Updates

U.S. PIRG's Mike Russo Testifies Before President's Council On Antibiotics Campaign

On Friday, U.S. PIRG Federal Program Director Mike Russo testified in front of President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Check out the video here. 

San Diego Canvass Office Meets With Assembly Speaker Atkins

Environment California has been working with the Fund for the Public Interest's San Diego office to protect the Pacific Ocean from plastic pollution by banning single-use plastic bags. Together, they delivered more than 10,000 petitions last Wednesday to the Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins' district office. 

Jacob Zhender, canvass director in the Fund's San Diego office, ran the meeting with Assembly Speaker Atkins' District Director Denise Price.

Also in the meeting were: Jason Hinsley assistant director in the San Diego canvass office, field managers Jacob Leffler, Hannah Lingle-Veale, Leila Benedyk, and Alyssa Canoff, Matthew O'Malley with San Diego Coastkeeper, Michael Torti with the San Diego chapter of Surfrider, and Zach Plopper with WildCoast.

Thanks in large part to Legislative Director Dan Jacobson, Oceans Advocate Nathan Weaver and the Fund's canvass, we've gained incredible momentum in the campaign to ban single-use plastic bags in California -- with more than 100 cities and counties with local bans to date. Now, we're urging Gov. Jerry Brown to ban plastic bags state-wide.

OSPIRG Delivers 155,661 Signatures To Label GMOs

OSPIRG has been working with a coalition of groups to drive the "Oregon Right to Know" campaign to get a GMO labeling initiative on the ballot this fall. On July 2, about 50 people from the coalition came together to deliver the more than 155,600 petition signatures we helped collect in just six weeks to qualify the measure.

Last year, big agribusinesses, such as Monsanto, spent over $20 million to block GMO labels at the ballot in Washington State. But OSPIRG and their coalition are ready to take on Big Ag. So far, Fund for the Public Interest offices in Oregon have joined forced with OSPIRG and talked to more than 34,000 Oregonians about the initiative and our right to know what's in our food.

Environment Arizona Advocates For 1.7 Million Acres Around Grand Canyon

Environment Arizona is working to establish a new Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which would permanently protect 1.7 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining and old-growth logging. 

State Advocate Bret Fanshaw met with state Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai last week, whose district covers the Grand Canyon. Earlier this year, Rep. Peshlakai signed a letter in support of the project. In the meeting, she reaffirmed her support for the proposal and offered to write an editorial. She also agreed to help us to set up information sessions with some of the local tribes, which will be helpful in our strategy of getting the local member of Congress, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, to come out and publicly support the monument. We want to make this a priority with the Obama administration.

Through staff outreach and the help of the Fund canvass earlier this summer, more than 1,200 people so far have signed petitions to the president, and about 40 local businesses have come out in support of the project. Two letters to the editor have been published to date, as well as two editorials from other voices, in addition to what we are doing with Rep. Peshlakai. 

Los Angeles Rallies Behind Electric Cars

Environment California Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman and Clean Energy Intern Olivia Voorhis joined Senate President pro Tempore-elect Kevin de León and the Charge Ahead coalition on Sunday to host an Electric Vehicle Fair in East Los Angeles.

The fair provided many Angelinos with a first-time opportunity to check out electric cars; learn about rebate, loan, and financing options; see electric trucks and buses; and be introduced to the Charge Ahead California campaign to put 1 million electric vehicles on California roads in the next decade.

The Charge Ahead California campaign is leading the effort which inspired Senate Bill 1275 (de León), which is supported by the Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Environment California, The Greenlining Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council. On June 23, the bill was approved by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee after passing through the full Senate in late May with strong bipartisan support.

Last Friday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to endorse SB 1275. Next, the bill will be heard by Assembly Appropriations in early August.

L.A. Launches Phase Two Of Bag Ban

On Jan 1, 2014, the first phase of the Los Angeles single-use plastic bag ban began with large grocery stores. On Monday at a news conference, the city officially launched the second phase, rolling out the ban to small grocery stores, convenience stores and liquor stores. Environment California's Michelle Kinman spoke at the news conference on the steps of City Hall with Councilmember Paul Koretz, who first introduced the city's bag ban ordinance. Afterward, Environment California was presented with a certificate that says: "In recognition of outstanding service to the community and for exemplary efforts in support of the Los Angeles plastic bag ban." 

Councilmember Koretz also launched a Kickstarter campaign for the "L.A. Epic Reusable Bag Giveaway" to distribute free reusable bags at key locations throughout the city. The bag's design was announced at the news conference, and Kinman reports that the bag will feature the Environment California logo, alongside other groups that helped make the L.A. City bag ban possible.

