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Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) speaks about the People's Budget on the House floor in 2016. youtube.com

7 Key Environmental Amendments to Watch

As debate continues on the spending bill, dozens of environmental amendments could receive votes. Here are some to watch:

Harvey Response

Many amendments relate to the role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the funding of its crucial functions. In light of the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey, some of these amendments highlight the importance role of the EPA in disaster zones—and the dangers of starving it of the funding it needs to do this work.

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The V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. South Carolina Electric & Gas Company

South Carolina Utility Scraps $14 Billion Nuclear Project

By Tom Clements

South Carolina Electric & Gas Company (SCE&G) announced Monday that it will cease construction of the two new nuclear units at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.

The decision to abandon the V.C. Summer project is of monumental proportion and is a full admission that pursuit of the project was a fool's mission right from the start. The damage that this bungled project has caused to ratepayers and the state's economy must be promptly addressed by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and regulators and all effort must be made to minimize that damage. SCE&G and Santee Cooper must now take on a large part of the project's cost.

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Think You're Eating '100% Natural' Chicken? Think Again

By Kari Hamerschlag

Many health conscious consumers are reducing their consumption of red meat in favor of chicken—especially products labeled and promoted as "100% natural"—believing they are a healthier option produced without routine antibiotics, artificial substances or other drugs.

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Luka Tomac / Friends of the Earth International

5 Facts Trump Got Wrong on His Attack of the Green Climate Fund

Donald Trump announced Thursday afternoon that the U.S. will begin the process of withdrawing from the Paris agreement. During his remarks, Trump made a series of inaccurate and misleading statements about the Green Climate Fund in connection to his withdrawal decision.

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GMO
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Field Test of GMO Algae Sparks Outrage

Scientists from the University of California at San Diego and Sapphire Energy released results Thursday from the first open-pond trials of genetically engineered microalgae.

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Historic Verdict in Indonesia’s Fight Against Deforestation

In a historic verdict in defense of forests and human rights, a court in Central Kalimantan has ordered the government of the Indonesian province to review the permits of palm oil companies associated with massive forest and peat land fires in 2015.

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Food

Low-Carbon Meals: A Triple Win for One of California's Largest School Districts

By Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D. Cook

What do meat-centric, cheesy-rich school lunches and climate change have in common? Both pose risks for our kids' health and our planet's future. In short, too much meat and dairy in our diets contributes to both chronic health problems and climate change.

Research shows that we cannot avoid the worst impacts of climate change unless we dramatically scale back our consumption of animal foods. That's because producing meat and cheese generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles huge amounts of water.

What if we could improve our kids' school lunches and reduce our impact on the climate at the same time?

One of California's largest school districts is doing just that, showing how we can reduce our impact on climate change and save money by serving less—and better—meat and dairy products. By trimming back the meat and cheese in kids' lunches and serving more plant-based nutritious meals, the Oakland Unified School District significantly reduced its carbon and water footprint, according to a new study by Friends of the Earth.

Over the past two years, Oakland's K-12 school food service cut their meals' carbon footprint by 14 percent and reduced its water use by 6 percent. Meanwhile, the district saved $42,000 by cutting costs per meal by one percent, enabling it to purchase better quality and more sustainable meat from organic, grass-fed retired dairy cows.

Consider one popular lunch food: a beef hot dog. Friends of the Earth's analysis found that one hot dog generates seven times the carbon footprint of a tofu-veggie rice stir-fry and more than three times that of a veggie bean tostada.

Friends of the Earth

If every California K-12 school food service matched Oakland's carbon footprint reductions, they would reduce their footprint by 80 million kg of CO2 emissions—equivalent to Californians driving almost 200 million fewer miles per year.

We know kids can be picky eaters. So it's even more impressive that Oakland's effort actually increased student satisfaction with local, regional, fresh and tasty meals. Equally important, these plant-based meals met or exceeded the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal pattern requirements.

