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By Tara Lohan

It was 1985 and privatization, deregulation and free trade were in the air. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan were negotiating a free trade deal — a precursor to NAFTA. Among the goods it would cover: "Water, including … mineral waters … ice and snow."

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By Wenonah Hauter

The new Food & Water Watch report Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water details the deceit and trickery of the bottled water industry. Here's one more angle to consider: The bottled water business is closely tied to fracking.

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By Jake Johnson

President Donald Trump has repeatedly declared that "Americans deserve the best infrastructure in the world," but—judging by policy blueprints that have emerged from the White House in recent days—critics argue that Trump is actually planning to deliver a heavy dose of "disaster capitalism" that will hand construction projects to corporate America while running roughshod over people and the environment.

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Last year, the country was battered by super-charged hurricanes and wildfires, worsened by droughts, which are now making California more susceptible to deadly mudslides. This winter is likewise proving to be chock-full of extreme weather events, including record-breaking summers in Australia and unrelenting cold in much of the U.S., where, in one day in early January, Alaska was warmer than Florida.

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"After talking with @FLGovScott, I am removing #Florida from the draft offshore plan." Sec. Ryan Zinke / Twitter

The Trump administration will exclude Florida from its controversial offshore oil drilling plan after a plea from the state governor, Rick Scott.

“I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke said Tuesday. “As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms."

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U.S. Bank building in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota. Randy Hoffman / Flickr

By Sharon Kelly

At a shareholder meeting this past spring, U.S. Bank announced it would be the first large American bank to completely stop issuing loans for oil and gas pipeline construction projects.

Environmental groups, indigenous activists and divestment advocates hailed U.S. Bank's announcement as a triumph.

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By Steve Horn

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has concluded that babies born within two miles of sites of fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin are more likely to have low birth weights.

Researchers from Princeton, the University of Chicago and UCLA analyzed a decade of Pennsylvania birth data from 2004 to 2013—reviewing 1.1 million birth certificates—and concluded that those babies born to mothers living in close proximity to fracking sites are more likely to weigh under 5.5 pounds at birth. Specifically, the study concluded that babies born within a kilometer (just over half a mile) of fracking sites are 25 percent more at risk of low birth weights, which comes with other health effects.

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OFF Act press conference, Oct. 26, 2017. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard / Flickr

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44) joined Food & Water Watch, first responders, non-profit organizations and local government officials to urge Congress to pass H.R. 3671, the OFF Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) to transition the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2035.

"Our country cannot passively standby while we watch the climate crisis devastate our planet and the livelihoods of working families across the country and the world," said Gabbard, who introduced the bill. "It is our obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to protect our planet, to grow the economy and rebuild America's infrastructure with a stable, domestic clean energy economy."

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FEMA

Update, 10/20/17: Since this piece was posted, we became aware of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority's (PRASA) boil water notice for all people who have access to running water. So, while roughly 70 percent of the island has access to tap water, it appears it is not safe to drink untreated. However, FEMA appears to be reporting this figure as potable water. We've translated the boil water notice on PRASA's site as of Oct. 20 as the following: "After service is restored—To ensure that the water is drinkable: boil it for five minutes without covering [and] add chlorine bleach (without fragrance or other detergent), using the appropriate amount for the amount of water you will use. READ THE LABEL before using to guarantee that it contains only bleach. Read the percent of bleach and add the recommend amount to the water according to the table on the left. Mix well with water and leave for 20 minutes. You should be able to smell a faint odor of bleach. If that is not the case, add more bleach and leave for another 15 minutes. You can also use bleach in pill form sold in pharmacies. Follow the instructions on the label."

It's been a month since supercharged Hurricane Maria delivered a devastating blow to Puerto Rico, and people are still suffering without food, water and electricity. This is America in 2017, and there is only more climate chaos ahead thanks to the tight fist that fossil fuel interests have on climate policy. What will the response be to this new normal—deadly hurricanes, horrific and deadly wildfires, and their equally deadly aftermath? The past few weeks of climate disasters during this historically vicious season have shown that we need to move swiftly off of greenhouse gas-spewing fossil fuels. They have also shown that if we don't prioritize an equitable and just response to these unnatural disasters, more Americans will continue to face climate-fueled humanitarian crises.

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Food & Water Watch

On the steps of New York City Hall on Feb. 23, national, community, food, urban and labor group leaders hosted a press conference to address Walmart’s negative impact on the food system. Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter and Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), spoke at the event, which also marked the release of the new Food & Water Watch report, “Why Walmart Can’t Fix the Food System,” an analysis of the rift between Walmart’s marketing claims and the true impact the company has on the food system.

This week, as the largest food retailer in the U.S. released its fourth quarter earnings, community leaders in New York gathered to call attention to the company’s business model, which squeezes farmers, workers and processors, and drives food production to become more consolidated and industrialized. While Walmart has been busy promoting itself as the solution to lack of access to healthy food in urban communities, the message from City Hall was loud and clear—Walmart is not the answer and they are not wanted in New York City.

