Updates

BP Ruling Should Be Wake-Up Call For Investors

Green Century Funds President Leslie Samuelrich reports that the recent, costly ruling against BP provides a concrete example of why it makes sense to avoid investing in oil companies. Green Century sent out a release that provides the rationale from an investor's point of view.

A news release said the details of the spill in 2010 may have faded, which was once described as the "worst U.S environmental disaster" by then EPA Director Carol Browner; but the recent watershed ruling, which may eclipse $50 billion, brought the financial impact of the company's actions back to the attention of investors worldwide.

After the ruling, BP's stock immediately declined, and financial analysts predicted that the fine could wipe out years of profit and interfere with the company's financial ability to maneuver effectively. BP was found guilty of gross negligence by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier for its oil rig that exploded, killing 11 people and dumping 170 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months.

"The ruling shows that the risks of pursuing high-cost and high-risk oil explorations in deep water can impact investors for years," stated Leslie. "This ruling is a wake-up call for investors who have not yet addressed the potential risks of investing in fossil fuel companies. While the BP explosion was unprecedented, no drilling company can predict or protect against all the unforeseen environmental accidents and resulting costs and liabilities that can impact investors."

Both Green Century's Balanced Fund and Equity Fund exclude fossil fuel companies and instead seek to invest in companies that manage environmental risks and operate sustainably. Green Century also works with companies to improve their environmental footprint and make their supply chain more sustainable.

More Highway Expansions Or More Transit Options?

As U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group reports have demonstrated for over a year now, driving in the U.S. has been on the decline for nearly a decade. Yet examples abound of proposed road projects that ignore the current trend, and assuming instead that driving will continue to increase at the rates from decades ago. This is wasting precious public resources on unneeded roads at the expense of public transportation and other preferred alternatives.

WISPIRG continued to press that case this week with the release of its new report "Fork In The Road," written by WISPIRG's Bruce Speight and Frontier Group's Tom Van Heeke and Jeff Inglis. The report argues that the $2.8 billion that Wisconsin intends to spend on four unnecessary highway expansion projects could instead provide more than half a billion extra dollars in each of the next five state biennial budgets. This money could meet a series of unmet transportation needs, including key transit projects, local road repair, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. Wisconsin faces a choice: continue to shower money on unnecessary highway expansions, or invest in critical projects to repair existing transportation infrastructure and provide more transport options to citizens around the state.

The report was covered by several TV and radio stations across the state, many of which cited the statement from a Milwaukee alderman who has proposed a local resolution based on the report.

"The state should give a boost to local road repair and public transit, but there's no need to raise gas taxes or registration fees," Alderman Bob Bauman said. "They already collect plenty of money; they just need to prioritize their spending more wisely."

Banks Step Up Attacks On CFPB Transparency

For the past few month, PIRG has backed an effort by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to add stories (or narratives) to their public consumer complaint database. Powerful Wall Street banks, however, are stepping up their opposition. Public comments on the issue are due Sept. 22 -- right around the corner.

In a Huffington Post blog, U.S. PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski pushed back on the anti-database campaign from the Financial Services Roundtable, an uber-association of the biggest financial associations. Ed also defended CFPB's efforts to expand transparency of campus debit card contracts from an attack by the Consumer Bankers Association, comprised of the biggest retail banks.

We've organized other groups to send their own member comments to the CFPB on the database expansion and we'll also be sending our own expert comment. Watch for details on our planned mid-October report updating our five U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group reports highlighting complaints in the CFPB database.

Environment America Presents In Solar Webinar, Announces Fall Petition Goal

On Friday Sept. 5, Environment America's Rob Sargent and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council's Larry Sherwood (who is one of the nation's top solar policy experts), participated in awebinar event called Solar Industry Trends. The webinar was hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance, a partnership of leading state energy officials from across the country. Environment America's Margie Alt reports that there were about 70 participants, and lots of good questions.

Rob made the case that solar progress is the direct result of strong commitments to solar and the policies to back them up, the key findings in our recent "Lighting the Way" report, written by Rob and Frontier Group's recent alumna Jordan Schneider.

Meanwhile, solar campaigners are gearing up to launch our solar petitions next week with the goal of getting 50,000 citizens signed on by December. This will include our next foray into social media strategy: a Thunderclap -- an online visibility tool that stores Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr posts until a designated time when they're all simultaneously released. We want to demonstrate massive online support and make our solar online work more likely to go viral.You can join the Thunderclap here.

