By Tony Corbo
As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on public health, the Trump Administration has been busy behind the scenes doubling down on its campaign to deregulate Big Ag. At the same time, it is not providing safeguards to food production workers and government inspectors who are being made to work on the frontlines without frontline employee protections.
The USDA Is Playing Fast and Loose With Meat Inspection Lines During the Coronavirus Outbreak
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is deregulating inspection in some of the largest pork processing facilities by reducing the number of inspectors assigned to the slaughter line. They turn over critical inspection tasks to untrained company employees, and remove the cap on how fast the line can run. FSIS anticipates that 40 hog slaughter facilities will convert to this method, which is being called the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Those 40 facilities process over 92% of all pork in the U.S. Some of the big names in pork processing are pushing for this, such as JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, Clemens, and Quality Pork Processors. In one plant that has been experimenting with the new system, FSIS inspectors have 2.6 seconds to determine whether the company employees have performed their tasks properly. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for hog carcasses to be contaminated with feces, hair, toe nails, and bile to be greenlit for processing into bacon, pork chops, hot dogs, sausage, and other pork products.
Three lawsuits to challenge NSIS have been filed by unions representing the plant workers, animal welfare groups, and food safety advocates, including Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety. FSIS hid critical information from the public when it first proposed the frighteningly minimal system. Food & Water Watch was forced to file separate litigation to obtain crucial, undisclosed information which revealed that NSIS would lead to more contaminated pork entering commerce and could lead to an animal disease — to ravage hog herds and/or be transmitted to humans. Plants that wanted to convert to NSIS had until March 30, 2020 to state their intentions. FSIS still refuses to disclose the names of those plants, leaving consumers in the dark.
Meat Companies Are Being Given Almost Full Control Over Their Own Inspection Standards
While it is struggling to keep poultry plants properly staffed with inspectors during the pandemic, FSIS has stepped up its approvals of regulatory waivers to chicken slaughter plants that want to increase their maximum line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. In the first two weeks of April, FSIS approved 11 such waivers for plants operated by Foster Farms, Tyson Foods (4 plants), and Wayne Farms (6 plants). These plants have all converted to the so-called New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) in which the number of government inspectors assigned to the slaughter line is reduced and many of their tasks are turned over to company employees. Under traditional inspection, each FSIS inspector is assigned 35 birds per minute to inspect. Under NPIS, there is only one FSIS inspector stationed at the end of the slaughter line. When a plant is granted a line speed waiver, that sole FSIS inspector is expected to examine 3 birds every second — or 175 birds per minute. The waiver process that FSIS uses is done in secret; it is not open to public scrutiny until the FSIS reveals that it has granted the waiver. Since taking office, the Trump USDA has approved 28 new waivers under this process, mostly to the big players in the poultry industry.
Inviting everyone to the new game, FSIS is recruiting cattle slaughter plants to deregulate inspection, too. In late March, FSIS approved a waiver through its secret process for a Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas that slaughters up to 6000 head of cattle per day. The waiver is designed to reduce the number of government inspectors assigned to its slaughter line, increasing its line speed. FSIS has not revealed how fast the line will run with this waiver or how many fewer government inspectors will be on the slaughter line, but we know it won't result in safety for consumers.
Meat Inspection Deregulation Threatens Food Safety
All of these deregulatory moves are designed to increase production; they are not being done to improve food safety. They will contribute to expanding the industrial agriculture model by promoting the growth of factory farms. It's even more disconcerting that it is occurring in the middle of a national crisis.
As the Trump Administration has stepped on the accelerator to deregulate in recent weeks, there are numerous examples around the country of meat and poultry plants being impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the news has been focused on urban areas racked by the pandemic, hot spots have also emerged in rural communities in Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska where meatpacking plant workers have contracted the virus while being forced to work, forcing some plants to curtail or cease operations temporarily.
In those instances where meatpackers have insisted on continuing with business-as-usual even when their employees have gotten sick, it has pitted public health officials against company officials and even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Plant workers and even government inspectors who work at these plants have not been given adequate personal protective equipment. It is virtually impossible to practice social distancing in these plants because plant workers and government inspectors work side-by-side in slaughter and processing facilities. When workers protested these conditions, Vice President Mike Pence had the audacity to urge the workers to continue "to show up and do [their] jobs."
Urge Officials to Take Action Against Increased Line Speeds
Increased line speeds only create more opportunities for contamination and sickness. It's unnecessary and it's putting our health at risk.
Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers. This is no time to gamble with Americans' health.
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- Bernie Sanders Votes Against Biden's Choice for USDA Chief ›
We're going to make this very simple. These are the 5 non-negotiable policies an ideal climate plan must include:
1. A Halt on All New Fossil Fuel Development
This means banning fracking everywhere, ending dangerous build-outs of pipelines and other harmful fossil fuel infrastructure, banning public land extraction, and stopping the export of crude oil and natural gas. This also means excluding the use of market-based mechanisms like cap and trade or carbon taxes, which have been proven ineffective at reducing fossil fuel use and production. The best policy cuts these emissions off at the source.
2. An Aggressive Timeline for a Shift to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy
"That conversation, it's starting to happen, but it is painfully slow and difficult." https://t.co/DXcUaZ8SiA @cleantechnica— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1567465248.0
This means shifting to clean, renewable energies (like wind, solar, tidal, or geothermal) by 2030, stopping the use of "clean washing" (posing dirty energy like nuclear, wood, black liquor, waste methane, waste incineration, renewable energy credits, coal as clean), investing in expanded and better public mass transit, transitioning to zero-emission transportation, and promoting energy efficiency and conservation across the country.
