Updates

Carcinogens And Fracking Go Hand-In-Hand

A new study published in the Environmental Health Journal found that toxic chemicals are present in huge amounts near fracking sites. In some cases, there were over 770,000 times the normal concentrations. Chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, both carcinogens, are commonly found near fracking operations. 

Fracking uses these chemicals in a toxic cocktail that is blasted deep into the earth to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas. These chemicals can leach into the ground and waters nearby, affecting residents and causing everything from nosebleeds to cancer. 

These results come as no surprise to anyone who has knows the dangers of fracking, and or the truth behind the lies the fracking industry has spread. That's why Environment America's campaigns across the country are calling on Congress and other decision makers to put an end to fracking, and all of the environmental and health hazards that come with it. 

Oregon's Measure 92 Coming Down To The Wire

With just four days left until Election Day, polls are showing a tight race in Oregon for Measure 92, the ballot measure that would require labels for genetically engineered foods. A poll released yesterday by the Yes on 92 campaign shows the Yes vote leading, 52 to 44. Meanwhile, another poll released earlier this week shows the Yes side trailing 48 to 42.

Measure 92 has already become the most expensive ballot fight in Oregon history, with the No side pulling in more than $19 million in campaign contributions -- virtually all of that coming from special interests like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, PespiCo. and Coca Cola. Meanwhile, thousands of individual donors have chipped in to the Yes on 92 side, in support of making Oregon the fourth state to require GMO labels -- and the first to do so via ballot measure.

Public Calls For Chemical Safety

Because of lax rules around dangerous chemicals, dangerous accidents and spills threaten communities across the U.S., from the 2012 derailment of a train car carrying toxic chemicals in Paulsboro, N.J., to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed fifteen people. We've advocated for common-sense protections that would require chemical companies to switch to safer alternatives, making the case directly to policymakers and talking to over 50,000 people through citizen outreach in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas. Through canvassing, we helped 17,000 people send petitions to the EPA calling for action. Last week, we sent an email to our members who had taken action on toxics issues and another 7,000 people joined in and sent public comments to the EPA.

This advocacy is paying off, beginning last year when President Obama issued an executive order, instructing agencies to develop a plan to improve the safety of chemical facilities and transportation. The EPA called for public comments on what their plan should look like, so working with our coalition partners (including Greenpeace, the Blue Green Alliance, Sierra Club, and CHEJ), we helped deliver over 100,000 public comments urging the EPA to stake out a strong position to protect the public. On Wednesday's comment deadline, we attended a coalition event at EPA headquarters to mark the delivery of the comments.

Student PIRGs GOTV Efforts In Full Swing

This weekend, as the Student PIRGs rev up to get-out-the-vote (GOTV), about 80 CALPIRG staff and student volunteers from across the state met at UCLA for a day of training, campaign planning, and a phone bank to turn out the youth vote on Election Day. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz attended the event as a guest speaker, and reiterated the importance of the youth vote.

University of Maryland Campus Organizer Kristen Jackson also launched a social media GOTV effort via a Thunderclap, which will unleash its message at 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 3: "Make sure to cast your vote in midterm elections tomorrow, November 4th. It's our future, our voice, and our vote!"

The Thunderclap had a goal of 100 participants, and at the time of this post, surpassed its goal at 103 participants.

"Frack Or Fiction" Series Hits Facebook

Pro-fracking forces have been getting away with gross distortions and outright lies. Environment America is setting the record straight this week and you can help by sharing this on your Facebook page. 

The second in their week-long "Frack or Fiction" series fact-checked Anadarko Petroleum's claim that "Hydraulic fracturing is ... not a significant source of [methane] emissions." A 2014 analysis of fracking wells along the Pennsylvania Marcellus region found that methane leakage rates were 100 to 1,000 times greater than the EPA's previous estimates, averaging emissions 34 grams of methane per second. 

"When It's Not Transparent, It's Shady"

We've been critical of the loopholes in settlements for wrongdoing that allow some or all of the penalties to be tax deductible for any period of time. Our original report on the topic, "Subsidizing Bad Behavior," was released January of 2013. Since then, we've been banging the drum in the media with each major settlement as it happens -- praising those that disallow a tax deduction and calling out those that do not.

