Updates

Pa. Legislature Advances Climate Action Roadblock

PennEnvironment slammed state senators for passing a climate action roadblock Wednesday, which will hinder state efforts to reduce carbon pollution.

While PennEnvironment and our allies in the state have been fighting to stop a coal-backed rollback bill, including generating grassroots and grasstops phone calls and four supportive editorials over the weekend, the Pennsylvania Senate voted to advance it Wednesday. The bill then went to the Assembly floor and passed it Thursday, which will increase the likelihood that Pennsylvania will fail to produce an adequate plan to clean up its power plants on time. It will specifically give the Legislature the power to step in and disapprove any compliance plan developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which would add delay and uncertainty to the process.

"With the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy days away, it is shameful that our politicians in Harrisburg continue to stand in the way of action on climate change," said Adam Garber, PennEnvironment field director. "Their decision to make it even harder to slash the largest source of carbon pollution in Pennsylvania will be felt by millions of Pennsylvanians who are faced with the consequences of extreme weather and flooding from the climate crisis."

In Pennsylvania, power plants are responsible for 46 percent of the state's carbon pollution

"Frontline" Examines Antibiotics On Factory Farms

This week, Frontline PBS released a report covering the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. The report, "The Trouble with Antibiotics," examines the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria and calls out factory farms, which use over 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. 

The factory farm industry was quick to respond with a website that attempted to gloss over the pandemic of overuse, and the dangers that come with it. PIRG also responded by creating social media images and promoting the documentary onFacebook

The report sheds light on factory farm overuse at a crucial moment, as President Obama is working to create a five-year plan, starting in February, to tackle the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. 

Maryland PIRG Students Clean Campus, Call Attention To Bottle Bill

Maryland PIRG students collected trash along the Paint Branch Campus Creek to raise awareness for the proposed state "bottle bill."

"In the past, what we've done is gone and collected everything we can and throw the bottles and cans that would be covered under a bottle bill into a big, huge pile so that everyone who walks by can see how many we collected," said Rob Swam, president of MaryPIRG and a senior environmental science and technology major. "At the end, we total it all up to see how much money we would have had if the Bottle Bill was in effect."

Last year, that was more than $70.

State Sen. Brian Frosh proposed the bottle bill under the name Statewide Container Recycling Refund Program in 2013. After it was read in committee, it died without a vote. But Frosh is reintroducing it.

The event, also held last year, is meant to publicly highlight the benefits of the bill: improving recycling rates, preventing litter, creating jobs, complementing curbside recycling, producing high-quality recyclable materials, and encouraging producer and consumer responsibility.

"It has a lot of benefits, and it's been proven to work in the 10 other states that use it," said Grace Davis, MaryPIRG university sustainability campaign co-coordinator and a junior environmental and science policy major.

To read more about the students' efforts, click here.

State Officials Lined Up For PIRG Advice On transparency

On Wednesday, 68 state officials from 44 states attended a webinar hosted by U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group about how states can be transparent about their contracting and subsidies.

Over the last five years, thanks to our advocacy, we've seen a lot of progress when it comes to government transparency. When we first started in 2010, only 32 states provided data about their contracting online and only two provided information about the promised public benefits of individual subsidies given to companies. Now, every single state has an online transparency portal that displays the state's checkbook; 33 state's provide information about the promised public benefits from subsidies; and all states are becoming more user-friendly and searchable.

This year, 88 public officials from 42 states registered for the webinar, 68 of whom attended. This is a big improvement on the 63 registrants and 49 participants last year, which is thanks to U.S. PIRG's Michelle Surka who persistently organized by phone and email over the last few weeks. Frontier Group's Tom Van Heeke set up the webinar and Phineas Baxandall was the chief presenter.

 

In January, Van Heeke will prepare an inventory of the transparency features are present or missing in each state's transparency site, and he will draft up the revision of this year's report. Michelle will meanwhile get feedback from the state officials about whether our information is accurate and what obstacles they face in improving their transparency.

500 Solar Leaders Sign On In Support Of Clean Power

More than 500 leaders in the solar industry have signed on to Environment America's letter endorsing the EPA's Clean Power Plan. The letter, sent to President Obama, applauds the plan, and highlights the many reasons to put limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

Thanks to the hard work of organizers across the country, solar leaders from over 30 states added their name to the letter. According to Environment America's Executive Director Margie Alt's report, the letter has been released to the media, solar businesses, and government officials across the country.

Millennial Generation Shifting Away From Driving

Frontier Group's Tony Dutzik and Jeff Inglis and U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall's new report, "Millennials in Motion," was highlighted by the Washington Post's Wonkblog, drawing more attention to the mounting evidence that millennials are shifting away from driving.

