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A broad coalition of worker advocacy, public health and environmental groups on Tuesday called on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a workplace standard for heat stress.
This week, tens of thousands of people will attend the Washington Auto Show to see the latest that the industry has to offer. However, instead of moving toward a cleaner transportation future, Ford Motor Company and other automakers are working to take us backward: They are lobbying the Trump administration to weaken clean car standards, which curb pollution, save consumers money and protect health.
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By Julia Conley
Public interest groups spoke out Monday about a White House event at which Vice President Mike Pence touted the Trump administration's deregulation efforts. President Donald Trump did not attend the "Cut the Red Tape" event due to the attack in Las Vegas, but the meeting went on as planned with the White House barring the press from the room.
The administration has demonstrated repeatedly since Trump took office in January that it aims to roll back safeguards put in place by the Obama administration in a number of areas. The president announced early in his term that he would offset any new regulation by scrapping two existing regulations. According to an analysis by Reuters, federal agencies have so far taken 25 deregulatory steps, affecting infrastructure projects, the environment and workers in a wide variety of sectors.
The federal government is providing extensive support for fossil fuel production on public lands and waters offshore, through a combination of direct subsidies, enforcement loopholes, lax royalty collection, stagnant lease rates and other advantages to the industry, a report released Wednesday found.
By Lauren McCauley
Throwing the weight of his office behind the nation's biggest polluters, President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order directing his administration to dismantle the Obama-era Clean Water Rule.
Surrounded by other foes of environmental regulation, including the newly confirmed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, the president declared the 2015 law, also known as Waters of the United States, "a horrible, horrible rule. Has sort of a nice name, but everything else is bad."
Passed under former President Barack Obama, the Clean Water Rule extends Clean Water Act protections to streams and wetlands. As The Hill observed Tuesday, Trump's move is seen as "an opening shot by Trump against the EPA, which was a frequent target of criticism from Republicans for alleged overreach under Obama's tenure."
Though implementation of the rule has been on hold due to ongoing litigation, the move drew outrage from environmental groups, who see it as a necessary provision for the protection of clean water.
The White House has not yet released the full text of the order but it reportedly directs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to formally consider rolling back the rule, which Pruitt is sure to oblige given that while serving as Oklahoma attorney general he sued the agency he now heads against implementation of the Clean Water Rule.
"Water is life and Trump's dirty water order puts our environment and millions of American lives at risk so that polluters can profit from the destruction of our waterways," said Marissa Knodel, oceans campaigner with the group Friends of the Earth.
"The Clean Water Rule is grounded in science and the law so that our streams and wetlands can keep us healthy and safe, provide habitat for fish and wildlife and beautiful places to recreate," Knodel added. "In contrast, Trump's dirty water order is dangerous and illegal, based on corporate greed and unlawful environmental pollution."
Decrying the order as "reckless" and "a giveaway to polluters," Trip Van Noppen, president of the environmental legal organization Earthjustice, said that Trump is "putting the drinking water of 117 million people at risk, demonstrating that he puts the interests of corporate polluters above the public's health."
Similarly, Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the order "a gift to Trump's friends who will pollute and destroy some of the last remaining wetlands in the country. It's deeply troubling—but not surprising—to see Trump move so quickly to gut wetlands protections."
Connecting the president's myriad business interests with his desire to rollback environmental regulations, Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said it is predictable for the nation's "golfer-in-chief...—who happens to own or brand golf courses in Florida (two), New York (three), New Jersey (two), Virginia (outside Washington, DC), California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—to aid his industry and himself by moving to repeal the Clean Water Rule."
On the flip side, a number of groups pointed out that dismantling the rule will not be a quick or easy process.
"The Obama administration held more than 400 stakeholder meetings and reviewed over 1,200 scientific studies to develop the 408-page technical report that accompanied the rule," Friend of the Earth noted "and the Trump administration will have to justify any changes with science and the law."
Additionally, Van Noppen vowed that Earthjustice "will use the full strength of our nation's bedrock environmental laws ... to ensure this administration does not dismantle the basic mission of the EPA—the protection of our health and the environment."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins
If you think the U.S. government is doing a sub-par job of keeping your food safe, brace yourself. You could soon be eating imported seafood, beef or chicken products that don’t meet even basic U.S. food safety standards. Under two new trade agreements, currently in negotiation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could be powerless to shut down imports of unsafe food or food ingredients. And if it tries, multinational corporations will be able to sue the U.S. government for the loss of anticipated future profits.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
More frightening? Negotiations for both agreements are taking place behind closed doors, with input allowed almost exclusively from the corporations and industry trade groups that stand to benefit the most. And the Obama Administration intends to push the agreements through Congress without so much as giving lawmakers access to draft texts, much less the opportunity for debate.