3. A Federal Commitment to Public Water
Clean drinking water is a human right. And anyone who violates that right must be held accountable. I stand in soli… https://t.co/iB53mQNvDM— Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan Omar)1567395667.0
This means dedicating at least $35 billion each year to renovating our nation's deteriorating public water infrastructure; addressing water contamination from PFOA, PFOS and other PFASs (widespread, persistent lab-made toxics); replacing all lead service lines; stopping sewer overflows; dedicating money to help small, rural and indigenous communities; and promoting affordable water service for all regardless of income (see: WATER Act).
4. A Transition Away From Corporate Agriculture
[email protected] — it's about more than personal choices with food. Any real climate plan must tackle agriculture meg… https://t.co/MymVFZYSyi— Food & Water Action (@Food & Water Action)1567637340.0
This means banning factory farming, breaking up corporate agricultural consolidation, restoring control over agricultural siting and practices to local governments, holding vertically integrated companies accountable for the pollution created by the animals they own and rejecting false solutions like manure-to-energy schemes.
5. A Just, Fair, and Equitable Process
Check out this new @foodandwater report -- Building Climate Justice: Investing in Energy Efficiency for a Fair and… https://t.co/nzwyFcJG25— Frack Action (@Frack Action)1553717865.0
This means substantially investing in upgrading the energy efficiency of our nation's buildings to create millions of high-quality jobs, targeting these investments in lower-income populations and communities of color in both urban and rural areas, implementing pro-labor policies to ensure green jobs are worker and union-friendly, and funding transition programs for fossil fuel workers.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Food and Water Watch.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Last year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report sounded a global alarm about the need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach "net zero" levels by 2050. While there have been stark climate warnings for decades, this time the reaction was different. There is an unprecedented global surge of inspired climate activism, and across the country governors and state legislatures are taking up emissions reduction plans. Even some top-tier Democratic presidential candidates are pushing climate policies that would have been mostly unthinkable just a few months ago.
Unfortunately, not every climate plan can be called good news. When you pull back the curtain, you are likely to find policies that encourage the use of dirty energy, enrich powerful corporate interests, or utilize offsets and other accounting tricks to give the appearance of emissions cuts. Most importantly, most of these policies will not go far enough or fast enough to stave off the most dangerous levels of warming.
The first problem comes with determining what exactly counts as "carbon neutral" or "carbon free." In September of last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order laying out the goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. This announcement came just after he signed SB 100, a law committing the state to 100 percent renewable and zero-carbon resources by 2045. But neither define what might count as "zero carbon," which leaves the door open to nuclear power, fracked gas with so-called "carbon capture," and factory farm biogas to crowd out clean renewable energy from the sun and wind.
Washington state is following California's lead: Gov. Jay Inslee just signed a law that sets a goal of 100 percent greenhouse gas neutral electricity by the year 2030, and carbon-free by the year 2045. It has been lauded as the strongest climate policy in the country, but there are still areas of concern. While the new law does a better job of defining carbon emissions than others, its definition of renewables includes "biofuels," a category that could include things like burning wood and captured gases from factory farm waste — not exactly what comes to mind when you hear the words "clean energy." And the new law includes loopholes that allow power plants to comply with emission requirements by purchasing paper renewable 'credits' or through funding "compliance projects," rather than actually generating clean renewable energy through 2044.
Similar to Washington, New Mexico's new energy law — the Energy Transition Act — has been heralded as one of the strongest policies ever enacted, reaching 100 percent zero carbon electricity by 2045. But it has one huge problem: it doesn't stop dirty energy extraction. The state's oil and gas drilling boom will continue more or less as is, since those dirty fuels are exported across state lines, they are not factored into New Mexico's electricity mix.
But the problems go deeper than that — and raise questions about many carbon neutral schemes. Hedge fund investors are looking to buy up coal plants in the state to install carbon capture sequestration (CCS) technology, a costly, unproven, and extremely energy-intensive practice that can actually increase carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions. The CO2 generated at a coal plant could even be pumped back into wells to squeeze every last bit of oil out of the ground, through a process the industry calls "enhanced oil recovery." So, we would continue burning coal and extracting oil at a time when we should be getting off fossil fuels — and tragically, the state would call such an arrangement "carbon neutrality."
These carbon accounting tricks serve to delay the necessary transition to clean, renewable sources of energy — sometimes they do so quite explicitly. A carbon neutrality plan that could soon become law in Colorado not only promotes nuclear, carbon capture, and biofuels as possible clean energy solutions — it explicitly prevented the state from enforcing any bona fide renewable energy mandate.
All of these plans point to an inherent problem in crafting any "carbon neutral" policy. These arrangements encourage the use of "offsets" and other accounting techniques to cancel out fossil fuel emissions with short term carbon sequestration techniques, like planting trees. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with doing everything in our power to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere; but if we aren't making rapid reductions in fossil fuel-linked emissions, we won't be making true progress. Coming up with clever tricks that merely reduce carbon emissions on paper or a spreadsheet does not have the same effect as making the difficult but necessary choices to eliminate emissions at their source. Ideas like "carbon capture" have never been shown to work on any meaningful scale, but energy companies promote them as a 'carbon neutral' alternative to getting off fossil fuels. Climate advocates should not play along with this blatant greenwashing.
