Updates

LA Reveals First-Ever Comprehensive Sustainability Plan

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the city's first-ever, comprehensive sustainability plan last Wednesday, which lays out major environmental goals for the city to reach by 2035. 

Environment California's Michelle Kinman wrote on social media with a photo of the event: "Proud to stand with members of the LA Clean Energy Coalition and Mayor Eric Garcetti today at the launch of the city's first ever comprehensive sustainability plan. Time to roll up our sleeves and get to work making 1500 MW of local solar a reality!"

The plan includes several ambitious goals, including sourcing 50 percent of water locally and having zero days where air pollution reaches unhealthy levels. Some proposals are already in place, while others will be added on a rolling basis.

If all the goals in the 105-page plan are enacted, they could have an incredible impact on Los Angeles and the surrounding environment. 

Environment Texas Fights Legislation That Would Undermine Local Drilling Ordinances

With the Texas Legislature scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill preempting municipal and county oil and gas drilling ordinances, Environment Texas joined Dallas civic and environmental leaders at an event late last week denouncing the legislation. The bill would put local control to protect health and safety at risk, making Dallas and the region's populations vulnerable to fire, pollution and other dangers.

“Drilling operations pose real risks to our health and safety and that’s why we passed strong protections in the City of Dallas two years ago,” commented Dallas Council member Philip Kingston who testified against the bills on behalf of the City of Dallas. “Now, Austin lawmakers are threatening to roll back these critical protections, undermine our local control and put our families and community at risk.”

The bills -- HB 40 (Darby-San Angelo) and SB 1165 (Fraser-Horseshoe Bay) -- have recently passed out of the House Energy Resources and Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee and could soon be debated on the floor within the coming week. The bills “expressly preempt” oil and gas ordinances by municipalities or other political subdivisions, making oil and gas operations the “exclusive jurisdiction of the state.”

“Run, don’t walk,” commented Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “If Austin lawmakers are successful, oil and gas drilling could be coming to a school, playground, or daycare center near you.”

Environment Texas warned the bills could undermine drilling ordinances in more than 300 Texas cities, including Dallas, Ft. Worth, Southlake, Lewisville, Irving, and Flower Mound. Limits on drilling near homes, prohibitions of drilling in parks, and bans on waste injection wells could be threatened with legal challenge if not deemed “commercially reasonable,” a standard the group argued is vague and largely undefined.

An 800,000-Pound Gorilla

More than 800,000 students in Colorado have student debt, and on April 7, CoPIRG Director Danny Katz joined Rep. Diana DeGette at CU-Denver to push for college affordability policies that keep a college degree within reach for all Coloradans. 

At the event, Rep. DeGette announced her support for the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, a new bill that will allow students to refinance their student loans that was introduced just last month on March 18. The average student's debt in Colorado is $24,500, and the percentage of students with $25,000 worth of private student loan debt has increased, from 5% in 1996 to 24% in 2008.

In a statement released by CoPIRG about the event and the announcement, Katz said, "Student loan debt isn’t an 800-pound gorilla in Colorado. It’s an 800,000-pound gorilla with nearly 800,000 people in Colorado with student loan debt." Katz applauded Rep. DeGette for her commitment to the issue.

500,000 Petitions Urge President Obama To Shine A Light On Dark Money

Last week, activists gathered in front of the White House with the backdrop of a large inflatable flashlight, to deliver over half a million petitions calling on President Obama to shine a light on dark money.

By issuing an executive order, the president could require government contractors -- some of America’s largest companies -- to disclose their political spending. The event marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which for the first time struck down a federal contribution limit, allowing more wealthy donors to flood our elections.

“The Supreme Court got it dead wrong when it allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on elections. But while that is allowed, companies -- especially those that get taxpayer dollars -- shouldn’t be able to hide their political spending,” said U.S. PIRG Democracy Campaign Director Dan Smith. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can lift the blinders by saying that companies awarded government contracts must disclose their political spending.” 

