EcoWatch is a Cleveland-based nonprofit organization dedicated to uniting the voice of the grassroots environmental movement and mobilizing millions of people to engage in democracy in pursuit of a sustainable future.

EcoWatch, founded in 2006 by executive director Stefanie Penn Spear, publishes the bimonthly newspaper EcoWatch Journal that is distributed for free throughout Ohio with a readership of more than 100,000 per issue. EcoWatch Journal provides a venue for environmental organizations to get their news out to a broad audience and motivates individuals to become engaged in their community, adopt sustainable practices and support strong environmental policy.

EcoWatch’s Next Generation program encourages students to be good stewards of the planet by providing free copies of EcoWatch Journalto teachers grades 6-12. This program gives teachers a tool in the classroom to teach students about the solution-based sustainability projects happening in their region, and encourage them to become engaged in their community by being environmental leaders in their school, home and neighborhood.

In 2011, EcoWatch in partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance expanded its services by launching a news service website—EcoWatch.org—that promotes the work of nearly 1,000 grassroots environmental organization worldwide and showcases original content in its Insights column from leading national voices in the environmental movement, including EcoWatch’s advisory board members—Wendy Abrams, Ed Begley, Jr., Lester Brown, Laurie David, Paul Hawken, Randy Hayes, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Phil Radford, Laura Turner Seydel and Harvey Wasserman.

EcoWatch Journal

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Matthew J. Castelli – Matt is the Director of Human Resources for the Retail Division of Darice, the leading wholesaler/retailer of craft supplies in the United States. He is responsible for directing and establishing Human Resources policies and procedures for over 30 retail locations and 1000 employees throughout the Midwest. Matt is also a Councilman for the city of Middleburg Heights where his dedication to the environment is evidenced through his introduction of a Green Building Policy, his revision of guidelines for storm water management to help reduce pollution and increase green space, and his desire to continually promote energy efficiency and environmental awareness. Matt graduated Summa Cum Laude from Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and has served on a variety of community, educational and non profit advisory councils and boards. He resides in Middleburg Heights with his wife Kristen, daughter Marcella and son Pete.


James R. Leikin, Treasurer – Jim is currently working in a private practice in Beachwood, Ohio in the field of public accounting. He earned his BS in Accounting at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has been practicing in his profession for twenty four years in the Cleveland Area. He is currently involved with many non-profit agencies in helping with their accounting and tax filings. It is his hope that his expertise will be useful to this organization through his participation on the board.


Oakland LewisOakland Lewis - Oakland moved to the Cleveland area November of 2001 from New York City. Wanting to get involved with the local community he became an active member in his daughter’s PTA. He eventually became the president of the PTA and led the team to two successful years. After his daughter changed schools Oakland again became very active in the PTA and was the VP in charge of fundraising. Here too he had two very successful years bringing in more funds year over year. While working on a school levy Oakland was approached by someone form the mayor’s office to sit on the Cable Commission. Eventually Oakland became a very active member of the cable commission in Euclid. After the budget cuts and the recent economic upheaval, the commission was disbanded. Having some time on his hand, and being a financial coach, Oakland started volunteering his time as a financial coach to certain families at the YMCA. Eventually he was approached by the director to be part of the advisory board. Today Oakland is a very active member of the advisory board. He heads up the Membership and Program committee. This committee is charged with getting the right programs in place and keeping the members engaged. He is also actively working on the goal to raise 30K for the Strong Kids campaign. This campaign raises money to help with scholarships for families who cannot afford the membership fee. Oakland lives in Euclid with his wife Robin and daughter Bryce. He enjoys learning new things, languages, cooking and traveling to name a few.


Steve NewmanSteven Newman – Steve is the Program Director for the non-profit organization United Labor Agency. The United Labor Agency mission is to strengthen the community by focusing the resources, compassion and commitment of the labor movement. For the past ten years, he has been fortunate to have the opportunity to work in many different facets within the Ohio community. His main duties include grant writing and creating partnerships and alliances with other organizations to help people that struggle with their employment needs. Steve received a Masters degree from the Weatherhead School of Business at Case Western University. He loves the outdoors and wants to do what he can to help protect it. Steve lives in northeast Ohio with his lovely wife Tracey and two small children Eli and Sophie.



Ann-Marie PotemskiAnn-Marie Potemski, Secretary – Ann-Marie is Client Delivery Manager for Xerox Corporation. With over 16 years of experience with Xerox, focusing on the healthcare industry, Ann-Marie is skilled in all aspects of account management including strategic planning, new product/services development and lead generation. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Sales Marketing and Personnel Management from the University of Akron. Ann-Marie’s passions include community involvement and sustainability. Ann-Marie has coordinated events and raised thousands of dollars for countless organizations as the Xerox Community Involvement Coordinator. Some of the organizations supported: Benny Cowgill Foundation, Genesis House, Haven of Rest Ministries, Special Olympics, Dancing Wheels, Toys for Tots, City Mission, Heart and Hand, March of Dimes, Special Olympics and many others. Other professional organization involvement includes: YWCA, WIN, Toastmasters International, Pi Sigma Epsilon and American Production & Inventory Control Society.


Tom QuinnThomas J. Quinn – Tom worked as a reporter, editor and columnist in his 41-year career at The Plain Dealer. He also served in Vietnam as an army correspondent and photographer. He won awards in breaking news writing in police and courts coverage and in investigative reporting on medical care and public transit. He worked as a TV-radio columnist and assistant state editor and also covered suburbs, education, energy and environment. In 2005, he initiated and contributed to a six-month series, Crude Awakening, which detailed a coming worldwide energy crisis. The staff-produced series won state and national awards, including the Excellence in Journalism Award from the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation. The Columbia Journalism Review featured Tom in a 2005 article entitled, “Working the Fringes,” which detailed how his news-gathering style led to the Crude Awakening series. In 2007, Tom joined the EcoWatch board and staff and now serves as senior editor of EcoWatch Journal.


Michelle SheehanMichelle Sheehan – Michelle is a partner at the law firm Reminger Co., LPA. She concentrates her legal practice on litigation including insurance coverage matters, government liability, premises liability, and appellate advocacy. In addition to handling civil jury trials in state and federal court, she routinely argues cases before the state and federal appellate benches. She is also a frequent lecturer for professional associations and continuing legal education seminars dealing with insurance coverage and risk management issues. Michelle is actively involved in the community.  She has served as President of the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, serves on the Visiting Committee to the Dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, the Board of Trustees for the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Alumni Association and the Rocky River Civil Service Commission. She has also spearheaded many new projects for the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Assoc. and other organizations in town. Michelle is an avid environmentalist and actively involved in sustainability projects in Cleveland. She earned her B.A. in Public Administration from Miami University and J.D. degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Ohio and Florida.

Jeff SmithJeff Smith, President – Jeff is a partner in the firm of Fisher & Phillips LLP where he practices ERISA / employee benefits law on behalf of employers. His practice includes representing employers in all matters related to employee benefits, including retirement plans, health plans, multiemployer pension plan issues and non-qualified deferred compensation issues. Jeff also assists nonprofit organizations in tax matters. He earned his Bachelor of Science in mathematics and economics from Baldwin-Wallace College and then received his law degree from Case Western Reserve University. Jeff is also a member of Symphony West Orchestra, where he plays the violin.



Eileen VictorianoEileen Victoriano – Eileen is a Manager within Ernst & Young’s Advisory Services. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Management Information Systems from Miami University. Eileen has managed projects at global businesses to promote efficiencies, strategically align IT with their business and implement compliance policies and/or processes. She also holds her CISA (certified information systems auditor). Eileen’s interest in green initiatives stems from an appreciation of nature and sustaining a clean environment for our future generations. She is an advocate for the revitalization efforts of Northeast Ohio and member of the City Club’s Young Leaders.



Kerry Watterson — A native of New York City with family roots in Cleveland, Kerry joined McDonald Partners from UBS Financial Services in 2009. Prior to UBS, Kerry served as vice president of investor relations for Teligent Inc. in Washington, DC.

Earlier in his career, Kerry was a member of the corporate finance department at E. F. Hutton & Company Inc. in New York, working on a wide range of public and private securities offerings. He subsequently spent over 10 years in the telecommunications industry in senior financial positions.

He has more than 20 years of finance and capital markets experience, and has served as an adjunct instructor of finance in bachelor's and master's degree granting programs at Lorain County (Ohio) Community College
Kerry started his professional career as a commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard, serving on active duty for five years in operational and staff positions.

He holds an MBA in finance from Columbia University, and is a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy with a BS in management.

He is also a member of the boards of directors of The United States Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association, Rivergate Foundation and The Cleveland Rowing Foundation, and is a past member of the boards of The Cleveland Music School Settlement and The Intermuseum Conservation Association.

He resides in Shaker Heights, Ohio, with his wife Joann and their daughter Olivia.


EcoWatch Board

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Plateau Creek near De Beque, Colorado, where land has been leased for oil and gas production. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

By Randi Spivak

Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.

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Global SO2 Emission Hotspot Database / Greenpeace

A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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