There are other ways lawmakers are gaming the transition to clean energy. A Pennsylvania legislator introduced a bill adding a new tier of zero emission sources within the state's renewable energy program. But it meets its new target mostly through nuclear power — essentially re-branding nukes as a form of renewable energy. The bill amounts to a huge ratepayer-funded bailout of a handful of profitable corporations, as has recently happened in New York, Illinois and New Jersey.
Even some of the boldest national climate plans have their own shortcomings. The Green New Deal, which has dramatically re-shaped the national discussion of climate policy, bases most of its climate goals on achieving net-zero emissions, while providing no substantive analysis of what energy sources would count towards such goals. And the resolution ignores the supply side issues altogether; stopping new pipelines, fossil fuel power plants and fracking wells must be an explicit part of any meaningful climate policy.
Renewable energy costs continue to decline, and at this point are even cheaper than maintaining existing fossil fuel infrastructure. So why would lawmakers embrace polices that will keep us hooked on fuels that are more expensive, create air and water pollution, and deepen the climate crisis? At best, well-meaning elected officials are simply unaware of the real impacts of these carbon neutral policies; at worst, policymakers are deliberately misleading the public into thinking they are backing clean energy while kowtowing to the powerful special interests destroying the planet.
Either way, real climate leaders must back policies that explicitly and immediately start phasing out fossil fuels, and replace these polluting energy sources with power from the wind and sun — without relying on carveouts or accounting gimmicks. These actions, alongside a significant investment in energy efficiency and upgrades to the power grid, will help stabilize the planet's climate, greatly improve public health, and protect our air and water.
Jim Walsh is the Renewable Energy Policy Analyst at the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch.
By Wenonah Hauter
Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.
Five years ago, we hoped this would be a rallying cry for federal investment in our water systems. But today, things aren't better: they're worse. Almost daily, there are new headlines about how vulnerable our water infrastructure has become. Martin County, Kentucky, has suffered a catastrophic failure of its water system that has led to higher water rates for discolored, toxic water; like residents in Flint, they don't trust what comes out of the tap. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), have contaminated water in states across the country where military and industrial facilities have released this dangerous chemical associated with cancer risks. Testing has shown a widespread problem with lead in our schools. And on top of all of this, climate change is exacerbating many of our water problems, stressing water supplies, threatening critical infrastructure and overburdening our aging stormwater collection systems.
What's more, a recent survey by Food & Water Watch of the two largest water systems in each state revealed a shocking estimated 15 million people had their water shut off in 2016 for nonpayment. That's 1 in 20 households. Statistically, someone in your neighborhood is having a hard time paying their water bills. Water affordability is just one more aspect of our deepening water crisis.
These all may seem like big, daunting problems, and they are. But the only way to deal with the systemic problems with our drinking water is with a systemic solution. In this case, we must commit to a nationwide re-investment in our public drinking water infrastructure.
Since peaking in the 1970s, federal funding to maintain our aging water systems has plummeted by 82% on a per capita basis. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on water infrastructure, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. Meanwhile, many water systems are nearly 100 years old.
It's no wonder we have a deepening water crisis. Luckily, there are some in Congress that have decided to do something about it. For the first time, the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER Act) was introduced this year in both the House and Senate by Reps. Barbara Lawrence and Ro Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders. This legislation would provide the necessary $35 billion a year in funding to upgrade our drinking water and wastewater systems, creating nearly a million jobs in the process.
The legislation also provides funding to help rural and small municipalities and Native American communities improve their water and wastewater systems, and funding for treatment systems or alternative water supplies to communities affected by PFAS. It would expand a grant program to replace lead pipes in public schools, and would provide homeowners grants to replace lead service lines to their properties.
It would also prioritize water affordability by requiring that no less than half of the critical U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding going to support state-run clean water and drinking water programs be given as grants and subsidies to disadvantaged communities. It would also require the EPA to produce guidance about promoting universal access to safe water and to coordinate a study and civil rights violations by water providers — a move that would prevent water shutoffs.
We can't continue to take our water for granted. Clean, affordable water will not come to our homes without a significant investment that would upgrade our public water infrastructure. How many more Flints will it take before Congress passes legislation that makes clean water for everyone a reality?
- Michael Moore: 10 Things They Won't Tell You About the Flint Water ... ›
- Legionnaire's Bacteria Found in Drinking Water at Nine Reopened Schools - EcoWatch ›
By Peter Hart
Pennsylvania is home to more than 10,000 fracking wells, which forces communities to live with air pollution, water contamination and an array of health problems linked to drilling.
The frackers want to drill more wells, and the state's Democratic governor is not going to do anything to slow it down. But local communities are finding ways to fight back—and win.
The latest good news comes from Oakmont Borough, a small suburb of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. Residents there have waged a years-long battle against the fracking industry, which has been making a determined push into Allegheny County.
Fracking is a Desperate Industry Looking for New Profits
Here's why these companies are so eager to drill more wells: The fracking industry has problems turning a profit. The only way out for these financially stretched corporations is to double down—and that means moving to areas of the state that aren't as heavily fracked as some parts of western Pennsylvania.
Residents in Allegheny County have seen the havoc that fracking has created elsewhere, and they are determined to fight to keep it away from their schools and homes. Their tool of choice has been municipal zoning codes.