With such remarkable progress from just one school district over two years, imagine if all food-serving outlets served more plant-based foods and more sustainable, less resource-intensive animal foods. This would greatly benefit our climate future, help everyone eat healthier and reduce the risk of costly, diet related diseases associated with meat-centric diets. Currently, Americans eat 50 percent more meat than is recommended by U.S. Dietary Guidelines, while only 20 percent of us get the suggested amounts of fruits and vegetables.

Friends of the Earth

Fortunately, Oakland isn't alone. Across California and the nation, hundreds of school districts have adopted Meatless Mondays, generating important climate and water benefits by reducing demand for resource-intensive meat products.

Beyond schools, food service institutions in hospitals, prisons and elsewhere are saving money and improving health with plant-focused menus. A pilot program in four hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area (Health Care Without Harm's Balanced Menus: Less Meat Better Meat) saved the equivalent of $400,000 a year during its trial period. The Maricopa County Jail saved an estimated $817,000 in one year by switching from meat to plant-based foods.

Despite the growing trend towards serving more plant-based meals, the strategy of shifting institutional food purchasing to aid climate mitigation has rarely been tapped or quantified. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to track their animal foods purchases and serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost-effective way to achieve environmental and public health goals. We also hope policymakers will begin to consider meat reduction as a key climate mitigation strategy.

The vital role of meat reduction in mitigating climate change is well-documented in numerous peer-reviewed articles and two recent studies by the World Resources Institute and Chatham House. A 2014 climate mitigation report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that "the potential to reduce GHG emissions through reduction in consumption of meat ... (is) substantially higher than that of (any other agricultural) technical mitigation measures." The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Report reiterated the environmental benefits of less meat consumption.

According to a 2016 Menus of Change report from the Culinary Institute and Harvard's School of Public Health, a diet emphasizing plant foods "is the single most important contribution the foodservice industry can make toward environmental sustainability."

Reducing demand for resource-intensive animal foods is a relatively simple, cost neutral or even cost-saving strategy. Because animal foods production is a major part of greenhouse gas emissions, other climate mitigation measures will ultimately be ineffective if we don't dramatically reduce meat and dairy consumption. That's because the increased emissions from rising meat consumption trends would quickly wipe out the climate benefits from other mitigation strategies.

Yet another added benefit from Oakland Unified School District's approach: trimming demand for grain-fed animal products and promoting more sustainable pasture-raised meat from dairy cows also helps build healthier soils to sequester carbon, another key ingredient in fighting climate change.

At a time when people are hungry for positive solutions, the Oakland school lunch story provides an inspiring model for a growing movement across California and the nation. The evidence shows we can improve our kids' health, save money and help the environment, all while increasing student satisfaction and meeting federal school meal requirements. This is a rare triple win that all parents can embrace.

Kari Hamerschlag is deputy director for food and technology at Friends of the Earth and Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.

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Groups Representing 10 Million People Oppose Fast Food CEO for Labor Secretary

More than 100 food and agriculture organizations, representing more than 10 million people across the food system, sent a letter to Capitol Hill Monday urging senators to oppose the confirmation of fast food CEO Andrew Puzder as secretary of labor.

This clarion call from the nation's farmers, food-system workers and public health advocates, led by Corporate Accountability International, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Friends of the Earth and Real Food Media, comes on the heels of growing opposition and controversy surrounding Donald Trump's pick to head the Department of Labor.

A recent Capital & Main investigation found that under Puzder's watch as CEO, CKE Restaurants faced more federal employment discrimination lawsuits than any other major fast food chain. The corporation violated workers' rights, including wage theft and failed to provide employees with overtime pay.

"Andrew Puzder is dangerous for working families and bad for our food system," said Jose Oliva, co-director of Food Chain Workers Alliance. "The country needs a labor secretary who will protect working families, not corporate interests. Puzder's track record as CEO of CKE Restaurants proves that he should be kept as far away from Washington as possible."

