Updates

Goldman Sachs Settles For Wrongdoing, But We Pay The Price

Taxpayers, get out your wallets again. This Friday, an announced $1.2 billion settlement deal between Goldman Sachs and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) allows some of the consequent payments to be written off as a tax deduction, likely worth $420 million. This settlement comes on the heels of another $17 billion tax-deductable agreement reached between Bank of America and the Justice Department just last week, building the case for U.S. PIRG's work to shift the burden of corporate wrongdoing away from the American public. 

In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission specified that in another settlement, Goldman Sachs "shall not claim, assert, or apply for a tax deduction or tax credit with regard to any federal, state or local tax." By preventing the bank from writing off the settlement, the SEC ultimately saved taxpayers $192 million.

"For every dollar that Goldman Sachs receives in tax benefits from this settlement, it's a dollar that can't be used to pay down the national debt, improve government programs, or hold down tax rates," said U.S. PIRG's Michelle Surka.

Environment Oregon Gets Feet Wet For Cleaner Rivers

While Environment Oregon and Fund for the Public Interest canvassers have been pounding the pavement to protect Oregon's rivers by closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act, this weekend we took our efforts to the banks of the Columbia River at Walton Beach on Sauvie Island to get our hands dirty, hosting a cleanup of the area. 

The event, "Love Your Columbia," was part of a larger effort put on by partner organization Columbia Riverkeeper to clean up the river's banks, stretching the length of the entire waterway. 

Environment Oregon has been making great strides toward protecting the state's rivers, from literally cleaning up the waters, to delivering more than 3,500 petitions earlier this month to Rep. Suzanne Bonamici in support of closing polluter-won loopholes in the Clean Water Act that leave nearly 2.4 million miles of streams across the country vulnerable to pollution. 

National Park Service Celebrates 98 Years Of Protecting Amazing Places

On August 25th, the National Park Service celebrated 98 years of safeguarding more than 400 of America's most beautiful places. 

Hundreds of millions of Americans explore and enjoy our national parks, such as Glacier National Park in Montana, each year. Yet instead of helping protect and preserve these places for our kids, some shortsighted leaders in Congress want to eliminate funding for our successful park programs.

This summer, we've been bringing people together around the country to call on decision-makers to restore full funding to our national parks and public lands. We need to make sure the National Park Service has all the resources to do its job well to 100 and beyond, and that our amazing parks endure for generations to come. 

Day 1 For Inaugural Class Of Change Corps

The inaugural class of Change Corps hit the ground running on Monday, the first day in the field for organizers. We're working on two campaigns this fall, one with Everytown for Gun Safety to pass background check-legislation that will save lives by reducing gun violence, and the other with the Moveon.org PAC on their "Save the Senate" campaign.

On our work to prevent gun violence: Since the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., there have been at least 74 school shootings in America. He says studies show that states with background checks have dramatically reduced levels of gun violence. On the flip-side, after Missouri repealed background checks for unlicensed handgun sales, gun murders spiked up 23% in the state. Change Corps is on the ground in Nevada and Oregon to win background check-victories in these states. Organizers will also be recruiting local "Mom's Demand Action" chapter leaders to carry the campaigns on for years to come.

We'll also be working with the MoveOn.org PAC this fall running offices across the country that will make between 1 and 1.4 million phone calls to likely democratic voters before election day to turn them out to the polls.

Follow Change Corps' photos from the field on the Change Corps Facebook page.

California Bag Ban May Get Second Chance

Since this spring, the California Legislature has been debating a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide. And Monday night, the California Assembly voted 37-33 in favor of the ban -- just 4 votes shy of the 41 needed to pass. The bill has been granted reconsideration, which means the bill could get a second chance to pass before the end of the legislative session at the end of August. 

Single-use plastic grocery bags foul California beaches, pollute the state's rivers, and get stuck in neighborhood trees. Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years. Over the past four years, our outreach and advocacy have helped win over 120 local bans and now we have a chance to ban single-use plastic bags statewide before the end of the month.

In an email sent to supporters and members on Monday, Environment California's Dan Jacobson said, "Environment California will be fighting to make sure we have the votes to win. We are generating phone calls, emails, petitions, and of course we will be in the Capitol talking to our elected officials and urging them to vote yes."

You can follow the updates on the Environment California Facebook page.

Green Century For The Palm Oil Win

Green Century Funds has scored another success in our campaign to cut carbon pollution, as food giant ConAgra has agreed to eliminate any palm oil supplier engaged in deforestation by December 2015. ConAgra is estimated to be the fifteenth largest palm oil consumer globally.

This victory comes on the heels of 18 months of success since we first started on this issue area -- first with Starbucks, then Kellogg's and  Smuckers, and now ConAgra. The recent victory and media outreach also secured us an article in The Guardian.

ConAgra's brands are in 99% of American households. As Green Century's news release stated, "Several of the company's signature brands, including Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Orville Redenbacher's popcorn, and Act II Microwaveable Popcorn contain palm oil." 

Thanks to our work, awareness of the issues associated with palm oil production, including rainforest destruction, climate change and biodiversity loss, has spread from the public to multi-national companies, leading to commitments to steer clear of unsustainable palm oil production.

Massachusetts Governor Stalls Support For Pipeline Expansion

Last week, Toxics Action Center celebrated progress on our campaign to stop a natural gas pipeline from being built across the Northeast. The pipeline would import Marcellus Shale fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New England, and towns along the pipeline have stood up to take action against its construction.

On August 19, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who was originally leaning in favor of the pipeline, decided to put his support of the proposal on hold. 

In celebration of this progress, Toxics Action Center posted the following statement from a coalition partner on their Facebook page: "We are extremely pleased that the governor heard us. He responded to the thousands of petitions, the scores of small business owners, land trusts, conservation commissions and homeowners across the state," said Cathy Kristofferson from Stop the Pipeline, "We can't rush into more natural gas, we must study all the options before jumping into projects that would permanently impact farms, forests, wetlands and countless acres of private property."

Kinder Morgan, the company that wants to build the pipeline, is continuing its pressure to move forward. Toxics Action Center will continue to rally constituents across New England to stop the pipeline.

"NYT Quotation Of The Day"

The New York Times' "Quotation of the Day" on Friday featured U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall on the issue of big banks writing off their Justice Department settlements as business expenses.
 
"The American public is expecting the Justice Department to hold the banks accountable for its misdeeds in the mortgage meltdown. But these tax write-offs shift the burden back onto taxpayers and send the wrong message by treating parts of the settlement as an ordinary business expense," said Phineas, criticizing settlements between big banks and the federal government.

The Justice Department just reached a record $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America related to the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008. This settlement is the largest of the number of other settlements brought on by the Justice Department, totalling $37 billion so far.

In response, Illinois PIRG's Abe Scarr was on evening news show Chicago Tonight (see minute 3:52) to point out that Bank of America can write-off part of the settlement on its taxes, which will put a burden on ordinary tax-payers in loss of services, increased taxes, or an increase in the deficit.

Campaign Organizers Deliver 13,000 Petitions To Northeast Regional FDA Office

Public Interest Network campaign organizers from across the country joined forces in Boston on Thursday and Friday to bolster support to stop the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Together, they talked to more than 1,000 people face-to-face about the campaign in just two days, and more than 800 of those people signed petitions calling on the FDA to take action.

The team also identified more than 200 health professionals, and 84 of those health care providers added their names to a longer letter to President Obama. On Friday morning, the organizers joined MASSPIRG Staff Attorney Kirstie Pecci at a news conference to deliver the more than 13,000 petitions from the Northeast region to the regional FDA office. 

Progress Florida Calls For An Investigation

According to a recent Progress Florida petition, Gov. Rick Scott and his legislative allies have allowed sugar-industry polluters to foul the Everglades and stick taxpayers with the tab to clean up their mess. We're asking, "Is it just a coincidence that they've allowed the pollution to happen while accepting expensive hunting trips to the exclusive King Ranch in Texas on Big Sugar's dime?"

In a Tampa Bay Times story that dropped last week, Florida's top-elected officials were shown hunting at a prominent ranch in Texas on a trip paid for in part by the same sugar industry that has been getting breaks on cleaning up pollution in the Everglades. The article outlines that just last year, "the Legislature approved, and Gov. Scott signed, a bill that promises to save the industry millions on pollution cleanup in the Everglades." What's more, another article said that "Gov. Scott named Michael A. "Mitch" Hutchcraft, an executive with the King Ranch property in Florida, to the South Florida Water Management District Board, which oversees the massive restoration of the Everglades." This seems like a bad deal for the public.

Progress Florida is calling for an immediate investigation: "It's time for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to quit her partisan antics and get to the bottom of the King Ranch political scandal that has engulfed Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party." 

"Today, Oregon stood up and said no"

Earlier this year, a dirty energy company proposed a plan to ship coal through Oregon. Ambre Energy's proposed coal terminal would have exported 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia, leaving coal dust behind in Oregon, and the public in no better shape to move toward better energy sources that don't pollute.

Last week, the Oregon Department of State Lands blocked a key permit needed by the coal industry to move forward with the project -- effectively halting the project. 

Environment Oregon celebrated on social media with an infographic created by Public Interest GRFX and with a news release announcing the win. Federal Global Warming Program Director Julian Boggs said, "For decades, dirty energy corporations have got their way. Today, Oregon stood up and said no, and that's a testament to the hard work of all the fisherman, tribes, small businesses and grassroots activists who fought this export terminal."

Environment Texas Endorses Austin's Prop. 1

With the tag-line "Traffic Bites. Bite Back," Austin's Proposition 1, which would bring a new rail system to the city in Texas, is getting ready for voters this November. Environment Texas recently endorsed the measure, saying "We're proud to be one of the many organizations endorsing Prop. 1." 

According to the proposition's website, the state and city have spent more than $5 billion in the last 15 years on road projects, while a fraction of that has gone to mass transit options. While Austin is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation, building a rail line would not only combat congestion, but would also cut air pollution and subsequent asthma rates in the city.

76 Against Fracking In First North Carolina Public Hearing

As the first day of a week of public hearings on fracking wrapped up in North Carolina, 76 people testified against fracking, with only eight in favor, according to Environment North Carolina, whose staff testified to ban fracking from the state. The hearings are being held to debate more than 100 new regulations that will take effect as the state's moratorium on fracking expires in the coming year. 

Through live-tweeting the event, which was filled with cheers, boos, jeers, hisses, and song, we were able to document and share some of the highlights of the hearing, including the vast majority opposition to the dangerous drilling process that has ripped through communities across the nation. One message was hammered home again and again:

 

  • "I will not live next to a drilling well. I refuse."
  • "We live in the great land of unintended consequences -- deepwater horizon, asbestos, and coal ash here at home."
  • "We don't think fracking can be done safely so we would like to reinstate the permanent ban on fracking." - Dave Rogers, of Environment North Carolina
  • "For more than 20 years as a public health chemist, I have analyzed many of these chemicals. I analyzed them because they are toxic." 
  • "They claim it creates jobs. They ignore the fact it creates cancer."
  • "The rules as drafted do not protect North Carolinians."
Fight Fracking In Pennsylvania With "Shale Ale"

This week, PennEnvironment teamed up with Philadelphia's American Sardine Bar and Nodding Head Brewery to release a special one-time-edition "Shale Ale," all the proceeds of which will go to PennEnvironment's efforts to fight fracking around the state. More than 50 people turned out to enjoy the brews and stand up to fracking in Pennsylvania. 

Over the years, thousands of people across the commonwealth have joined PennEnvironment's effort to stop fracking and put a halt to contaminated water supplies, ripped up landscapes, and related public health problems. Sixty-five drilling companies have committed more than 4,000 violations of Pennsylvania's environmental laws over the course of just four years, sickening families and jeopardizing the environment. We're calling on legislators to stand up to the oil and gas industry and better protect communities from the dangerous consequences of fracking. 

Unacceptable: Oil Spill Puts Ohio Waters In Danger Again

Environment America sprang into action this week to condemn Duke Energy's spill of up to 8,000 gallons of diesel into the Ohio River, jeopardizing the drinking water for the greater Cincinnati area. Just earlier this month, a toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie contaminated the drinking water for nearly half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio area.  

Our social media meme called attention to the urgent need to shift away from dirty energy sources that jeopardize the environment and our public health to renewable -- and completely pollution-free -- energy sources, such as solar.

North Carolina Opens Fracking Debate To The Public

This week, Environment North Carolina, along with hundreds of North Carolina residents will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about fracking and weigh in on the 100+ new proposed safety rules at four hearings around the state this week, hosted by the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission. These hearings come as the state's 3-year moratorium on fracking is set to expire next year, and a public comment period on the proposed regulations comes to a close in mid-September.

