Updates

ConnPIRG And Sen. Blumenthal Take On Faulty Car Sales

CarMax is selling unsafe, recalled auto parts in some of their used vehicles in Connecticut, a new report by ConnPIRG and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation (CARS) found this week. ConnPIRG joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal and CARS Foundation on Aug. 25 to release "CarMax: Endangering Lives in Connecticut," which documents the extent of the problem posed to consumers and calls for action at the state and federal level to protect the lives of drivers.

70+ Organizers Participate In 3-Day Global Warming Blitz

More than 70 Impact organizers, PIRG fellows and state organizers participated in a three-day blitz to build support for the Clean Power Plan.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan -- its proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030. Despite broad public support, polluters and their allies in Congress have been working to block the rule, and Congress can pass bills that stop the EPA from acting.

It is possible that we will see an attack on the Clean Power Plan that will pass both houses and that we will need President Obama to veto. Congress can override a veto with 2/3 majority in both the House and the Senate, which means we can uphold a veto by mustering 34 Senate votes or 146 House votes.

Colorado and Pennsylvania are ground zero in the battle between clean renewable energy and fossil fuels and Sens. Bennet (CO) and Casey (PA) are critical votes on this issue. Senator Bennet has been with us, so we wanted to thank him, and show him all the support in Colorado so that he continues to be a leader. Senator Casey is a swing who is leaning the right way, but who we need to focus on tipping over. 

In Colorado, 49 organizers and 9 trainers collected 507 business sign-ons with 173 secondary actions including posting signs in their window, making an activist call or doing a photo petition, 1,054 handwritten letters, 8 visibility events and 7 media hits, 703 photo petitions, 1,145 activist calls (we filled up his voicemail box in Denver and Grand Junction), and four district meetings.

In Pennsylvania, 11 organizers and two trainers collected 157 business sign-ons, 473 handwritten letters, and 236 petitions. 

Methane Restrictions An Important Band-Aid, But Not A Cure

Last Tuesday, the Obama administration proposed first-ever limits on methane from oil and gas -- the greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

The rule is a major piece of the Obama administrations plan, announced in January, to cut methane pollution 40-45 percent in 10 years.

But of course no amount of methane control can make natural gas a good way to fight global warming. As Environment America's Anna Aurilio said in our news statement: "The best way to limit methane pollution is to limit drilling and fracking."

Environment California Testifies At CA Transportation Conference

On Wednesday, Environment California Clean Energy Advocate Michelle Kinman testified at the Asilomar Transportation Conference to push the state's policies even further to get cleaner cars on the road, clean up our air, and fight global warming. 

The conference was organized by the Energy and Alternative Fuels Committees and the Climate Change Task Force of the U.S. Transportation Research Board, and it was hosted by the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. According to the conference's website, this year’s conference focused on near- and medium-term policy and market strategies, and supporting innovation to reach climate, economic and mobility goals for transportation.

Environment California is also currently working on passing SB 350, a bill that would require the doubling of California's energy efficiency by 2030. This means that California would generate 50% of its energy from clean energy sources by 2040 and cut petroleum use in half by 2030. Just this past week, Environment California has held 53 lobby meetings and has testified in every committee the bill has been heard in.

WashPIRG Gives Textbook Tips

WashPIRG Director Bruce Speight went on KCPQ Fox 13 last week to give college students tips for saving money on textbooks. Watch the full segment here. 

The cost of textbooks has grown more than 80 percent in the past decade, making them one of the biggest expenses for college students. One of the best options for students is open textbooks, which are published under an open license, meaning they're free online, free to download, and affordable in print. 

Change Corps Partners With CoPIRG To Put Pressure On Subway

New Change Corps organizers partnered with CoPIRG this week during their practicum training to put pressure on Subway to stop using meat raised with the routine use of antibiotics.

PIRG Calls For Open Access To Federal Education Materials

This week, PIRG, along with a coalition of 91 education organizations, institutions of higher education, technology companies, and foundations called on the White House to ensure federally-funded educational materials are made freely available to the public as the administration develops an Open Government Partnership plan this fall.

“The administration has the power to unlock billions of dollars worth of educational materials – materials that can be used to strengthen workforce training programs and improve learning around the country,” said Ethan Senack, higher education advocate for PIRG. “It’s simple – these are taxpayer-funded materials and they should be available for the public to use.”

