Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and climate science. That doesn't have the same ring as the "three Rs" of education, but Connecticut could one day require the subject to be on the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.
A Connecticut state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate the teaching of climate change in public schools throughout the state, starting in elementary school.
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The Justice Department is looking into whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to investigators at the Department of Interior, The Washington Post reports. Anonymous sources tell the Post that investigators at the Interior's inspector general's office raised the issue with the DOJ after suspecting Zinke may have lied during questioning over his real estate deals in Montana and his review of a Native American casino project in Connecticut.
By Jeff Deyette
Despite the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERC, EPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies.
Democratic attorneys general from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York filed a motion on Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by several conservation groups and South Carolina coastal communities.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of a "multistate infestation" with the Asian longhorned tick—the first new tick species to enter the U.S. in 50 years.
New Jersey was the first state to report the Haemaphysalis longicornis on a sheep in August 2017. Since then, it has been found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
On May 2, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The Census of Agriculture has been conducted since 1840 and currently is collected once every five years. This post looks at the themes of conservation and energy in the Census. You can also view an introductory post on the Census.
Solar panels on a barn on a Vermont farm. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Grass vs. Cropland
As part of the Census, USDA reports on the extent of pasture and grazing land across the country. The Census breaks this data down into two categories—(1) pasture and grazing land that could have been used for crops without additional improvements; and (2) permanent pasture and rangeland, other than pastured cropland and pastured woodland.
Category one includes high quality land that could easily be used for crop production, but is instead retained as pasture. It also includes acres of crops hogged or grazed but not harvested prior to grazing. Category two includes both high quality and low quality pasture, but it must be unusable for crop production without additional improvements.
In 2007, the amount of land devoted to pasture and grazing land that could have been used for crop production was 35.8 million acres. By 2012, this number had dropped to 12.8 million acres, a reduction of nearly 65 percent. Going back even further, this number was 60.6 million acres in 2002. While the Census does not speak to the drivers of grassland loss, most of these acres were likely lost to crop production as commodity prices peaked and ethanol demand increased. The amount of pastured woodland also declined by roughly 600,000 acres. In contrast, “permanent” grassland increased between 2007 and 2012 by 1.6 percent, from 408.8 million acres to 415.3 million.
In 2007, farmers practiced rotational or management-intensive grazing on nearly 389,000 farms. By 2012, this number had declined 26 percent to less than 289,000. Three New England states—Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont—plus Nevada saw increases in the number of farms using this type of grazing system. Every other state experienced significant declines.
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has long been a champion of rotational and management-intensive grazing, which USDA promotes through federal conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program. Unfortunately, the Census does not explore the drivers behind the trends that can be pulled from its numbers. However, the decline does parallel a steep decrease in the number of acres devoted to pasture and grazing land, as detailed above.
Fertilizers and Chemicals
The use of manure and the use of commercial fertilizer, lime and soil conditioners both declined between 2007 and 2012. The number of farms using manure declined from 307,073 to 275,420, while the number of farms using commercial fertilizer declined from 1,022,036 to 877,907. In contrast, the number of farms using chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and defoliants increased by 154,149.
Cover Crops, Tillage, Easements
The 2012 Census contains brand new information on cover cropping, conservation tillage and easements. Unfortunately, USDA did not report this data in the 2007 Census, so we cannot make a comparison. That said, a recent survey conducted by USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program with the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) found that the total acreage of cover crops among farmers surveyed increased 350 percent from 2008 to 2012.
In 2012, farmers grew cover crops on 133,124 farms, covering 10,280,793 acres, not including land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The average number of acres of cover crops per farm was 77, with a plurality of farmers planting between 10 and 50 acres.
The Census found that 76,441 farms were operating under a conservation easement, including federal and non-federal easements. The average easement size was 173 acres, with the majority of easements ranging from 1 to 50 acres.
For the first time, the Census includes data on the extent to which farmers are using reduced- and no-till practices. More than 278,000 farms reported using no-till practices on a total of nearly 96.5 million acres. The average number of no-till acres per farm was 347. Farmers used other types of conservation tillage, such as mulch till and ridge till, on nearly 200,000 farms, covering more than 76.6 million acres. The average number of acres per farm was 392. In total, conservation tillage, including no-till, was more widespread than conventional tillage practices.
In 2007, farmers generated energy or electricity on 23,451 farms. The practice was most popular in Hawaii (11 percent of farms in the state). Unfortunately, the 2012 Census used different metrics to measure on-farm energy production, so we cannot compare data across the years. In 2012, farmers used solar panels on 36,331 farms, geoexchange systems on 9,403 farms, wind turbines on 9,054 farms and small hydro systems on 1,323 farms.
The bulk of solar energy production occurred in orchards, on sugarcane and hay farms, and on ranches; only 6 percent of grain and oilseed farms used solar power. Conversely, most wind turbines were located on grain and oilseed farms. The majority of geoexchange systems were located on oilseed, grain, sugarcane and hay farms; and most small hydropower generation occurred on ranches and sugarcane and hay farms.