More than 50 rallies were held in 25 states around the anniversary of the McCutcheon decision, and in March, U.S. PIRG joined 50 organizations to urge President Obama to shine a light on dark money.

“Unlimited big money from special interests and wealthy donors -- especially when hidden from the public -- drowns out the voices of average citizens and leads to a loss of faith in democracy. There are many reforms needed to reclaim our democracy, including amplifying the voices of ordinary Americans by matching small contributions with public funds, but this would be a great start. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for ‘a better politics’ without dark money. Now it’s time for him to back up those words and take action,” said Dan.

100+ People Attend #GoSolar Lobby Day In Boston

More than 100 people joined us in the Massachusetts State House Tuesday morning to advocate for more solar in the commonwealth during our Stand Up for Solar Lobby Day.

Solar power has tripled in the U.S. in the last two years, with another American family or business going solar every four minutes.

Unfortunately, solar power’s rapid growth has alarmed some dirty energy companies. They keep putting up new roadblocks to solar -- so they can keep solar generating less than 3% of our power, even if it means more pollution and more global warming.

We need more and better pro-solar policies, not fewer. That’s why we’re urging Gov. Charlie Baker to make commitments that will help put Massachusetts on the road to 100% clean energy, with 20 percent solar by 2025. 

Achieving this state goal would help move our country closer to the national goal of getting 10 percent solar by 2030. This would produce immediate and long-lasting benefits for our environment, including removing 280 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2030—the equivalent of taking 59 million cars off the road.

The lobby day was organized by Environment Massachusetts, Toxics Action Center, MASSPIRG Students, American Lung Association of the Northeast, Boston Area Solar Energy Association, Better Future Project, Cape & Vineyard Electric Cooperative, Clean Water Action, Climate Action Now, E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), Environmental League of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, MassSolar, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Next Step Living, SEBANE, Sierra Club, Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts, and Vote Solar.

Young Americans Will Inherit More Extreme Climate

According to "Dangerous Inheritance," Environment America and Frontier Group's report on global warming released March 31, young adults are experiencing hotter temperatures and more intense storms than their predecessors did 40 and 50 years ago—and without urgent action to curb the carbon pollution fueling global warming, the warming climate will continue to contribute to dangerous heat waves, more severe storms, rising sea levels, wildfires, crop loss, and more. 

“The climate change that we are experiencing is going to cause a series of problems that we are not prepared for,” said Jacob Kimiecik, Junior at Colorado State University, who was quoted in Environment America's news release for the report. “Younger generations, such as mine, will be living in a world with increasingly serious challenges that our economy and infrastructure are not equipped to withstand.”

To avoid increasing average temperature and the dangerous weather scientists predict will come with it, Environment America advocates dramatic cuts in carbon pollution, starting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which requires a 30 percent reduction in power plant emissions by 2030. 

 

Initial releases of the report happened in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhode Island, Delaware, Washington, Colorado, Ohio and with national press, and next week we'll hold events in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

Maryland PIRG Holds Democracy Roundtable

More than 100 students joined Maryland PIRG and MaryPIRG Students for a roundtable discussion about our democracy and money in politics at the University of Maryland College Park.

Congressman John Sarbanes, author of the Government By The People Act, attended the event and talked to students about big money in politics and how to put our democracy back in the hands of the people. U.S. PIRG's Dan Smith also spoke at the event, alongside Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr.

This roundtable was part of a series of educational forums we're holding across the country over the next couple of weeks to talk more about our democracy and get money out of politics.

Green Century Wins Big With Deforestation Agreement

Green Century Funds celebrated a major victory for the climate, biodiversity and global food security Tuesday as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), one of the top three suppliers of agricultural commodities globally, agreed to a precedent-setting policy to halt deforestation taking place across its supply chains, with a particular focus on palm oil and soybean production. As shareholders of the company, Green Century Funds and the New York State Common Retirement Fund successfully applied pressure through a shareholders proposal, which outlined the investment risks associated with deforestation. 

