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. 

PIRG Met With Obama Administration To Prevent Chemical Disasters

Public Health Program Director Steve Blackledge and new U.S. PIRG staffer Carli Jensen met with the Obama administration, urging them to proceed as planned with a rule to prevent chemical disasters. The rule would simply require chemical plants -- those who make or store dangerous chemicals -- to switch to safer chemicals where feasible. 

We were joined by coalition partners including labor, government watchdogs, and environmental groups to make the case to the administration.  

Keystone XL Heads To The President's Desk For Expected Veto

The Hill reports that President Obama is just days away from issuing the biggest veto of his tenure, with Congress poised to send him legislation that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The House is scheduled to vote on the Keystone measure, which has already been approved by the Senate, about midweek and plans to send it to the president’s desk before leaving for a week-long Presidents’ Day recess.

Obama’s veto -- just the third of his presidency and the first since 2010 -- is expected to come with little fanfare, with even opponents of the pipeline arguing the White House should avoid further angering Democrats and unions who want Keystone to be built.

The oil industry only needs to flip a handful of votes to override a veto. And the senators who voted against the pipeline are about to face a massive full-court press of Big Oil lobbyists demanding that they switch sides.

The Global Warming Solutions campaign team has been working hard over the past week to make sure these very Senators stay strong and continue to oppose Keystone XL.

Vermont Fracked Gas Pipeline Expansion Halted

After nearly a three-year fight by local community activists and Toxics Action Center, Vermont Gas Systems announced Feb. 10 that it will not proceed with its proposal to expand its fracked gas pipeline from Middlebury, Vt., to a paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y.

“We've known all along that this pipeline was a bad investment for Vermont's energy future, and we're glad Vermont Gas finally agrees, at least on Phase II of the project,” Shaina Kasper, Vermont community organizer with Toxics Action Center said in a statement. “We hope the next step is to abandon the whole project so we can invest in clean energy and shift away from polluting fossil fuels.”

The pipeline, whose expansion was in its second phase, would get most of its gas from fracking, a practice banned in Vermont. Local groups also pointed to the climbing costs of the project as evidence that the fracked gas pipeline was a bad deal for the public. And, in his announcement on Feb. 10, Don Randall, the president and CEO of Vermont Gas Systems, said that due to the costs and challenges of building the pipeline, the paper plant in New York -- who had committed to paying for this portion of the pipeline expansion -- and Vermont Gas were unable to find a mutually acceptable way to proceed. Toxics Action Center hailed the announcement as an "amazing win" on the group's Facebook page.

Don't Panic! And Other Tips On Anthem Data Breach

Tens of millions of people may have had their personal information stolen last week when health insurer Anthem was hacked in what may be one of the largest health care security breaches the United States government has ever seen. But it's not the volume of data that distinguishes this incident from others -- like Target and Home Depot's recent data thefts -- rather, it's that the data stolen included names, birth dates, and social security numbers.

According to PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski, these data points could be used to commit a variety of more serious frauds, including obtaining tax refunds, receiving medical care in the name of a stolen identity, and committing financial identity theft.

So what now? Be vigilant, but don't panic, Mierzwinski advised, in a blog post on the U.S. PIRG website, which outlined steps for potential victims to take in order to protect themselves. Among the other tips were: Don't open any emails from Anthem, monitor credit card and bank accounts, consider adding a fraud alert to your credit report. In all, there are eight tips on PIRG's blog, with additional resources available, and PIRG plans to send out an email with these resources to members across the country.

New Pa. Gov. Wolf Puts Moratorium On New Fracking Leases

The PennEnvironment team is organizing to protect public lands from fracking, and over the past year, we helped tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians speak out against Gov. Tom Corbett's effort to open more state parks and forests to the dirty drilling process. On Wednesday, newly elected Gov. Tom Wolf announced he would reinstate the moratorium on opening more of these areas to fracking.

In a thank you email sent out to PennEnvironment members on Thursday, Executive Director David Masur wrote, "This is exactly how democracy is supposed to work."

Pennsylvanians called on Tom Wolf during his campaign, asking him to protect our parks and forests from fracking if elected. And on his ninth day on the job, he signed an executive order undoing former Gov. Corbett's attacks on public lands, reinstating a moratorium against the further leasing of park and forestlands for fracking.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pennsylvania has 2.1 million acres of state forest, and has issued oil and gas leases for about 700,000 acres -- more than 130,000 acres of that for Marcellus Shale deep wells."

Three-State Coalition Formed To Fight Pipeline

Toxics Action Center has joined a coalition spanning three states to oppose the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. The coalition will target the company responsible for the pipeline, Northeast Energy Direct. The pipeline would cut through Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, carrying 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day.

Along with Toxics Action Center, other groups in the coalition include 350MA, Climate Action Now, and Clean Water Action, among others.  

"The Innovative Transportation Index" Released Nationwide

In collaboration with Frontier Group, Impact and PIRG organizers released a new report this week called "The Innovative Transportation Index." It ranks how America’s 70 largest cities are providing technology-enabled transportation services such as bikeshares, transit apps, alternate ride options like Uber and Lyft, and eight other services. 

The report has been released in nearly 30 states, with almost a dozen stand-up media events planned throughout the country.

So far, the report has been widely picked up by a number of top-tier news outlets including USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.

Diane Forte, Public Interest Network’s deputy political director, volunteered to organize an L.A. event and release the report. The event included several officials and a stirring quote from the mayor.

Impact Campaign Organizer Erik Dolliver (in photo) held a news conference at Dallas City Hall. He was joined by Dallas City Council Member Scott Griggs and DART Assistant Vice President Morgan Lyons. At the news conference, Lyons said, “The investment in transit infrastructure made by North Texans is paying off with a state-of-the-art system that moves hundreds of thousands of commuters each day. Public transportation is changing the way our communities are growing.” The event generated interest from the Dallas Morning News, the top paper in the media market.

Environmental Action Organizes Against LNG Facilities

Last week, the House approved a bill that would speed up the approval process for fracked gas, also known as liquefied natural gas (LNG), export facilities. The Senate is considering the same bill right now in committee. Environmental Action is calling on our social media activists to press the Senate to reject the bill. If passed, the bill would lead to more fracking and minimize the power of the people to stand up against these facilities.

"When it comes to stopping climate-killing fracked gas export facilities, we can't afford to allow the Senate and their fracking friends to cut us out of the process," reads the Environmental Action website. "Sign here to tell your Senators to derail the fast track for approving LNG facilities."

Overwhelming Majority Of Americans: Fight Global Warming!

According to a new poll conducted by the New York Times, an overwhelming majority of Americans support government action to stop global warming. The poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say that a candidate's stance on climate change has an impact on their vote, and are less likely to vote for candidates who think climate change is not caused by human actions.

The poll also shows that more Americans believe that global warming is caused by human activity. That number rose from 72 percent in 2011, to 81 percent in this poll. And 71 percent of Americans expect they will be personally hurt by climate change.

The findings come just a few weeks after scientists reported that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and that the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997.

Fair Share Gives Community Hero Award To Food Bank Volunteer

Earlier this month, Arizona Fair Share Organizer Kim Pope went to St. Mary's Food Bank to award one of their dedicated volunteers with our Community Hero Award. St. Mary's Kid's Cafe provides thousands of meals to kids daily. 

America is the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. Yet, over 15.8 million children are at risk for hunger in the United States every day. 

Fair Share is asking Congress to protect food programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), that kids depend on for nutrition. 

Just last year, this and other hunger assistance programs were cut, and some in Congress are pushing to slash them even further. We're asking leaders in Congress to restore funding to these crucial programs and protect them from further cuts.