 54-42 (in which all Democrats voted aye, except for New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was absent).

Delattre said of the vote, "While this wasn't enough to clear the two-thirds threshold required for an amendment, it's still a critical milestone in our fight, showing just how far we've come in the few short years since Citizens United galvanized our movement."

PIRG organizers worked with the media around the vote, getting op-eds, letters to the editor, and earned media coverage of the campaign, including an op-ed published Thursday in the Austin American Statesman by TexPIRG State Director Sara Smith. 

And, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) put it, now "the fight to overturn Citizens United must continue at the grassroots level in every state in this country."

Schools Nationwide Are Going Solar

Environment America drew attention to a new report on solar power on Thursday: More and more school across the country are going solar.

Solar Campaign Organizing Director Adam Rivera said the report, prepared by The Solar Foundation, "has all sorts of good data on solar schools, including the rankings of each states according its number of solar schools. This is yet another one of the many ways we can move America to getting at least 10% of our power from the sun."

The report outlines that right now, 3,700 K-12 schools have solar panel systems, which means nearly 2.7 million children attend a school that uses solar power.

The report identifies another 72,000 schools that could install solar cost-effectively; and if those schools were to go solar, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as taking 1 million cars off the road. The report also cited Environment California's solar schools report, "Making the Grade with Clean Energy," written by Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman in 2012, which was the first comprehensive look at solar schools.

President Issues Executive Order To Protect Antibiotics

On Thursday, President Obama issued an executive order to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics -- Combatting Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria. Our organizers jumped to action with a rapid response plan to draw attention to President Obama's order, which calls on agencies to submit a five-year plan to him by mid-February.

As U.S. PIRG's news release outlines: While the order takes several important steps necessary to control the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it misses the opportunity to call for critical reforms in the agricultural sector that are essential to protect public health.

"President Obama gets an 'A' for tackling this problem from multiple angles," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, U.S. PIRG Stop Antibiotics Overuse Program Director. "But in terms of addressing the biggest problem, the troubling overuse and misuse of antibiotics on large factory farms, the administration gets an incomplete."

Earlier this summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that antibiotic resistance could be the "next pandemic," and the agency has reported that 2 million Americans are sickened and 23,000 are killed by antibiotic-resistant infections every year. In its 2013 drug resistance report, the CDC held that "much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe."

Jahagirdar said in the news release, "We urge the administration to go further, to limit the use of antibiotics to when animals are truly sick or directly exposed to illness. The medical community, consumers, and even many in the food industry would likely stand and applaud such a move."

New Global Warming Report Calls For Action Now

Environment America's Anna Aurilio reports that on Thursday, the Environment America Research & Policy Center released our latest report on the out-sized role that America's coal-fired power plants play in global warming. Based on research Environment America conducted with the Frontier Group, we found these dirty power plants emit more carbon pollution than the entire economy of India.

We've also revved up our push to mobilize more public support for the EPA's Clean Power Plan, the nation's first-ever limits on global warming. If you haven't added your name yet, click here.

We're also taking part in the People's Climate March on Sunday, billed as the largest such march in history with more than 100,000 people expected. PIRG chapter students and organizers, TPIN campaign organizers, and other Environment America staff and members will be there. 

With the EPA deadline for comments coming up this fall, more of the Arctic ice-free for more of the year, and Greenland melting so fast it might be too late to stop it, what happens in New York Sunday will be big. What we do after Sunday to keep the momentum going will matter even more. Stay tuned and stay involved.

100+ Board Train In CA To Attend Climate March In NYC

On Monday, about 175 people gathered in Emeryville, Calif., to board a train to the People's Climate March in New York City this weekend.

Activists are calling it "the People's Climate Train." It will roll across the country this week, picking up more climate activists along the way, before stopping in N.Y.C. for the march that will have an estimated 100,000 climate activists in attendence on Sept. 21.

Environment California and the other Environment America affiliates have been working 'round the clock to help make the People Climate March the biggest action on climate to date.

The march is set to happen as world leaders descend on New York for the United Nations Climate Summit that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened to urge all countries to take action on global warming.

One Goal Reached, Another Near For Community Voters

With voter registration deadlines approaching, canvassers with the Community Voters Project have achieved one important milestone and are inching toward another.

Late last week, Community Voters Project canvassers in Portland, Ore., helped register their 2,000th potential voter, meeting the goal set for that city. And Community Voters Project reports that it is closing in on its goal of helping 8,000 new voters get registered in Atlanta -- which could happen this week.

The Community Voters Project, a project of the Fair Share Education Fund and the Center for Public Interest Research, is conducting non-partisan voter registration and mobilization campaigns in five states during 2014 and 2015, helping to register nearly 50,000 voters and make 7,500 get-out-the-vote (GOTV) contacts. 