Environment California Runs Third "Fracktivist Training"

Environment California Global Warming Organizer Mac Farrell ran a "Fracktivist" training Saturday in Sacramento. Over the summer, Mac, along with our coalition, Californians Against Fracking, is holding trainings in eight cities across the state. In the past few weeks, Mac has run trainings in Oakland, San Francisco, and now Sacramento. Next stop is Santa Cruz. Our goal is to train at least 120 activists in the coming weeks.

We're offering them tips on how best to set up a phone tree, run a phonebank, meet with decision-makers, write letters to the editor, and hold news conferences. 

5,000+ Floridians For Clean Water

Environment Florida and the Fund for the Public Interest's Tampa canvass office are working together on Environment America's federal campaign to close polluters' loopholes in the Clean Water Act. So far this summer, the canvass office has helped more than 5,000 folks from around Tampa Bay weigh in and send a petition to the EPA.

This weekend, our staff canoed down the Hillsborough River to celebrate the summer so far. On the Environment Florida Facebook page, the group thanked "Canoe Escape for their support in making [it] an extraordinary day, Michelle Doll from Mother Nature's Urban Farm, and to the over 5,000 Tampa Bay residents who have pledged their support in the last few weeks to restore #cleanwater protections now."

A local radio station covered the event, drawing attention to our effort to close the loopholes in the Clean Water Act.

Illinois PIRG Calls On Legislature To Uphold Governor's Veto Of Bad FOIA Bill

Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr spoke at a news conference Monday, concerning HB 3796, which would make it difficult and expensive for taxpayers to obtain public information from the government.

Thankfully Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill Friday, but we're calling on the Illinois General Assembly to choose not to override the veto. We were joined by Citizen Advocacy Center, Illinois Policy, and Better Government Association.

In the Illinois PIRG news release, Scarr said, "Because this bill was both introduced and passed in the hectic final days of the legislative session, it was subject to little public debate or scrutiny. No evidence has been given to justify these new barriers to the public's ability to use one of the most fundamental tools to hold government accountable."

"Pay For Delay" Gets Spotlight On PBS

In 2013, U.S. PIRG released a report called "Top 20 Pay-For-Delay Drugs" with a group called Community Catalyst. The report outlined pay-for-delay prescription drugs, where a brand-name drug company pays off a would-be competitor to delay it from selling a generic version of the drug. Over the weekend, PBS put a spotlight on the practice on their NewsHour segment.

Both the PBS video and the PIRG report higlighted the drug Provigil, prescribed for sleep disorders and multiple sclerosis-related fatigue, as case study. According to the PIRG report: "Experts expected a generic version of Provigil to go on the market in late 2005, but brand-name manufacturer Cephalon paid more than $200 million to four different generic drug manufacturers, who kept their generics off the market until 2012. In the meantime, many patients had to pay up to $1,200 each month for the drug, or manage without it.

"In 2010, the FTC estimated that a pay-for-delay deal for a single drug could cost an individual consumer and their health plan an extra $4,590 over 17 months. Extended over the average five-year length of a pay-for-delay deal, that amounts to $16,200 in wasteful spending per patient, per drug, due to pay for delay."

Toxics Action Center Contributes To Influential Pesticide Study

Toxics Action Center contributed research to Gardeners Beware, a study released Wednesday by Friends of the Earth that examines the effects of pesticide use on bees. The report exposes several major retailers for selling garden plants containing neonics -- a type of pesticide typically used on corn crops that is suspected to be a major factor in the rapidly declining bee population -- and a handful of companies have already responded by announcing initiatives to reduce the sale or require labeling of plants containing the chemical.

The report found that more than half of garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers in 18 cities in the United States and Canada contained neonic pesticides. While scientists, beekeepers, and consumer groups believe bee deaths are linked to these pesticides, Big Ag has been vocally adament that a variety of factors, such as mites, are killing bees.

Bees pollenate about 25% of the food consumed by Americans.

TexPIRG Testifies On Government Transparency

TexPIRG Program Director Sara Smith was asked to speak about transparency issues at a hearing for the Texas Senate Committee on Open Government Monday. The committee has set out to "make recommendations on improving the transparency of information available on state websites regarding state expenditures, reports, and contracts, including a comparison of how similar information is provided by other states."

After her testimony, Smith wrote an op-ed about the importance of government transparency:

"In order to decide which of these subsidy programs deserve state support, we need to make clear which companies receive how much, what they are expected to deliver in return, whether they make good on those promises, and whether they are held accountable when they don't deliver."

PIRG groups across the country released our "Following the Money 2014" report in April, written by Frontier Group's Ben Davis and U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall. This report, the latest in a series that started in 2010, outlines how well states provide information on state spending online. The report cards we've given states over the years have led to more online access to state expenditures and checkbook-level detail on subsidies for economic development. Thanks in no small part to PIRG advocacy, 2013 was the first year all 50 states provided a government transparency website for the people.

