An update from Faye Park, executive vice president of The Public Interest Network
DEC. 23, 2021
The past year was a reminder that positive change never comes easily.
In 2021, the organizations of The Public Interest Network did our part to make incremental yet significant progress toward a greener, healthier world — including these 10 examples:
1. President Biden set about cleaning up some of the previous administration’s messes: In December 2020, Environment America’s federal office called on the incoming administration to restore the environmental protections lost under the Trump administration. President Biden moved quickly to cross a number of items off our list of first things to fix, including rejoining the Paris Agreement; moving to restore federal Clean Car standards and California’s right to set stronger standards of its own; and restoring Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monuments to their rightful size. On each of these priorities, we organized political and public support.
2. States led the way on plastics and clean energy: Thanks to the work of Environment America, PIRG and our state organizations, three more states banned some of the worst types of single-use plastics, and two more states made clean energy commitments. Virginia, Washington and Colorado were the latest to join the list of states with bans on polystyrene foam containers, while Maine and Oregon became the first states in the nation to pass “producer responsibility” legislation, holding plastic producers financially responsible for the waste their products become. And Oregon and Illinois committed to reaching 100% clean energy by 2040 and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045, respectively.
3. We supported investments in cleaner air, water and energy: On Nov. 5, Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It includes record federal investments in cleaner transportation, including electric cars, transit and school buses; getting lead out of our drinking water; speeding the cleanup of the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites; and bringing high-speed broadband to millions more Americans. PIRG and Environment America were proud to do our part by building support among the public and decision-makers.
4. Green Century Capital Management°, our affiliated mutual fund company, hit a major milestone: surpassing $1 billion in assets under management. That number is just one way of measuring Green Century’s accomplishments, which also include an award-winning shareholder advocacy program. In 2021, Green Century’s advocacy won a commitment from The Coca-Cola Company to reduce its cumulative use of virgin plastic by 3 million metric tons by 2025.
5. Frontier Group celebrated a 25th anniversary: Our in-house center for research and policy development commemorated the team’s milestone by sharing stories of moments when their research helped shape the conversation: encouraging California to assume global leadership on solar energy, adding the term “highway boondoggle” to our transportation lexicon, bringing into the political mainstream a vision for America powered solely by renewable energy, and more.
6. The Right to Repair movement built momentum: PIRG made significant progress this year on winning our right to repair the things we own. President Biden signed an executive order calling on the FTC to issue rules against anti-competitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs on your own. And with 27 states considering legislation to mandate the Right to Repair in 2021 (up from just four in 2015), Apple reversed its previous stance against Right to Repair, announcing a new program to provide support to customers who want to fix their phones and computers themselves.
7. Green Corps organizers won support for protecting nature: The Wilderness Society partnered with a team of four Green Corps organizers to run virtual campaigns in Colorado, Arizona and Nevada to convince key lawmakers to support protecting 30% of our lands and oceans by 2030. Our organizers recruited citizens to place nearly 200 phone calls to U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly and publish 28 letters to the editor in local papers. Both senators responded with clear support for the “30 by 30” goal and introduced additional legislation to protect the Grand Canyon region in March.
8. A historic victory for clean air: Community Action Works partnered with neighbors in Springfield, Massachusetts, to win a 12-year campaign against a major polluter. In the wake of socially distanced rallies and hundreds of phone calls and emails to legislators, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection revoked the permit for an incinerator that, if built, would have burned trash and wood in a neighborhood with high asthma rates.
9. A federal judge again ordered ExxonMobil to pay for its Clean Air Act violations: Despite its repeated appeals, ExxonMobil was held accountable once again for thousands of violations of the Clean Air Act in the long-running citizen enforcement case brought by Environment Texas and Sierra Club. The groups, represented by National Environmental Law Center, have been pursuing the case for 11 years — and in March, a federal judge imposed a $14.25 million penalty to punish the company for its violations.
10. We donated $1 million to our allies: When we see good opportunities to help like-minded organizations and allies make a difference, we help where we can. In its third year in 2021, the Fund for the Public Interest Foundation program donated $1 million to 25 organizations — in part through our Calling for Action program. Grantees included Green for All, Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, and Jolt Texas.
These stories represent literally dozens of others, where advocates, organizers, allies, members and supporters like you worked together, sometimes against great odds, to achieve positive change. With you by our side, we’ll continue to prove that change is still possible in the year ahead.
On behalf of Doug Phelps, myself and the entire Public Interest Network team, thank you for your activism and support.