This work builds on the organizations' voter registration efforts over the last 10 years that assisted nearly 600,000 African American, Latino, and young voters in registering to vote. We also made more than 85,000 GOTV contacts in 2012, in partnership with State Voices tables.

BP Ruling Should Be Wake-Up Call For Investors

Green Century Funds President Leslie Samuelrich reports that the recent, costly ruling against BP provides a concrete example of why it makes sense to avoid investing in oil companies. Green Century sent out a release that provides the rationale from an investor's point of view.

A news release said the details of the spill in 2010 may have faded, which was once described as the "worst U.S environmental disaster" by then EPA Director Carol Browner; but the recent watershed ruling, which may eclipse $50 billion, brought the financial impact of the company's actions back to the attention of investors worldwide.

After the ruling, BP's stock immediately declined, and financial analysts predicted that the fine could wipe out years of profit and interfere with the company's financial ability to maneuver effectively. BP was found guilty of gross negligence by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier for its oil rig that exploded, killing 11 people and dumping 170 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months.

"The ruling shows that the risks of pursuing high-cost and high-risk oil explorations in deep water can impact investors for years," stated Leslie. "This ruling is a wake-up call for investors who have not yet addressed the potential risks of investing in fossil fuel companies. While the BP explosion was unprecedented, no drilling company can predict or protect against all the unforeseen environmental accidents and resulting costs and liabilities that can impact investors."

Both Green Century's Balanced Fund and Equity Fund exclude fossil fuel companies and instead seek to invest in companies that manage environmental risks and operate sustainably. Green Century also works with companies to improve their environmental footprint and make their supply chain more sustainable.

More Highway Expansions Or More Transit Options?

As U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group reports have demonstrated for over a year now, driving in the U.S. has been on the decline for nearly a decade. Yet examples abound of proposed road projects that ignore the current trend, and assuming instead that driving will continue to increase at the rates from decades ago. This is wasting precious public resources on unneeded roads at the expense of public transportation and other preferred alternatives.

WISPIRG continued to press that case this week with the release of its new report "Fork In The Road," written by WISPIRG's Bruce Speight and Frontier Group's Tom Van Heeke and Jeff Inglis. The report argues that the $2.8 billion that Wisconsin intends to spend on four unnecessary highway expansion projects could instead provide more than half a billion extra dollars in each of the next five state biennial budgets. This money could meet a series of unmet transportation needs, including key transit projects, local road repair, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. Wisconsin faces a choice: continue to shower money on unnecessary highway expansions, or invest in critical projects to repair existing transportation infrastructure and provide more transport options to citizens around the state.

The report was covered by several TV and radio stations across the state, many of which cited the statement from a Milwaukee alderman who has proposed a local resolution based on the report.

"The state should give a boost to local road repair and public transit, but there's no need to raise gas taxes or registration fees," Alderman Bob Bauman said. "They already collect plenty of money; they just need to prioritize their spending more wisely."

Banks Step Up Attacks On CFPB Transparency

For the past few month, PIRG has backed an effort by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to add stories (or narratives) to their public consumer complaint database. Powerful Wall Street banks, however, are stepping up their opposition. Public comments on the issue are due Sept. 22 -- right around the corner.

In a Huffington Post blog, U.S. PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski pushed back on the anti-database campaign from the Financial Services Roundtable, an uber-association of the biggest financial associations. Ed also defended CFPB's efforts to expand transparency of campus debit card contracts from an attack by the Consumer Bankers Association, comprised of the biggest retail banks.

We've organized other groups to send their own member comments to the CFPB on the database expansion and we'll also be sending our own expert comment. Watch for details on our planned mid-October report updating our five U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group reports highlighting complaints in the CFPB database.

Environment America Presents In Solar Webinar, Announces Fall Petition Goal

On Friday Sept. 5, Environment America's Rob Sargent and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council's Larry Sherwood (who is one of the nation's top solar policy experts), participated in awebinar event called Solar Industry Trends. The webinar was hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance, a partnership of leading state energy officials from across the country. Environment America's Margie Alt reports that there were about 70 participants, and lots of good questions.

Rob made the case that solar progress is the direct result of strong commitments to solar and the policies to back them up, the key findings in our recent "Lighting the Way" report, written by Rob and Frontier Group's recent alumna Jordan Schneider.

Meanwhile, solar campaigners are gearing up to launch our solar petitions next week with the goal of getting 50,000 citizens signed on by December. This will include our next foray into social media strategy: a Thunderclap -- an online visibility tool that stores Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr posts until a designated time when they're all simultaneously released. We want to demonstrate massive online support and make our solar online work more likely to go viral.You can join the Thunderclap here.

House Passed Bill to Block EPA's Clean Water Rule

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would block the Obama administration from closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act -- loopholes that have left 2 million miles of streams and rivers vulnerable to unchecked pollution.