We've also helped nearly 200,000 people send petitions to the Justice Department, calling for an end to this loophole. The attention we've drawn has prompted Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tom Coburn to team up to tackle this problem by introducing "Truth in Settlements" legislation, which we helped draft.

On Monday, Newsweek ran a very good and lengthy piece on the issue, which mentions the Warren/Coburn legislation and quotes U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall:

"When people hear that this stuff is deductible, it just feels like adding insult to injury," says Phineas Baxandall, a senior policy analyst and tax specialist at U.S. PIRG, a left-leaning consumer protection research group that has written reports on the tax deductions. "And when it's not transparent, it's shady."

Bottle Bill Canvassers Blanket Massachusetts

Last weekend, enthusiastic volunteers and longtime activists joined MASSPIRG staff, students, and other Boston Public Interest Network staff to knock on doors across Massachusetts and talk to voters one-on-one about passing Question 2 and updating the Bottle Bill this Nov. 4.

In total, 172 volunteers knocked on 5,777 doors and spoke with 1,829 Massachusetts voters. While 770 Bay Staters reported being a "strong yes" on Question 2, only 147 were a "strong no."

The successful canvass has motivated volunteers as we head into the final week of the campaign.

ConnPIRG Thwarts Plan To Undermine Campaign Finance System

As Connecticut gears up for Election Day, ConnPIRG has helped block a scheme by the Connecticut State Democrats to get around the state's campaign finance laws by siphoning money from a federal account with more lenient transparency rules. 

Earlier this month, Connecticut's state election regulators contacted ConnPIRG with a request for help protecting the state's public campaign finance system -- in which both major gubernatorial candidates are participating -- from this covert plan to convince the Federal Elections Committee to allow the State Democrats to fund the incumbent Democratic governor with money from this federal account. 

Offering our comments gave us the chance to help shape the narrative of why the Connecticut State Democrats' actions were unjust and gain a spotlight in local opinion media, including the Hartford Courantand a Connecticut political blog. Gov. Dannel Malloy was forced to address the issue multiple times in gubernatorial debates. This past week, the Democrats withdrew their request of the FEC and the state election regulators sent us a thank you for defending the state's law.

Claremont Colleges Get Charged Up About Electric Vehicles

College students, faculty and members of the greater Claremont community participated in the first-ever Claremont Colleges Electric Vehicle Day last Friday, test driving 10 different electric cars available on the market today and learning about how electric vehicles can reduce air pollution, improve health and save working Californians money.

Students had an opportunity to meet and hear from Claremont Mayor Joe Lyons, who spoke about the importance of sustainable solutions and who encouraged the students to get involved in political advocacy for greater adoption of clean vehicles in California. The event also provided attendees with the opportunity to learn more about the Charge Ahead Initiative, which Environment California runs in partnership with Coalition for Clean Air, Commuities for a Better Environment, the Greenlining Institute, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

One State's Traffic Forecast Moves Into Reality

Just this week, we had a small but significant victory with the first state to significantly establish a new trajectory for future transportation needs.

Washington state's financial office set a dramatically better driving forecast that recognized previous overestimates, acknowledges the sagging number of vehicle registrations in the state, and the higher price of gas. This means that the state will be preparing for about 53 billion driving miles in 2040 -- down from about 58 billion now -- instead of ramping up highway construction to accommodate a forecast of about 72 billion miles. This is a big difference in background assumptions that will make it easier to encourage more investment in public transit, biking and walking infrastructure, and to encourage highway money to be more focused on repairing existing roads and bridges instead of building new lanes.

We plan to bring attention to this victory as an example for other states. The new forecast comes from the state's Office of Financial Management, which needs to figure out future gas tax revenue. You can read and tweet more about the Washington state victory here.

As Executive Director Andre Delattre put it, "The challenge now is to get other states and the federal government to do the same."