Clean Power Plan Unveiled

Gas and coal power plants will pollute 32 percent less and clean energy sources such as wind and solar will meet much more of the nation’s electricity needs, according to the much-awaited Clean Power Plan, which President Obama formally unveiled Aug. 3

"Today is a great day for clean energy and a great day for climate action. It's a great day for America, and our chance to lead to the world toward a strong agreement cut global warming pollution," said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America. 

The Clean Power Plan is the single biggest action our country has ever taken on climate, because it tackles the single biggest source of our global warming pollution: dirty power plants. The Clean Power Plan also represents a huge step toward a clean energy future, because it dramatically ramps up wind and solar power.

Leading up to the unveiling, we galvanized support for the Clean Power Plan this summer, having more than 100,000 conversations with Americans on the canvass, generating actions online, and organizing Day of Action events to call attention to the importance of the plan and urge elected leaders to show their support for it. 

U.S. PIRG Participates In ABX Meeting At The White House

On Tuesday, U.S. PIRG participated in a meeting on antibiotic overuse in food animals with Rep. Louise Slaughter at the White House. PIRG's Carli Jenson attended the event, along with representatives from NRDC, Keep Antibiotics Working and Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Meanwhile, our Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics campaign continues to ask Subway, the largest fast-food provider in the country, to commit to selling meat raised without antibiotics.

Gov. Cuomo Announces 300% Solar Growth In N.Y.

Environment New York Director Heather Leibowitz reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced solar growth of more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014 in New York state. She issued the following statement:

"Less than two weeks ago, Gov. Cuomo announced his ambitious plan to curb New York state’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by doubling New York state’s renewable energy to 50 percent by 2030. The pollution reduction and clean energy targets would be the most ambitious in the nation, matched only by California.

"Today, the governor acknowledged the important role of solar energy in accomplishing these goals. We applaud the governor's continued commitment to expand this unlimited and pollution free energy source for the benefit of our environment and economy.

“This announcement also shows that Environment New York’s goal of achieving 20 percent solar energy by 2025 in New York State is readily achievable. At this rate, New York can easily reach 20 percent solar by 2025, which would cut as much carbon pollution as 3 million cars emit in a year and put the state more than halfway to the renewable energy benchmark set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan.

"Gov. Cuomo's acknowledgment of New York's progress in the area of solar energy and his statement of future commitment to expand solar is noteworthy. We urge the governor to continue to support solar energy growth through programs like net metering and community solar. Reforming the Energy Vision and the Clean Energy Fund are also key pieces of this plan."

BP's $18.7 Billion Tax Write-Off

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an $18.7 billion out-of-court settlement with BP to resolve charges related to the Gulf Oil spill -- but failed to indicate whether the deal will allow the oil giant to write portions off as an ordinary tax deduction – thus, greatly reducing the public value of these payments.

“A judge had declared the oil spill was the result of gross negligence. It is outrageous for BP to treat any portion of these payments as an ordinary business expense. We call on the company to promise that it will not write these payments off as tax deductions,” said Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG's senior analyst for tax and budget policy. “We also call on the Justice Department to make public the full language of the settlement on its website.”

100+ People Attend PennEnvironment's Climate Change Town Hall

PennEnvironment's Climate Defenders organized a town hall meeting outside of Philadelphia on June 30th to talk about climate change. More than 100 people attended the meeting. Speakers included Rep. Brendan Boyle, a nurse, an EPA representative, an environmental planner from the Montgomery County Planning Commission, and PennEnvironment's Adam Garber.

Environmental Action Helps Protect Black Bears

In our effort to save the Florida black bears, in just one month, we gathered 36,000 petition signatures, raised and donated $5,000 for bear-proof containers and public education, and generated 400 calls to Gov. Rick Scott. Check out Environmental Action’s Anthony Rogers-Wright's presentation at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission hearing in Jacksonville.

Environment New Mexico shines a light on state's bright future with solar power

Environment New Mexico released a report on June 25 showing that the rewards of solar are greater than the costs. Attorney General Hector Balderas, Sen. Mimi Stewart, Positive Energy Solar, and our partners joined Environment New Mexico's Sanders Moore and Fund for the Public Interest canvassers for this event. Check out our report here. 

Trucks And Buses To Be More Efficient

On Friday, the Obama administration proposed a new emission-cutting standard for trucks and buses. This is the president's latest move to curb pollution fueling global warming.  

Following the announcement, Global Warming State Campaign Director Travis Madsen was quoted in Newsweek, NBC Philadelphia, and NGT News commenting on the new proposal:

“Anyone who’s ever been stuck behind a truck or bus knows how much they pollute,” said Madsen. ”Today’s action will mean cleaner air and help tackle the climate crisis. Making trucks go farther on a gallon of fuel can curb pollution, help save the planet and save money.”

