Nel's New Day

May 28, 2016

Environmental Hope for Movement from the Right

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 10:03 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Is it possible that the political pendulum in the United States is swinging away from the ultra-right side back to the central? There are a few pieces of hope in the fight against ag-gag laws, Monsanto, and big corporations.

Thanks to conservative lawmakers and a ruling by U.S. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, Idaho taxpayers are stuck with paying $250,000 in legal fees for its unconstitutional “ag-gag” law. The law’s intent was to prevent people from filming the inhumane animal abuse on big agricultural farms. Idaho was the most recent state in the trend to outlaw undercover investigations, and the first to suffer the overturn of its law because of the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. An appeal for the Idaho ruling would go to the usually liberal 9th Circuit of Appeals.

The far-right group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), created by the Koch brothers, drafted a model bill so that conservative lawmakers could take it back to their legislation. These laws maintained that photographing the animal abuse was not only illegal but those convicted were listed on a “terrorist registry.”

Twenty-six states introduced these bills, and seven of them passed it into law. Because Idaho’s law was overturned on federal constitutional grounds, the ruling will most likely set a strong precedent for legal ag-gag challenges throughout the nation.

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Wyoming’s law made it illegal to collect data, outside of city boundaries, on all lands public, private or federal. “Data collection” means “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.” Warned that the law might be unconstitutional, lawmakers amended it this spring to just private lands where anyone in Wyoming, whether resident or visitor, who takes a photo of a polluted stream to report it to any agency can get a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The law is now in the courts.

The worst state law may be in North Carolina: it covers not only agricultural business but also all other workplaces in the state. According to the law, people secretly taping abuses of people in nursing homes, daycare centers, hospitals, group homes, medical practices, charter and private schools, veterans’ facilities, etc. can be sued for bad publicity and required to pay a fine of $5,000 each day that the person gathers and/or records information without the business owners’ authorization. The law exempts people who directly report abuses to owners or state authorities, but the information cannot be legally disseminated to the public. The law is being challenged, perhaps successfully. The Idaho judge wrote that activists who pose as employees to gain access to farming operations  “actually advance core First Amendment values by exposing misconduct to the public eye and facilitating dialogue on issues of considerable public interest.”

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Animals are not the only ones abused in agribusiness. Poultry industry workers are “routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom” in corporate efforts to optimize the speed of production. According to a new study, people avoid drinking liquids for long periods of time and wear diapers at work so that they can “urinate and defecate while standing on the line.” and “wear diapers to work.” Processing companies include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, and Perdue. The industry is also trying to increase the regulation of 140 birds per minute by another 35 birds per minute. OSHA mandates employee access to bathrooms, but some of them are forced to wait for over an hour to be relieved or not have any relief at all.

In the world of chemical pollution, Monsanto has been assessed $46.5 million in damages by a St. Louis jury because of the company’s negligence in handling toxic and carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs. PCBs were used to insulate electronics decades ago, and Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound from 1935 until 1977. Even after Monsanto learned about the product’s dangers, long before it was banned in 1979, the company told the public that PCBs were safe and continued to sell the compounds.

Lawsuits are piling up against Monsanto, the most recent from Long Beach (CA), the eighth city to sue the biotech behemoth after Portland (OR), Seattle, Spokane, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland. These cases are pending. Long Beach’s federal lawsuit states that Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs are “widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms” including marine life, plants, animals, birds and humans.” The complaint also stated:

“PCBs regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, causing runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events, after being released into the environment. The runoff originates from multiple sources and industries and enters Long Beach Waters with stormwater and other runoff.”

GOP lawmakers are trying to protect Monsanto with the “Monsanto Rider” in the Toxic Substances Control Act reauthorization bill that would give the chemical giant permanent immunity from liability for injuries caused by PCBs.

The conservative World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released a report stating that glyphosate, an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, probably causes cancer in humans. After WHO’s announcement, California plans to add glyphosate to its list of carcinogenic chemicals. Other bad news for Monsanto came from a 2014 Sri Lankan study showing a possible link between glyphosate and chronic kidney disease that killed thousands of farm workers in Central America. Monsanto not only produces Roundup but also adds the herbicide to its genetically modified seeds that cover the United States. Latvia and Greece have joined other European countries to reject GMOs.