“Plunking down a big-box store in the middle of a community with a lack of access to healthy food will not solve this complicated problem,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Selling fruit and vegetables is one step, but all communities, especially those that are struggling financially, will be better served for the long term by local businesses that put money back into the community by paying livable wages and buying from local and regional suppliers and farmers whenever possible.”

“This report shows Walmart has been a source of tremendous harm and devastation to workers, businesses, and communities across the country,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), UFCW. “Walmart is a great destroyer, not the great savior it claims to be. We are working with a large coalition to keep Walmart out of New York City.”

“Walmart can’t fix the food system, just like it can’t get our communities out of poverty,” said Matt Ryan, executive director of ALIGN. “It is ultimately the source of the problem, not the solution.”

“I don’t believe for one second that Walmart cares whether or not I have fresh vegetables; their bottom line is opening more stores and making money,” said East New York resident Maria Maisonett.

“Part of the challenge to ending hunger in our communities is creating a sustainable food system that provides affordable, healthy food while also paying a living wage to food producers and other workers in the food system,” said Mark Dunlea, executive director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS. Walmart unfortunately is a major factor in the corporate consolidation of our food supply, making it harder for local farmers and communities to make a decent living, while also pushing out other food retailers. Too much of Walmart’s publicity about support local and organic foods is a marketing devise rather than supporting a truly local, decentralized, environmentally sound, sustainable food system.”

“Brooklyn doesn’t need a Walmart to eat more healthy food. It needs local businesses, paying fair wages, and a focus on a stronger sustainable regional supply chain,” said Benjamin Solotaire, a volunteer with the Brooklyn Food Coalition.

“It is no surprise that the Food & Water Watch report shows how Wal-Mart is not a solution to food deserts but the actual problem,” says Food Chain Workers Alliance organizer Diana Robinson. “Whether it be from factory workers in Bangladesh to warehouse and retail workers in the United States, Wal-Mart has a proven record of committing labor rights violations with its own employees. Because of Wal-Mart’s dominance in the retail market, it drives down the prices that it pays its suppliers, which, in turn, drives down wages and working conditions throughout the food supply chain. 20 million people in the U.S. work in the food system, and many of the low-wage food workers live in food deserts because they cannot afford to live in neighborhoods with reasonable access to affordable fresh and healthy food. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Wal-Mart’s business practice of super low wages and super low prices is not the answer to food desserts.”

For more information, click here.

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Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

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Food & Water Watch

Critics of the triennial World Water Forum are encouraged by the failure on the part of forum organizers to attract large numbers to this year’s event taking place March 12-17 in Marseille.

Forum organizers announced at a press conference last week that only 2,000 people had fully registered, while another 2,000 were yet to be confirmed. This falls dismally short of the 20,000 participants that had been anticipated.

The small number of registrations also comes despite the fact that various national, regional and municipal authorities have poured millions of euros of public funds into sponsorship of the event.

“It isn’t just the World Water Forum that is failing,” says Maude Barlow, senior advisor to the 63rd President of the UN General Assembly. “Water privatization has failed communities around the world and a growing number are now reclaiming control of their water. In this context, it is no surprise that this illegitimate Forum is no longer able to attract attention.”

Notably, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already stated that it will not be attending this year.

At the 2009 World Water Forum in Istanbul, 24 governments signed a counter-declaration recognizing water as a human right in opposition to the forum’s official ministerial declaration. And in a scathing criticism of the World Water Forum, then-president of the United Nations General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, called for the UN to hold its own event to address the global water crisis.

“It is significant for the World Water Forum to show signs of crisis in Marseille, which is where the World Water Council was founded,” says French MEP Michèle Rivasi. “Re-municipalization is gaining speed in France, regardless of the strong support for privatization from the French government.”

Groups from around the world—who view the forum as a corporate tradeshow disguised as a multi-stakeholder conference—are organizing the Alternative World Water Forum (in French, Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau, or FAME). They have invited governments to a consultation with civil society outside the forum on the implementation of the human right to water.

For more information, click here.

Food & Water Watch

Activists protested one of several planned regional workshops by the American Petroleum Institute in Trenton, N.J., on Feb. 8 countering the oil and gas industry association’s event discussing the development of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a recommendation of their own—ban fracking entirely. Protestors handed media and passersby “swag bags” filled with information on the risks associated with fracking and staged an award ceremony for the Frackies.
 
“It’s awards season, and what better way to protest this elite gathering than with a riff off of another elite event—the Oscars,” said Jim Walsh, eastern region director of Food & Water Watch. “If there were an award for destroying rural communities and endangering drinking water supplies, it would certainly go to the American Petroleum Institute, which uses its clout to spread disinformation about the dirty, polluting practice.”
 
The event took place near the New Jersey Statehouse, where on Feb. 9 the Senate Environment Committee is expected to vote on a bill to permanently ban fracking in New Jersey before the temporary moratorium is lifted in January 2013.