The EPA proposed a rule in March that would protect all of America's waterways. And since the announcement, big agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against the rule. On Tuesday after the vote, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the media that the rules that would protect waterways from pollution sounded "ridiculous."

But we know there is overwhelming support for protecting our waterways. Environment America, along with our allies, organized a broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of Americans who are calling for action for our waterways. So far, more than 160,000 Americans and hundreds of other stakeholders have already written in favor of the rule, which is open for public comment through the fall.

"We should be doing everything we can to protect our rivers and streams," said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America. "Yet the polluters and their allies in Congress are doing everything they can to put our waters in jeopardy."

The bill is not expected to pass through the Senate.

Cambridge City Council Joins Ranks To Stop Overuse Of Antibiotics

Thanks to the outreach and advocacy of Green Corps Organizer Sammi Dowdell, who's working with Food & Water Watch this fall, the City of Cambridge, Mass., passed a resolution Tuesday that calls on Congress to take action and end the irresponsible use of antibiotics on factory farms. Cambridge is now the twentieth city in the country to pass such a resolution -- seven of these cities are thanks to Green Corps organizers.

Clean Power Plan Public Comment Period In Final Weeks

Deputy Chief of Staff Sam Landenwitsch says the Global Warming Solutions team, which is focused on finalizing the Clean Power Plan (and then protecting it in the Senate), is off to a strong start.

Last week, the team helped 176 more people comment on the proposed rule that will add the first-ever limits on carbon pollution to power plants. So far, tens of thousands of comments have been submitted to the EPA, and there are still weeks to go until the comment period closes Oct. 16.

We've also started identifying supporters among local elected officials across the country, and Organizer Nate Lotze in Ohio led the way last week, garnering the support of 20 elected officials. Landenwitsch went on to say the big priority for the Global Warming team in the coming days will be to prepare for our Sept. 18 release of report "America's Dirtiest Power Plants," written by Environment America's Julian Boggs and Frontier Group's Tom Van Heeke and Jordan Schneider. 

New England Pipeline Debate Gets New Salvo

Toxics Action Center reports: Wednesday morning, local business-owners and concerned residents gathered on Main Street in Pepperell, Mass., to unveil a list of more than 100 local businesses from Pepperell, Groton, Townsend, Ashby, Ayer, and Tyngsborough that have endorsed the "Stop the Pipeline" campaign. 

Houston-based Kinder Morgan is working to build a 250-mile new pipeline that would cut a 50-foot path across about 30 municipalities from the Berkshires to Dracut. Last month, more than 400 people rallied on the Boston Common, calling on Gov. Deval Patrick to retract a controversial proposal to subsidize new gas infrastructure with a charge on electricity bills. Gov. Patrick has since put a pause on his support of the pipeline, but Kinder Morgan continues to push, and the fight is far from over.

"In the last three days alone we gathered over 100 endorsements," said Toxics Action Center's Claire Miller. "Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg of opposition to the new gas pipelines. From farms to realtors to auto-shops and more -- I hope the governor hears these small business-owner voices and publicly opposes this project."

Reclaiming Democracy Campaign Launches In Illinois

Illinois PIRG launched the Reclaiming Democracy Campaign in Springfield, Ill., on Tuesday. Illinois PIRG Campaign Organizer Maggie Galka stood with Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin and a Village Trustee of Carpentersville Don Burroway, at the foot of the Lincoln statue, with TV, print, and radio reporters covering her event.  

The radio piece was broadcast on a network service that airs on stations around the state. 

With the Senate engaged in a 3-day debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, we're working across the country on crucial media work. We need to make sure the story is about the broad public support for limiting the influence of big money, and the potential to take steps now that will empower regular donors.

Climate Activists Rally For Action

Global Warming Solutions Organizing Director Megan Severson reports that Environment Virginia State Director Sarah Bucci organized a great climate rally over the weekend. With members of Congress returning to D.C. this week, Environment Virginia wanted to make sure Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner know Virginians are counting on them to support the EPA's Clean Power Plan. To date, more than 195,000 public comments from Virginians have been submitted to the EPA in support of limits on carbon pollution.

Over the weehend, 30 citizens turned out for the event in downtown Charlottesville, with 10 different organizations and the City of Charlottesville participating. Sarah got the two Charlottesville TV stations to attend the rally, and three radio stations covered the story.

Bucci told reporters, "Virginians are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from rising seas to more extreme weather events, and it's critical that we take action now and curb the worst impacts in the future."

Click here to watch the clip from the local NBC News channel.

Debate Begins In The Senate To Overturn Citizens United

U.S. PIRG and our team of coalition partners presented 3 million petitions at a rally in Washington, D.C., on Monday before the beginning of the Senate floor debate on a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United.

At the event, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) said of the proposed constitutional amendment, "This is the most important issue we have discussed in a matter of years."

