Updates

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.

Four Major Pipeline Mishaps In One Month

A gas pipeline in Brooke County, W.V., exploded into a ball of flames on Monday morning, marking the fourth major mishap at a U.S. pipeline this month. The gas pipeline is owned by Houston, Texas-based The Enterprise Products, L.P., which said Monday evening that it is investigating the cause of the explosion. 

The West Virginia explosion is the fourth in a string of news-making pipeline incidents this month. Earlier this month, a gas pipeline in Mississippi operated by GulfSouth Pipeline exploded, rattling residents' windows and causing a smoke plume large enough to register on National Weather Service radar screens. On Jan. 17, a pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline LLC in Montana spilled up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, a spill that left thousands of Montanans without drinkable tap water. Just a few days later, on Jan. 22, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier in the month. That spill was widely deemed the state's largest contaminant release into the environment since the North Dakota oil boom began.

Public Interest GRFX and the Public Interest Network's digital team have been working to share breaking news of the mishaps via social media and connecting the series of events to the threats Keystone XL could pose to communities and the environment. 

Koch Brothers Budget $900 Million For 2016 Election

U.S. PIRG research on the 2012 election showed that 32 donors to Super PACs outspent all 3.7 million small donors to the Obama and Romney campaigns. The Koch brothers are poised to blow that stat out of the water in 2016.

The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history.

The spending goal, revealed Monday at the Kochs' annual winter donor retreat near Palm Springs, Calif., would allow their political organization to operate at the same financial scale as the Democratic and Republican Parties. It would require a significant financial commitment from the Kochs and roughly 300 other donors they have recruited over the years, and covers both the presidential and congressional races.

Obama Administration Proposes More Wilderness Protections -- This Time To The Alaskan Arctic

Continuing the promise to use his authority to protect America's public lands and wild places, President Obama has announced his intent to set aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness -- the highest level of protection the country can bestow on an area. The designation will protect the area and its endangered wildlife from encroaching development.

The move represents the latest instance of Obama's use of his executive authority to protect public lands. During his presidency, President Obama has designated 13 national monuments -- several of which Environment America was instrumental in building support for. Of course, the decision has angered many in Congress, who, as in most other environmental actions the president has taken, have pledged to fight tooth and nail to quash. While only Congress can create a wilderness area, once the federal government identifies a place for that designation, it receives the highest level of protection until Congress acts or a future administration adopts a different approach.

Organizers Help 170 PIRG Members Call McDonald's Headquarters

Thursday night, as part of the Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics team's campaign launch events, Impact organizers held activist phone banks, asking PIRG members to call into McDonald's headquarters to urge them to start serving meat raised without antibiotics.

Through these phone banks, 170 activist phone calls clogged up McDonald's phone line. The person answering the phone said that they were experiencing a "higher volume of calls than usual."

New Report To Help Show How Rise In Tech Is Helping People Drive Less

The transportation team has been working with Frontier Group in preparation for a Feb. 4 report release. The report, "The Innovative Transportation Index," will compare America's largest cities for how many tech services they provide for people to make it easier to not own a personal car, including transit apps, real-time transit tracking, and bike- and ride-sharing.

Frontier Group's Jeff Inglis and Lindsey Hallock, who authored the report, reviewed at least one city from every state. 

The report shows how technology has increasingly made it easier for people not to own a personal car. The goal of releasing this report is also to raise our profile on transportation issues and strengthen local relationships with media who cover transportation. 

North Dakota Faces Largest Fracking Wastewater Spill In State's History

Earlier this month, a pipeline in North Dakota leaked 3 million gallons of fracking brine onto the surrounding land and into two nearby creeks. The full size of the spill, however, wasn't realized until Tuesday, and the full environmental impact may not be known for months.

The spill is the largest in North Dakota's history. 

This latest spill is one of a long line of many similar incidents, with 74 spills happening in just 2013 and spills as far back as 2006 still being cleaned up. Previous spills have sterilized acres of land, killed fish and wildlife, and contaminated water and soil. 

Officials say they haven't seen any impacts to wildlife yet, but won't know much more until the ice surrounding the area thaws in the spring. This most recent spill just adds another in a long list of reasons to ban fracking. 

