Updates

Registering Voters In Five States

Fair Share's David Elliot reports that as of earlier this week, the Community Voters Project, a project of the Fair Share Education Fund, the Center for Public Interest Research and The Public Interest Network, has helped more than 27,027 African Americans, Latinos and others in the Rising American Electorate register to vote.

Thanks to our non-partisan effort, these citizens will now be able to cast their votes and make their voices heard. Field managers, such as Antonio "Tony" Gonzalez in the Atlanta office, manage a small crew of canvassers in each of the five states we are helping to register voters: Oregon, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.

As a field manager for the non-partisan Community Voters Project, Tony wants to "make a difference anywhere I can."

"It always starts with the little things," Tony explains. "[As a field manager] this [position] is huge for me, especially on the population and demographics focused on, since I'm Latin American. Voter registration is so important. Minorities a long time ago were fighting for the opportunities to vote and have their voice and their say -- whatever party they like. It feels good to wake up in the morning knowing I'm going to work and doing something good, helping others and building awareness."

By the time the project ends, we will have helped 46,000 people register to vote in five states. Now that's progress.

Massachusetts' Bottle Bill Gets Support Of Governor

At an event on Boston Common, Gov. Deval Patrick joined MASSPIRG and other Bottle Bill supporters to enthusiastically throw his support behind the effort to pass Question 2 on the November 4 ballot. The measure would update the Bottle Bill and add water bottles and sports drinks to the existing five-cent bottle deposit law.

"When I first ran for governor, we emphasized the need for friends to talk to friends, and neighbors to talk to neighbors to spread our message and help grow our campaign. I urge supporters of YES on 2 to do the same, to tell everyone that YES on 2 will increase recycling, clean up our parks and save cities and towns money," Patrick said in a statement. "YES on 2 is good for our state and good for our environment; I urge voters to keep that in mind on Election Day.

National Voter Registration Day Sees Big Turn-Out

Tuesday, Sept. 23 marked National Voter Registration Day. Student PIRGs' Program Director Marites Velasquez reports that their organizers were joined by 167 volunteers on campuses across the country to register students to vote this year. In one day, we helped register over 900 people to vote in person, and another 119 people completed a voter registration form online at StudentVote.org.

11 Highway Projects Named "Boondoggles"

U.S. PIRG released our latest transit report on Sept. 18, "Highway Boondoggles," written by PIRG's Phineas Baxandall and Frontier Group's Jeff Inglis. The report identifies the ways in which transportation budgets are spent on wasteful projects that promote our unsustainable car culture rather than investing in new, greener modes of transportation.

According to the report, Americans are driving no more in total than we did in 2005, and no more on average than we did at the end of Bill Clinton's first term as president. Yet, transportation dollars are being poured into new highway projects and highway expansions -- at the expense of road and bridge repairs and the need for more mass tranist and other public transportation priorities.

"Americans have been driving less, but state and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions," said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst at U.S. PIRG. "The time has come to shift our resources to invest in 21st century priorities, like fixing our roads and bridges and providing more Americans with a wider range of transportation choices."

The report has earned media attention in dozens of outlets, including The Seattle Times, AZ Central's Channel 12 News, Asheville's Mountain Xpress, and the Cleveland Scene.  

LWCF Gets Nod In Boston Globe Editorial

In mid-August, the Fund for the Public Interest's canvass, working with Environment Massachusetts, held a news conference in support of full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund -- the country's premier preservation program. As a result, we earned media attention for the LWCF and the more than 20,800 petitions that were collected on the canvass this summer. In addition, the Boston Globe editorialized in support of funding the state's parks and beaches.

The editorial stated that "President Obama wants the full $900 million that has been authorized, but the Republican-dominated House wants to provide only $152 million. That doesn't begin to fulfill the original mission of the bill, which President Johnson intended 'to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States.'" 

The Boston Globe's piece speaks to the great work of the canvass and the outreach done this summer to protect our most precious places. 

"Our parks are a big part of what makes living in Massachusetts so great," said Ben Hellerstein, field organizer for Environment Massachusetts. "For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected our most treasured landscapes and provided essential support for local parks and neighborhood playgrounds across the state. Our message is clear: Bay Staters want to see their parks protected."

Oregon Waterways Highlighted In The Media

Environment Oregon released the "Summer Fun Index" Sept. 9, and earned media attention for the clean water campaign. We're working to protect all waterways across the country by closing polluters' loopholes in the Clean Water Act. 