House Passed Bill to Block EPA's Clean Water Rule

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would block the Obama administration from closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act -- loopholes that have left 2 million miles of streams and rivers vulnerable to unchecked pollution.

The EPA proposed a rule in March that would protect all of America's waterways. And since the announcement, big agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against the rule. On Tuesday after the vote, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the media that the rules that would protect waterways from pollution sounded "ridiculous."

But we know there is overwhelming support for protecting our waterways. Environment America, along with our allies, organized a broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of Americans who are calling for action for our waterways. So far, more than 160,000 Americans and hundreds of other stakeholders have already written in favor of the rule, which is open for public comment through the fall.

"We should be doing everything we can to protect our rivers and streams," said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America. "Yet the polluters and their allies in Congress are doing everything they can to put our waters in jeopardy."

The bill is not expected to pass through the Senate.

Cambridge City Council Joins Ranks To Stop Overuse Of Antibiotics

Thanks to the outreach and advocacy of Green Corps Organizer Sammi Dowdell, who's working with Food & Water Watch this fall, the City of Cambridge, Mass., passed a resolution Tuesday that calls on Congress to take action and end the irresponsible use of antibiotics on factory farms. Cambridge is now the twentieth city in the country to pass such a resolution -- seven of these cities are thanks to Green Corps organizers.

Clean Power Plan Public Comment Period In Final Weeks

Deputy Chief of Staff Sam Landenwitsch says the Global Warming Solutions team, which is focused on finalizing the Clean Power Plan (and then protecting it in the Senate), is off to a strong start.

Last week, the team helped 176 more people comment on the proposed rule that will add the first-ever limits on carbon pollution to power plants. So far, tens of thousands of comments have been submitted to the EPA, and there are still weeks to go until the comment period closes Oct. 16.

We've also started identifying supporters among local elected officials across the country, and Organizer Nate Lotze in Ohio led the way last week, garnering the support of 20 elected officials. Landenwitsch went on to say the big priority for the Global Warming team in the coming days will be to prepare for our Sept. 18 release of report "America's Dirtiest Power Plants," written by Environment America's Julian Boggs and Frontier Group's Tom Van Heeke and Jordan Schneider. 

New England Pipeline Debate Gets New Salvo

Toxics Action Center reports: Wednesday morning, local business-owners and concerned residents gathered on Main Street in Pepperell, Mass., to unveil a list of more than 100 local businesses from Pepperell, Groton, Townsend, Ashby, Ayer, and Tyngsborough that have endorsed the "Stop the Pipeline" campaign. 

Houston-based Kinder Morgan is working to build a 250-mile new pipeline that would cut a 50-foot path across about 30 municipalities from the Berkshires to Dracut. Last month, more than 400 people rallied on the Boston Common, calling on Gov. Deval Patrick to retract a controversial proposal to subsidize new gas infrastructure with a charge on electricity bills. Gov. Patrick has since put a pause on his support of the pipeline, but Kinder Morgan continues to push, and the fight is far from over.

"In the last three days alone we gathered over 100 endorsements," said Toxics Action Center's Claire Miller. "Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg of opposition to the new gas pipelines. From farms to realtors to auto-shops and more -- I hope the governor hears these small business-owner voices and publicly opposes this project."

Reclaiming Democracy Campaign Launches In Illinois

Illinois PIRG launched the Reclaiming Democracy Campaign in Springfield, Ill., on Tuesday. Illinois PIRG Campaign Organizer Maggie Galka stood with Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin and a Village Trustee of Carpentersville Don Burroway, at the foot of the Lincoln statue, with TV, print, and radio reporters covering her event.  

The radio piece was broadcast on a network service that airs on stations around the state. 

With the Senate engaged in a 3-day debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, we're working across the country on crucial media work. We need to make sure the story is about the broad public support for limiting the influence of big money, and the potential to take steps now that will empower regular donors.

Climate Activists Rally For Action

Global Warming Solutions Organizing Director Megan Severson reports that Environment Virginia State Director Sarah Bucci organized a great climate rally over the weekend. With members of Congress returning to D.C. this week, Environment Virginia wanted to make sure Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner know Virginians are counting on them to support the EPA's Clean Power Plan. To date, more than 195,000 public comments from Virginians have been submitted to the EPA in support of limits on carbon pollution.