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Today’s decision by a federal appeals court upholds the contention by environmental groups that the Bush Administration’s smog standards do not assure protection of forests and vegetation from ozone damage as the law requires. The court’s judgment found that in 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the Clean Air Act when it refused to set protective standards and ignored the unanimous recommendation of its independent science advisors. However, the decision also upholds a health standard that these same scientific advisors had found failed to protect public health.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The decision is the result of a suit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, and Appalachian Mountain Club. Also challenging the standards as too weak were the states of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, as well as Washington D.C. and New York City.
Health and environmental groups initially filed suit against the Bush Administration following the final EPA decision in May 2008. Shortly after taking office, the Obama Administration asked the court to put the case on hold while EPA reconsidered the evidence that the standards were too weak to protect public health and welfare. The two-year reconsideration included three public hearings showing overwhelming public comment urging stronger protections, as well as a restatement by the EPA’s independent science advisors of their support for a tighter standard.
Then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had concluded that the Bush-era ozone standards were not sufficiently or lawfully protective of public health. In an abrupt about-face, however, President Obama in September 2011, ordered EPA to leave the 2008 standards in place while continuing its ozone review slated for completion in 2013. EPA has now missed the statutory deadline for completing its ozone review and has not proposed any rulemaking yet.
These organizations resumed the legal battle following the Obama Administration’s decision to continue to ignore the overwhelming scientific research and the opinion of experts that much stronger standards were needed.
Sometimes called smog, ozone is a highly irritating gas found to shorten lives and worsen asthma and other lung diseases. It also is highly damaging to trees and plants, posing a major threat to the nation’s forests. EPA’s science advisers and the National Park Service told EPA a separate ozone standard was warranted to prevent these harms. Although EPA was poised to set such a standard, President Bush at the last minute ordered the agency not to include the secondary standards meant to protect our forests and national parks from smog.
“The Bush Administration violated the law in refusing to protect our forests from this dangerous pollutant,” said Earthjustice Attorney David Baron. “EPA must now take strong action to repair the damage.”
“Forested landscapes are important ecological resources that are highly valued for providing clean air and water as well as recreational opportunities that support local tourism economies. Protecting them from air pollution has always been a goal of the Clean Air Act, and this ruling underscores the importance of EPA acting on the science to do so effectively,” said Georgia Murray, Appalachian Mountain Club staff scientist.
“Smog sickens and even kills some plants and trees, even in America’s national parks, which are supposed to have the cleanest air in the country” said Mark Wenzler, vice president of Climate and Air Quality Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Obama administration now has an opportunity to follow the science, and not play politics with protecting our national parks and forests from air pollution damage.”
The Court rejected challenges by health and environmental groups and states to EPA’s 2008 health standard for ozone. Although acknowledging that those standards were weaker than recommended unanimously by EPA’s science advisors, the Court found that the agency had not acted arbitrarily in setting the weaker standards.
“There is no question that ozone makes people sick and can kill at levels well below the standard EPA set in 2008. Given that overwhelming evidence and the requirement to set the standard where it will protect public health, we are disappointed that the Court upheld this inadequate standard,” explained Janice Nolen, American Lung Association Assistant vice president of national policy. “The evidence continues to grow that we need a stronger standard. The American Lung Association expects that the Obama Administration to follow the science and the law in the current review.”
“The scientific evidence for a more protective standard has only become stronger since 2008,” said Elena Craft, Health Scientist for EDF. “Notwithstanding today’s decision, EPA must move forward with stronger standards to protect Americans’ health with an adequate margin of safety in its legally-required review of the 2008 standard, which is now underway.”
Not only had the EPA’s science advisors found the health standard inadequate, major health and medical groups, in addition to the American Lung Association, had also supported a much stronger health standard, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Thoracic Society and the American Medical Association.
“The practical effects of today’s ruling on the health standard should be minimal, because there is on ongoing standard-setting process in which EPA’s science advisers and the nation’s major medical societies have all said we need much stronger smog standards,” said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “EPA needs to heed that advice, and protect our children and seniors who are especially at risk from smog.”
The Court also rejected all challenges to the ozone standards by industry and the state of Mississippi.
Visit EcoWatch’s AIR page for more related news on this topic.
“The harder they come the harder they fall, one and all.” - Jimmy Cliff, reggae classic.
After enjoying a year of maximum profits, record stock prices, the defeat of a major GMO [genetically modified organisms] labeling campaign in California, pro-industry court decisions and a formidable display of political power in Washington, D.C.—including slipping the controversial Monsanto Protection Act into the Federal Appropriations bill in March—the "Biotech Bully" from St. Louis now finds itself on the defensive.
It is no exaggeration to say that Monsanto has now become the most hated corporation in the world.
Plagued by a growing army of Roundup-resistant superweeds and Bt-resistant superpests spreading across the country, a full 49 percent of American farmers are now frantically trying to kill these superweeds and pests with ever-larger quantities of toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides including glyphosate (Roundup), glufosinate, 2,4-D (Agent Orange), dicamba and neonicotinoids (insecticides linked to massive deaths of honey bees).