Health Site Covers OSPIRG Antibiotics Work

Chris Gray, a journalist with The Lund Report, a source of health news for the state of Oregon, covered OSPIRG's work to ban the non-medical use of antibiotics in farm animals. 

"The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group thinks Oregon may be fertile ground to step in where federal legislation failed to pass and stop a public health catastrophe as the routine use of antibiotics in livestock reduces the ability for the medicine to fight bacterial infections," wrote Gray.

With expanded majorities for Democrats in both chambers, the 2015 session will put to the test whether Oregon can get out in front of other states on such issues.

"The federal government has been slow to react," said Dave Rosenfield, executive director of OSPIRG. "The states are going to have to take the lead. Medical authorities have been sounding the alarm for some time." 

Gray bolsters his article with facts and figures pulled from the national messaging of the antibiotics campaign. Facts like: A full 70% of antibiotics sold in the United States are for use in farm animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, 85% of physicians in a random sample queried by the Consumer Reports National Research Center reported that they had a patient with a multi-drug-resistant bacterial infection in the past year, and 35% of those had a patient who died from the illness.

House Bill 2598 is modeled after federal legislation introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., which would ban the use of antibiotics in farm animals except when prescribed by a veterinarian to treat infections and outbreaks of sickness. It's being sponsored by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and has the support of both health committee chairs -- Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham and Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland. 

To read the full article, click here.

5 Million Americans And Counting: Let's Overturn Citizens United

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, U.S. PIRG and more than a dozen allies announced that they have now collected 5 million petition signatures in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

U.S. PIRG and allies will deliver the petitions at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C. You can follow along during the event using the hashtag #CU5. 

The Citizens United ruling on January 21, 2010 paved the way for corporations to spend unlimited sums of money influencing elections and was quickly followed by a nationwide campaign calling to reverse it. 

Thanks in part to our organizing and advocacy, we're starting to see, slowly, but surely, signs of progress. More than 600 cities and 16 states have gone on record in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. This fall, 55 U.S. Senators voted to overturn Citizens United. And now, 80% of Americans oppose Citizens United -- and that includes 72% Republicans.

Polluters Using Our Waters As Their Own Private Sewers ... Again?

A pipeline spilled up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana's Yellowstone River Saturday, causing a state of emergency in two counties and potentially threatening a public water supply.

Truckloads of water were shipped to the city of Glendive Monday as a precaution after residents reported tasting and smelling petroleum in their water. Some oil does appear to have made its way into the water supply, which serves 6,000 people, but officials say they've yet to determine whether it poses a public health threat.

"The initial results of samples taken from the City of Glendive's drinking water system indicate the presence of hydrocarbons at elevated levels, and water intakes in the river have been closed," the EPA said in a statement.

Crews, meanwhile, are struggling to clean up the crude, which has been observed up to 60 miles downstream from the spill site. Adding significantly to the challenge is the fact that the river was partially frozen -- crews have been setting up booms to try and prevent its spread, the Associated Press reports, while also chopping holes in the ice through which they hope to vacuum the oil.

Environment America Solar Team Generates Buzz In Cities Nationwide

Environment America, state staff and Impact organizers hit the ground running in the new year in our campaign to put more solar on rooftops across the country.

Last Wednesday, Field Organizer Talya Tavor led a rally to kick off the legislative session in Maryland. The environmental communities' top priority is a bill that would expand Maryland's Renewable Energy Standard to 40% by 2030, while doubling the solar carve out. 

Environment Texas's Anne Clark helped to collect 800 petitions in opposition to a city council ordinance in the Fort Worth suburb Richland Hills, which aimed to prohibit any solar facing the street if 20% of neighbors within 200 ft object.  

In New Mexico, Impact Organizer Breanna Ryan held a roundtable focused on solar as the replacement for Public Service of New Mexico's retiring coal plant. More than 60 people attended.

In California, Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman and the Environment California staff are collaborating with the California Solar Energy Industries's Association (CalSEIA) on a big event to celebrate the success of the Environment California initiated California Solar Initiative (Million Solar Roofs Campaign), which led to $3 billion in solar investments. 