Over the weehend, 30 citizens turned out for the event in downtown Charlottesville, with 10 different organizations and the City of Charlottesville participating. Sarah got the two Charlottesville TV stations to attend the rally, and three radio stations covered the story.

Bucci told reporters, "Virginians are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from rising seas to more extreme weather events, and it's critical that we take action now and curb the worst impacts in the future."

Click here to watch the clip from the local NBC News channel.

Debate Begins In The Senate To Overturn Citizens United

U.S. PIRG and our team of coalition partners presented 3 million petitions at a rally in Washington, D.C., on Monday before the beginning of the Senate floor debate on a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United.

At the event, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) said of the proposed constitutional amendment, "This is the most important issue we have discussed in a matter of years."

As we call on Congress to act, we're also working to build small donor empowerment into federal, state, and local political systems. This step is a crucial one to stand up to the powerful special interests that dominate our governments. Last week, the team secured coalition group endorsements for our campaign and started to prepare for this week's media events. 

The Senate debate will begin Tuesday, and while we're still expecting a filibuster, the debate may go on until Thursday, which is a great opportunity to gain even more media attention than expected. Four campaign organizers will be doing stand-up news events Tuesday with local elected officials who have endorsed our campaign, and we'll be doing a release elsewhere.

Meanwhile, our Billion Dollar Democracy report continues to get cited, including a recent citation in the New York Review of Books when it published a review of Zephyr Teachout's new book "Corruption in America."

80,000 Estimated For People's Climate March

Environment America organizers are gearing up for "the biggest march on climate in history" on Sept. 21. That week, New York City will be hosting leaders from around the world for the United Nations Climate Summit that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened to urge all countries to take action on global warming.

To help make sure that these leaders -- especially U.S. elected officials -- see that American citizens overwhelmingly support taking action on climate change, a coalition of environmental groups is organizing the People's Climate March.

Right now, it is estimated that more than 80,000 citizens will join in this historic Climate March in NYC. There will be similar marches around the world on the same day in eight other cities, including London.

In an op-ed last Tuesday, Ki-moon wrote, "Climate change is not just an issue for the future, it is an urgent issue for today. Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why? Let us join forces to push back against skeptics and entrenched interests."

Environment America and our state affiliates are working to help make the People's Climate March a success. Already we're:

  • Recruiting our members and activists to attend. We'll send members and activists from the states closest to New York, as well as encourage all our members across the country to hop on a bus or train to attend the march.
  • Releasing the report "America's Dirtiest Power Plants" the Thursday before the march. We'll release our new report on power plant pollution and the need to finalize the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan.
  • Generating media buzz. Through our power plant report release and opinion media, we'll be getting the word out about the Climate March on local TV and radio stations, newspapers and online.
  • Organizing students. Environment New Jersey is teaming up with the NJPIRG Student Chapters to recruit over 70 students to attend the march. We're also recruiting our interns in the NYC area to attend.
  • Building long-term grassroots power. We'll have a team of organizers and volunteers at the march to gather thousands more comments in support of the Clean Power Plan, to drastically cut carbon pollution from power plants.
  • And we're marching. Staff from Environment America, and our affiliates at Environment New York, PennEnvironment, Environment New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states will join in the Climate March. And many of our staff and members in other parts of the country will join local climate marches in their own cities.

The People's Climate March is a landmark event in the fight against global warming -- and it is one way in which Environment America is working to wake up our elected officials to the realities of dirty energy, and show them that now is the time to act on climate.

MASSPIRG Tells The Facts About Updating The Bottle Bill On Channel 5

MASSPIRG's Executive Director Janet Domenitz debated special interests that oppose updating the Bottle Bill on News Channel 5's "On the Record" this past Sunday. 

Nicole Giambusso, a spokesperson for the "No on 2" campaign said updating the Bottle Bill "basically costs a lot and does not do much of anything."

Domenitz responded that "the average person in Massachusetts doesn't like litter or trash. If you look at the 30-year, incredibly successful track record of the deposit system, 80% of containers that have that 5-cent deposit are being recycled. Only 23% of the Gatorade bottles, ice tea, and water bottles are getting recycled. Most are becoming trash."

MASSPIRG, armed with the facts, has educated the public on the merits of updating the Bottle Bill and has gained support from more than 200 towns and cities across the commonwealth. We're also working with a coalition of about 100 organizations to garner support for the ballot question that would update the Bottle Bill. This week we're asking volunteers to hold "Yes on 2" signs and spread the word about the measure at the polls on Sept. 9 during the primary election. The question will be on the ballot for full vote in November. 