In March, the U.S. EPA proposed a rule to restore protections for the headwaters, streams, and wetlands left in limbo by the loopholes; but agribusinesses, oil companies, and others are campaigning heavily against it.

The EPA is taking public comments on the measure until Oct. 20. Already, Environment Oregon has gathered over 21,000 public comments in favor of restoring Clean Water Act protections to all of Oregon's waters. Environment Oregon pointed to the statistics on how many people use and enjoy Oregon's waterways as further support for the EPA's proposed rule: 12.4 million people visited Oregon's waterways, including the Rogue and Willamette Rivers over the past year, according to the "Summer Fun Index."

"Whether we enjoy them for fishing, boating, swimming or floating, we all have a stake in the health of the Willamette and the rest of our waterways," said Environment Oregon's Charlotte Bromley. "We should be doing everything we can to protect all of our rivers, lakes and streams so that we can continue to enjoy the many benefits of our waterways for generations to come."

California Charges Ahead With Game-Changing Electric Vehicle Program

The Golden State just got a little more golden: Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sunday that will help put 1 million electric vehicles on the road in the next 10 years.

Environment California's Michelle Kinman helped spearhead the campaign that helped garner the statewide support needed to pass the bill, called the Charge Ahead California Initiative, authored by incoming Senate President pro Tem-elect Kevin de León (L.A.). The new law will speed the state's transition to clean, electric vehicles, which right now account for nearly 40% of the state's global warming emissions.

The law will offer rebates so that more Californians can buy electric cars, create electric car sharing programs, and install charging stations in apartment buildings around the state. This initiative will ensure low-income communities benefit from the transition to zero tailpipe emissions. It will help clean up the air we breathe and slash asthma rates. It will also ensure California continues to lead the nation in the fight against global warming.

"California is putting the pedal to the metal, and accelerating the transition to clean, electric vehicles," said Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman. "By putting the first million electric vehicles on our roads, California will create a tipping point for clean vehicle sales, lead the country toward a clean vehicle revolution, and continue its position at the forefront of innovative global warming solutions."

Largest Climate March In History Has Clear Message

On Sunday, an estimated 400,000 people marched along a 2-mile route through New York City, calling on world leaders and the U.S. government to act on climate.

The march coincides with the convening of the United Nations' Climate Summit, a conference on climate change that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon organized to discuss steps moving forward. The secretary general also attended the march on Sunday, marching alongside New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Jane Goodall and Al Gore.

Ki-moon said now is the time to act on climate. "There is no plan B," he said. "Because there is no Planet B."

The demonstration was covered by online and print media, including a segment on the front page of the New York Times. 

U.S. Treasury Takes Action Against "Corporate Inversion"

Monday afternoon, the U.S. Treasury and the IRS announced new steps to make it more difficult for American companies to lower their tax bills by shifting their corporate headquarters abroad -- a process known as "inversion." By buying out a foreign company and using it as a tax haven, companies that "invert" don't move abroad in any real sense, and continue to benefit from America's infrastructure, education system, security and large consumer market. Meanwhile, average taxpayers, small businesses and larger domestic companies end up footing their tax bill. 

The new steps would reduce the economic benefits of inversions, and when possible, would eliminate them entirely. However, the rules will only affect deals that were completed from Monday on, so Burger King's high-profile acquisition of Tim Horton's will not be changed. Last month, Walgreens decided not to invert, following a massive public outcry.

On Monday morning, U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Advocate Jaimie Woo wrote in the Huffington Post about inversions, calling on Congress to take action on a number of bills that would address the problem. Similar issues have historically had support on both sides of the aisle, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch was quoted in the New York Times saying that he would work with Democratic Senator and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Ron Wyden to come up with a legislative solution. 

Progress On Democracy: Majority Of Senate Votes To Overturn Citizens United

U.S. PIRG's Executive Director Andre Delattre reports that on Thursday, we saw the U.S. Senate take its much-anticipated vote on Senate Joint Resolution 19, the constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, after a week of high-intensity organizing and debate.

The measure got majority support, a party-line 54-42 (in which all Democrats voted aye, except for New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was absent).

Delattre said of the vote, "While this wasn't enough to clear the two-thirds threshold required for an amendment, it's still a critical milestone in our fight, showing just how far we've come in the few short years since Citizens United galvanized our movement."

PIRG organizers worked with the media around the vote, getting op-eds, letters to the editor, and earned media coverage of the campaign, including an op-ed published Thursday in the Austin American Statesman by TexPIRG State Director Sara Smith. 

And, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) put it, now "the fight to overturn Citizens United must continue at the grassroots level in every state in this country."

Schools Nationwide Are Going Solar

Environment America drew attention to a new report on solar power on Thursday: More and more school across the country are going solar.

Solar Campaign Organizing Director Adam Rivera said the report, prepared by The Solar Foundation, "has all sorts of good data on solar schools, including the rankings of each states according its number of solar schools. This is yet another one of the many ways we can move America to getting at least 10% of our power from the sun."

The report outlines that right now, 3,700 K-12 schools have solar panel systems, which means nearly 2.7 million children attend a school that uses solar power.

The report identifies another 72,000 schools that could install solar cost-effectively; and if those schools were to go solar, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as taking 1 million cars off the road. The report also cited Environment California's solar schools report, "Making the Grade with Clean Energy," written by Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman in 2012, which was the first comprehensive look at solar schools.

President Issues Executive Order To Protect Antibiotics

On Thursday, President Obama issued an executive order to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics -- Combatting Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria. Our organizers jumped to action with a rapid response plan to draw attention to President Obama's order, which calls on agencies to submit a five-year plan to him by mid-February.

As U.S. PIRG's news release outlines: While the order takes several important steps necessary to control the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it misses the opportunity to call for critical reforms in the agricultural sector that are essential to protect public health.

"President Obama gets an 'A' for tackling this problem from multiple angles," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, U.S. PIRG Stop Antibiotics Overuse Program Director. "But in terms of addressing the biggest problem, the troubling overuse and misuse of antibiotics on large factory farms, the administration gets an incomplete."

Earlier this summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that antibiotic resistance could be the "next pandemic," and the agency has reported that 2 million Americans are sickened and 23,000 are killed by antibiotic-resistant infections every year. In its 2013 drug resistance report, the CDC held that "much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe."

Jahagirdar said in the news release, "We urge the administration to go further, to limit the use of antibiotics to when animals are truly sick or directly exposed to illness. The medical community, consumers, and even many in the food industry would likely stand and applaud such a move."

New Global Warming Report Calls For Action Now

Environment America's Anna Aurilio reports that on Thursday, the Environment America Research & Policy Center released our latest report on the out-sized role that America's coal-fired power plants play in global warming. Based on research Environment America conducted with the Frontier Group, we found these dirty power plants emit more carbon pollution than the entire economy of India.

We've also revved up our push to mobilize more public support for the EPA's Clean Power Plan, the nation's first-ever limits on global warming. If you haven't added your name yet, click here.

We're also taking part in the People's Climate March on Sunday, billed as the largest such march in history with more than 100,000 people expected. PIRG chapter students and organizers, TPIN campaign organizers, and other Environment America staff and members will be there. 

With the EPA deadline for comments coming up this fall, more of the Arctic ice-free for more of the year, and Greenland melting so fast it might be too late to stop it, what happens in New York Sunday will be big. What we do after Sunday to keep the momentum going will matter even more. Stay tuned and stay involved.

100+ Board Train In CA To Attend Climate March In NYC

On Monday, about 175 people gathered in Emeryville, Calif., to board a train to the People's Climate March in New York City this weekend.

Activists are calling it "the People's Climate Train." It will roll across the country this week, picking up more climate activists along the way, before stopping in N.Y.C. for the march that will have an estimated 100,000 climate activists in attendence on Sept. 21.

Environment California and the other Environment America affiliates have been working 'round the clock to help make the People Climate March the biggest action on climate to date.

The march is set to happen as world leaders descend on New York for the United Nations Climate Summit that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened to urge all countries to take action on global warming.

One Goal Reached, Another Near For Community Voters

With voter registration deadlines approaching, canvassers with the Community Voters Project have achieved one important milestone and are inching toward another.

Late last week, Community Voters Project canvassers in Portland, Ore., helped register their 2,000th potential voter, meeting the goal set for that city. And Community Voters Project reports that it is closing in on its goal of helping 8,000 new voters get registered in Atlanta -- which could happen this week.

The Community Voters Project, a project of the Fair Share Education Fund and the Center for Public Interest Research, is conducting non-partisan voter registration and mobilization campaigns in five states during 2014 and 2015, helping to register nearly 50,000 voters and make 7,500 get-out-the-vote (GOTV) contacts. 

This work builds on the organizations' voter registration efforts over the last 10 years that assisted nearly 600,000 African American, Latino, and young voters in registering to vote. We also made more than 85,000 GOTV contacts in 2012, in partnership with State Voices tables.

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.

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. 

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