In North Carolina, Advocate Maya Gold held an intern orientation for the solar interns. The new interns then proceeded to engage 70 citizens as they signed petitions in support of our solar goal.

Investors Urge Kroger To Stop Selling Meat With Antibiotics

Citing the growing public health threat and consumers' concerns about the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, or 'superbugs,' Green Century Funds has filed a shareholder proposal urging the major supermarket chain Kroger to stop selling meat produced with routine and non-targeted antibiotic use. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics on livestock to produce meat is a major driver of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which infect over two million people each year and areincreasingly deadly.

"Food safety should be the top priority of any supermarket," noted Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management, an environmentally responsible investment advisory firm that manages fossil fuel free mutual funds. "Selling meat contaminated with 'superbugs' poses a major risk to customer health, and is a major liability for Kroger and its shareholders."

The spread of antibiotic resistant 'superbug' bacteria has become a major public health crisis in the U.S. and globally. When bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, infections that are normally treated with antibiotics become more severe and even deadly. Last year, 23,000 people died from antibiotic resistant bacteria, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Kroger is one of the nation's largest supermarket chains, selling meat under its private label brands including Heritage Farms. Eating food contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria is one way in which 'superbugs' can be transmitted from the farms to infect people. Government testing of raw supermarket meat detected 'superbug' versions of salmonella, E. coli, or other bacteria in 81% of ground turkey, 55% of ground beef, and 39% of chicken sampled, posing significant risks to consumers.

Green Century filed a shareholder proposal urging Kroger to curb sales of meat produced using antibiotics, citing the public health risks, consumer concerns, and threats to the company's reputation if the meat it sold were to infect a consumer with antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Ohio State Treasurer Ups Transparency Game

Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel is a man on a mission: He wants to reveal to Ohio's taxpayers the path every single dollar takes through Ohio's government agencies, from source through appropriation and delivery to recipient.

He stopped by the Public Interest Network office in Boston during a trip to conduct state business to show our staff the progress they've made to meet the standards outlined in U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group's Following the Money report. 

Meeting with U.S. PIRG Senior Policy Analyst Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG fellow Michelle Surka, and Frontier Group Policy Analyst Jeff Inglis, Mandel and his communications director, Seth Unger, gave a two-hour presentation of the features of OhioCheckbook.com

Mandel sought our feedback on the site's performance, and urged the expansion of the Following the Money criteria to score not just what data are made available, but also the usability of the interface.

Green Corps Organizers Petition For Carbon Tax In Vermont

As the temperatures dropped across the country, Green Corps organizers bundled up and kept organizing.

On Thursday, Green Corps Organizers Dylan Kitts, Rachel Goldstein and Organizing Director Annie Sanders talked to hundreds of people in zero degree weather about passing a carbon tax in Vermont.

Even in the cold, 156 people stopped and signed petitions in support of the carbon tax. And then, out of 32 contacts in a phone bank, 17 people said "yes" to getting more involved in the campaign.

"The cold made for a great connector," Annie reports. "Vermonters are really excited about the campaign to be the first state in the country to pass a carbon tax and set a big, bold precedent for the rest of the United States."

Environment America Re-Launches Clean Water Network

With our waterways under increasing threat from polluters and their allies in the new Congress, Environment America announced Thursday that we have revived the Clean Water Network, the national network of local watershed groups working to protect rivers, lakes, and wetlands across America. The announcement comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the chemical spill that left 300,000 people in West Virginia without safe drinking water.

With 110 member organizations in 30 states so far, the Clean Water Network will provide training, policy expertise, and opportunities for coordinated action on key clean water issues - such as factory farms, fracking, and restoring the protections of the Clean Water Act to thousands of waterways across the nation. Originally founded in 1992, the Clean Water Network will now be housed at Environment America Research & Policy Center and guided by an advisory board representing a range of local and national clean water groups and diverse regions of the country.

"As we mark the one-year anniversary of West Virginia's drinking water contamination, today local watershed groups are coming together to defend and protect America's waters," said Kimberly Williams, coordinator of the Clean Water Network and a member of its advisory board. "Today, the Clean Water Network is providing a united voice to local watershed groups, the backbone of the clean water movement."