Domenitz went on to say in the segment, "What people in Massachusetts want to see is less litter and more recycling, and they will get that if we update this incredibly successful law." 

Clean Water Team Releases Summer Fun Index

To get a snapshot of how Americans enjoyed their waterways this summer, Environment America's Clean Water Team compiled stats from nine different states on everything from summer camps on rivers and lakes to fishing and boating licenses. Our research found a whopping 9 million fishing licenses were issued this summer, and more than 127 million people visited state parks that include waterways.  

On Thursday, we released these snapshots, called Summer Fun Indexes, in six states, and had 22 outlets express interest in running the story. 

Campaign Organizer Cora Ellenson-Meyers, based in Minnesota, did a radio interview with the Minnesota News Network. The network serves as the AP wire for state's radio stations, feeding 50+ radio stations. 

The team's work and the report were also featured on a local TV Chicago station, the Capital Gazette in Maryland, Iowa's Polk City News, New York's Gotham Gazette, and Santa Cruz's Santa Cruz Sentinel -- to name a few.

1 Million Signatures Ask For Corporate Political Spending Transparency

U.S. PIRG Executive Director Andre Delattre reports that the Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of public interest organizations that includes PIRG, announced a big milestone Thursday in the fight against secret corporate political spending in elections.

More than 1 million comments have now been submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), asking the agency to require publicly-traded corporations to disclose their political spending.

PIRG opposes corporate spending in politics -- which was the law of the land for 100 years until the Supreme Court reversed that precedent in the 2010 Citizens United decision. Corporations are a creation of the state, given special rights and powers for the purpose of facilitating economic activity, not political activity. Further, anyone with an interest in the corporation already has the right to participate in politics as an individual, so there is no compelling need for them to do so a second time via the corporation.

Delattre said, "While we continue to oppose corporate spending in elections, if it is going to be allowed, then at the very least the people who control the corporation -- the shareholders -- should know that its happening, and better yet they should have to approve it."

A strong rule from the SEC would be a big step forward in the fight against big, secret money in politics. The way it stands right now, public corporations can make unlimited contributions to political activities through entities like Super PACs, and they don't even have to disclose that spending to their shareholders -- the folks who actually own the company. The rulemaking was placed on the SEC's agenda by former Chair Mary Schapiro in 2013, but was removed by current Chair Mary Jo White earlier this year, to the outrage of investors and our coalition alike.

 

You can see a list of all 1 million people that submitted a comment here. A few notable names are on the list: John C. Bogle, founder and former CEO of Vanguard; U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), and 70 other members of the U.S. House; 15 U.S. senators including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); five state treasurers; the Maryland State Retirement Agency; US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment; CREDO Mobile; the Sustainable Investments Institute; and a large group of firms managing more than $690 billion in assets and many more.

Texas-Sized Solar Victory

Solar Campaign Organizing Director Adam Rivera reports that last week, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to more than triple the city's solar energy goals, directing the municipally-owned utility to generate enough solar energy to power 100,000 homes. The resolution calls for Austin Energy to replace the Decker Creek Power Plant (the largest stationary source of smog pollution in the county) with 600 megawatts (MW) of west Texas solar, and to double the goal for rooftop and other local solar from 100 MW to 200 MW.

The resolution also raises the overall renewable energy goal to 50% by 2020, 65% by 2025 and carbon neutral by 2030.

The victory is a testament to the grassroots organizing of a coalition including Environment Texas, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Solar Austin, Climate Buddies, and the Interfaith Environmental Network.

Last January, Environment Texas got the grassroots ball rolling, participating in a National Solar Shout Out Day by collecting "Selfies for Solar" on the Pfluger pedestrian bridge in Austin. In June, Environment Texas engaged runners and bikers at Zilker Park for national #PutSolarOnIt day; passers-by could demo a solar-powered phone charging station with fans to cool them off.

In February, April, and June, Environment Texas released reports researched by the Solar Foundation and Frontier Group that helped to the spread the word about policies that have led to explosive growth in the solar industry. Between memorable showings of grassroots support and shining the spotlight on solar successes in the media, Environment Texas was able to contribute to a landmark solar victory.