"Millennials are different from their parents, and those differences aren't going away," said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report. "After five years of economic growth with stagnant driving, it's time for federal and state governments to wake up to growing evidence that Millennials don't want to drive as much as their parents did. This change has big implications and policy makers shouldn't be asleep at the wheel."

The report shows that young people aged 20 to 30 are less likely to move from central cities to suburbs than at any time since at least the late 1990s. Millennials consistently report greater attraction to less driving-intensive lifestyles-urban living, residence in "walkable" communities, and openness to the use of non-driving modes of transport-than older generations.

The report calls on public leaders to rethink their transportation investments to accommodate and encourage the Millennial generation in its desire for less car-intensive lifestyles. This includes greater investment in public transit and biking infrastructure, and using highway funds to repair of existing roads rather than building new are wider highways. State and federal governments should also assist efforts currently being led by cities to encourage walkable communities and innovative uses of technology that connect travelers to more travel options and shared vehicles.

Environment North Carolina Rallies More Than 50k People Against Fracking

Environment North Carolina and the more than 30 other groups that comprise the "Frack Free NC Alliance" delivered 59,000 signatures to Gov. Pat McCrory from North Carolinians calling for a ban on fracking.

"We've been talking to North Carolinians at farmers markets, baseball games and even the state fair," said Dave Rogers, Environment North Carolina field director. "And we've seen that as people learn more about the risks associated with fracking, the more they think it just doesn't make sense for North Carolina."

Recent studies show that fracking has contaminated drinking water, lowered property values, increased air pollution in states across the U.S. These are among the chief concerns of North Carolinians across the state.

After the delivery event, the governor made a move to undercut the significance of the 59,000 signatures by sending a photo of the broken down boxes to the media -- saying we delivered 44 empty boxes. We delivered 50 boxes, each representing 1,000 North Carolinians against fracking, six of which held the actual signatures. Changing the conversation from the tens of thousands of voices calling for action against fracking to a mere delivery tactic is one more reason Environment North Carolina staff will keep up the drumbeat of support to call on the governor and protect the state from fracking.

Billions Of Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Dumped

Amidst the worst drought California has experienced, the EPA found last week that at least nine fracking sites throughout the state have dumped roughly 3 billion gallons of toxic fracking wastewater into already-dwindling, protected aquifers that provide drinking water to residents throughout the state's Central Valley.

This finding comes several months after California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells over concern that the contents might be contaminating local water sources. 

The California State Water Resources Board confirmed to the EPA that at least nine of the 11 sites had been dumping fracking waste into aquifers protected by state law and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The last thing we should do during a historic drought is let fracking operations waste and endanger our water supplies.

Environment California has been working to convince Gov. Jerry Brown to ban fracking in California, and helping to build a movement of citizen "fracktivists" to mobilize their own communities across the state. 

Obama Declares His 13th National Monument ... And Plans To Keep Going

Last Friday, President Obama permanently protected all 346,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains outside Los Angeles, Calif., by declaring them a national monument. Using his authority under the 108-year-old Antiquities Act for the 13th time in his presidency, Obama's executive action will protect the forest from development and set it aside as a recreational area, and according to him, he's "not finished."

Earlier this year, thanks in part to our advocacy, the president permanently protected the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, and expanded the Stornetta Public Lands national monument in California. The president's action to protect these special places is particularly crucial now as the federal conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is under threat in Congress and at risk of expiring just next year.

Our amazing natural places should be protected, not shortchanged. That's why Environment America and our national federation is working to mobilize people across the country to join our call for our legislators to preserve our conservation funding. 

Solar "Thunderclap" Reaches Millions

Environment America launched its solar "Thunderclap" Wednesday, reaching over 3 million people. According to Adam Rivera, organizing director for the solar campaign, more than 1,000 people signed up for the campaign, including Mark Ruffalo, Ed Begley Jr., and Sen. Cory Booker.

The Thunderclap went live at 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday, releasing a huge number of stored social media posts all at once. Thanks to the hard work of the solar team, the campaign far surpassed its goal of getting 500 people to sign up, and reached a much wider audience than originally planned. 

This is the next step in Environment America's campaign to urge President Obama to move forward with a plan that would guarantee that 10 percent of the U.S.'s power come from solar energy by 2030.

Right now, solar makes up only about 1 percent of our power, despite the fact that capacity has more than tripled in the past two years alone.

CPSC Unanimously Votes For Window Blinds Safety Standard

Thursday Oct. 9, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) unanimously voted to create new safety standards for window blind cords, according to coverage by the Palm Beach Post.

The cords pose a danger to young children, who can be seriously injured or even killed by them. According to the article, 285 children have died as a result of window cords from 1996 to 2012, and there have been 7 deaths this year alone.

PIRG, along with other consumer groups, has been fighting to get these mandatory standards in place, and eliminate the hazardous cords used in blinds. The CPSC decision comes almost a year and half after PIRG and other groups filed a petition urging the commission to create the standards. 

Interactive Map Shows Massive Out-Of-State Spending Against Oregon's Measure 92

An interactive map posted online by The Oregonian highlights the massive proportion of contributions to the No on 92 campaign coming from out-of-state donors. Measure 92 would require GMO labels on all foods sold in Oregon.

An examination of the map and the data attached shows that of the $7.2 million raised by the No on 92 campaign so far, less than one tenth of one percent of that total has come from in-state donations or individual contributions. It also outlines the corporations bankrolling the opposition campaign, such as Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kraft, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

We saw similar levels of out-of-state spending in the campaigns against Proposition 37 in California in 2012, and against I-522 in Washington state last fall. In fact, the No on 522 campaign broke Washington records for the most money raised in support of or in opposition to a ballot measure.

EPA Stops North Carolina's Sneaky Coal Ash Plan

Federal environmental officials spurred North Carolina regulators to reverse a policy last month that would permit Duke Energy to drain polluted wastewater from its coal ash dumps directly into surrounding rivers and lakes after documents surfaced revealing the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources-approved plan.

This news comes just months after Duke Energy spilled 40,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina -- and after the House blocked the EPA's plan to close loopholes that big polluters carved in the Clean Water Act. 

As the public comment period comes to a close for the EPA's proposal to restore protections to more than 2 million miles of streams across the country, we're ramping up our efforts to show Washington that Americans want to move forward on clean water, not backward. 

Maryland PIRG Highlights Concerns Of Exelon-Pepco Merger

A 20-group coalition called on state regulators last week to reject a proposed merger between energy company Exelon Corp. and Pepco Holdings Inc.

According to the Baltimore Sun's coverage, the coalition rejects the merger due to Exelon's track record on the environment and fears the deal would give it too much power in the state.

The article reports that if approved, the merger would give Exelon control over more than 80 percent of the Maryland market, as well as power over nearly a quarter of the transmission service credits in the regional electricity grid.

The opposing coalition cites the company's history of opposition to policies that would encourage transition to renewable energy, such as its lobbying against the renewable energy Production Tax Credit, which encourages development of wind power.

Emily Scarr, director of Maryland PIRG is quoted in the Baltimore Sun article: "We're concerned that this merger does not serve the public interest … and could raise rates for Maryland families."

State hearings in Maryland are scheduled to begin in January, with a decision to be announced in April. 

U.S. PIRG Wins Toy Safety Victory

Last week, U.S. PIRG gained a victory in the fight for safer toys. On Wednesday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approved a new safety standard for high-powered magnets, effectively banning the current, highly dangerous product from store shelves.

High-powered magnets are often marketed as toys, even though they are not approved for use by children under 14. U.S. PIRG has been calling for a ban on these types of magnets for years, highlighting the problems in their annual PIRG "Trouble in Toyland" toy safety report.

"These are not your grandmother's harmless refrigerator magnets," Ed Mierwinski, U.S. PIRG consumer program director said in a news release.

The high-powered magnets currently on the market are up to 37 times more powerful than the new safety standards allow. Because of their size and intensity, they pose a serious risk for children. Over 3,000 emergency room visits have been documented over the past few years, due to children mistakenly swallowing the magnets.

Thanks to the hard work of PIRG and other consumer groups, starting next year, all high-powered magnets sold must fit into the new safety standards, which include either reduced intensity or much larger sized magnets. 

PennEnvironment Takes Legal Action

PennEnvironment and the Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited announced Oct. 1 that they sent a formal notice of intent to sue Tredyffrin Township (Chester County) and the Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. 

The letter is the first step toward ending a series of massive sewage spills in Valley Forge National Historical Park that the groups say threaten public health and pollute a pristine national resource. 

Tredyffrin's sewer pipeline is over 40 years old and runs through Valley Forge Park, along Valley Creek. In the past two years, this pipeline has ruptured on three separate occasions, releasing millions of gallons of sewage directly into Valley Creek. In the two most recent pipeline failures, the township intentionally released millions of gallons of sewage directly into Valley Creek, which has received the state's highest water quality classification as an "Exceptional Value" stream, and is a Pennsylvania "Class A wild trout stream."

In a Sept. 29 letter to Tredyffrin Township and the Municipal Authority, which own and operate the pipeline, the groups stated that each spill violates Section 301(a) of the federal Clean Water Act, because no permit authorizes sewage to be discharged into Valley Creek. Because the underlying causes of these sewage spills have not been resolved and since there is no alternative emergency plan in place, the groups said they intend to file suit within 60 days to protect the stream from future pipeline breaks.

"Valley Forge holds an important place in America's history, and we cannot sit by while this national treasure faces the constant threat of illegal water pollution," stated PennEnvironment Director David Masur. "It is simply unacceptable that there is no plan in place to prevent future spills, and no timeline for replacing this dangerous, crumbling pipeline."

Gov. Brown Signs Pesticide Watch-Backed Bill

Children at California schools are now better protected from harmful pesiticides used on school property, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1405, a bill to provide more stringent guidelines on the use of toxic pesticides at schools. This comes after a many years-long effort by Pesticide Watch and their allies to enact stronger protections for schoolchildren from pesticide use. 

According to a press release from state Sen. Mark Desaulnier, the author of the bill, "The National Academy of Sciences reports that children are more susceptible to chemicals than adults and estimates that 50 percent of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs at a young age.

"Under SB 1405, school sites will report all pesticide use to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Current law only requires professional applicators to report their use. This bill also requires anyone -- including school staff and professional pest control applicators -- using pesticides on school sites to undergo an annual training on integrated pest management and the safe usage of pesticides."

Since 1991, Pesticide Watch has helped citizen groups across California develop sustainable solutions for dealing with pests, instead of using toxic pesticides. Their mission is to work side-by-side with Californians to prevent pesticide exposure, promote local farming, and build healthier communities.

Maryland PIRG Wins Foothold For Small Donors

Maryland PIRG's Emily Scarr announced Tuesday that Montgomery County, the largest county in Maryland, voted unanimously to become the first county in the state to establish a county-level small donor incentive program.

Maryland PIRG is working to get big money out of politics after recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have opened the floodgates to mega-donors and corporations to spend virtually unlimited funds to influence our elections. Scarr said, "Candidates are turning more and more to these special interests to remain competitive and have little incentive to pay attention to the wants and needs of ordinary Americans in their districts."

"Small-dollar incentive programs, like the one just adopted by Montgomery County, are some the best tools for improving elections and our democracy," continued Scarr.

To qualify, candidates can only accept donations of $150 or less and not accept any corporate money. The program provides matching funds of between 2 to 1 and 6 to 1, with the highest match for the smallest donations.

Our goal was to make sure the bill was passed before the election and to pass the strongest bill possible.

Montgomery County is a D.C. suburb, populated by many who work in the district. This bill will not go unnoticed, and we're hopeful it can be a model for other communities in Maryland and across the country.

Bottle Bill Supporters Call Out Opponents' Misinformation Ads

MASSPIRG and other Bottle Bill supporters urged television stations across Massachusetts to remove their opponents' ads this week, calling them out for spreading misinformation about this November's ballot measure to expand the Bottle Bill, which if passed, would include more types of beverage containers. MASSPIRG is arguing that the ads violate federal guidelines that ban deceptive or inaccurate advertising. 

MASSPIRG's Janet Domenitz earned the lead quote in the Boston Globe's coverage of the issue, saying "The purpose of these ads is to trick voters and scare them into voting no ... I expect the next thing their ads will say is that the cow jumped over the moon."

The ads in question claim that 90 percent of the state's residents have access to curbside recycling, when, in fact, state figures show that only 47 percent of the state's cities and towns offer municipal curbside recycling, and these towns comprise about 63 percent of the state's population.

 

Domenitz also pointed out to the Boston Globe that the ads depict dairy containers when in fact, milk cartons and gallons would not be included in the deposit law; and that the ads insinuate that unclaimed nickels would go to waste, when they would be designated to support environmental programs. As election day approaches, we're ramping up our efforts to educate the public about the benefits of updating the Bottle Bill. 

A penny-a-day for the right to know

Requiring the labeling of GMO products would cost consumers a median of $2.30 per year, or, roughly less than one penny per-day, according to a study released Wednesday by Consumers Union, an OSPIRG ally in the fight to label GMO foods in Oregon. The study comes as OSPIRG and our allies, as well as our opponents, ramp up for the upcoming election day, when Oregon voters will cast their ballots for or against Measure 92, which could mandate labeling of GMO foods in the state. The results of the study disprove anti-labeling television ad claims that GMO labeling in Oregon could cost as much as $800 for consumers annually. 

 

Opponents to GMO labeling are well-funded. In Washington state, the opposition to GMO labeling led by food industry PACs broke the record for spending on a campaign to defeat a state ballot initiative. But we have the facts, and we're making sure the public hears. 

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