Putting Fracking Under Local Control
Every city or municipality creates a set of rules about what you can build, and where you can build it. Unfortunately, drilling companies often take advantage of the fact that many towns have not developed zoning ordinances that regulate fracking, or have outdated ordinances that do not address the issues facing their municipalities today. But if residents and local leaders get organized, they can put serious limits on the fracking industry before a well is approved.
That's what Food & Water Watch's Municipal Ordinance Project (MOP) is set up to do. We know that local officials in Allegheny County are the ones who should make the decisions about how to protect their own communities, and that safety and environmental concerns are front and center.
Oakmont Stands Up to Surveyors
Here's how it worked in Oakmont. In June 2017, a fracking company called Huntley & Huntley notified the borough that they were about to start 'seismic testing,' a process that involves setting off explosive charges in deep holes to measure the seismic waves, which can help indicate where gas may be trapped.
Oakmont residents didn't like the sound of that, and we worked together to pass an ordinance to regulate this intrusive process. Soon after, Huntley & Huntley reversed course, and announced that they weren't going to conduct the surveys as planned.
But they weren't going away—and resident groups like Citizens to Protect Oakmont were ready to go bigger. They started meeting that summer to craft an updated zoning ordinance that would offer some protection from drilling. By December, they offered a list of suggestions, including a 2,000-foot setback from residential property lines and the removal of fracking from the Light Industrial district of the borough.
The Borough Council, however, considered a weaker set of rules, which could have opened up residential areas to fracking. Local residents weren't having it; they were a force to be reckoned with at Council meetings, and in the end their tireless advocacy paid off: In February, the Council voted in support of the new ordinance.
What This Victory Means—Here and Elsewhere
This win is a testament to what is possible when neighbors come together to fight to protect their community. The fracking industry is desperate to find new places to drilling. If we want to stop them, we have get organized before the fracking starts."
Local leader Ed Grystar said it best: "The vote to approve Oakmont's Oil and Gas zoning ordinance is an example of the power of ordinary citizens organizing to protect the health and safety of their town. From the beginning in May 2017, we worked to change the narrative of what's acceptable by educating and mobilizing our neighbors."Residents in other parts of Pennsylvania are ready to follow Oakmont's lead.
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Cabot's Sneaky Attack on Pennsylvania Cancer Survivor Reveals Dirty Agenda to Silence Environmentalists
By Wenonah Hauter
Cabot Oil & Gas, a company with $765 million in assets in 2017, doesn't like environmental nonprofits meddling in its dirty business in Pennsylvania. And the company is delivering this message by targeting Ray Kemble—a local 63-year old who just survived his fourth cancer surgery—with a $5 million lawsuit for speaking out about Cabot and fracking.
If corporate injustices were measured on a scale of one to ten, Cabot's latest disgraceful maneuver would be a rock-solid eleven. Back in 2010, Cabot settled a number of lawsuits brought by Dimock homeowners who claimed that the company had poisoned their groundwater, decreased their property values and threatened their health and safety. Kemble was one of those plaintiffs who signed a settlement agreement that included some unknown nondisclosure terms. It's a secrecy provision that Cabot often uses to keep its dirty practices hidden and one that state and federal regulators have cited as a hinderance to a full investigation into the impact of fracking on groundwater and public health.
While its exact terms remain concealed, Cabot's lawyers want us all to take their word for it that Kemble is in violation of the nondisclosure provision of the agreement because he has exercised his First Amendment right to warn others of the risks of fracking and encourage an end to this inherently harmful practice. Kemble's effective advocacy made him a target of Cabot's ire, and now they've taken aim and fired off a lawsuit that seeks to strip him of all he has left in the world, and then some.
Cabot's recent filing with the court asked the judge to place a cancer patient with no resources in jail until its lawyers have had a chance to interrogate him. The judge rejected its request and after the hearing, Cabot's spokesperson tried to deflect from the corporation's persecution of Kemble by claiming that it is really just using the courts to go after groups that have provided financial support to Kemble and others who have been victimized by Cabot's irresponsible fracking operations.
The irony of Cabot's claims is rich. While Cabot whines about advocacy groups supporting affected citizens in their work to stop fracking, its spokesperson didn't mention the over $600,000 the company paid out in lobbying and campaign contributions between 2011 and 2014 in Pennsylvania in an attempt to cover up the 265 operating violations it racked up over the same period.
Elected officials have happily taken campaign money from Cabot to protect its interests in the state. Food & Water Watch has been proud to stand alongside Kemble and all the other victims of Cabot and other fracking companies in Dimock, across Pennsylvania and around the country. We've provided funding so that people in Dimock who have had their drinking water taken from them have access to clean water, and to assist these courageous frontline advocates who have been fighting hard against crooked companies and bought-and-paid-for elected officials who look the other way. And we will continue to do so even in the face of corporate intimidation.
Cabot can only continue to operate by violating the fundamental rights of others. It threatens the property rights of homeowners whose groundwater is poisoned and whose property values plummet. It even relies on judges to overturn juries who grant Cabot's victims monetary damages for the harm Cabot has caused, while paying off politicians. And now the corporation wants to put an end to people's rights to speak freely about fracking.
It's time to put an end to Cabot's reign of terror in Pennsylvania. The federal Environmental Protection Agency should reopen the investigation into Dimock's groundwater that it abruptly walked away from without explanation. The state legislature should hold hearings on Cabot's business and drilling practices and the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims. And the state Attorney General Josh Shapiro should launch an investigation into Cabot's shameless persecution of Kemble and Cabot's misuse of the court system. It's time for these officials to step up and protect residents of Pennsylvania from the abuses of greedy and irresponsible oil and gas companies like Cabot.