Passenger cars and trucks remain the largest source of pollution within the transportation sector, and the Obama administration has already required them to go farther on a gallon of gas. That move--which made a host of ever-more efficient autos available to consumers--will save Americans roughly $31 billion annually at the gas pump, and cut pollution equivalent to shutting down more than two dozen coal-fired power plants.

Similarly, advocates have called for a 40 percent efficiency improvement for heavy trucks compared to 2010, which could save semi truck operators $30,000 per year on fuel, reducing freight costs and helping to lower the price of consumer goods. While Environment America and its allies are still reviewing the rule issued today, it appears to be very close to the 40 percent target.

City Transparency Victory In Portland

Last Friday, the City of Portland took a step to improve their ’D-‘ grade for transparency by publishing a searchable database showing where taxpayer funds are going. This was a project that came out of a report OSPIRG released in 2013 where we graded major cities for the transparency of their spending. Here's an article from Oregon Live highlighting the action. 

Following Data Breach U.S. PIRG Releases Tips

On Friday, we learned that the hack against the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was worse than originally reported, and that the personal data for 9 to 14 million federal employees, including those with national security clearances, has been compromised.

The breach may have exposed sensitive background information of current, former, and prospective federal employees. This information included Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses of workers. 

As Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski reminds us in a recent blog post: If you shop with credit or debit cards, have health insurance (recent breaches at Premera, Anthem and CareFirst, pay taxes (IRS breach), work for the federal government (OPM breach), or [fill in blank], you’re at risk of a data breach.

In response to the security breach U.S. PIRG released a list of tips to help consumers avoid, detect and deal with identity theft from a data breach -- from shredding documents containing personal information to disabling Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use. You can check out the tips here.

Environment California's Dan Jacobson Debunks The EPA's Fracking Report

The EPA released a report on fracking last week, finding that the process does not lead to water contamination. Environment California's Dan Jacobson took to the airwaves to debunk that finding. He was interviewed for local California news stations and appeared in an article on the report.

The report looked at only a small percentage of data, and the EPA used outside reports, which were often outdated, to conclude that there was no danger of contamination. In the interview, Dan said, "What they only looked at was the impacts on the water. But they didn't look at public health, and they didn't look at the impacts of the air pollution. So they were looking at an incredibly small scope of the dangers of fracking."

Bill To Amplify Small Donor Voices Introduced

With 2016 candidates already raising eye-popping amounts from large donors for their campaigns, Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) introduced legislation that would give new power to small donors in our elections.

The Fair Elections Now Act would enable more Americans to participate in the electoral process by establishing a $25 “my voice” refundable tax credit. Small contributions of less than $150 would then be matched with limited public funds at a rate of six-to-one for U.S. Senate candidates that agree to turn down big money, amplifying the voices of small donors.  

"The Fair Elections Now Act would put everyday people back in charge of elections,” said Dan Smith, democracy campaign director for U.S. PIRG. “Imagine if candidates could fund their campaigns by appealing to the people they’re seeking to represent instead of dialing for dollars to rake in a few big checks. That’s what this critical legislation does.”

The Fair Elections Now Act has 17 cosponsors and has been endorsed by over 40 organizations, including good government, environmental, small business, faith, labor, and civil rights organizations. Congressman John Sarbanes has introduced similar legislation for House races called the Government by the People Act, which has 148 cosponsors.

“Five years ago, the Citizens United ruling effectively gave corporations and the wealthy few a blank check to influence politics and politicians in our country,” said Sen. Durbin, the bill’s author. “Unless we curb the growing influence of big money in politics, our democracy is in serious trouble. I’m introducing the Fair Elections Now Act to ensure that our political system values the voices of everyday people, not just the people who write the biggest checks.”

Wisconsin Boondoggle Denied Funding

Thanks to a report released by WISPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group, a federal court ruled to deny funding to a costly highway boondoggle on Wednesday. Wisconsin's Department of Transportation (DOT) used faulty traffic projections to show the need for a $146 million widening of Highway 23. The report, "Fork in the Road," highlighted the faulty data, challenging the necessity of expanding the highway -- and a federal court agreed.

It ruled against Wisconsin DOT in a suit, deciding that the expansion cannot receive federal funds, although Wisconsin can still use state funding. Now, Wisconsin DOT must revise its traffic projections or call it quits on the project. 

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