Frontier Group on NPR

As gas prices dropped in mid-December, National Public Radio's Marketplace show wondered whether Americans would start driving more. (Spoiler alert: No.) Reporter Scott Tong called Tony Dutzik of Frontier Group, who has for several years led our work documenting and investigating the causes behind the end of America's love affair with driving.

Listen here to Tony discussing the factors that led to increased driving over past decades, and saying that many of them have changed significantly in recent years. (Other experts interviewed echoed those points and explored potential causes and effects.)

As a bonus, three of the six charts accompanying the online version of the story were generated by Frontier Group (and a fourth is another group's version of data Frontier Group have long presented in the same way).

Bag Ban Opponents Deliver Signatures To Put Ban On Hold

The California bag ban is now on hold, for now.

Following years of work by Environment California to protect the ocean from plastic pollution, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill this past September to enact the country's first statewide ban. But the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group funded by plastic bag manufacturers, submitted more than 800,000 signatures to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office Monday, well above the 504,760 signatures necessary to get the referendum on the ballot.

The bag ban was intended to go into effect July 1, 2015. But now, voters won't be able to weigh in for another two years, until November 2016, leaving the bag ban at a standstill.

 

Currently, there are still 138 local plastic bag bans that will stay in place. If the referendum effort fails, the statewide ban goes into effect in places that do not have local ordinances.

President Obama Will Veto Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

The new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) vowed to make approving the Keystone XL pipeline the Senate's first order of business and has even already scheduled a hearing on the bill for Wednesday. 

In December, Keystone proponents fell one vote short of the 60 Senate votes they needed to invoke cloture. Now, passage of the bill is all but certain. The questions are whether President Obama will veto the bill and whether Keystone backers will reach the 67 votes needed to override a veto. 

The White House just announced the answer to the first question. "If this bill passes this Congress the president wouldn't sign it," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

PIRG's Transportation Team Celebrates A Move In The Right Direction

The U.S. PIRG transportation team and several state PIRG staff issued a news release Wednesday to declare an important victory in our transportation campaign. Our reports and organizing efforts are focused on moving our transportation infrastructure investments away from wasteful and unneeded new roads and toward more public and alternative transit options.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has very quietly acknowledged that the "Driving Boom" is over by cutting its forecasted driving estimates by between 24 percent and 44 percent.

After many years of aggressively and inaccurately claiming that Americans would likely begin a new era of increased driving, the agency's latest forecast finally recognizes that the "Driving Boom" has given way to decades of far slower growth. The average American's driving distance actually declined nearly 9 percent between 2004 and 2014, resulting in about a half trillion fewer total miles driven in 2014 than if driving had continued to increase at earlier rates.

The new forecast is a major departure from the FHWA's past record of chronically predicting inaccurate increases in driving. An analysis of these projections showed that the Department of Transportation (USDOT) had issued 61 driving forecasts in a row that overshot their mark.

Gabe Klein, former Department of Transportation director of both Chicago (CDOT) and Washington, D.C., (DDOT), commented, "I know from experience these forecasts have great importance in shaping debates and policy on every level of transportation funding. USDOT is clearly stating that a broad-based policy of building more road capacity for cars is not fiscally responsible or what the public needs or wants."

These overestimates of demand for driving have been used to justify all sorts of wasteful highway expansions, including the boondoggles that PIRG is currently campaigning to stop.

The full release is here.

America Should Run On Renewables

That's what 90 percent of Americans think, according to a Harvard political scientist who has been surveying opinions about energy and climate for the last 12 years.

Accoriding to an article in Forbes, Harvard Government Professor Stephen Ansolabehere found that about 80 percent of Americans said they want solar and wind energy to "increase a lot," while 10 percent said they want it to increase somewhat. He also found that Americans who are concerned about climate change don't support increasing nuclear power. Ansolabehere said his findings might run counter to the Obama administration's "all-of-the-above" energy strategy.

"There are very few conservationists, people who want to use less electricity overall," Ansolabehere said. "There are also very few people who say all of the above, and this is an interesting note because I don't know if you remember a few years ago the Obama administration decided this would be a good thing to campaign on, this all-of-the-above strategy. It might have been a good idea to placate West Virginia coal miners, but in fact there aren't a lot of people who want all of the above in the energy sector."

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