Designed to grease the wheels of world commerce, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would force the U.S. and other participating countries to “harmonize” food safety standards. That means all countries that sign on to the agreement would be required to abide by the lowest common denominator standards of all participating governments. So for instance, say Vietnam allows higher residues of veterinary antibiotics in seafood than the U.S. allows, and Vietnam and the U.S. both sign on to the TPP. As a trade partner, the U.S. could be forced to lower its standards to allow for imports of seafood from Vietnam—or face a lawsuit by the seafood exporter for depriving the company of future sales of its products in the U.S.
The U.S. has already had a taste of this type of policy under the North American Free Trade Act. In 2005, the Canadian Cattlemen for Fair Trade sued the U.S. the U.S. government for banning imports of beef and live Canadian cattle after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Canada. In the end, the U.S. prevailed, but not until it had spent millions to defend itself in court. Mexico wasn’t so fortunate when three companies (Corn Products International, ADM/Tate & Lyle and Cargill) sued the Mexican government for preventing imports of high fructose corn syrup. Mexico lost all three cases, and was forced to pay out a total of $169.18 million to the three firms.
Among the many gifts to Big Ag contained in the TTIP and TPP include back-door entry for their genetically modified seeds and crops. Countries, including those in the European Union, could find it increasingly difficult to ban, or even require the labeling of, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), if biotech companies determine that those countries’ strict policies restrict fair trade and infringe on the companies’ “rights” to profit.
The TTIP and the TPP are, individually and combined, two of the largest free trade agreements in world history. According to the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), the TPP alone covers 40 percent of the global economy. That percentage will likely grow, because the agreement allows for other countries, besides the 12 currently involved, to “dock on” after the agreement is in place.
Both the TTIP and TPP could have dangerous consequences for food safety in the U.S., and around the world. But they’re not limited to food or agriculture policy. Both also contain sweeping policies that could affect everything from the environment and sustainability, to healthcare, Internet freedom and the financial markets. Given the potential of these agreements to shape global policy on so many fronts, it’s reasonable to assume that negotiators would actively solicit, and take into careful consideration, input from the affected parties, including consumers, farmers and governments. Instead they’ve taken the opposite approach. From day one, negotiations for the TTIP and TPP have been shrouded in secrecy. The public and participating governments, including the U.S. Congress, have been shut out of the negotiating process, denied access to everything from early proposals to final draft texts.
Why the secrecy? The Obama Administration wants as little public debate as possible, so it can ram the agreements through Congress using something called “Fast Track.” Fast Track, a product of the Nixon presidency, strips Congress of its authority to control the content of a trade deal and hands that authority over to the executive branch. Congress gets a vote, but only after the negotiations have been completed, and the agreements have been signed. No debate. No amendments. Just a fast, forced vote, too late for Congress to have any influence. According to the CTC, two-thirds of Democratic freshmen in the U.S. House of Representatives have expressed serious reservations about the TPP negotiations and the prospect of giving Fast Track authority to the President. And more than 400 organizations representing 15 million Americans have already petitioned Congress to do away with Fast Track in favor of a more democratic approach to trade agreement negotiations. So far those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
If the public is shut out, and Congress gets no say, who gets a seat at the table? Corporations. That’s right. The Obama Administration is trusting corporations like Dow AgroSciences, Cargill and DuPont, and trade groups like the Pork Producers Council and Tobacco Associates, Inc., to write food safety policies. In all, more than 600 corporations have been given access to drafts of various chapters of the TPP. Requests for the same level of access, from members of Congress and from the public, have been denied.
No wonder then that, according to leaked drafts obtained by groups like the CTC, Public Citizen and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the TPP contains proposals designed to give transnational corporations “special rights” that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens, says Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the CTC. Experts who have reviewed the leaked texts say that TPP negotiators propose allowing transnational corporations to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions, including environmental and food safety laws. Corporations will be allowed to resolve trade disputes in special international tribunals. In other words, they get to do an end run around the countries’ domestic judicial systems, effectively wiping out hundreds, if not more, domestic and international food sovereignty laws.
U.S. consumers aren’t the only ones who should be up in arms about these trade agreements, the secrecy around their negotiations and the Obama Administration’s intent to fast-track them. Under the TTIP and TPP, consumers in countries that have stricter food safety regulations than those in the U.S. will see their standards lowered, too. For instance, Japan prohibits the use of peracetic acid to sterilize vegetables, fruits and meat, while the U.S., Canada and Australia allow it. Japan’s health ministry, in anticipation of the TPP, has said the country will add the acid to its approved list. In all, Japan has approved only about 800 food additives, to the more than 3,000 approved in the U.S. Japan’s consumers could soon see a sudden reversal of laws enacted to protect their health.
