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Action of the Week

Action of the week is intended to provide you, our supporters and network, with one concrete action that you can take each week to have your voice heard on governmental actions that are harmful to the environment and public and worker health, increase overall pesticide use, or undermine the advancement of organic, sustainable, and regenerative practices and policies. As an example, topics may include toxic chemical use, pollinator protection, organic agriculture and land use, global climate change, and regulatory or enforcement violations.

01/17/2020 — Send a Message to EPA: Do Your Job to Protect Health and the Environment

As news reports come in demonstrating the threats to major groups of organisms, such as insects and birds, and the stability of Earth's ecosystems, and scientists appeal for major policy changes, recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board highlight the need for public insistence that EPA do its job.

>>Tell EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to follow the advice of scientists and do his job. Tell your Congressional representatives to support scientific integrity at EPA and other agencies.

Although the influence of regulated corporations has historically silenced science that threatens profits–as shown by industry reaction to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring—attacks on science in federal agencies have increased in the Trump administration. EPA has dismissed findings of scientists concerning chlorpyrifos, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroids. Now EPA's war on its own scientists has reached the point that its Science Advisory Board, which oversees the scientific integrity of the agency's regulation, posted letters on-line criticizing EPA's rollback of environmental protections. As reported in a front page story on January 1, 2020 by The New York Times, “A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that three of President Trump's most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established science.”

These most recent rollbacks involve protection of waterways, limitations on vehicle emissions, and use of scientific data to support health regulations. Without reliance on science, agency policies cannot fail to be arbitrary and capricious – the standard of irresponsibility in government. The Times quoted Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School“The courts basically say if you're going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have really good reasons for that. And not just policy reasons but reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”

>>Send a message to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler that he must do his job, as supported by the best available science.

Letter to EPA Administrator Wheeler:

As news reports come in demonstrating the threats to major groups of organisms, and the stability of Earth’s ecosystems, and as international scientists appeal for major policy changes, action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect biodiversity and ecosystem integrity has never been more critical. Recent actions by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board highlight the need for public insistence that the agency do its job.

Under your leadership, EPA has dismissed findings of scientists concerning chlorpyrifos, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroids. Now EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, which oversees the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulation, has posted letters on-line criticizing EPA’s rollback of environmental protections. As reported by The New York Times, “A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that three of President Trump’s most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established science.”

These most recent rollbacks involve protection of waterways, limitations on vehicle emissions, and use of scientific data to support health regulations. Without reliance on science, agency policies cannot fail to be arbitrary and capricious–the standard of irresponsibility in government. The Times quoted Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School, “The courts basically say if you’re going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have really good reasons for that. And not just policy reasons but reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”

It is time for you, as the Administrator of EPA, to listen to your own advisors and the best available science and act to preserve life on Earth.

Thank you.

Letter to Congressional Representatives and Senators:

I am writing to ask you to request EPA Administrator to follow the advice of agency scientists and do his job to protect human health and the living environment.

As news reports come in demonstrating the threats to major groups of organisms, and the stability of Earth’s ecosystems, and as international scientists appeal for major policy changes, action by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect biodiversity and ecosystem integrity has never been more critical. Recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board highlight the need for public insistence that EPA do its job.

Under the current administration, EPA has dismissed findings of scientists concerning chlorpyrifos, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroids. Now EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, which oversees the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulation, has posted letters on-line criticizing EPA’s rollback of environmental protections. As reported in a front page story by The New York Times, “A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that three of President Trump’s most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established science.”

These most recent rollbacks involve protection of waterways, limitations on vehicle emissions, and use of scientific data to support health regulations. Without reliance on science, agency policies cannot fail to be arbitrary and capricious–the standard of irresponsibility in government. The Times quoted Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School, “The courts basically say if you’re going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have really good reasons for that. And not just policy reasons but reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”

It is time for the Administrator of EPA to listen to his own advisors and the best available science and act to preserve life on Earth.

Thank you.

 

01/13/2020 — Take Action: Help Restore Protections for Migratory Birds

Birds are facing an existential crisis. Three billion birds have disappeared since 1970. Two out of three birds are threatened by climate change. In spite of this crisis, our nation’s most important bird protection law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being weakened by the Trump Administration’s Department of the Interior.

Ask your U.S. Representative to support and cosponsor the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Thank those who are already cosponsors.

Songbirds Threatened. The poisonous farm fields that migratory birds forage reduce their weight, delay their travel, and ultimately jeopardize their survival, according to “A neonicotinoid insecticide reduces fueling and delays migration in songbirds,“ published in the journal Science. Like their effects on insect pollinator populations, neonicotinoid insecticides generally do not cause acute poisoning and immediate death, but instead precipitate a cascade of sublethal impacts reducing their fitness in the wild. As the authors told Environmental Health News, the study is a call not simply to ban neonics or one class of chemical, but to change the entire farming system toward more sustainable bird and bee-friendly practices.

Bird Habitat Threatened in ArkansasA citizen science monitoring project of Audubon Arkansas found evidence of contamination from the weed killer dicamba far from the genetically engineered soybean and cotton fields, documenting nearly 250 observations of dicamba symptomology across 17 Arkansas counties. Community scientists were trained by Audubon to detect dicamba symptoms. Dan Scheiman, PhD, bird conservation director for the organization, after launching the project this spring, said, “Spraying dicamba on millions of acres of soybean and cotton is an uncontrolled experiment that puts sensitive habitats at unacceptable risk. In a landscape full of genetically engineered crops, the atmospheric build-up of volatized dicamba may result in significant damage to our state natural areas, wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, family farms, and the wildlife they harbor.”