The letter calls the nomination of Andrew Puzder a betrayal of the president's promise to "improve the lives of working people" and urges senators to reject Puzder's nomination. It expresses grave concern with the conflicts of interest between Puzder's tenure at CKE Restaurants and the responsibilities of a labor secretary, including the fact that:

  • Puzder has opposed both raising the minimum wage and enforcing overtime rules and mandatory sick leave.

"Putting an outspoken critic of worker protections and a living wage in charge of the Department of Labor is straight out of an Orwellian nightmare," said Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and technology at Friends of the Earth. "The Senate must reject the nomination of Puzder if it cares at all about the basic rights of working people."

Since Puzder's nomination, advocacy groups have documented numerous workers' rights violations under the watch of the former fast food CEO. For instance, research released by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United reveals a long history of labor violations at CKE Restaurants during Puzder's tenure. Surveys from hundreds of CKE employees reveal that women working at CKE reported more than 1.5 times the rate of sexual harassment as reported for the industry overall.

"The choice of Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor is a dangerous one for this country's working families," said Sriram Madhusoodanan, Value Meal campaign director at Corporate Accountability International. "If President Trump truly wants to 'drain the swamp', why is he nominating people like Puzder, who have played an outsized role creating the swamp in the first place?"

In January, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's workers joined the Fight for $15 in opposing Puzder's nomination, taking part in actions in more than two dozen cities. Widespread opposition and questions surrounding Puzder's company's labor practices have prompted Congress to postpone the nomination hearing until February.

"Across the country, millions of people are demanding real change when it comes to our food system and the people who work in it," said Anna Lappé, founder of Real Food Media. "Our Department of Labor must reflect those people—not corporate bottom lines. It is unacceptable to nominate someone who has such a callous attitude to the struggles of working families to head the labor department."

The organizations signed onto the letter represent a broad cross-section of the food and labor movement, uniting groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthjustice, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Workers' Center of Central New York, among many others. The unprecedented nature of this coalition underscores the unique threat Puzder faces to people advocating for environmental protection, workers' rights and healthy food.

Puzder's senate confirmation hearing begins Feb. 7, 2017.

Animals

Huge Victory for Norway's Wolves

Vidar Helgesen, the Norwegian minister for climate and environment, announced Tuesday that the government denied permission to shoot the four wolf packs in the areas of Letjenna, Osdalen, Kynna and Slettås. The government concluded that there is no legal basis for the hunt, neither in the national nature protection laws nor in the Bern Convention, acknowledging the appeal from Friends of the Earth Norway to stop the hunt.

"This is a very important victory for the most endangered mammal in the Norwegian fauna," Silje Ask Lundberg, the leader of Friends of the Earth Norway, said.

"This is the Christmas gift of the year to those who care for nature and endangered wildlife. Big thanks to minister Helgesen who stopped the mass slaughter of Norwegian wolves. We are very happy that the government follows the nature legislation, even when the predator boards don't," Ask Lundberg said.

Three of the four wolf packs live in Norway's designated wolf area and none of them pose any threat to grazing livestock. Even so, the regional predator management authorities decided earlier this fall to allow hunting of the wolves. Now, the killing is off. According to current legislation, the cull of protected predators can only take place on the grounds of preventing loss to farmers, and only after all other measures have been tried.

"The decision is hugely important, as it states that wolves who don't catch domesticated animals cannot be hunted down freely. This shows that the predator management authorities' efforts to shoot as many wolves as possible is inconsistent with current law. They have not responded according to the law," Ask Lundberg said.

The predator management authorities' decision to cull the four wolf packs, as well as 15 wolves outside the wolf area, has been met with strong reactions, inside and outside Norway. More than 70,000 people has signed a petition against the cull. Almost 7,000 Norwegian and a large amount of international activists have contacted minister Helgesen via Friends of the Earth Norway's website.

"We want to thank everyone who has helped us to save the wolf families. Together, we put the pressure on the government that made this possible. This is the people's victory for wolf in the Norwegian nature," Ask Lundberg said.

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