European consumers will also suffer. Europe has long used the precautionary principle to ban ractopamine in meat, chlorine rinses of poultry and the use of rBGH growth hormone in milk production. Under the TTIP, Europe could be forced to allow all three in order to meet the lowest common denominator rule. The precautionary principle removes the burden of proof from policymakers, allowing them to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm, given the lack of scientific proof to the contrary. But that principle flies out the window under TTIP rules.
The Organic Consumers Association is urging consumers to petition President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to release the draft texts of the TTIP and TPP, and encourage full and open debate on the policies contained in both agreements. The petition also asks President Obama to end the Fast Track option, and grant Congress the ability to debate and amend the agreements, before voting on them.
With the world’s food supply and consumers’ health already endangered by chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and climate change, the U.S. and other governments should be looking for ways to promote sustainable food and agriculture policies, not restrict governments’ abilities to do so. Instead, the Obama Administration is subverting the principles of democracy in favor of handing a few transnational corporations unprecedented power to put profits above the health and well being of consumers.
Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
By Emily Saari
Tar Sands Blockade. Creative Commons: Elizabeth Brossa, 2012
Pipeline safety is growing more difficult to prove, as oil companies struggle with failing infrastructure and persistent pollution issues from spills that should have been cleaned up long ago. News of pipeline failures are eroding public trust in oil companies to quickly and effectively control toxic spills, much less prevent them in the first place. These events add gravity to President Obama’s pending decision to allow Canadian company TransCanada to build a pipeline across the U.S. to carry highly corrosive tar sands oil from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico.
A huge pipeline failure in Zama City, Canada, on June 1, spilled 2.5 million gallons of toxic tar sands wastewater into the environment, in what some are calling the biggest wastewater spill in recent North American history. Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board, however, waited 11 days to issue a public statement reporting the spill’s occurrence, raising doubts about the adequacy of government regulation and transparency.
Locals believe that the wastewater leak might have originated even earlier than June. Dene Tha’ Councilman Sidney Chambaud told The Canadian Press:
There are indications that the spill occurred earlier, during the winter season, but due to ice and snow it wasn’t discovered.
The spill occurred near the territory of the Dene Tha’ First Nation, where the community lives, farms, fishes and hunts. Yet Houston-based Apache Corp. said in its press release that the spill posed “no risk to the public.” This contradicts a statement by Dene Tha’ Chief James Ahnassay reporting that the spill “seriously affected harvesting areas.”
The ExxonMobil pipeline spill in Arkansas on March 29 sent 84,000 gallons of heavy tar sands oil through a suburban community and continues to pollute waterways and contaminate the neighborhood months later, keeping many of the evacuated residents from returning to their homes.
On June 14, the state of Arkansas and the federal Department of Justice filed suit against ExxonMobil on the grounds that Exxon violated state and federal clean water and air laws, asserting that the company must do more to pay for clean-up costs.
This follows a class-action lawsuit filed by Arkansas residents in April demanding $5 million in damages from Exxon.
Exxon’s history of pipeline failures doesn’t bode well for future pipelines. Exxon was fined $1.7 million for a spill in 2011 that sent 62,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. In July 2010, a six-foot break in an Exxon pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan resulted in the largest on-land oil spill, and one of the costliest, in U.S. history.
Public Citizen, 2013
In Texas, newly laid pipes that could one day be part of the Keystone XL are being dug up and replaced for structural damage. Photographs from the sites by grassroots organization Bold Nebraska show pieces of pipe that have been spray-painted with the word “dent” and flags along the pipeline route that say “anomaly” and “weld.”
Landowners watching TransCanada retrace its steps to excavate and replace brand new pieces of pipe are increasingly suspicious of the integrity of the pipelines: “that it is not a matter of if, but a matter of when this line will leak.”
Michael Bishop, landowner in east Texas whose property is to be dug up once again to replace pieces of Keystone XL pipeline, said:
When the new segments are welded up, how can the public be assured that the work will not be a repeat of the shoddy, prior performance that has brought them back to our properties? If we were concerned about leaking before construction began, how can we have confidence in TransCanada at this point?
Landowners Against TransCanada, an organization formed to provide assistance to landowners in the U.S. to legally fight the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, launched a petition telling the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to perform its legal duties to protect human health and the environment, and immediately investigate the pipeline anomalies and stop further construction of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline.