Updates

PIRG Talks Online Voter Registration On Panel At Netroots Nation

CALPIRG Executive Director Emily Rusch spoke on a panel at the conference Netroots Nation about the benefits of online voter registration. Sujatha Jahagirdar with U.S. PIRG moderated the panel. Joining Emily and Sujatha were Ashley Spillane, president of Rock the Vote, and Catherine Hazelton, senior program officer with the James Irvine Foundation (a significant funder for CALPIRG Education Fund). 

Netroots Nation is a political convention for progressive political activists and writers, which happens once every two years. This year's convention was in Detroit, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the keynote speaker, and dozens of TPIN staff and alumni were in attendance.

Small Business Owners Want Strong Clean Water Rules

Environment America and its state affiliates have been working this summer to moblize support among small business owners for a strong Clean Water Act, and this Thursday a national poll announced that 80 percent of those surveyed support the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to close loopholes in the law. The poll also found that 71 percent agree that clean water is essential for a healthy economy and local jobs.

Viewed by many as the backbone of the nation's economy, small business owners are crucial to our fight because they are often important to policy debates. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business held a hearing on the EPA's proposed rule, and more than 300 small businesses stood with us to call on the EPA to move forward and restore protections to critical waterways across the country. After enduring numerous threats from polluters since its proposal, the restored protections continues to build support and momentum with the release of this poll.

Amidst Drought, California Halts Injection Of Fracking Waste

On the heels of the worst drought in California's history, Environment California has been calling for a halt to fracking, which uses millions of gallons of water, leaving them contaminated with toxic chemicals. This Saturday, the Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources in the state issued cease and desist orders to seven companies, warning them that their fracking waste disposal sites put the drinking water and agricultural operations for many at risk.

The drought crisis -- which has already cost the state $2.2 billion -- has forced farmers to turn to deep underground aquifers to sustain their operations. However, these sources are often polluted or are of poor quality, largely due to environmental law exemptions that have historically allowed the oil and gas industry to pollute them.

Across the country, fracking operations and waste have destroyed local environments and threatened public health. We're working in California and around the U.S. to call for a ban on fracking and the irresponsible disposal of its toxic waste.

At Third Anniversary, CFPB A Success With Room To Grow

Three years ago today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was founded, after PIRG spearheaded the national campaign to create the financial watchdog agency. The CFPB was established as part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 in response to the recession caused by the financial crash two years prior. It's the nation's first financial agency with just one job: protecting consumers.

Today, the CFPB has successfully addressed issues such as consumer complaints, predatory financial practices from credit cards to student loans, and fraud, among other harmful practices. But the CFPB still has room to grow -- and must be defended. The CFPB is now planning to propose rules to regulate entities such as the prepaid card market and short-term payday loans. Yet the House of Representatives has already moved to eliminate the CFPB's independent funding, and special interests continue to challenge the CFPB's activities. Our work is hardly done, but we've set important precedents to enable consumers to fight back against unfair policies and powerful financial industry forces.

CALPIRG Antibiotics Campaign Earns Spot In Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento Bee published an op-ed co-authored by CALPIRG Legislative Advocate Garo Manjikian and UC Davis Associate Professor Roberto De Vogli Tuesday, which called on the state Legislature to regulate the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms to protect public health.

The article criticized the Legislature for shooting down a bill that would ban the sale of meats in California that had been treated with antibiotics for anything other than an illness. Instead, a weaker bill is being considered that reportedly "leaves glaring loopholes" in regulating the use of antibiotics on factory farms. Antibiotics are increasingly losing their effectiveness, in part as a result of their overuse on factory farms as a growth agent. The World Health Organization has warned that a "post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries can kill -- far from being an apocalyptic fantasy -- is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century."

We're working around the country to mobilize public support to ban the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms for good.

The article may be viewed here.

Californians Win Chance To Vote On Citizens United This November

CALPIRG is making strides toward a major campaign goal of reclaiming our democracy by getting big money out of our elections.

Last month, CALPIRG's Garo Manjikian testified in front of the California Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee to urge decision-makers to allow Californians to cast their vote to decide the fate of big-money campaign contributions. And today, Californians are one step closer to overturning Citizens United, with Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of SB 1272. The bill will place an advisory question on the state's ballot this November asking whether Congress should amend the Constitution to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 landmark Citizen's United vs. FEC decision. 

Leading up to November, we'll continue working to staunch the flow of big money in our elections by targeting corporate donors, forcing political spending into the light of day, and mobilizing small donors to stand up to special interests.

Poll Finds Republicans, Dems, Everyone Wants More Pre-School

This Thursday, Fair Share attended a conference that released and discussed the results of a bipartisan poll on early childhood education in America. The poll found that there was overwhelming support on both sides of the political spectrum to do more to invest in early ed.

Fair Share is working to educate the public and mobilize support for the bipartisan-supported Strong Start for America's Children Act -- introduced in November 2013 -- which seeks to make preschool more accessible to lower income families around the country. And momentum is on our side. Respondents to the poll, conducted by the First Five Years Fund, expressed support for the bill, showing that we may be getting closer to leveling the playing field for early ed.

Senate Committee OKs Constitutional Amendment That Takes On Citizens United

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a constitutional amendment June 10 that takes on Citizens United and related cases that unleashed unprecedented amounts of money in politics. PIRG reports that the vote will likely come up on the Senate floor in September. And so far, almost all Senate Democrats have now cosponsored the amendment, including Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) who joined in the past week.

The House also just introduced a companion bill with over 100 initial cosponsors. PIRG notes that with increasing unanimity around the specific language and building momentum, it's getting easier to pick up cosponsors who were wavering before. 

Thanks in large part to the advocacy and organizing of the PIRGs, now sixteen states, over 500 cities and towns, 2 million Americans, and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, are on-the-record in support of overturning Citizens United.

Spirit 'Hugs The Haters' In Response To PIRG Report, Today Show Takes Notice

U.S. PIRG's report, "The Unfriendly Skies," was highlighted on a Today Show segment on July 11 that discussed a new Spirit Airlines publicity campaign to reward customers for publicly complaining about the company on social media. Our report, which analyzes consumer complaints about air travel collected by the Department of Transportation, found that Spirit Airlines had by and far the most complaints out of any airline: Spirit passengers were about three times as likely to file a complaint as the second-place airline, and this number is trending upward.

Spirit's campaign, "Hug the Haters," will dole out miles to those who complain about the airline on Twitter. Our report recommends, among other things, that airline complaints be compiled into a public, searchable database, and that the government set up a centralized consumer hotline for such complaints.

You can view the segment here.

115,000-Acre Fracking Lease Terminated In Florida

Environment Florida reports that Collier Resources just terminated all but one of their leases to frack in Florida with Dan A. Hughes Co. -- the energy company that was recently caught illegally acid fracking. The Texas-based oil company made the announcement Friday that it has terminated its 115,000-acre oil and gas drilling lease, and has relinquished all of its permits.

Environment Florida staff and volunteers have been calling attention to the dirty drilling practice, inviting supporters to protests and news conferences, and advocating a ban on fracking. Earlier this year, our coalition delivered more than 100,000 petitions to the EPA to protect the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve.

Illinois PIRG Spotlights Student Loan Scammers

Illinois PIRG Advocate Dev Gowda spoke at a news conference Monday with Attorney General Lisa Madigan after she filed a lawsuit against scammers who take advantage of student loan borrowers. The two companies being sued reportedly have been charging costumers upfront fees and for a service that is actually a free program provided by the federal Education Department.

Gowda told local media: "We applaud the Attorney General for cracking down on scammers targeting student loan borrowers. Consumers experiencing problems with their student loans such as fraudulent activity should bring their complaints to the Attorney General's office, and also to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which our report, 'Private Loans, Public Complaints,' has found to get real results for students."

According to the New York Times, Monday's announcement makes Illinois the first state to take legal action against debt settlement companies for their student loan practices.

Austin, Tex., Mayor Stands Up For Clean Water

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell joined Environment Texas at a news conference Wednesday in support of closing the loopholes in the Clean Water Act. Environment Texas Legal Intern Ashley Croswell was also joined by Senior Advisor for Water for the EPA Dr. Ellen Gilinksy, and Texas Director for Clean Water Action David Foster.

Closing the loopholes in the Clean Water Act is one of the top summer priorities for the Environment America federation. With a lot of help from Fund for the Public Interest canvass offices, we've already talked to more than 330,000 people across the country about the need to protect all our waterways from pollution.

The EPA is taking public comment on the proposed rule until Oct. 20.

People Power vs. Fracking: California Edition

Environment California's Mac Farrell led his fourth fracktivist training of the summer in Santa Cruz over the weekend. Our goal is to come out of the summer with 120 well-trained fracktivists ready to take on more leadership in their communities. The workshops teach activists by helping them develop critical campaign skills, such as how best to set up a phone tree, run a phonebank, meet with decision-makers, write letters to the editor, and hold news conferences. 

This summer, Fund for the Public Interest canvass offices in California are working with Environment California to spread the word about fracking, talking to hundreds of thousands of people about the need to ban the dirty drilling process in the state. Last week, the Fund's Berkeley canvass office ran a phone bank and 33 people placed calls to Gov. Jerry Brown's office urging him to protect California and ban fracking. 

Also this week, the Santa Barbara canvass office joined the Center for Biological Diversity outside Ventura City Hall to call for a ban on offshore fracking. The event was covered by the Ventura County Star.

Smile! You're Calling For Action On Clean Water!

This Saturday, the Environment America federation and Fund for the Public Interest canvass offices will join forces for a nationwide photo petitioning day of action to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act. 

The groups have a goal of taking 900 photos of those who support clean water across the country. The bulk of these photo petitions will come from our day of action this coming Saturday. We'll put the photos together as a collage and deliver them to the EPA and members of Congress in district meetings in August and to EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

We know that America's waterways are critical to our health and our way of life, but they're not getting the protection they deserve. Fortunately, this summer, the EPA is taking comments on whether to finalize the restoration of Clean Water Act protections to critical waterways across the country, including those that feed and filter the rivers, lakes and bays where we love to spend our summers. Unfortunately, some big agribusinesses have launched a campaign to pressure the EPA into sitting on its hands and is spending millions of dollars in the process. 

Double-Digit Health Insurance Rate Hikes For 100,000 Oregonians? Not If OSPIRG Can Help It

Over 100,000 Oregonians will see double-digit rate hikes if rate increases proposed by Oregon's biggest health insurance companies -- Moda, United, Health Net and PacificSource -- are approved. OSPIRG is calling on our members and supporters this week to urge the state to take a closer look.

Specifically, OSPIRG is asking the Oregon Insurance Division to hold insurers accountable to every penny of the proposed rates and deny any rates that are excessive. If you are a customer of any of these insurers, let the Insurance Division know how their proposed rate increases will affect you by filling out the petition.

Thanks to the work of recent OSPIRG alumna Laura Etherton and Health Care Advocate Jesse O'Brien, Oregon's health insurers must undergo unprecedented scrutiny and transparency before they are allowed to raise premiums. Our history as a watchdog in the state has resulted in over $150 million in waste cut from premiums since 2010. OSPIRG's work is so highly regarded that the State of Oregon contracts with us to get a second opinion on significant rate hike proposals, and the media regards us as experts in the field.

U.S. PIRG's Mike Russo Testifies Before President's Council On Antibiotics Campaign

On Friday, U.S. PIRG Federal Program Director Mike Russo testified in front of President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Check out the video here. 

San Diego Canvass Office Meets With Assembly Speaker Atkins

Environment California has been working with the Fund for the Public Interest's San Diego office to protect the Pacific Ocean from plastic pollution by banning single-use plastic bags. Together, they delivered more than 10,000 petitions last Wednesday to the Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins' district office. 

Jacob Zhender, canvass director in the Fund's San Diego office, ran the meeting with Assembly Speaker Atkins' District Director Denise Price.

Also in the meeting were: Jason Hinsley assistant director in the San Diego canvass office, field managers Jacob Leffler, Hannah Lingle-Veale, Leila Benedyk, and Alyssa Canoff, Matthew O'Malley with San Diego Coastkeeper, Michael Torti with the San Diego chapter of Surfrider, and Zach Plopper with WildCoast.

Thanks in large part to Legislative Director Dan Jacobson, Oceans Advocate Nathan Weaver and the Fund's canvass, we've gained incredible momentum in the campaign to ban single-use plastic bags in California -- with more than 100 cities and counties with local bans to date. Now, we're urging Gov. Jerry Brown to ban plastic bags state-wide.

OSPIRG Delivers 155,661 Signatures To Label GMOs

OSPIRG has been working with a coalition of groups to drive the "Oregon Right to Know" campaign to get a GMO labeling initiative on the ballot this fall. On July 2, about 50 people from the coalition came together to deliver the more than 155,600 petition signatures we helped collect in just six weeks to qualify the measure.

Last year, big agribusinesses, such as Monsanto, spent over $20 million to block GMO labels at the ballot in Washington State. But OSPIRG and their coalition are ready to take on Big Ag. So far, Fund for the Public Interest offices in Oregon have joined forced with OSPIRG and talked to more than 34,000 Oregonians about the initiative and our right to know what's in our food.

Environment Arizona Advocates For 1.7 Million Acres Around Grand Canyon

Environment Arizona is working to establish a new Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which would permanently protect 1.7 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining and old-growth logging. 

State Advocate Bret Fanshaw met with state Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai last week, whose district covers the Grand Canyon. Earlier this year, Rep. Peshlakai signed a letter in support of the project. In the meeting, she reaffirmed her support for the proposal and offered to write an editorial. She also agreed to help us to set up information sessions with some of the local tribes, which will be helpful in our strategy of getting the local member of Congress, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, to come out and publicly support the monument. We want to make this a priority with the Obama administration.

Through staff outreach and the help of the Fund canvass earlier this summer, more than 1,200 people so far have signed petitions to the president, and about 40 local businesses have come out in support of the project. Two letters to the editor have been published to date, as well as two editorials from other voices, in addition to what we are doing with Rep. Peshlakai. 

Los Angeles Rallies Behind Electric Cars

Environment California Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman and Clean Energy Intern Olivia Voorhis joined Senate President pro Tempore-elect Kevin de León and the Charge Ahead coalition on Sunday to host an Electric Vehicle Fair in East Los Angeles.

The fair provided many Angelinos with a first-time opportunity to check out electric cars; learn about rebate, loan, and financing options; see electric trucks and buses; and be introduced to the Charge Ahead California campaign to put 1 million electric vehicles on California roads in the next decade.

The Charge Ahead California campaign is leading the effort which inspired Senate Bill 1275 (de León), which is supported by the Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Environment California, The Greenlining Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council. On June 23, the bill was approved by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee after passing through the full Senate in late May with strong bipartisan support.

Last Friday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to endorse SB 1275. Next, the bill will be heard by Assembly Appropriations in early August.

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