Fracking Waste Lawsuit Highlights Dangerous Trend of Corporations Targeting Community Rights Defenders… https://t.co/Ft1c3OcU4M— Renewable Search (@Renewable Search)1516292291.0
Wenonah Hauter is executive director of Food & Water Watch.
By Wenonah Hauter
The images from the streets of Paris over the past weeks are stark and poignant: thousands of angry protesters, largely representing the struggling French working class, resorting to mass civil unrest to express fear and frustration over a proposed new gas tax. For the moment, the protests have been successful. French President Emmanuel Macron backed off the new tax proposal, at least for six months. The popular uprising won, seemingly at the expense of the global fight against climate change and the future wellbeing of our planet.
Yet this simple analysis is grossly incomplete and fatally flawed. A more thorough and accurate analysis of the latest failure to implement a new carbon emissions tax would be this: Real solutions to our dire climate crisis can't come in the form of regressive taxes that pit working families against the cause of climate stability. We won't avoid deepening climate chaos by pursuing strategies that unduly target the working class.
From here in the States to Europe and elsewhere, various carbon tax plans have been proposed or enacted in recent years as a "viable" solution to climate change. Economists of many stripes are quick to assert that putting a price on carbon emissions—as opposed to regulating them out of existence, for example—is the key to reducing fossil fuel pollution.
Yet little evidence exists of the virtues of taxing carbon from a climate standpoint. Many carbon tax advocates point to a recent plan enacted by British Columbia as evidence of the approach's worth. Yet an analysis of the plan conducted by Food & Water Watch found that greenhouse gas emissions from taxed sources actually increased by more than 4 percent, while non-taxed emissions fell during the same period.
Meanwhile, the inherently regressive nature of consumer-based carbon tax schemes places an undue financial burden on those working families least able to afford it. "Progressive" carbon pricing advocates often point to fine-print details in some models that would apparently mitigate the burden on lower- and working class families by returning revenues to consumers in rebate structures meant to favor those in lower income brackets. Additionally, so-called "revenue neutral" plans claim to put no new financial burden anywhere in the economy—which would call into question what their point is in the first place.
Details aside, three key facts on carbon pricing are unavoidable: First, there is little evidence to indicate that existing plans have resulted in any significant cut in carbon emissions, anywhere. Second, in order to generate significant emissions cuts, the price-per-ton on carbon would need to be so high as to truly dismantle life for great swaths of society, not just the working class. You think the protests in Paris this week were bad? The small costs associated with the new French gas tax wouldn't have made dent in emissions. Imagine if the tax was so immensely large as to actually reduce emissions. Talk about a protest!
And third, ExxonMobil and many of its fellow global fossil fuel pushers support carbon taxes. Why? Because they know that attaching a new public revenue stream on fossil fuels will only serve to condone and entrench the continued existence and expansion of the industry. To Exxon, a carbon tax means polluting, poisoning business-as-usual.
The real path to justly and aggressively moving off fossil fuels is simple: We must move off fossil fuels—justly and aggressively. This means new investment in the ever-expanding realm of clean energy production and transmission, which will create countless well-paying jobs. This means new investment in energy efficiency across all segments of society, which again will create many jobs. And this also means enacting a moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure. So long as we are continuing to drill and frack new wells, and build new interstate pipelines to carry new fossil fuel supplies to overseas markets, we will never truly begin the transition to a clean energy future our planet so desperately requires.
Call this a Green New Deal if you like, but be advised: Any Green New Deal that includes carbon pricing isn't green, isn't new and isn't much of a deal.
By Wenonah Hauter
Last week, the fossil fuel industry successfully squashed several local measures it didn't like—thanks to the more than $100 million it shelled out to oppose them.
Initiatives to rein in fracking failed in Colorado, where the industry spent a whopping $40 million (outspending advocates 40-1) and in San Luis Obispo County, where a measure to ban fracking lost in the face of $8 million in industry cash (proponents of the measure spent only $240,000). An Arizona initiative to mandate 50 percent renewable energy by 2050 failed, thanks to $30 million in energy cash to fight it. And, despite increasingly touting its approval for carbon taxes with modest funding of greenwashing groups like the Climate Leadership Council, the industry spent $30 million to oppose a carbon tax initiative in Washington.
The fossil fuel industry is doing more of the same in many states across the country, including Virginia. A new Food & Water Watch report out now looks at Dominion Energy's outsized influence in the state—how it buys policy, buys elections and squashes renewable energy to further its profits.
One of the ways Dominion buys policy in Virginia is through its multi-million dollar political and lobbying operation. Since 1998, the company has built the infrastructure to buy off policy and is the biggest corporate contributor to political campaigns in Virginia—with its political action committee and employees plowing more than $10 million into Virginia campaign coffers. Whether it's meals, cocktails, sporting tickets or other associated spending, it's repeatedly bought access to policy through the state's elected officials.
Dominion's primary interests have been in pushing policies that ensure they won't be regulated. Between 2017 and 2018, the company increased its lobbying and advertising expenditures 10-fold while pushing to enact a law that would ensure Virginia ratepayers would pay more for polluting fossil energy. It also spent more than $4 million on ads this year promoting its legislative agenda to build out more fossil fuel infrastructure—like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—and its acquisition of SCANA, a South Carolina utility that brought with it a portfolio of coal- and gas-fired power plants.
Poisonous coal ash and climate pollution aren't Dominion's only toxic legacy in the state: its lobbying machine worked to obstruct clean energy initiatives as well. The company has successfully thwarted popular and progressive energy measures, ensuring, for example, that utilities (like its subsidiary, Virginia Power) would be gatekeepers for community-based solar projects instead of allowing churches and other community organizations to develop their own. This is a move to keep them stuck in the polluting fossil fuel system from which the company extracts great profits that keep them powerful.
And this is just in Virginia. Nationally, Dominion dumped at least $59 million into state and federal political advocacy, including campaign contributions, gifts and lobbying since 1998. In the late 1990s, Dominion joined disgraced energy company Enron in a national fight to deregulate utilities so that they could instead implement a market-based scheme to separate electricity distribution from power generation, essentially taking energy out of the realm of "public good" and into the realm of commodity. We know how well that worked out: Enron went bankrupt from the scheme, a development that also saddled Dominion with nearly $100 million in losses. But the damage had been done for ratepayers nationwide, with the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 entrenching the deregulation these companies sought—the same legislation that enshrined the "Halliburton Loophole" into federal law exempting frackers from federal drinking water protections. Dominion is also investing in infrastructure to connect its facilities to fracked gas from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Industry influence can mean the difference between a renewable future or more climate-throttling fossil fuel infrastructure. In Virginia, local advocates are taking the fight to Dominion's doorstep—and their cronies in the statehouse. We're joining with Virginia NAACP, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, People Demanding Action, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, League of United Latin American Citizens—Richmond, and others to pass legislation just introduced by state delegates Sam Rasoul and Elizabeth Guzman to transition the state to 100 percent renewables by 2035.
We're ready for the fight ahead because we have no choice but to ensure that Dominion, and the industry as a whole, doesn't win. We must begin the transition off of fossil fuels immediately if we want to protect our communities and avert the worst of catastrophic climate change ahead.
By Eleanor Bravo
Imagine: a deep, pristine aquifer persists without incident for more than 11,700 years in the Valley of San Augustin. It is revered and left unmarred by the community members who know of its existence, utilizing it respectfully and sustainably, leaving it intact—from the Ice Age until 2008. That is when a New York-based company, Augustin Plains Ranch LLC, owned by an Italian billionaire, decided to set up its operation and apply for a permit to invade the aquifer by extracting 54,000 acre feet of water per year.
Located in west-central New Mexico, the groundwater present in the aquifer dates back to the latest Ice Age and is fed by no permanent streams. The basin is replenished primarily from the intense thundershowers during late summer months. Southern New Mexico generally averages less than 10 inches of rain a year. For more than 10 years, neighbors of the ranch have fought to oppose water mining and potential destruction of the aquifer. With present drought conditions and rising temperatures, it's possible that if allowed, this volume of extraction would render the aquifer non-existent.
This lengthy battle has united improbable allies: conservative ranchers, indigenous people, small business owners, rural residents and conservationists in a broad coalition of local opposition. Why? New Mexicans get 85 percent of their drinking water from groundwater. Water mining in huge quantities eventually causes a "cone of depression." As water continues to be pumped at an unsustainable rate, the underground flow moves toward the wells that are pumping. As nearby wells begin to dry up, the cone of depression widens, and more and more wells go dry.
Where Would the Water Go?
Only about 700 people live in the area of the San Augustin Valley. It is a sparse but elegant landscape, also home to the Very Large Array (VLA), a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). The VLA comprises 27 independent antennae, 25 meters in diameter each weighing 209 metric tons. It is a multi-purpose instrument designed to allow investigations of astronomical objects. The Association has been one of the parties protesting against Augustin Plains Ranch's permit applications.
After many bumps and turns, opponents and proponents of the project awaited yet another ruling by the State Engineer after three applications by the company. This was clearly a last-ditch effort by Augustin Plains Ranch, in hopes that the present administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, with their favoritism toward big business, would produce a different outcome.
The plan, if approved, called for 17 billion gallons of water per year to be extracted through 37 wells. A geological study concluded that "data used to generate storage estimates, aquifer properties, subsurface geology are sparse, making it difficult to accurately assess impact of the proposed project." This prehistoric underground lake could potentially be drained, leaving residents, livestock and wildlife with no water source and changing the fragile desert ecosystem forever.
Where would this extracted water go? That has been a question that has not been definitively answered all these years. According to the company, water pumped from the aquifer would be piped 140 miles to Bernalillo County, which is adjacent to the Rio Grande River, and could be purchased by anyone along the way to supplement water shortages, enhance stream flows and benefit fish and wildlife. But environmentalists do not support stealing water from one area to procure water for the Rio Grande.
Rio Rancho, a growing community outside of Albuquerque, was one of the possible destinations. Sandoval County where Rio Rancho is located is presently considering permits for horizontal drilling from oil and gas companies. The Sandoval County Commission is considering zoning the county and making some rural, less densely populated areas available for drilling and protecting other areas in a discriminatory policy that benefits wealthier, more populated areas. Horizontal drilling and subsequent fracking are highly water-consumptive processes, and Rio Rancho public utility water bills have skyrocketed. The possibility that the aquifer's wealth of water is being targeted in order to prop up fracking needs is very real. Agriculture is another potential destination—shoring up the New Mexico chile industry was mentioned as an option.
