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.”

PIRG Meets With CFPB Director

State PIRG directors and D.C. staff met with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rich Cordray and his staff to discuss ways to work more closely together.

Director Cordray urged us to keep doing the same kinds of consumer outreach and report-writing that we do. He told us, "Your reports on the complaint database get exactly the kind of press we seek." He added that "we've planted a tree and need to strengthen the grassroots."

In terms of moving forward on joint projects, staff discussed inviting WISPIRG State Director Peter Skopec to speak at a pending regional supervisory staff retreat in Milwaukee. One of Cordray's top aides, Associate Director Gail Hillebrand (who was a CALPIRG UCSD student in the 70s), announced that her techie colleagues have a new "beta" tool for providing the CFPB's consumer help tools directly from an organization's website, like PIRG's. We're following up on both ideas.

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."

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.

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.

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.