Signs of progress can be found in a smattering of other states. Maryland DOT's 20-year vision likewise acknowledges that "a return to strong VMT growth is unlikely." Illinois' more recent long-term plan downgraded the forecast of driving growth from 2 percent to 1 percent. California, Minnesota and Oregon have done their own state or regional transportation surveys of current travel that we detail in the "Millennials in Motion" report that we released this month. These surveys provide grist for reform by documenting the reduction in driving and shifts to other modes, even if the surveys don't get directly translated into new forecasts.

The Same As Stopping A Trillion Tons Of Coal From Being Burned

In addition to investing fossil fuel free, Green Century has focused on palm oil. Palm oil production causes massive amounts of carbon pollution as rainforests are cut down to build plantations. The Green Century team is pushing companies to change that.

We've seen a lot of success in the last two years, securing the first major corporate commitment and kicking off an industry-wide shift. And the latest global announcement -- the New York Declaration on Forests -- could cut billions of tons of carbon pollution annually, the same as stopping a trillion tons of coal from being burned.

Our impact is getting noticed - in some important places, including NPR, Market Watch, CNBCand the Wall Street Journal.

After five major palm oil producers announced a self-imposed moratorium of rainforest clear-cutting for palm oil production, the Triple Pundit wrote: "The announcement came a week after four of the companies received a letter from a group of investors spearheaded by Green Century Capital Management, with collective assets topping $600 billion. In addition to calling for the moratorium, the Green Century letter urged the producers to adopt more sustainable palm oil practices, in accordance with a growing number of industry stakeholders."

Clean Water Campaign Hits Goal Of 200,000 Signatures

On Tuesday, Oct. 21, Environment America hit their goal of 200,000 public comments in favor of restoring Clean Water Act protections to all America's streams.

Students Get Chance To Win $2,500 Textbook Scholarship

Student PIRG campus organizers are working to lower the cost of textbooks for students. This week, student leaders are reaching out to classmates for stories about being #textbookbroke, while offering an opportunity to win a $2,500 textbook scholarship.

As a recent Student PIRG email outlined, "We're partnering with the Michelson Twenty Million Minds Foundation to further build the movement to bring an affordable college education to all of those who strive for it."

The contest ends Oct. 28.

Textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation in the past decade, costing students an average of $1,200 each year. Publishing companies are raking in huge profits while engaging in bad practices that drive up costs: issuing new editions that make used books hard to find, bundling textbooks with unnecessary CDs and pass-codes, and more. They get away with it because students don't have a choice -- we've got to buy the book they're selling, even if the price is outrageous.

A Wave Of "Waterways Restored" Events Sweeps The Nation

On Tuesday, Oct. 21, Environment America released its latest clean water report, "Waterways Restored," a report detailing how the Clean Water Act has helped bring 15 American rivers, lakes and bays back to life.

In 1969, Ohio's Cuyahoga River was so polluted with oil, sludge and trash that it caught fire. Today, people canoe and kayak there. In the '60s, Maine's Androscoggin River was thick with toxic foam. Today, brook and rainbow trout run in its waters. These and other successes are due to the power of the Clean Water Act and the use made of it by government officials and ordinary citizens alike. As the law turns 42, the report is designed to spread the good news about what the Clean Water Act has done for our rivers, lakes and bays -- and why it's time to restore its protection to our streams and wetlands, a safeguard shredded by polluters' lawsuits and lobbying.

Environment America campaign organizers earned some impressive coverage in the media -- from News 12 picking up Sarah Vitti's event in New York to a Boston Globe photographer snapping shots at Kimberly Williams' event along the Boston Harbor.

The report was written by the Frontier Group team of Jeff Inglis, Tom Van Heeke, Gideon Weissman and Lindsey Hallock, and John Rumpler from Environment America Research & Policy Center.  

Good News: Lawmakers Halt Appointments To New Jersey Pinelands Commission

Last week, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee put a hold on two of Gov. Chris Christie's nominees to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

It's a victory for environmental groups, including Environment New Jersey, who hoped to see appointments blocked, believing these nominations are in attempt to reverse a 7-7 vote by that body in January that defeated a 22-mile pipeline project from running through the the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands. The pristine area has been referred to as "New Jersey's Yellowstone."

The pipeline project would feed natural gas to the B.L. England plant in upper Cape May County from Maurice River Township.