The Billionaire's Bad Luck—For Now
Ultimately, the State Engineer denied this third application for permit calling the venture "speculative." The Office of the State Engineer explained their decision: "After carefully considering all aspects of the application, the State Engineer determined that the applicant failed to identify specific quantities of water for specific identified beneficial uses which are requirements under state law for a water right to be developed."
Carol Pittman, a resident of the area for 20 years who has led the opposition, rejoiced at the decision, saying: "Rural communities throughout the state can celebrate the denial of the Augustin Plains Ranch LLC's application to mine water in the aquifer of the Plains of San Augustin. Should the application have been approved, every rural community would be vulnerable to the threat of water being moved from a rural area to an urban area, a prospect not even supported by urban areas." As a founding member of the San Augustin Water Coalition, Pittman and other members also regularly traveled to Albuquerque to register their opposition to the proposed Santolina planned community that would have ultimately purchased the San Augustin Plains water.
The fight for water has not come to an end, and the decision is facing an appeal, but the proper management of our natural resources has come into question. We cannot bow to the short-sighted demands of private entrepreneurs wanting to make a profit from the commons while compromising fragile ecosystems. The Water Coalition is hopeful that there will be no more applications and that the Plains are finally free to replenish as they have for thousands of years.
Food & Water Watch is proud to have assisted the members of the Water Coalition in this long-term struggle. Carol Pittman has become a great friend to us and we appreciate her acknowledgement:
"To help save our water resources in the Plains of San Augustin, New Mexico Food and Water Watch provided support to our rural community. Without such help the prospect of our small population winning the battle against an international corporation would have been much more difficult."
Eleanor Bravo is Food & Water Watch's National Pipeline Campaign Manager, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
By Mark Schlosberg
Mike Pompeo, a former congressman, current CIA director, and Trump's nominee to be Secretary of State, will face confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For anyone who cares about the environment, Pompeo as Secretary of State is a frightening prospect. His nomination must be rejected—any Senator who votes in support of Pompeo will clearly be siding with the fossil fuel industry over public health and climate stability.
Trump's agenda on climate, energy and the environment is crystal clear: deny science, ignore the impacts of pollution on our air, water and people, and as directed by industry, shred any common-sense environmental regulation in reach. The elevation of Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State would give Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt another willing partner in their agenda of environmental destruction.
Pompeo's record speaks for itself. Back in congress, he was the top recipient of campaign contributions from the Koch brothers, and he did everything in his power to fuel their deregulatory and pro-fossil fuel agenda. He is a climate denier who called relatively weak Obama administration efforts to address climate change "radical" and "damaging." He authored the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, which would have expedited the approval of fracked gas pipelines. And he called for the permanent elimination of wind power production tax credits, at a time when we need to be giving every incentive for more solar and wind production as we move off fossil fuels.
Pompeo also carried water for the corporate chemical giant Monsanto, authoring federal legislation that stripped states of their rights to label genetically modified foods. This law was passed at a time when states were beginning to pass labeling laws under great pressure from rising public demand for the right to know what we're eating.
When Pompeo was confirmed as CIA Director he received support from a large number of Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Foreign Relations Committee members Tim Kaine (VA) and Jean Shaheen (NH), senators like Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Amy Klobuchar (MN) who say we need to protect our climate for future generations.
As the country's top diplomat, the Secretary of State is charged with, among other immensely important things, negotiating with other countries regarding climate change and global energy sourcing. Science tells us undeniably that human fossil fuel consumption is rapidly warming the planet. Not only must we act, but we must act immediately and decisively to avert greater climate chaos and more humanitarian disasters. This is why more than 200 organizations delivered a letter this week to all senators, demanding they reject the Pompeo nomination.
Any senator who votes for Pompeo for Secretary of State will be sending a clear signal that they are choosing to side with fossil fuel industry polluters over people and the planet. They must choose. We'll be watching.
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."
Gabbard's bill prioritizes the health and wellbeing of the country and the future of the planet by tackling the climate change crisis head on and building on the progress of states like Hawaii.
OFF Act Is a #Climate Game Changer https://t.co/WcElNuFu7k @foodandwater @TulsiGabbard @WenonahHauter— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1504793362.0
The OFF Act sets an ambitious timeline to end America's reliance on fossil fuels and avert the catastrophic effects of climate change that have exacerbated natural disasters like the recent hurricanes that devastated Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and deadly wildfires in California.
Without urgent action, climate change will continue to intensify and accelerate the pace of extreme weather events that devastate coastal and low-lying communities causing widespread unemployment, wage stagnation and deadly health problems, which disproportionately affect low-income, minority, Native Hawaiian and Native American families.
This legislation protects the country's most vulnerable populations from the harmful effects of carbon emissions and toxic chemicals that pollute America's air, land and waterways by strengthening civil rights protections, creating clean energy jobs, and prioritizing the safety and security of the planet above profits for major corporations and the fossil fuels industry.
"We cannot afford any more delays or half-measures in this climate crisis. It's time for bold action to address this emergency and save our planet, before it's too late," said Lee. "This bill is a critical roadmap for climate justice in Congress at the moment we need it the most."
Passing the OFF Act will increase America's global competitiveness by creating domestic clean technologies, jobs and training programs. In addition, this legislation will improve the health and wellbeing of the American people and our planet from toxic pollutants, asthma and respiratory illnesses, and environmental degradation.
"Our dependence on fossil fuels has created a public health crisis. In my district, children exposed to smoke and chemicals from oil and gas drilling operations are wearing asthma inhalers around their necks. It's heartbreaking to see," said Barragán. "This bill is about moving America forward and embracing the energy sources of the future. Getting off fossil fuels and moving to 100 percent renewable energy will help end this public health crisis and can create millions of good jobs."
The OFF Act has been cosponsored by 14 Members of Congress and has been endorsed by nearly four hundred clean energy, climate change and environmental justice organizations.
"The science is clear," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "In order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of deepening climate chaos, we must break our foolish dependence on fossil fuels, and we must do it now. Fortunately, we have a solution. The OFF Act is the key to a livable future for all of us, and we are mobilizing from coast to coast to make it the law of the land."
By Mark Schlosberg
Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) last week. This visionary bill comes as the nation bears witness to the devastation being brought by the climate change-super charged storm Harvey to Texas and Louisiana and braces for Irma's impacts. Storms like this and other extreme weather events will become all the more frequent and intense unless bold action is taken.
Gabbard's bill—the strongest yet introduced in Congress—will put us on a path towards avoiding increased climate chaos: It will place a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and move the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, with a focus on a rapid transition in the next ten years. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Nanette Barragan (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
This legislation could not be more needed. While the impacts of Harvey are readily apparent to all, it is not an isolated occurrence. Evidence continues to build of the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. And while Trump flew to Texas and talked about helping communities there, he and fossil fuel-funded members of Congress continue to put the planet on a collision course with climate chaos. They deny climate change and are suppressing our government's ability to address it; they are moving to increase drilling and fracking on public lands and off our coasts; they are promoting development of more pipelines; and they are exporting more oil and gas abroad while wrecking the environment here at home.
In this dysfunctional political environment, a broad movement has grown to resist Trump's foolish and dangerous agenda. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets in DC and across the country. Thousands more have called members of Congress, written letters, and gone to town halls and community meetings opposing this destructive agenda. This is heartening and powerful, but we must do more.
To win on climate—to really move off of fossil fuels and transition our economy to 100 percent renewable energy on a time frame that will actually prevent even greater climate catastrophe—we must continue to resist Trump's agenda, but we need to do more than that: We need to propel a bold agenda for addressing the crisis—one that will protect our communities while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the renewables and energy efficiency sectors. This agenda must center racial and economic justice and cannot rely on false market solutions like carbon trading and taxing programs, which are simply corporate pay-to-pollute schemes. What we need is nothing short of a World War II-scale mobilization of our economy around a quick and just transition off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent renewable energy now.
Rep. Gabbard's OFF Act is a critical step towards that mobilization. It requires 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 (and 80 percent by 2027), places a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, bans the export of oil and gas, and also moves our automobile and rail systems to 100 percent renewable energy. Additionally, it provides for a truly just transition for environmental justice communities and those working in the fossil fuel industry. The bill requires that people in impacted communities have a leading role in the development and implementation of clean energy plans and regulations, and establishes an equitable transition fund and workforce development center, paid for by closing an offshore tax loophole and repealing federal tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.
Now we must mobilize to build support for this bill. Though the prospects of passing anything in Congress right now are grim, moving members of Congress to support the OFF Act and elevating its profile are important for three reasons:
1. Create Political Consensus for Rapid Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy
Six years ago, when Food & Water Watch followed the lead of our grassroots partners to become the first national organization to call for a ban on fracking, conventional wisdom dictated that fracked gas was an environmentally friendly "bridge fuel." There was lots of support for stronger regulations on fracking, but little serious talk about actually banning it. Yet hundreds of organizations and thousands of people all over the country organized around the issue and held their elected officials accountable.
New York and Maryland have since banned fracking. Rep. Mark Pocan introduced legislation to ban fracking on federal lands. Banning fracking became a top issue raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, and a majority of Americans now support a ban. It took lots of hard work, but the political consensus has shifted. We must do the same thing with the urgent need to act on climate, by building support for the OFF Act.
2. Make OFF a Top Issue Now
Even though Congress is controlled by pro-fossil fuel ideologues, it is still critical that we work to get members to sponsor this bill now. If we organize to get large numbers of co-sponsors on the OFF Act, it will become a top issue that representatives will need to respond to. Even as it has just been introduced, the OFF Act already enjoys support from more than 100 organizations including a wide range of major national groups like National Nurses United, Progressive Democrats of America, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and People's Action.
3. Make Space for State and Local Action
At the same time we are working to build support for the OFF Act, there are also campaigns across the country working to move cities, counties and states to 100 percent renewable energy now. Organizing around these local efforts can and should dovetail with efforts to pressure members of Congress to co-sponsor federal legislation. Passing local measures, or getting state and local elected officials to sign the OFF Pledge, will help build the political power needed to push Congress to support the federal legislation. Similarly, getting more co-sponsors on federal legislation to stop fossil fuel projects will open up more space for state and local action. These efforts work together.
Winning the fight to move off fossil fuels will not be easy, as the thousands of people who are working to stop pipelines, ban fracking and build renewable energy projects can tell you. But these are also fights that we can—and must—win if we are to protect people and the planet and avoid the very worst of climate chaos. The OFF Act is a critical first step in what must be a major national mobilization to restructure our energy system now.
Visit OFF Fossil Fuels to get involved in your community and join our grassroots team. Let's make this happen.