Agricultural production is the single leading cause of deforestation, which is a primary driver of climate change, soil erosion, species extinction, declines in rainfall patterns, and conflicts with local communities over land rights. As one of the world’s largest suppliers of agricultural commodities, ADM has significant influence over agricultural supply chains around the world. In particular, ADM is one of the leading exporters of soy in South America, where soy expansion is a top driver of deforestation.

“It’s a win-win for companies to respond to supply chain demand and we applaud ADM’s leadership on this issue,” stated Leslie Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management in Green Century Funds' news release. “ADM’s No-Deforestation policy is a call to action for other agricultural commodity companies to get serious about tackling deforestation,” stated Samuelrich.

The commitment earned coverage by Bloomberg and Reuters.

Democracy Event In Berkeley Attended By Nearly 100 People

The federation of PIRGs across the country are holding educational forums on making sure we have a healthy democracy, discussing the Government by the People Act in particular. CALPIRG's Zach Weinstein held an event in Berkeley last week.

A crowd of about 90 people came to the forum on the Government by the People Act. Four members of Congress came and spoke about the importance of limiting the influence of the really wealthy and corporate money in politics, and the benefits of the Government by the People Act.

Speakers included the lead sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Sarbanes from Maryland, and three Bay Area Congressmen: Rep. Jerry McNerney, Rep. Jared Huffman, and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. Each member of Congress thanked CALPIRG and highlighted the importance of our work several times in their five minute speeches.

State Sen. Loni Hancock kicked off the round-table portion of the event with a couple questions of her own. KGO radio came and interviewed the panelists. And the members of Congress were gracious to the crowd, making themselves available for questions and conversation both before and after the event was over.

New Federal Fracking Rules Fail To Protect Parks And Forests

The Obama administration released its long-awaited rules governing fracking on federal public lands on March 20.

While somewhat less damaging than as originally proposed, the plan fundamentally fails to protect America’s most prized forests and other natural areas from pollution. The administration will not keep sensitive areas off limits to fracking, despite the Department of Energy’s own advisory panel's advice to the contrary. The oil and gas industry has expressed interest in fracking 12 million more acres of parks, forests, and other public lands.

“Some places are just too precious to drill and frack, and that includes our parks, canyons, and forests,” said Rachel Richardson, advocate with Environment America, in a statement released on the heels of the announcement. “That’s why Americans have submitted more than 1 million comments asking the administration to protect our prized public lands from fracking."

The rule places no limits on the toxic and often carcinogenic chemicals than can be used in fracking. Just earlier this month we released "Fracking Failures," a report documenting numerous violations of environmental laws by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania, and recommending that federal policymakers keep fracking away from national parks, national forests and sources of drinking water for millions of Americans. Though the new rule modestly increases environmental protections, such as restricting the use of open-air pits to store fracking wastewater, it fails to meet the standards recommended by our research.

“Ultimately,” Richardson concluded, “the only way to protect our health and communities from this dirty drilling practice is to ban it altogether.”

Fracking Permits Do Not Guarantee Public Safety

Environment North Carolina's Liz Kazal held a news conference on Tuesday in the state's Legislative Building to call on decision-makers to protect the state from fracking.

Tuesday was the first day the state began issuing fracking permits, after legislation passed last year, despite hundreds of activists speaking against it in public hearings last summer.

Flanked by concerned legislators, Liz pointed to our report, "Fracking Failures," written by Frontier Group's Jeff Inglis and Environment America's John Rumpler, which outlines an analysis of permit violations in neighboring state Pennsylvania.

“Every Pennsylvania drilling company had violations from 2011 to 2014, and the top 5 had more than 900 violations combined,” said Liz. “Even with regulations in place, there’s no guarantee that companies will play by the rules.“

There have been more than 2,000 documented environmental violations made by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania.