Reacting to this dangerous escalation of chemical farming, toxic residues on foods and environmental pollution, over a million consumers and organic farmers have pressed the Obama administration to reject a new generation of GE “Agent Orange” and dicamba-resistant crops, forcing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to postpone commercialization of these crops, at least temporarily.
According to the Trade Press, thousands of U.S. farmers, as well as farmers worldwide, are moving away from biotech crops and searching for non-GMO alternatives. At the same time, U.S. and global market demand for non-GMO organic foods and crops is steadily increasing.
Compounding Monsanto’s superweed and superpest problems, scientific evidence continues to mount that GMO feed and foods, laced with Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] toxins and contaminated with ever-increasing residues of Monsanto’s deadly weedkiller, Roundup, are severely damaging animal and human health.
As the June 24, 2013, issue of Green Medical News puts it:
“... within the scientific community and educated public alike, there is a growing awareness that Roundup herbicide, and its primary ingredient glyphosate, is actually a broad spectrum biocide, in the etymological sense of the word: "bio" (life) and "cide" (kill)—that is, it broadly, without discrimination kills living things, not just plants. Moreover, it does not rapidly biodegrade as widely claimed, and exceedingly small amounts of this chemical—in concentration ranges found in recently sampled rain, air, groundwater and human urine samples—have DNA-damaging and cancer cell proliferation stimulating effects.”
On May 25, two million people from 436 cities, in 52 countries, on six continents took to the streets in a global “March Against Monsanto.” From New York to New Delhi, protestors reaffirmed their determination not only to force the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, as has already been accomplished in the European Union, India and at least 36 other nations, but also to drive all GMOs off the market. That includes GMOs in human food, animal feed, cotton, nutritional supplements, body care products and GMO cotton and biofuels.
The same week as the global March Against Monsanto, The New York Times reported that U.S. food companies, “large and small” are starting to make arrangements to reformulate the ingredients in their processed foods and reorganize their supply lines so to avoid having to admit that their brand name products contain GMOs. Monsanto and its "Junk Food" allies recognize that if the Washington State ballot initiative on mandatory GMO labeling passes on November 5, which now appears likely, their ability to keep food consumers in the dark will be over.
Large processed food and beverage companies, such as Kellogg’s, General Mills, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Unilever, Dean Foods, Wal-Mart and others understand that once labeling is required in one strategic state, such as Washington, they will be forced to label in all 50 states.
The anti-GMO movement in the U.S. has identified Monsanto’s "Achilles Heel"—GMO food labeling at the state level—and has begun to achieve some preliminary victories, both in the marketplace and in the legislative arena. For example, Whole Foods Market and dozens of natural food stores and co-ops, along with restaurants like Chipotle, are, or are planning to, voluntarily label GMOs. And Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling laws.
Our common task now must be to win the all-important Washington State ballot initiative. This will require a tremendous fundraising effort and netroots-grassroots "get out the vote" effort. If you have not already made a donation to this effort, please do so now. If you would like to volunteer, sign up here.
Monsanto’s Minions React
The food industry knows it will be difficult to stop voters in Washington State from bypassing the politicians and the federal government and directly voting into law a mandatory GMO food labeling initiative on November 5. So, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is circling the wagons. Claiming that pro-labeling consumers have created “an unprecedented period of turmoil” for the food industry, the GMA convened a meeting, on July 10, in Washington DC, of large food manufactures and supermarkets. Their agenda? Figure out how to co-opt and neutralize the growing anti-GMO movement.
One of the strategies apparently being put forth by members of the GMA is to ask the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to step in and formulate watered-down federal rules on GMO food labeling. The GMA would like weak labeling laws, similar to those in Japan and other nations, that would contain loopholes, high tolerances and weak enforcement, coupled with a lengthy implementation period, so as to preempt strict state labeling requirements and deflate the growing GMO-Right to Know movement.
On the international level, Monsanto and Big Food, joined by other large corporations concerned about the growing grassroots power of consumer, environmental and Fair Trade networks, are lobbying for fast track passage of new secretly negotiated Free Trade Agreements, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), popularly known as “TAFTA,” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both TAFTA and TPP are basically supercharged versions of the highly unpopular NAFTA and WTO trade agreements.
These “forced trade” agreements would, among other things, lower standards on food safety and environmental protection, including taking away the rights of nations and states to require strict GMO food labeling and safety-testing. Provisions in these trade agreements would allow corporations to sue a nation if pro-consumer or environmental laws interfered with their trade and “expected profits.” Judgments and penalties would be determined by secret trade tribunals, with corporate lawyers serving as judges. Under the TAFTA/TPP regime, the U.S. and other countries would be required to hand over national sovereignty to foreign investors and multinational corporations.
So even as we mobilize for strategic GMO right-to-know victories in Washington, Vermont and other states, we must simultaneously mobilize the public to fight against federal preemption on GMO labeling, and stop the next generation of these secret "forced trade" agreements.
GMO Food Labeling: Just the First Step
Passing I-522, Washington State’s GMO labeling initiative, is a necessary first step toward honest labeling of GMO ingredients in the U.S. But Monsanto has survived mandatory food labeling in the EU and scores of other nations. The biotech giant will likely survive strict labeling requirements by U.S. states, too. What Monsanto can’t survive is mass awareness and rejection of all GMOs, especially GMO cotton and GMO animal feed on factory farms. A successful global boycott of factory-farmed meat and animal products and GMO-tainted cotton, combined with GMO food labeling, will literally drive genetic engineering out of the marketplace.
Eighty percent of all processed foods in the U.S. contain GMOs. Yet if we examine the entire global production and consumption cycle of GMOs, we learn that only 20 percent of GMOs grown worldwide go into human food. The other 80 percent end up in animal feed, cotton production, biofuels, body care products and nutritional supplements.
Even in Europe, where GE foods are rarely sold in grocery stores or restaurants, several billion dollars worth of GE animal feed from North America, Brazil and Argentina are imported every year. Although EU consumers have forced voluntary labeling of GMO-fed non-organic meat and animal products in Germany, France and Austria, and in large chains throughout Europe, there is no mandatory GMO animal feed labeling law in the EU. India is the only major country up until now that requires labels on GMO animal feed. No country yet requires labels on GMO cotton clothing, nutritional supplements, body care products or biofuels.
Almost half of Monsanto’s profits now derive from its sales outside the U.S., especially GMO crops for animal feed. So if we’re serious about turning back the biotech threat, and building up an alternative food and farming system that is organic, local, climate-friendly and humane, we need to strengthen our international solidarity and cooperation as well as our domestic efforts. Once we take into account the full scope of agricultural biotechnology and its myriad products, we can position ourselves for the next stage of the battle: a comprehensive and global anti-GMO offensive, strategically targeting the entire GMO food, fiber, fuel, supplements and body care industry where they are most vulnerable. This Great GMO Boycott and GMO Right to Know mobilization will require a broader coalition, both domestically and internationally, and an unprecedented mass education effort around the role of GMOs and factory farms in exacerbating our health, environmental, animal welfare and climate crisis.
All Out for Washington State Nov. 5
But first things first. The consumer, farmer and fishing community insurgency that frightens Monsanto and its allies the most is the upcoming ballot initiative (I-522) in Washington State on Nov. 5. As Monsanto and its allies, such as the GMA, understand, this is the most crucial battle against GMOs today. If voters pass mandatory labeling in Washington, reinforced by contingent state labeling laws already passed or in progress in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont, it will mean the end of the road for genetically engineered food in U.S. grocery stores.
As the biotech lobby has readily admitted, GMO food labeling is a “skull and crossbones” that will drive genetically engineered foods off the market in the U.S. and North America. As evidenced by marketplace trends in Europe, the largest agricultural market in the world, once GMOs are labeled, consumers will not buy them, food companies and grocery stores will not sell them and farmers will not grow them. This is why Monsanto and Big Food corporations—hiding behind the façade of their trade association, the GMA—will likely pour up to $20 million into defeating I-522. Pro-labeling forces currently have a commanding lead in the polls in Washington. But we need to raise at least $4 million more (to augment the $4 million we’ve raised already) to buy enough TV and radio time to counter the forthcoming flood of lies that Monsanto and its minions will launch in Washington State. We already know what those lies will look like: Labeling will raise food prices, hurt family farmers and confuse consumers.
The "Road to Victory" means building up our war chest in Washington State for the Nov. 5 ballot initiative. Please spread the word. This is the most important food and farming battle in the world today. If you haven’t already made a donation to the Yes on I-522 campaign, please do so now.
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOODS pages for more related news on this topic.
The same law that contributed to George Zimmerman walking free out of a Florida courtroom last weekend after taking the life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was primarily written by the same super lobbying group behind legislation protecting natural gas companies from disclosing chemicals used in fracking.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a unique kind of lobbying front group responsible for pushing legislation designed to enhance the bottom line of their corporate funders. Corporations like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Duke Energy, along with industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide more than 98 percent of ALEC’s funding, whose members, which includes elected officials and corporations, write and pass laws that will benefit those corporations.
Via the laws ALEC pushes through state legislatures, the lobbying group impacts Americans nationwide from voting right laws to environmental regulations (or lack thereof) to guns like Stand Your Ground. We’ve collected the most significant ALEC laws that could be coming to a state legislature near you, if they aren’t there already.
This act prevents states from requiring their energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources, killing a key government incentives for clean energy projects. ALEC falsely claims that any renewable energy mandate sacrifices economic growth and American competitiveness, a dead horse they have continued to beat for decades.
Because of the economic benefits of renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina and Kansas and in spite of support from ALEC’s other Koch-funded friends in the State Policy Network, ALEC’s most heated attacks on Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) were shot down by Democrats and Republicans alike. Quieter ALEC-supported attempts to repeal or weaken RPS laws also failed in Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine and Oregon—not a good start for ALEC’s top energy-related priority this year.
ALEC is trying to use state resolutions to add pressure to the federal government to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In fact, ALEC took its member legislators on a Big Oil-funded trip to Alberta, Canada, to promote tar sands, courtesy of lobbyists from TransCanada, Shell, Devon Energy and other oil and gas interests. ALEC’s conferences have featured seminars on the controversial pipeline, featuring speakers from oil companies and the Canadian government alike. The Center for Media and Democracy, which runs ALECexposed.org, has filed an ethics complaint in Nebraska for a legislator’s failure to disclose the trip and its sponsors. Keep in mind that ALEC is a tax-exempt organization, and their lobbying doesn’t count as lobbying to the IRS.
While ALEC has its own model resolution, its state legislator members introduced resolutions straight out of a TransCanada press release, coordinating across state borders to get an apparent jump in support for Keystone XL in Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi all at once.
5. Voter ID Act
These laws prohibit about 11 percent of citizens from voting by requiring a government-issued ID to vote at the polls.
This 11 percent overwhelmingly consists of elderly people, low-income and minority voters and students. Thirty-three states now have voter id laws and four states now have strict photo id requirements in effect. With the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, we can expect this number to increase with ALEC's full support.
In short, this bill was ALEC’s way of making private prison companies rich by rounding up brown people without documentation and tossing them in jail. Although most of this law was struck down in Arizona, the “papers please” provision survives requiring law enforcement to check a person’s status if they are stopped, detained or arrested. State legislators and prison and bail industry lobbyists met at an ALEC meeting to write the law which originally stated that law enforcement had to check a person’s status only after “contact.” The Arizona legislature changed narrowed the law to the current language.
The title of this bill is a lie–ALEC’s flagship fracking bill prevents oil and gas companies from having to disclose the chemicals in frack fluids that qualify as “trade secrets.” Who took the idea to ALEC? ExxonMobil. Bloomberg reports that the ALEC bill has been introduced in at least eight states, although there appear to be more. Exxon’s bill became Ohio law with ALEC’s help, and a particularly controversial fracking law sponsorship by ALEC legislators passed in North Carolina last year without anyone reporting ALEC’s fingerprints. DeSmogBlog has documented attempts in Florida, Illinois and several other states.
ALEC previously drafted a state resolution that puts the regulating authority into the hands of state agencies, which are woefully understaffed, underfunded and ineffective at regulating the powerful gas and oil industry, creating a one-two punch that leaves fracked communities in the dark on chemical disclosure and at the mercy of insufficient and often captured regulatory agencies for protection from fracking pollution.
This act serves to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating the coal industry. Specifically, the act prevents the EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state. This act relies on the “Commerce Clause” claiming that the federal government can only regulate commerce that goes beyond state lines, flying in the face of settled Supreme Court interpretation of the “dormant” Commerce Clause. The first version of this bill was passed in West Virginia in 2011, a state with 273 operating coal mines as of 2011.
Considering the recent national tragedy of the Trayvon Martin ruling and the violence “Stand Your Ground” releases, this law should be repealed immediately in the states it’s active. In strong conjunction with the National Rifle Association (NRA), ALEC has managed to push versions of this law in over two dozen states. It allows any killer to claim immunity if they felt a reasonable fear of bodily harm. The Florida version of this law passed in 2005 and was written by a NRA lobbyist.
ALEC is behind loads of more dangerous laws or proposed resolutions that must be exposed, blocked or repealed if active. Please let us know other significant ones we missed in the comments below.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
As the summer heats up, awareness is quickly escalating across the world as different direct action campaigns target a common denominator: the fossil fuel industry.
Earlier this year, organizers including 350.org launched the Summer Heat and Fearless Summer campaigns, calling for a global uprising to "peacefully but firmly" stand up to the industry that is wrecking our future.
As people are joining together to embrace non-violent direct action on behalf of the climate, 350.org published the Creative Action Cookbook to encourage cohesive thoughtful action based on the variety of resources and skill sets of those involved. As humanity faces the uncertainties of the damage already done by pollution, this tenacious movement is focused on building a world that values the principles of "empathy, mutual aid and love."
Over the past several weeks, direct actions challenging fossil fuel infrastructure have brought to light some of the most imminent hazards of this dangerous industry, while at the same time promoting a sustainable and renewable future.
According to Tar Sands Blockade, Swamp Line 9, a group dedicated to keeping Enbridge from modifying their 240,000 barrel/day Line 9 pipeline to carry tar sands bitumen, kicked off the first day of summer with a powerful action at a pump station on Haudenosaunee Six Nations land near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Blockaders occupied the site and held strong for six days as activists with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance in Oklahoma were disrupting the construction of another pump station for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline the same week. On the dramatic final day of the Swamp Line 9 blockade, four people who were locked to machinery and 16 others were arrested.
The action kicked off Idle No More’s Sovereignty Summer with a righteous display of the movement’s strength and determination, highlighting the involvement and solidarity of First Nations whose lands are being targeted as "energy sacrifice" zones across North America.
On June 29, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, Sierra Club and other organizational allies demonstrated during an international day of solidarity with the youth activists attending Global Power Shift. Actions all over the world were calling for an end to the age of coal and promoting a clean energy future just days after four people locked themselves outside the UBS headquarters in Connecticut to protest the bank's continued funding of mountaintop removal coal mining.
On Canada Day, more than 500 gathered in Southampton, Ontario, to oppose a proposed nuclear waste dump less than a mile from the shores of Lake Huron, bringing this grave issue some necessary attention.
Other early Fearless Summer actions across the U.S. include a blockade that stopped trucks attempting to dump tar sands waste alongside the Detroit River; a flash mob that included activists from Occupy Wall St and Occupy the Pipeline protesting the Spectra and Rockaway fracked gas pipelines during lunchtime in one of Manhattan’s busiest neighborhoods; and a confrontation by the Utah Tar Sands Resistance of road construction crews who are in the process of clear cutting, leveling and paving the way for tar sands, oil shale and fracking across the Colorado River Basin.
A week and a half before the tragic train explosion in Quebec last Saturday, 350 Maine and Maine Earth First! teamed up to bring attention to the hazards of transporting fracked oil by blockading a train carrying 70,000 barrels of crude coming from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.
Earlier this week, hundreds of Earth First! activists and allies brought attention to Momentive (headquarterd in Columbus, OH), one of the largest suppliers of fracking fluids, by blockading the shipping entrance to one of their facilities in North Carolina and successfully shutting down operations for the day.
Yesterday, Greenpeace activists bravely scaled Europe's tallest skyscraper in London to bring attention to the Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic.
As the number of direct actions grow across the Earth, communities are uniting to pressure their elected officials and other entities to acknowledge that we must divest from the fossil fuels and move toward a renewable energy future. This fearless movement to defend our future is just getting started—with much more to come.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW: After reading the Creative Action Cookbook, what inspires you to act?
By Michele Simon and Andrew Kimbrell
You may have noticed the impressive grassroots movement gathering steam lately over the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. Recently, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to enact a law to require such labels, and 26 other states have introduced similar bills this year. Millions of Americans are demanding more transparency in the food supply and our elected officials are finally responding, after decades of work by groups like Center for Food Safety (CFS).
But one advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), often seen as a leader in nutrition policy, stands virtually alone in its continued opposition to labeling GE foods. This stance is troubling and confusing given how outspoken CSPI has been for decades on food labeling and consumer information.
CSPI’s position, explained in this recent news interview, boils down to three claims:
- GE foods do not present either safety or nutrition concerns;
- Processed GE foods do not contain genetically-engineered material;
- Non-GE labels are “misleading” because they imply a safer or superior food.
Let’s take these one by one.
GE Food Safety is an Open Question
First, CSPI claims that genetically engineered food labeling is “not a food safety or a nutritional issue—it’s not like allergens or trans fats.”
This is a pretty bold statement to make given how little information is available on the safety of GE foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require or conduct safety studies on GE foods, nor does it approve GE foods as safe. Instead, there is only confidential consultation between industry and FDA, where GE food developers decide what summary information to provide the agency; and even that is voluntary. So we are essentially taking the biotech industry’s word that GE food is not hazardous. CSPI itself acknowledges that the government isn’t doing its job, calling on FDA to “require a mandatory pre-market approval process” and “formally approve that the crop is safe for human and animal consumption.” How can CSPI on the one hand admit we need more rigorous oversight, while on the other claim there is no safety issue?
Further, while obviously no substitute for adequate food safety oversight, mandatory labeling of GE foods will allow the detection of adverse health effects of consuming such foods. Without labeling, anyone who gets sick from eating a GE food has no way of identifying the cause.
It’s also odd that CSPI would distinguish allergens from GE foods, given that allergic reactions, which can be life-threatening, are the most widely accepted health threat posed by GE organisms. As Michael Hanson, senior scientist with Consumers Union, noted in his testimony in support of the Connecticut GE labeling bill in March:
“The human safety problems that may arise from GE include introduction of new allergens or increased levels of naturally occurring allergens, of plant toxins and changes in nutrition.”
He also testified in regards to the GE salmon moving closer to federal approval (despite overwhelming public opposition):
“Company data suggest that it may exhibit increased allergenicity.”
And although the federal government has approved numerous pesticides genetically engineered into corn and cotton, in 2009 they also funded research to better determine if they can trigger food allergies. In the meantime, the allergy risk from GE food justifies a safety-based label similar to those warning that a food contains nuts.
Many Food Labels Are Not About Safety
In addition, safety is not the defining factor for requiring food labels. We label all sorts of things not based on safety concerns per se. Take basic ingredient labeling, which CSPI supports. We don’t question the safety of every single ingredient that foods contain, but each is still required to appear on the label, because consumers have the right to know what is in their food.
Similarly, we don’t require the listing of fat, sugar, salt, vitamins and minerals because we think those items are dangerous; rather, we require them because it helps the consumer make more informed choices, a concept with which CSPI appears to agree. To make its case for requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts and other nutrition information, CSPI argues that, without such information, “it’s difficult to make informed and healthy choices.”
Why is labeling GE food any different? It isn’t. Think about it this way: if we know a food ingredient is dangerous, we don’t merely label it, we remove it from store shelves.
Even Processed Foods Often Contain GE Material
CSPI also claims:
“... the great majority of foods that contain highly purified oils, corn sugars and cornstarch ingredients made from GE crops contain essentially no genetically modified DNA or protein.”
First, CSPI’s cleverly worded statement applies to a minority of foods, mainly sodas containing high-fructose corn syrup, as well as corn and soybean oil. But it excludes those foods most likely to have substantial amounts of GE ingredients: corn-based cereals, tortillas, tacos, corn chips, corn flour, corn grits, etc. For example, an important report called Cereal Crimes from the Cornucopia Institute in 2011 listed several cereal brands (labeled “natural”) that tested positive for high levels of GE ingredients, “sometimes as high as 100 percent.” Those products included well-known brands such as Kellogg-owned Kashi’s GoLean and General Mills’ Kix, a children’s cereal.
In addition, numerous lawsuits are being filed against food makers using the “natural” label on products containing genetically engineered ingredients. To make their case, lawyers are conducting independent testing of products such as Frito-Lay snacks and finding genetically engineered proteins. In fact, according to the industry lobby, Grocery Manufacturers Association, an estimated 70 percent of products on supermarket shelves contain soy or corn ingredients likely to be derived from GE crops.
People Want to Know if Food is Genetically Engineered for Many Reasons
Moreover, consumers care about GE labeling for more than just health reasons. For example, many people know that growing GE crops is an unsustainable practice that harms the environment. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are designed to withstand herbicides, and therefore promote indiscriminate herbicide use. As a result, genetically engineered crops have increased herbicide use by a substantial 527 million pounds in the 16 years from 1996-2011. Most of this increase is attributable to glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup herbicide, sprayed on Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops. This heavy use of glyphosate is known to harm plants and wildlife, and some studies suggest harm to farmers as well. Further, the glyphosate onslaught has triggered an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds that in turn lead to greater use of more toxic herbicides. People should have the choice to avoid foods that lead to such environmental harms (a concern CSPI appears to share), as they do with other types of “eco” or “green” labels.
Non-GE Claims Are Not Misleading, the Absence of GE Labeling Is
Finally, CSPI also alleges that “non-GMO label claims are misleading, since they falsely imply that food made without GE ingredients is safer or superior in some other way.”
But it is no more misleading to label a food as non-GMO than it is to label “orange juice from concentrate.” Neither statement is about safety. These are strictly factual and non-controversial disclosures. (Same is true for a label disclosing that a food or ingredient is genetically engineered.) Far from misleading consumers, such a label would empower those who want GE foods to purchase them, and enable others to avoid them. If anything is misleading, it’s the lack of mandatory labeling of GE foods. CSPI again entirely misses the point that food labeling is not only about safety or being superior, but about informed choice.
CSPI is Out of Step with Democracy
Finally, CSPI is in a dwindling minority in its position. Numerous polls indicate that Americans want GE food labeling, with most results topping 90 percent. What other issue can you get 90 percent of Americans to agree upon? Last fall, six million Californians voted for GE food labels, despite a $45 million campaign of lies and dirty tricks to stop Proposition 37 from passing, just narrowly.
Moreover, 1.2 million people have now endorsed a Center for Food Safety legal petition from 2011 demanding FDA require the labeling of GE food. In addition, 64 other nations already require GE labels, including Japan, Australia, Brazil, China, Russia, and the entire European Union. It is only a matter of time before we see required labeling of genetically engineered food in the U.S. Meanwhile, having an organization such as CSPI speak out against GE food labeling is counterproductive. We hope they soon join the growing chorus of voices and support our right to know.
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOODS page for more related news on this topic.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW: Should genetically engineered foods be labeled or should they be banned?
By Will Fantle
From the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to foreign policy, Congress, state governments, elections and the courts, the feverish politics of genetically modified foods (GMOs) have infected decision making and dramatically tilted policies towards the desires of Monsanto and the biotech industry.
Candidate Barack Obama in 2008 promised change. However, when he came to Washington he appointed former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as USDA Secretary. The one-time award winning "Biotech Governor of the Year" has presided over a rapid roll out of new GMO crops and foods. Change he implemented included a series of agency adjustments designed to speed up the approval process for GMOs. Under Vilsack’s watch, the agency has never denied the approval of one GMO crop.
Yes, the USDA also brought more attention to the National Organic Program—professional, knowledgeable management, more staffing, more resources. But it’s small potatoes compared to the attention afforded biotech. And Vilsack’s team has pushed hard for the organic community to swallow a policy of co-existence, the strange view that pollen and DNA recognize fence rows, that rain, winds, birds, insects and other natural forces will refrain from carrying GMO contaminants to non-GMO plants and crops.
Millions of Americans are suspicious of GMO foods for assorted health and environmental reasons. Polling conducted last year by the Mellman Group indicated that nearly 90 percent of Americans would like GMO foods labeled so they can make a choice about what kinds of foods they purchase in the marketplace. Sixty other countries require such labeling.
But Vilsack says no, telling the Farm Bureau at their annual meeting in January, “I know of no health reason connected to GMOs that would require labeling under our current labeling philosophy.”