As we call on Congress to act, we're also working to build small donor empowerment into federal, state, and local political systems. This step is a crucial one to stand up to the powerful special interests that dominate our governments. Last week, the team secured coalition group endorsements for our campaign and started to prepare for this week's media events. 

The Senate debate will begin Tuesday, and while we're still expecting a filibuster, the debate may go on until Thursday, which is a great opportunity to gain even more media attention than expected. Four campaign organizers will be doing stand-up news events Tuesday with local elected officials who have endorsed our campaign, and we'll be doing a release elsewhere.

Meanwhile, our Billion Dollar Democracy report continues to get cited, including a recent citation in the New York Review of Books when it published a review of Zephyr Teachout's new book "Corruption in America."

80,000 Estimated For People's Climate March

Environment America organizers are gearing up for "the biggest march on climate in history" on Sept. 21. That week, New York City will be hosting leaders from around the world for the United Nations Climate Summit that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened to urge all countries to take action on global warming.

To help make sure that these leaders -- especially U.S. elected officials -- see that American citizens overwhelmingly support taking action on climate change, a coalition of environmental groups is organizing the People's Climate March.

Right now, it is estimated that more than 80,000 citizens will join in this historic Climate March in NYC. There will be similar marches around the world on the same day in eight other cities, including London.

In an op-ed last Tuesday, Ki-moon wrote, "Climate change is not just an issue for the future, it is an urgent issue for today. Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why? Let us join forces to push back against skeptics and entrenched interests."

Environment America and our state affiliates are working to help make the People's Climate March a success. Already we're:

  • Recruiting our members and activists to attend. We'll send members and activists from the states closest to New York, as well as encourage all our members across the country to hop on a bus or train to attend the march.
  • Releasing the report "America's Dirtiest Power Plants" the Thursday before the march. We'll release our new report on power plant pollution and the need to finalize the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan.
  • Generating media buzz. Through our power plant report release and opinion media, we'll be getting the word out about the Climate March on local TV and radio stations, newspapers and online.
  • Organizing students. Environment New Jersey is teaming up with the NJPIRG Student Chapters to recruit over 70 students to attend the march. We're also recruiting our interns in the NYC area to attend.
  • Building long-term grassroots power. We'll have a team of organizers and volunteers at the march to gather thousands more comments in support of the Clean Power Plan, to drastically cut carbon pollution from power plants.
  • And we're marching. Staff from Environment America, and our affiliates at Environment New York, PennEnvironment, Environment New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states will join in the Climate March. And many of our staff and members in other parts of the country will join local climate marches in their own cities.

The People's Climate March is a landmark event in the fight against global warming -- and it is one way in which Environment America is working to wake up our elected officials to the realities of dirty energy, and show them that now is the time to act on climate.

MASSPIRG Tells The Facts About Updating The Bottle Bill On Channel 5

MASSPIRG's Executive Director Janet Domenitz debated special interests that oppose updating the Bottle Bill on News Channel 5's "On the Record" this past Sunday. 

Nicole Giambusso, a spokesperson for the "No on 2" campaign said updating the Bottle Bill "basically costs a lot and does not do much of anything."

Domenitz responded that "the average person in Massachusetts doesn't like litter or trash. If you look at the 30-year, incredibly successful track record of the deposit system, 80% of containers that have that 5-cent deposit are being recycled. Only 23% of the Gatorade bottles, ice tea, and water bottles are getting recycled. Most are becoming trash."

MASSPIRG, armed with the facts, has educated the public on the merits of updating the Bottle Bill and has gained support from more than 200 towns and cities across the commonwealth. We're also working with a coalition of about 100 organizations to garner support for the ballot question that would update the Bottle Bill. This week we're asking volunteers to hold "Yes on 2" signs and spread the word about the measure at the polls on Sept. 9 during the primary election. The question will be on the ballot for full vote in November. 

Domenitz went on to say in the segment, "What people in Massachusetts want to see is less litter and more recycling, and they will get that if we update this incredibly successful law." 

Clean Water Team Releases Summer Fun Index

To get a snapshot of how Americans enjoyed their waterways this summer, Environment America's Clean Water Team compiled stats from nine different states on everything from summer camps on rivers and lakes to fishing and boating licenses. Our research found a whopping 9 million fishing licenses were issued this summer, and more than 127 million people visited state parks that include waterways.  

On Thursday, we released these snapshots, called Summer Fun Indexes, in six states, and had 22 outlets express interest in running the story. 

Campaign Organizer Cora Ellenson-Meyers, based in Minnesota, did a radio interview with the Minnesota News Network. The network serves as the AP wire for state's radio stations, feeding 50+ radio stations. 

The team's work and the report were also featured on a local TV Chicago station, the Capital Gazette in Maryland, Iowa's Polk City News, New York's Gotham Gazette, and Santa Cruz's Santa Cruz Sentinel -- to name a few.