“We’re not talking about misfiled papers,” concluded Liz in our news release. “We’re talking about serious risks for workers, drinking water, and public health. This report shows what North Carolina can expect if we allow fracking to begin. The only way to ensure our health and environment are protected is to keep fracking out of the state entirely.”

Permit Denied For Highway Boondoggle

On Monday, the San Diego Water Board voted 6-0 to uphold a previous decision to deny the Toothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a permit to build a 5.5 mile extension to their existing 241 toll road.

Last September, CALPIRG Education Fund released our study "Highway Boondoggles," written by Frontier Group's Jeff Inglis and U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall. After reviewing transportation projects across America, we selected TCA's Tesoro Extension project as one of the 11 "transportation boondoggles" discussed in the report, because of TCA's poor financial track record on their previous toll roads.

CALPIRG Executive Director Emily Rusch presented the facts in her testimony:

  • TCA's traffic projections on both its toll road systems -- the 241 and the 73 -- overestimated the number of people that would use its toll roads. As a result, TCA has risked default on its bonds.
  • To avoid default, TCA broke its promise to make the 241 toll road toll free by 2040. TCA had to refinance its bonds on this toll road, extending toll collection another 13 years at an additional cost to motorists of $1.8 billion.
  • Even with $1.7 billion in public subsidies identified by the conservative Pacific Research Institute, and taxpayer subsidies to maintain and repair the toll roads, they are still money losers. When you combine the refinancing costs for the 241 with the recent and proposed refinancing for TCA's 73 toll road, the combined additional cost to motorists will exceed $3 billion.

Now, TCA wants to go into further debt to pay $200 million PLUS interest costs for the Tesoro Extension, which inherently is just part of the $1.7 billion 16-mile Foothill South project that has already been rejected. We are concerned that their intent is to begin building the failed Foothill South project and seek approvals incrementally to avoid the comprehensive review of the water quality impacts of the project that the Porter Cologne Act demands.

As we noted in our report, this "would add to the financial liabilities of an agency that is already in trouble." If there is some other benefit the road would have, then it should be justified on that -- because the traffic numbers certainly don’t justify it. On the contrary, the traffic numbers should both make us skeptical about whether it should be a priority for our tax dollars, and whether future toll shortfalls will mean the state will need to shell out more in the future to make up for those shortfalls.

"Environmental Action Conference" Happening This Sunday

This year's Local Environmental Action Conference, hosted by Toxics Action Center and Massachusetts Climate Action Network, will be held on Sunday, March 15, at Northeastern University.

Local Environmental Action is an opportunity for community leaders, environmental advocates, and citizens from across New England to come together for an exciting day of skills training, networking, and inspiration.

Hundreds of citizens and dozens of sponsoring organizations will be present this year. Massachusetts State Senator Dan Wolf and Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Martin Suuberg are also expected to attend.

A few of the workshops on this year’s agenda include “Money for the Movement: Inspiring People to Invest in Your Campaign" and “Shutting Things Down to Open Things Up: Direct Action and Building Possible Futures."

Buy your ticket today for Local Environmental Action here. 

Alexandria Pledges To End Childhood Hunger

This week, Alexandria, Va., passed the first Fair Share-drafted proclamation pledging to end childhood hunger. The proclamation both acknowledges the problem of food insecurity and hunger in Virginia, and also pledges to make ending hunger a priority for the city. Fair Share is also working in a half dozen towns and cities from Arizona to Colorado to elsewhere in Virginia to pass more resolutions and proclamations.

Fair Share has been working to end childhood hunger across the country for more than a year, and this proclamation marks a milestone in the campaign.

“We cannot afford to let any child miss out on a meal. We live in a global economy. If we hope to be competitive as a nation, we need to make sure we are giving every child the best opportunities to develop into the next generation of leaders, and this starts with having a good breakfast and enough nutritious food to get you through the day. It’s in no one’s best interest to let anyone fall behind,” said Nick Arent, campaign organizer for Virginia Fair Share. “Food is a basic necessity for life. We can’t reach our full potential until we make sure every child is getting enough to eat.”

Oregon Expected To Modernize Their "Motor Voter" Legislation

A bill that would modernize voting registration in Oregon has passed through the State Senate, and is headed to Gov. Kate Brown's desk for her promised signature.

The bill would remove many barriers to voting for younger and poorer Oregonians, by using driver's license data to automatically register Oregonians to vote who haven't added themselves to the voter rolls. The new system is expected to add about 300,000 eligible voters, boosting the current tally of 2.2 million voters by nearly 14%.

PIRGs championed the idea of "Motor Voter" registration -- having people get registered to vote as they are getting their drivers license or ID at the DMV or other state office -- in the 1990s, passing state bills and ultimately a federal law. 

OSPIRG Executive Director Dave Rosenfeld released this statement following the passage of the bill through the Oregon State Senate:

“Voting is a both a sacred American right and a great responsibility. It is important that our voting systems are set up and managed for simplicity of use and utmost integrity. One logistical step in that system is to determine both a person’s citizenship (and thus, eligibility to vote) and domicile. From our nation’s founding through the 20th century, this end could only be achieved by requiring citizens to submit a unique registration form to elections officials – initially and each time a citizen changed addresses. Today, that same end can often be achieved through a secure electronic transfer of existing Oregon Department of Transportation customer records to elections officials. Moving in this direction moves us one step closer to a nimbler, more-user friendly government.

“It is important to remember that all we are talking about is a logistical step that is needed to determine one’s eligibility to vote and current address. The choice to actually cast a ballot remains – as it should – an intensely private decision that each and every individual must make for themselves. Nothing in HB 2177 tampers with that basic right. Instead, HB 2177 makes that one logistical step work a little bit more efficiently and frees up Oregon citizens to focus even more of their attentions on the important and difficult work of citizenship. We commend Oregon’s lawmakers and Governor Kate Brown for taking this important step.”

4 Million People Urge President Obama To Give Bees A Chance

A coalition of beekeepers, farmers, business leaders, environmental and food safety advocates rallied in front of the White House and delivered more than 4 million petition signatures calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for bees and other pollinators. This action anticipates the Pollinator Health Task Force recommendations, expected later this month. The task force, announced by the White House this past June, is charged with improving pollinator health through new agency regulations and partnerships. The assembled groups demand that the recommendations include decisive action on rampant use of neonicotinoids, a class of systemic insecticides scientists say are a driving factor in bee declines.

“America’s beekeepers cannot easily survive in the toxic environment the EPA has supported,” said Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, and a speaker at today’s rally. “On top of many other stresses, bee-toxic pesticides, whether used to coat seeds or as sprays, are weakening and killing our bees and threatening the livelihood of the beekeepers who are so intimately tied to our nation's food supply.”

In a letter on Monday, more than 125 conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious, ethnic and farming advocacy groups urged President Obama and the EPA to take swift and meaningful action to address the impacts of toxic pesticides on pollinator species. The European Union passed a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids, yet the EPA has approached the issue with little urgency.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall population declines. A growing body of independent science links a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to bee declines, both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines. Neonicotinoids are also slow to break down, causing them to build up in the environment and endangering a whole range of beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.

The 4 million signatures were collected by Avaaz, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, CREDO, Earthjustice, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Friends of the Earth U.S., Green America, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, Save Our Environment, TakePart, and Toxic Free North Carolina.

Chicagoans Vote To Amplify The Voice Of Small Donors

After Chicago's election Wednesday, some races are headed to a run-off  -- including the mayoral. But Chicago voters spoke loud and clear on one issue: It’s time to get big money out of our elections.

After the results came in, Illinois PIRG's Maggie Galka got a letter to the editor published in the Chicago Sun Times:

"Chicago voters clearly agree with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board’s analysis in “How to give small donors a megaphone in elections,' with 79 percent voting to support reducing the influence of special interests in elections including mayoral candidates Rahm Emanuel and Chuy Garcia who endorsed the question," the letter began.