“These petroleum industry representatives should know that New Jersey has prevented fracking because of grave concerns about the pollution to our drinking water and communities, so they may as well go home. We regret that we cannot give out awards for clean and sustainable energy today and that we must recognize the American Petroleum Institute for its disgraceful failure in making drillers publicly accountable and law-abiding. In Pennsylvania alone, the state reports that as fracking races ahead, drillers commit 12 violations per day of environmental permits, adding up to thousands of pollution incidents each year,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The nominees for the Fracky were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, El Paso Pipeline Company, Cabot Oil & Gas, Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), and the American Petroleum Institute. Each nominee was chosen because of some practice that protesters found seriously objectionable.
 
“We are here especially to announce the Fracky nomination for El Paso, the parent company of Tenneco Natural Gas and surviving part of Enron. Their proposed pipeline will be supporting and encouraging fracking that will threaten our water supply. They will be running a pipeline through the most environmentally sensitive area of New Jersey. The pipeline will go through the Delaware Water Gap, Wallkill, Newark and Pequannock water shed and drilling right through the Monksville Reservoir. Along the way it will be cutting an ugly scar through the Highlands and dozens of parks and open space areas. They are attacking our water supply through both fracking and this pipeline,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The eventual winner of the Fracky was the American Petroleum Institute for what activists referred to as “spinning the benefits of fracking so hard that some people actually believe that gas is a bridge fuel to renewables.” Gov. Christie was nominated for a Fracky for saving the fracking industry from the first statewide attempt to ban fracking when he issued a conditional veto last August.

Organizations participating in the 2012 Fracky Awards include Food & Water Watch, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Jersey Sierra Club, New Jersey Environmental Federation and 350.org.

For more information, click here.

Food & Water Watch

by Tia Lebherz

Contact Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) or call 202-224-2315 and ask him to stand up for a fair food system that includes protections that ensure fair markets for small and mid-sized independent farmers, and rules that prevent ever-increasing mega-mergers by big agribusiness.

About every four years, the federal Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization by Congress. Many people—especially those living in urban areas—have never heard of the farm bill or think it has nothing to do with their lives. However, this policy is one major piece of federal legislation that everyone should be keeping an eye on.

The farm bill determines how the food we eat reaches our plate. It includes everything from nutrition programs for low income families to land conservation, and has more than 1,000 pages of in betweens.

Currently, the farm bill does not include protections that ensure fair markets for our small and mid-sized independent farmers, and rules that prevent ever-increasing mega-mergers by big agribusiness, like Monsanto and Cargill. It is for those reasons that Food & Water Watch has launched its Fair Farm Bill campaign.

Our current food system is broken, and it didn’t happen by accident. Decades of bad food policy designed to benefit agribusinesses and mega-farms, combined with unchecked corporate mergers, have wreaked havoc on family farmers, public health and rural communities.

Our food system is no longer working for most Americans. Most supermarket aisles do not offer good, nutritious foods as feasible shopping options. What you find instead is an abundance of cheap, processed foods that are generally unhealthy, or meat from factory farms produced with antibiotics and artificial hormones, and vegetables raised with pesticides that are often produced halfway around the world.

At the same time, small and medium-sized family farmers across the U.S. have been driven out of business or are barely making ends meet. Our country is losing its farming backbone because big companies set unfair prices for livestock and crops, cheating small and medium-sized farmers out of money they need to cover their costs. The companies get away with it because farmers often don’t have anywhere else to sell their products. A few large companies dominate the meat and poultry industries. Their control over these markets allows them to use oppressive contracts to squeeze both small producers and consumers. For example, nearly all producers of broiler chickens (chickens raised for eating versus laying eggs) operate under abusive, take-it-or-leave-it contracts and often pay growers less for the chickens than what they cost to raise. Companies have retaliated against growers that have demanded fairer contracts, and growers put up with it because, in many parts of the country, there is only one processing company for them to sell their chickens to.

This corporate consolidation of our food system is pushing our small and mid-sized farmers out of business, while companies like Monsanto are making record profits.

We can’t shop our way out of this problem. We have to start to fix the broken food policies at the federal level by taking control away from large agribusinesses and rebuilding a more secure and sustainable system that protects farmers and consumers.

This is where the farm bill comes in. The farm bill is a crucial opportunity to create a fairer, safer and more sustainable food system. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is on the Agriculture Committee, so he’s making decisions right now about what protections the bill will include for small farmers, consumers and the environment. The good news for Ohioans is that he has historically been a champion on these issues.

Senator Brown has the opportunity to bring more healthful, affordable food and more quality jobs back to Northeast Ohio. He needs to support a farm bill that re-establishes regional food systems and addresses unfair, deceptive and anti-competitive trade practices that are putting small and medium-size farms out of business.

Food & Water Watch is running the Fair Farm Bill campaign in Ohio because we believe that Senator Brown will stand up for small farmers and consumers. With big agribusiness spending millions of dollars lobbying to stop these reforms, he needs to hear from his constituents that we care about the food we feed our families and need his leadership in ensuring that it’s safe, healthy and fair.

For more information or to get involved click here or contact your local organizer in Cleveland—Tia Lebherz at tia@greencorps.org, Columbus—Chris Linsmayer chris@greencorps.org or Toledo—Adam Reaves adam@greencorps.org.