A vote on the two new nominees was expected following their testimony and comments from members of the public. But after testimony from nominees New Hanover Mayor Dennis Roohr and Robert Barr of Ocean City, the hearing was adjourned.

David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action, said in a statement opposing the nominations that senators needed to "stand up for the integrity of New Jersey's independent governing bodies and put a check on inappropriate political interference by the executive branch."

Environment New Jersey Director Doug O'Malley urged members and supporters to sign a petition and call state senators, urging them to vote against the nominees.

"The Pinelands Commission has served as an independent body overseeing Pinelands protections for 35 years," he said in an email. "The Pinelands was the first National Reserve and it is the largest surviving open space on the East Coast between Maine and the Everglades in Florida."

If the judiciary committee approves the nominations they will go before the full state Senate for a vote.

 

You can read the full story here.

1 Big Donor For Every 80 Small Donors

PIRG just crunched some numbers on the 2014 elections and what we found is disturbing: A handful of big donors gave at least 65 percent of the money raised by candidates in the 2014 congressional primaries.

It took at least 80 small donors to match the contributions of every large donor. This means that even if you were a candidate and you knew that you could recruit 10,000 small donors, you'd still be outspent by the candidate who had just 125 big donors.

This is yet another concrete example of how Citizens United and other wrong-headed court decisions are diminishing the power of our votes in favor of Super PACs and mega-donors.

PIRG organizers are working to build support in the fight to overturn Citizens United, but we're also working to empower small donors.

By encouraging millions of everyday Americans to make small contributions can help counterbalance the influence of special interests in our elections. We are working with federal and state legislators to implement programs like tax credits, campaign vouchers, and matching public funds to create a swell of grassroots funding.

Anna Aurilio, Ed Mierzwinski Named Top Lobbyists By The Hill

Each year, The Hill announces the top lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and this year, Environment America's Anna Aurilio and U.S. PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski were both named on the list of top grassroots lobbyists of 2014.

Of Anna, The Hill wrote, "Environment America might not be among the heaviest hitters in green group lobbying, but Aurilio keeps the group in the mix on fights over climate change, water pollution and wildlife protections, among other priorities." Anna started with TPIN (before it was TPIN) at the National Environmental Law Center (before it was NELC -- it was the Public Interest Litigation Project back in the day).

Of Ed Mierzwinski and U.S. PIRG, The Hill wrote: "The group's consumer program director advises lawmakers on a wide range of consumer issues that deal with identity theft, credit cards, privacy and financial services." Ed is longest-serving member of the TPIN staff, starting with ConnPIRG in the 1970s.

Shining Solar Biz Event In Arizona

Environment Arizona Campaign Organizer Malcolm Mossman organized a solar business event in Phoenix on Oct. 16, which was attended by Channel 3 (AZ Central) and Channel 5 (CBS). The local news radio station, KTAR, also did a radio interview prior to the event.

At the event, Mossman unveiled Environment America's collection of more than 540 signatures, predominantly from those who are part of the solar industry in a petition supporting the Clean Power Plan initiative and advocating that solar energy become a focus of the Clean Power Plan as well.

Obama Signs Order To Bolster Credit Card Security

On Friday, Oct. 17, President Obama announced executive actions to protect consumers from credit card fraud and future financial data security breaches.

As U.S. PIRG Andre Delattre put it, "Consumer credit card breaches and other financial data hackings have become almost routine." Just last week, JPMorgan suffered the largest breach in history (to date, at least), which was widely covered by the media, including a Washington Post piece quoting PIRG's Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski.

Mierzwinski was invited to a White House event where the president made his announcement to add more protections, but was in New York at the Consumer Reports board of directors meeting and couldn't make it. He did issue a statement, though, saying that the president is calling for all cards for government users and government benefits (such as EBT) to be Chip and PIN compliant as of January 2015. The president has moved beyond the Chip-only upgrades proposed by the bank and card networks, which would not have done enough to move past obsolete magnetic swipe cards. Mierzwinski says "smart chips only prevent cards from being cloned. Adding PIN requirements as well will ensure that cards are used by the right people. Implementing Chip and PIN together will dramatically reduce fraud in retail transactions."

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

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