In Chicago, our research found that the overwhelming majority of money fueling the Mayoral race came from a relatively small number of donors contributing at levels the average Chicagoan simply can’t afford. Just two percent of contributions to all mayoral candidates came from donors chipping in $150 or less.

"Chicagoans are calling for solutions. Programs to amplify the voices of small donors and incentivize candidates to fund their campaigns with small contributions raised from their own constituents are proven to work," said Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr in a statement.

“The voters have spoken," said Abe. "Now it is up to our newly elected leaders to act.”

President Obama Designates Browns Canyon National Monument

This Wednesday, President Obama designated three new national monuments, among them Browns Canyon, Colorado -- a site that Environment Colorado has been working to protect. Browns Canyon, a popular spot for trout fishing and whitewater rafting in central Colorado, gained permanent protection following decades of campaigning by outdoor enthusiasts, the tourism industry, and some of the state’s most prominent political leaders.

President Obama’s action preserves more than 20,000 rugged canyon acres surrounding the Arkansas River, a beloved area home to gold medal trout, black bears, and stunning vistas. The president has now designated 16 national monuments during his 6+ years in office.

Kim Stevens with Environment Colorado issued the following statement in response:

“Places like Browns Canyon are a big part of what makes Colorado so special. That’s why tens of thousands of Coloradans from all walks of life called for the permanent protection of this incredible landscape. That’s why we’re thrilled future generations will have the chance for the same spectacular views and opportunities to raft, hike, and fish that we enjoy today.

“President Obama, former Senator Mark Udall and Senator Michael Bennet all get credit for safeguarding this special place. Everyone who signed a petition, attended a meeting, or made a phone call to protect Browns Canyon has a lot to be proud of, too.

“Environment Colorado looks forward to continuing to work with the administration and Congress to keep pristine public lands off limits to development, mining, drilling, and pollution. Future generations of Americans and the wildlife that depend on these ecosystems deserve nothing less.”

PennEnvironment: No More Oil Trains

Fayette County, W.V., is reeling from an oil train disaster. Fires burned for hours after a train carrying 109 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm on Monday, Feb. 16.

Residents face flames shooting 300 feet in the air and oil is spilling into the Kanawha River, the drinking water source for downstream communities.

Officials evacuated hundreds of families and shut down two water treatment plants following the Monday afternoon derailment. The West Virginia National Guard was taking water samples to determine whether the oil had seeped into a tributary of the Kanawha River, state public safety division spokesman Larry Messina said.

From this event to 2013's massive oil train explosion in North Dakota to the 47 people who lost their lives after an oil train explosion in Quebec, it is clear that oil trains put our communities at risk for death, injury and destruction. These trains travel through residential areas, major cities, and near millions of people. 

Our objective is clear. We need to get these dangerous oil trains out of our communities and out of Pennsylvania before they cause a catastrophic accident in the Keystone State. Want to help? Add your name to PennEnvironment's petition urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to ban these oil trains before another disaster happens.

Green Corps Helps Olympia City Council Join Fight To Protect Antibiotics

Thanks in part to efforts of Green Corps Organizer Victoria Leistman, who's working with Food and Water Watch in Washington State, the Olympia City Council joined our national fight on Feb. 10 when it passed a resolution calling on President Obama to pass a ban on the inappropriate use of antibiotics on factory farms. Earlier this month, Leistman organized 13 citizens to join her in giving public testimony at a city council meeting.

Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum also said he would send a short letter to Sen. Patty Murray that urges her to co-sponsor the Prevention of Antibiotics Resistance Act, known as PARA. Olympia is the 51st city in the nation to pass such a resolution, and only the second in Washington State, following Seattle's lead.

“Washington is really a focus for this campaign because Sen. Murray has so much clout as to where the federal legislation stands,” said Leistman to The Olympian newspaper. Now, Leistman will be working to persuade Thurston County, which includes Olympia, to pass a similar resolution. 

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