Perdue Foods' Chicken Hatcheries Ditched Antibiotics

U.S.PIRG's Stop Antibiotics Overuse Program Director Sujatha Jahagirdar reports that Perdue Foods -- one of the largest producers of chickens for eating in the U.S. -- announced Tuesday that it will stop administering antibiotics used in human medicine to eggs in their hatcheries. The action will position Perdue Foods as a leader in stopping the spread of drug-resistant superbugs that threaten human health.

Each year, 70% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are sold for use on animal farms. The drugs are added in low doses to animal feed in order to help the animals grow fatter more quickly, and to prevent disease that often afflicts animals raised in crowded and cramped conditions. Unfortunately, the practice also spurs the spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. These bugs can move off farms to humans and cause infections that are often more difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible to treat. 

The company's Chairman Jim Perdue said, "We listened to our consumers and we are proud to have developed a responsible program that does not risk the medical effectiveness of antibiotics in human health, provides appropriate health care for animals and does not employ growth-promoting drugs."

Perdue Foods' announcement demonstrates that animal farms can reform their practices and substantially reduce antibiotic use, which is the goal of U.S. PIRG's campaign. The company achieved its reductions by improving the environmental standards in which their chickens are raised.

2014's Sarah Forslund Memorial Fellowship Recipient

Congratulations to Hannah Adams, the recipient of this year's Sarah Forslund Memorial Fellowship. The fellowship is awarded each year to a Green Corps graduate to work with The Public Interest Network.

Hannah came to Green Corps last summer with experience in labor organizing in New Orleans, but needed training to take her to the next level. During her Green Corps year, she excelled in virtually everything she did.

She raised $3,000 for the organization through a house party in Indianapolis, a raffle with the rest of the class, and fundraising from friends and family. She recruited 20 applicants for next year's class, two of whom will join next year's class. She gathered 2,000 petitions and recruited 60 coalition partners on her campaigns, while also developing leaders to keep the campaigns going after she moved on. For example, she recruited three student volunteers to take over the campaign to retire Indiana's Harting Street coal plant.

This fall, Hannah is bringing her skills and experience to Change Corps as an assistant organizing director.

The fellowship is awarded in memory of Sarah Forslund, a star organizer among the first Green Corps class; later, an associate director of Green Corps; and a joy and inspiration to all of us who knew her.

Fallout Of McCutcheon Decision Already Being Felt

The Washington Post ran a story on the early fallout from the McCutcheon decision on Tuesday. The decision eliminated the aggregate limit on an individual's contributions to federal candidates, which used to be $123,200. The Washington Post story noted that "together, 310 donors gave a combined $11.6 million more by this summer than would have been allowed before the ruling."

This is consistent with the prediction that U.S.PIRG and public policy organization Demos made prior to the Supreme Court decision in April: that $1 billion in additional cash would flow into elections by 2020 from just 2,800 elite donors, a prediction that was referenced in the story and an earlier Washington Post story. As noted in our report, "McCutcheon Money," written by Frontier Group's Elizabeth Ridlington and Miles Unterreiner, on the potential impact of the McCutcheon decision, if the decision had been in effect for the 2012 elections, the 1,219 big donors who hit the cap would have been able to give $459 million to the presidential candidates -- 50% more than all of the 4 million small contributions made to the Obama and Romney campaigns combined.

When the McCutcheon ruling came out in April, Democracy Associate Emma Boorboor said, "The last thing we need right now is to increase the giving of the donors with the deepest pockets. It's time to amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court's wrong-headed decisions permitting a handful of millionaires and corporate interests to dominate our elections."

The California Bag Ban Goes To Gov. Jerry Brown

Plastic bags from grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores will no longer litter California's beaches or wash into the ocean if Gov. Jerry Brown signs Environment California-backed legislation passed by the state Senate Friday.

Environment California has been a primary driver of the campaign to ban disposable plastic bags, promoting statewide legislation and winning local bans in more than 120 California communities, home to 1 in 3 state residents, despite the lawsuits and lobbying of plastic bag manufacturers. The Fund Canvass and TOP and CALPIRG Student Chapters have also played key roles in mobilizing support for banning the bag, and Environment Oregon, Environment Washington and Environment Rhode Island have expanded the campaign beyond California.

The LA Times quoted Environment California's Nathan Weaver: "This important step forward shows that we can achieve lasting victories for ocean and environmental health."

The Times also wrote: "Plastic bags are a direct threat to wildlife, like the Pacific leatherback sea turtles that mistake them for food. A study of over 370 leatherback sea turtle autopsies found that one in three had plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag."

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