Monsanto and the biotech industry allies spent mightily to narrowly defeat last November’s state referendum calling for the labeling of GMO foods sold in California. While labeling advocates decried the misleading and deceptive advertising conducted against the referendum, they were unable to weather the deluge of dollars. Still, the seeds of discontent are spreading. Washington state’s voters will have a labeling referendum on the ballot later in 2013. Vermont has passed GMO labeling legislation; Connecticut’s Senate overwhelmingly did so as well, as has Maine. Nearly 20 other state legislatures have similar proposals in the works.
“To try to oppose this state by state, that is unsustainable,” says Cathy Enright, the executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), of which Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical are members.
Seeking to douse the prairie fire, Monsanto—which spends about $6 million annually on lobbying—and its allies are working the fields in Washington, D.C. Their target? The nation’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Currently winding its way through Congress (as of this writing), an amendment attached to the House Agriculture committee’s version, and authored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), would strip the rights of states to enact labeling laws. The Farm Bill is an essential piece of national legislation that is reauthorized every five years. Once an item gets in the bill, it becomes very difficult to remove. The House and Senate will reconcile differences in their bills, but it is far from certain that either will consider the amputation of state’s GMO labeling rights a deal breaker. [Since this was written, the Farm Bill failed to pass the U.S. House.]
Monsanto and their allies also prevailed in a vote in the Senate on an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who wanted to make it clear that states “have the authority” to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering. Sanders’ amendment failed 71-27.
While some of the no-votes in the Senate may have come from officials who believe that a national-level regulation is more appropriate, the effort to have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do just that is mired axle deep in the muck. The FDA has already said that genetic modification does not materially change the food. But when the deadline passed last year for the agency to respond to a petition requiring GMO food labeling—a petition that contained the signatures of well over a million citizens—their response was that they needed more time to study the matter. Fourteen more months have since passed.
And just so no stone goes unturned, Monsanto is actively pushing state-level legislation in Oregon and elsewhere to override any labeling laws passed by county and municipal governments.
The suppression of dissent in the fertile ground of Washington, D.C., yielded another reward for Monsanto when they snuck a policy rider into an essential appropriations bill earlier this year. Dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act, it swatted down the ability of Monsanto’s pesky critics to use judicial review as a brake on questionable regulatory decisions. It allows full speed ahead on the unrestricted sale and planting of genetically modified seeds even when a court finds that they were not properly examined for their impact on farmers, the environment, and human health.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), from Monsanto’s home state of Missouri, authored the controversial rider and then blocked efforts by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to remove it from the critical governmental operations funding bill.
Tester later told a reporter, “Not only does this ignore the constitutional idea of separation of powers, but it also lets genetically modified crops take hold across this country, even when a judge finds it violates the law.” He added that giant multinational agribusiness corporations are treating farmers as “serfs.”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Monsanto’s power at the federal level is so pervasive. As a recent Food & Water Watch report detailed, board members from the $12 billion company “have worked for the EPA, advised the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] and served on President Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations.” Company staff and former employees enjoy a revolving door relationship with jobs and advisory positions in the federal government, at public universities and with trade groups. Even one sitting Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, once worked for Monsanto.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a presentation on the "genetic improvement" of local crops hosted by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute. Photo credit: USAID.
Their reach extends far beyond America’s shores. Again, according to Food & Water Watch, the State Department works with trade officials to promote GMO crop exports and to force unwilling nations to accept GMO crops and foods. The State Department has engaged in pro-GMO lobbying campaigns in foreign countries, promoted foreign cultivation of GMOs and targeted foreign opinion-makers and reporters with junkets and public events.
Yet signs of cracks in the GMO empire are visible. On May 25, two million people joined March Against Monsanto rallies that were held in more than 400 cities in 52 countries. The growing consumer awareness of GMO foods and crops in the U.S. has sprouted vigorous labeling campaigns across the country with widespread public support for labeling. Even though 90 percent of all corn and soy grown in the U.S. is GMO, with a variety of other crops in the ground or under development, much of the rest of the world has yet to fall under the influence. In fact, just five countries account for 90 percent of total GMO crop production—the U.S., India, Canada, Argentina and Brazil.
The USDA also recently reversed itself and decided to conduct a full environmental impact statement assessing the health and environmental impacts of the next generation of GMO crops. These include, as proposed by Dow and Monsanto, 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans and Dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton crops. Still, notes the Center for Food Safety’s Andrew Kimbrell, “it remains to be seen whether the agency will undertake the required hard-look analysis of the environmental and economic impacts of these crops.”
Reflecting on the importance of a true choice in the marketplace for consumers, the Cornucopia Institute's Codirector Mark Kastel says that “organic food and agriculture offers the only available and verifiable alternative with regulatory oversight from seed to table prohibiting genetically modified organisms in farming and food production.”
“Given the astounding influence of Monsanto and their GMO allies on all aspects of our government, it makes Cornucopia’s work protecting the integrity of the organic label even more imperative,” adds Kastel.
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOODS page for more related news on this topic.