In March, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a House bill that would have prevented all states from having GMO labeling laws. Almost 90% of people in the U.S. want GMO food to be labeled, but the agrichemical industry returned to the Senate with its zombie bill to pass the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act to nullify state labeling efforts. Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Bayer, and ConAgra are among the top ten donors spending over $100 million to defeat GMO ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon, and California.

A year ago Monsanto agreed to pay $600,000 for its failures to report the release of severe toxic chemicals from its Idaho plant between the years 2006 and 2009. The cost won’t be a problem for Monsanto: the company reporter $1.5 billion in profit during just 2013.

Voters in tiny Hood County (OR), population 22,675, scored a huge victory over Nestle, another international corporation  worth over $247 billion. The battle started eight years ago when the gigantic company tried to buy water rights to Oxbow Springs in a state sometimes suffering from drought. Protesting environmental groups were joined by four Indian tribes by claiming treaty rights and raising concerns about future salmon populations. The ballot measure crafted by Nestle’s opposition banning commercial water operations in the county passed with 70 percent of the vote in the May 17, 2016 primary election.

Nestle’s lure was 50 jobs at $10 per hour with no benefits; the company spent $105,000 fighting the initiative. If Nestle had won, it would have paid less than residents for the water. Julia Degraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch, said, “This is absolutely the first time a county has passed this kind of ballot measure prohibiting commercial water bottles. It really defines what is possible for communities who are serious about protecting their water.”

The town of Cascade Locks, population 1,148 and an unemployment of 19 percent, passed the measure by 58 percent. Nestle targets economically depressed areas to make billions of dollars in profit and leaves the area with environmental, infrastructure, and other costs.

April 9, 2016

Nestle in Oregon = Possible Water Shortages

Filed under: Privatization — trp2011 @ 7:34 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

The media’s obsession with the current—and on-going—presidential election process, you may have missed World Water Day on March 22 to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. One huge company, Nestle, is contributing to the lack of fresh water in the world as it bottles ground water and leaves people already in poverty with the filthy remains. For example, when the company dug a deep well in the small Pakistani community of Bhati Dilwan, the water level sank over 200 feet from its original 100 feet. Children can either drink the dirty water or use bottled water—that their families can’t afford to buy. Every day more children die from drinking dirty water than AIDS, war, traffic accidents and malaria put together.

a.gorgeNot satisfied with plundering foreign countries and other parts of the U.S., Nestle wants Oregon’s water. The Columbia River Gorge, east of Portland (OR), is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Millions of tourists visit its scenic wonders, including the largest number of waterfalls in the country. Just 200 yards from Mt. Hood National Forest’s northern boundary, Oxbow Springs flows out of the ground into the Herman Creek watershed, known for its exemplary trail system. Herman Creek also provides refuge for threatened steelhead and salmon.

A. waterfallIn the past eight years, Oxbow Springs has gained fame as the public water source where Nestle wants to bottle over 100 million gallons of water each year. In exchange for depleting the state’s water and 200 daily semi-truck trips through the small town of Cascade Locks, Nestle has promised “up to” 50 jobs each paying about $10 per hour. They seemed fairly close to success after Ted Kulongoski, governor in 2010, ordered the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to permanently transfer its water right, with no public interest assessment, to the huge corporation for .2 cents per gallon—less than the cost for residents.

In a David versus Goliath battle, some Oregonians decided to fight back. Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs tribal members protested the deal, and Anna Mae Leonard, 57, held a five-day hunger strike in Cascade Locks last August. She said that the state’s deal between the state and the town violates the Treaty of 1855 between the U.S. and the Four Columbia River Tribes giving Senior Water Rights to the tribes. The tribes of the Gorge depend on selling salmon caught in the town of Cascade Locks for their economy.

In the past few months, Hood River County residents have gathered enough signatures for a ballot measure to prohibit commercial bottling operations in the county, and current governor, Kate Brown, asked ODFW and Oregon Water Resources Department to withdraw applications and go back to a direct water exchange requiring a more robust public interest review. She cited the “historic drought Oregon faced this year” as a reason for greater public involvement.

The battle is heating up as the May 17 election nears. The ballot measure proposes blocking the Nestle plant by banning any water bottling operation producing 1,000 gallons or more a day. Nestle plans to package 11 times that much in each hour. Nestle supporters have established a political group called Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy. While both sides await the election, state water officials are reviewing the applications Nestle needs to access Oxbow’s water. That process could take several more years.

Although some people watching the current rainfall might assume that the drought in Oregon is over, much of the water for the state comes from the snowpack, historically bad last year and the worst for the Mt. Hood snowpack since it began gathering information in 1980. The year 2015 marks the fourth consecutive year of drought for the U.S. West, causing water shortages and huge wildfires—the greatest level of devastation seen only in six other years since 1960.

Even Washington state’s Queets rain forest, which usually receives an annual rainfall of over 200 inches, burned last year. Lack of snowpack from the warm winter (14 percent of usual) combined with an exceedingly hot, dry spring caused the biggest fire since the park was established over 100 years ago by Theodore Roosevelt. The natural fire cycle in this forest is about 500 to 800 years, but three fires have occurred in just the past 50 years, each one progressively worse. The fire that covered four square miles for almost six months wasn’t extinguished until after a heavy rainfall from a series of storms.

Nestle has been sourcing its water from the San Bernardino National Forest without a permit for the past 27 years. Forced to apply for another permit, they can keep plundering California by paying an annual fee of $524. California cannot find out how much water Nestle is taking out of the state because the company does not have to divulge this information.

The eight states with the most severe to exceptional drought conditions directly affecting approximately over 50 million people of the United States are Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and South Carolina. In California, 46 percent of the land area is in a state of exceptional drought conditions. A study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported:

 “Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years.”

People in other states are indirectly affected from reduced food supplies. The Great Plains states rely on groundwater while the West needs surface water, hopefully replenished by spring thaw of the snowpack levels. Even western Gulf Coast region states experiencing severe flooding during the wet season of May, June, and July such as Texas had no rain since, putting them quickly back into drought.

The effects of climate change caused the worst drought on record in Syria between 2006 and 2011, creating instability for farmers and threatening the country’s food supply. Syria’s lack of water started from poor management 40 years ago and resulted in the current problem of refugees. This paper shows the link between climate change and the rise of ISIS.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense–funded Strauss Center project on Climate Change and African Political Stability, increasing events of floods and drought have turned agricultural land into desert, and heat waves are killing crops and farm animals.  The forced migration to cities will stress already unstable governments and create the same sort of chaos as exists in Syria.  The global emphasis, including within the United States, on corporate agriculture practices such as Monsanto and Syngenta relies on vast amounts of energy, water and fossil fuel based synthetic pesticides. This model of agriculture uses 80 percent of the world’s arable land and 70 percent of the world’s water while contributing more to climate change than organic farming does.

Nestle’s solution to global water issues is privatization of water sources. The jobs that they create lure people into giving them water-well privileges and tax breaks over private citizens. Nestle, which takes almost one billion gallons from water-starved California and more water from suburban Michigan well-water leaves the public to suffer any shortages. The company’s chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, believes that “access to water is not a public right.” Nor a human right.

nestle-subsidiaries

Nestle is a Swiss multinational food and beverage company with over 8,000 brands, 447 factories, 333,000 employees, and operations in 194 countries. Twenty nine of their brands have sales of over $1 billion a year, and in total, they have over 8,000 brands. In addition to creating water shortages, the company uses slaves and children for labor around the world.

Water shortage has many reasons other than climate change: fracking, oil disasters, mining waste, industrial agriculture pollution, disposal of drugs, etc. Bottling water is still an important piece of the picture. This year people think that Oregon has plenty of water, but climate change—and Nestle—may change that. And your state may be next. Water should be a right; people shouldn’t be forced to purchase it because of corporate control.

[Thanks to Ann Hubard for photographs]

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