Electric Vehicle Report "Driving Cleaner" Released

On Tuesday, Environment America Research & Policy Center released "Driving Cleaner," a report written by Environment America's Travis Madsen and Frontier Group's Elizabeth Ridlington.

According to the news release, the report shows that electric vehicles could prevent more than 18 million metric tons of climate-changing carbon pollution annually in the U.S. by 2025. That's the equivalent of saving more than 2 billion gallons of gasoline per year, or eliminating tailpipe pollution from 3.8 million of today's cars and trucks.

See the full report here.

U.S. PIRG Report Serves As Resource In Private Road Debate In Maine

U.S. PIRG's report "Private Roads, Public Costs," written by PIRG's Phineas Baxandall and Frontier Group's Tony Dutzik and Kari Wohlschlegel in 2009, may aid in a debate in Maine over a proposed 220-mile limited-access highway. The project will be privately funded by a contractor that has been criticized for concealing aspects of the project, such as the exact route the roads will take. Dave Pearson, town manager of Sangerville, Maine, passed out PIRG's report as a resource at a May 22 meeting of the local planning board.

Pearson cited the report's findings, which outline the financial problems that privately-funded highways have run into across the country when private money falls through and the public is left to foot the bill.

Environment America Releases "Wasting Our Waterways" Report

From the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to the Puget Sound, industrial facilities dumped more than 206 million pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s waterways in 2012, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center. The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to 2 million miles of critical waterways across the nation – a move bitterly opposed by the lobbyists for corporate agribusiness, including the American Farm Bureau.

“America’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Ally Fields, clean water advocate with Environment America Research & Policy Center. “But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters. The first step to curb this tide of toxic pollution is to restore Clean Water Act protections to all our waterways.”

The report was released at more than 30 news conferences across the country.

Environment Georgia bikes for solar

Environment Georgia Advocate Jennette Gayer spoke about our solar campaign at a Bike for Solar event led by coalition partner Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. More than 70 cyclists came together for a 7-mile tour of different solar arrays around Atlanta. Jennette spoke at the "stegasaurus" array at the Atlanta Beltline Fourth Ward Skate Park, which offsets energy costs for the city park. There, she asked everyone to join us in our effort to push for Altanta to be 10% solar by 2030.

New Plan Would Double Offshore Wind

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and others Tuesday to announce that 742,000 acres off the coast of the Commonwealth will become available for commercial offshore wind leases -- more than doubling the country's federal offshore wind acreage.

The announcement sets off a 60-day comment period, which will close August 18. Then the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will decide who will be able to lease some of the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, which will be split into four leases. This wind expansion comes after President Obama outlined his Climate Action Plan last June, calling for more investments in domestic energy, including wind and solar. 

MASSPIRG's Janet Domenitz Presents Sen. Elizabeth Warren With Public Service Award

On Wednesday at the Consumer Federation of America's 44th annual awards dinner at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., MASSPIRG's Janet Domenitz presented Sen. Elizabeth Warren with the Philip Hart Public Service Award, a distinguished lifetime service award that honors Sen. Warren as a champion of consumers and working families.

The award recognizes Sen. Warren for her work in forming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- which PIRG has helped strengthen and defend from opponents -- as well as her other extensive efforts to reform the marketplace and advocate for consumers' rights.

Healthcare 101 Guides Reach 568,000+ Students

Over the last year, the Student PIRGs, U.S. PIRG, and its state affiliates worked to connect young people to the ins and outs of healthcare by passing out "Healthcare 101" guides, holding media events, and engaging students and faculty on campuses across the country. According to a recent round-up of what we've accomplished: We connected with 201 community colleges and 4-year schools, and reached over 568,000 students. The effort spanned 16 states, with the most intense work in Texas, Florida, Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

Of the 568,000 students reached, TexPIRG staff and project interns reached more than 165,000 of them alone. They tapped into large class sizes and large campus listservs across 19 community colleges and 4-year schools.

Nationwide, we also focused on campus visibility and media attention through intense bursts of activity in the fall and again in the spring. These "blitzes" included media events with campus leaders, visible outreach in busy places on campus, and scores of presentations to classes and campus groups. In all, we got 99 media hits across the country.

Portland, Maine, Passes Fee On Plastic Bags

On Tuesday, after a lengthy public hearing, the Portland City Council ruled to impose a 5-cent surcharge on single-use paper and plastic bags at grocery stores. More than 120 other communities across the U.S. have banned plastic bags or imposed fees of 5 to 25 cents, which has cut the use of single-use plastic bags significantly. The rule will go into effect next spring and applies to stores where food comprises at least 2 percent of gross sales.

Environment California started its work to keep plastic out of the Pacific by banning plastic bags in 2010. Now, other Environment America state-affiliates are also working on the ground to gain momentum toward statewide plastic bag bans in states including Oregon, Washington and Rhode Island. And many other communities -- like Portland -- are leading their own local initiatives around reducing the use of single-use plastic bags.

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