Gov. Pat McCrory lifted the ban on fracking in North Carolina just earlier this summer, and the proposed rules are hardly adequate to protect public health and our environment from the vast threats that fracking poses. Among their inadequacies, the proposed regulations don't address air pollution from fracking, and would allow toxic wastewater to be stored in pits, a waste disposal method that's proved hazardous for coal ash. The public hearings will kick off Wednesday in Raleigh, where Environment North Carolina, along with other state environmental organizations that oppose fracking, will be holding a rally to show public support for maintaining the moratorium on fracking and organize people to testify at the hearings about the inadequacies of the Mining and Energy Commission's proposal. 

The New York Times Spotlights Sneaky Campus Debit Card Practices

As students prepare to return to college for the school year, the New York Times highlighted U.S. PIRG's work in an article detailing the challenges of choosing a reliable bank as a student. The article, published last Friday, quoted Higher Education Program Director Chris Lindstrom on how to navigate campus debit cards and avoid such woes as hidden fees, which often plague students already struggling with the costs of college.

Lindstrom advised "researching the details of any campus debit card you are offered, to make sure you're aware of all fees." She explained that school-affiliated accounts may not always be the best kinds available for students. "Our perspective is that students are a captive audience on the campus," she said. "They should be getting a superior deal than they could get elsewhere."

Thanks in part to our work over the past few years, the federal Department of Education is currently considering whether to further regulate student debit cards, to make sure students aren't paying excessive fees to get their federal aid.

Election Day Looks Promising For MA Bottle Bill Update

The majority of Massachusetts voters support updating the Bottle Bill to expand the nickel deposit to new types of beverage containers, a new poll conducted by the Boston Globe found last week. Bay Staters will have the opportunity to vote this November on the measure, Question 2, which won a spot on the ballot thanks to MASSPIRG's public outreach efforts.

The Bottle Bill has gained traction as one of the most effective recycling programs in the state, despite heavy beverage industry opposition. But now, with many new types of beverage containers on the shelves, only 20% of containers not covered under this deposit law end up being recycled. That adds up to more than 1 billion water, energy and sports drink bottles per year that get thrown in our landfills or burned in incinerators.

An update has been pending in the state Legislature for more than a decade, but this year, we're closer than ever to pushing the bill over the finish line. The Globe's poll found that 62 percent of likely voters support expanding the law, while only 27 percent oppose it. Only 10 percent said they were undecided.

California Appropriations Committee Green Lights Charge Ahead Bill

In California, the exhaust from cars, trucks and other vehicles account for 40 percent of the state's global warming pollution, and contributes to some of the highest asthma rates in the country. We know that one of the best ways to cut down on this pollution is to get more electric vehicles on the road, so Environment California is helping to lead the fight to pass the Charge Ahead California Initiative in the Legislature.

Last Thursday, the campaign cleared its latest hurdle by passing through a key appropriations committee.

We aim to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road in the next 10 years, which is 15 times the number currently on the road, according to the recent L.A. Times article that covered the campaign.

The initiative would create a series of rebates for people buying electric vehicles, especially for lower-income residents. Funding for these policies will come from polluter fees paid into the state's cap-and-trade program that our advocacy helped win and went into effect in early 2012. 

20,000 Bay Staters Tell Congress To Stop Slashing Park Funding

Environment Massachusetts gathered on the Boston Common and presented a petition this past Thursday signed by 20,800 Bay Staters calling to save full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the country's most successful parks and open space program that protects beaches, forests, and local parks and playgrounds across the nation. The LWCF, which receives dedicated funding from off-shore oil royalties, has routinely been slashed year after year, and now the program is set to expire altogether next year.

According to a recent report from MassAudubon, Massachusetts lost approximately 38,000 acres of forest and undeveloped land between 2005 and 2013-equivalent to 13 acres a day -- highlighting the urgent need for increased protection. That's why Environment Massachusetts has gathered 20,800 petitions and had 62,000 conversations with people around the state about the importance of preserving the LWCF to protect all our open spaces, from the iconic Charles River, to the Cape Cod National Seashore, to the neighborhood staple Franklin Park.

The Boston Globe's coverage of the event highlighted the dire need for funding for our parks, and featured Environment Massachusetts' Ben Hellerstein in the lead quote.

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