Updates

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.

WISPIRG Organizes Gathering Outside WisDOT Meeting

WISPIRG organized a gathering outside of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) public meeting Monday in Milwaukee to voice dissatisfaction with the proposed expansion of I-94 and provide testimony inside the meeting. WisDOT hopes to put their final plan in front of the state Legislature next year.

WISPIRG State Director Bruce Speight is calling for alternative options to be considered to the costly expansion plan, such as investment in public transit and more pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and for WisDOT to fix existing roads and bridges in need of repair.

The protest gained local media attention and was featured on major local television news programming.

Fracking Ban On The Table For New York

On Monday, New York's state Assembly voted 89-34 to ban fracking in the state for three years. But many are skeptical the bill will go any further, as the Senate may not consider the bill before they adjourn later this week.

In 2010, Environment New York mobilized public support to convince former Gov. David Paterson to set the nation's first temporary moratorium on drilling in the Marcellus Shale that lies in the state. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken steps to open the state to fracking. We're working to persuade Gov. Cuomo to abandon this proposal. The governor began a health impact review on fracking in 2012, and a decision on whether to continue the moratorium is expected once this is completed.

OSPIRG Organizes To Qualify GMO Ballot Initiative

OSPIRG staff and the Oregon-based Fund For The Public Interest canvass offices are working to qualify a ballot initiative that would label GMOs in Oregon. We have less than three weeks left to get the 87,213 petitions needed to qualify, so the Fund;s canvassers and OSPIRG staff and volunteers are out in force. Not only are we collecting signatures, but we're also collecting photo petitions to help show the support Oregonians have to labeling GMOs.

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, and the canvass will be a huge part of that. This summer, PIRG canvassers in Oregon will talk one-on-one to over 60,000 Oregonians about GMO labels.

Maryland Joins Plan To Put 3 Million Electric Cars On The Road

At the end of May, Maryland joined seven other states in unveiling an action plan to put more than 3 million electric cars on the road within 12 years. In partnership with the governors of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Mally formally outlined steps to successfully build the infrastructure needed and the market for zero-emissions vehicles to reach their collective goal of enabling transportation without oil.

Environment Maryland's Global Warming Solutions Program Manager Travis Madsen applauded the governor's actions, stating, "This is a crucial strategy to protect our children and future generations from the worst impacts of global warming -- and it will help protect our health by cleaning up air pollution."

There are now more than 190,000 electric cars on America's roads.

"Thanks to strong policies adopted by Maryland and others, there have been tremendous advances on electric cars," Madsen said. "The progress we've made so far should give us confidence that we can take electric cars to the next level."

Fair Share California Wins Early Education Funding

Fair Share's Dan Herb reports that in California, Gov. Jerry Brown didn't include early education in his initial budget, even though many kids are on waiting lists for early learning programs. In response, we ramped up our efforts to elevate the issue in the media, build support among public school officials, and help parents take action.

On Sunday, the Legislature approved a budget that significantly increased public investment in California's early learning and care system -- an investment that will give more kids the strong start they rightly deserve.

The budget bill funds 43,000 new, full-day preschool slots, which will be phased in over multiple years, including 11,500 slots which will be available in the upcoming school year. It also invests $85 million to enhance preschool quality and infrastructure, and invests $86 million in early childcare education.

Rally And Lobby Day To Ban Fracking Waste In N.J.

Thirteen Fund For The Public Interest canvassers from the New Brunswick, N.J., office joined Environment New Jersey in Trenton last Thursday for the Fracking Waste Ban Rally and Lobby Day.

In May, the New Jersey Senate passed (33-4) a bill that would ban the disposal and treatment of fracking waste in the state. Now the bill's awaiting a vote in the Assembly, which goes on recess late June. So canvassers and staff gathered for a rally and then met with Legislators to urge them to take action and protect New Jersey and its waterways from fracking waste.

Ohio Rolls Back Committment To Clean Energy

Last Thursday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed SB310, a bill which effectively halts Ohio's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for at least two years, in addition to permanently gutting key provisions of the law that have led to its success. This special interest-backed bill is a major setback to Ohio's historic committment to clean energy five years ago.

Environment Ohio's Christian Adams issued the following statement in response to the bill: "[It] is incredibly disappointing to see this action from Governor Kasich, who has professed support for renewable energy since his energy summit in 2011. But actions speak louder than words, and at the end of the day, he sided with polluting industries rather than a commitment to cleaner air and a clean energy future for Ohio." 

Ohio is ranked the fourth-largest emitter of global warming pollution in the country. But under energy efficiency programs implemented in the last five years, Ohio has generated enough renewable energy to power over 100,000 homes, and Ohioans have saved over a billion dollars on their electric bills.

Campaign To Protect North Carolina's Clean Water

The Fund For The Public Interest office in Chapel Hill is working with Environment North Carolina this summer to protect and enforce that state's clean water laws. Earlier this year, Duke Energy spilled 40,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, showing us just how at risk our waterways are. Even with this new reminder about how much more we need to do to protect the waterways we love, the McCrory administration is considering weakening 50 of the state's core clean water rules.

Over the weekend, the Fund's canvass office went canoeing on the Eno River, one of the rivers we're working to protect. Environment North Carolina State Director Elizabeth Ouzts joined them and before hitting the water, the team was briefed by state Sen. Mike Woodard on the campaign.

Tempe, Ariz., Commits To Clean Energy

Tempe, Ariz., firmed its committment to clean energy last Thursday when the City Council's sustainability working group put forth a new goal of 20% renewable energy by 2025. The ruling has already received wide support from both the public and the solar industry. 

Environment Arizona Advocate Brett Fanshaw responded to the decision, stating, "Solar energy greatly benefits Tempe because it is pollution-free and has no fuel costs. We look forward to working with the Mayor, Vice Mayor and Tempe council members to take this goal to the next level as they look for ways to continue to expand the use of solar power."

Currently, the majority of Tempe's energy comes from dirty energy sources such as coal and gas. Yet, Arizona benefits from over 300 days of sunshine each year, meaning that Tempe has vast potential to generate significant solar energy.

Colorado Governor Vetoes Transit Transparency Bill

Last Wednesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed the CoPIRG-supported transportation transparency bill. The bill would have called for more public input and transparency around private road deals. CoPIRG Director Danny Katz was quoted on an NPR-affiliated radio station: "The governor made the wrong call," said Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG, a public advocacy group that supported the bill. "SB-197 did a good job addressing concerns after the U.S. 36 private road deal about the transparency and oversight of the process, the length of the deal, and concern about clauses that limit future decision making and put taxpayers on the hook."

According to the CoPIRG news release, "After vetoing the bill, the governor signed an Executive Order directing the entity in charge of negotiating private deals in Colorado, the High-Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE), to consider transit when pursuing private road deals and to take a small step forward in providing information to the public and decision makers about private road deals."  

Since the executive order is far from enough, we sent out an email to CoPIRG supporters asking them to donate and help us step up our "citizen watchdog effort." CoPIRG will continue to work for transparency measures associated with road deals and otherwise. 

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