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) adds protection to migratory birds that are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. The MBTA makes it unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill any migratory bird without a permit. The MBTA covers not only hunting, trapping and poaching activities, but extends to other activities that kill migratory birds. Beginning in the 1970s, federal officials use the act to prosecute and fine companies up to $15,000 per bird for accidental deaths on power lines, in oil pits, in wind turbines, and by other industrial hazards. The MBTA has been applied to prosecute farmers who inadvertently poison migratory birds by use of pesticides.

Yet in 2017, the Department of the Interior issued a policy that relieved industries of the requirement to protect birds, and they will no longer be held accountable for bird deaths. In addition, the agency is expected to propose rules to make this policy change permanent.

On January 8, U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal and 18 bipartisan cosponsors introduced the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552) to restore the critical protections removed by the Trump Administration.

Ask your U.S. Representative to support and cosponsor the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Thank those who are already cosponsors.

Letter to request cosponsorship

I am writing to ask you to restore important protections for migratory birds by cosponsoring H.R. 5552, the Migratory Bird Protection Act.

Birds are facing an existential crisis. Three billion birds have disappeared since 1970. Two out of three birds are threatened by climate change. In spite of this crisis, our nation’s most important bird protection law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being weakened by the Trump Administration’s Department of the Interior.

Songbirds Threatened: The poisonous farm fields that migratory birds forage reduce their weight, delay their travel, and ultimately jeopardize their survival, according to “A neonicotinoid insecticide reduces fueling and delays migration in songbirds,“ published in the journal Science. Like their effects on insect pollinator populations, neonicotinoid insecticides generally do not cause acute poisoning and immediate death, but instead precipitate a cascade of sublethal impacts reducing their fitness in the wild. As the authors told Environmental Health News, the study is a call not simply to ban neonics or one class of chemical, but to change the entire farming system toward more sustainable bird and bee-friendly practices.

Bird Habitat Threatened in Arkansas: A citizen science monitoring project of Audubon Arkansas found evidence of contamination from the weed killer dicamba far from the genetically engineered soybean and cotton fields, documenting nearly 250 observations of dicamba symptomology across 17 Arkansas counties. Community scientists were trained by Audubon to detect dicamba symptoms. Dan Scheiman, PhD, bird conservation director for the organization, after launching the project this spring, said, “Spraying dicamba on millions of acres of soybean and cotton is an uncontrolled experiment that puts sensitive habitats at unacceptable risk. In a landscape full of genetically engineered crops, the atmospheric build-up of volatized dicamba may result in significant damage to our state natural areas, wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, family farms, and the wildlife they harbor.”

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) adds protection to migratory birds that are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. The MBTA makes it unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill any migratory bird without a permit. The MBTA covers not only hunting, trapping and poaching activities, but extends to other activities that kill migratory birds. Beginning in the 1970s, federal officials used the act to prosecute and fine companies up to $15,000 per bird for accidental deaths on power lines, in oil pits, in wind turbines and by other industrial hazards. The MBTA has been applied to prosecute farmers who inadvertently poison migratory birds by use of pesticides.
Yet in 2017, the Department of the Interior issued a policy that relieved industries of the requirement to protect birds, and they will no longer be held accountable for bird deaths. In addition, the agency is expected to propose rules to make this policy change permanent.

Please cosponsor the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552) introduced by Representative Alan Lowenthal and 18 bipartisan cosponsors to restore the critical protections removed by the Trump Administration.

Letter to current cosponsors

I am writing to thank you for cosponsoring H.R. 5552, the Migratory Bird Protection Act.

Birds are facing an existential crisis. Three billion birds have disappeared since 1970. Two out of three birds are threatened by climate change. In spite of this crisis, our nation’s most important bird protection law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being weakened by the Trump Administration’s Department of the Interior.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) adds protection to migratory birds that are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. The MBTA makes it unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill any migratory bird without a permit.  The MBTA covers not only hunting, trapping and poaching activities, but extends to other activities that kill migratory birds. Beginning in the 1970s, federal officials used the act to prosecute and fine companies up to $15,000 per bird for accidental deaths on power lines, in oil pits, in wind turbines and by other industrial hazards. The MBTA has been applied to prosecute farmers who inadvertently poison migratory birds by use of pesticides.

Yet in 2017, the Department of the Interior issued a policy that relieved industries of the requirement to protect birds, and they will no longer be held accountable for bird deaths. In addition, the agency is expected to propose rules to make this policy change permanent.

Thank you for cosponsoring H.R. 5552, the Migratory Bird Protection Act.

01/06/2020 — End Factory Farms: Support the Farm System Reform Act

In the midst of recalls of romaine lettuce contaminated with a pathogenic strain of E. coli, states and counties across the country are calling for a moratorium on large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Now Senator Cory Booker is seeking to pass similar legislation at the national level. These industrial-scale operations are commonly referred to as “factory farms.”

>>Tell your U.S. Senator to cosponsor the Farm System Reform Act.

In the last week of November 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a food safety alert concerning a multistate outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California. As of November 25, 67 cases had been reported across 19 states, 39 of which required hospitalization, including six who developed kidney failure. The E. coli strain causing the outbreak — O157:H7, also known as STEC — is genetically identical to that responsible for lettuce-related outbreaks in 2017 and 2018. STEC is a dangerous, Shiga toxin-producing type of E. coli. Other outbreaks occurred earlier in 2019 as well.

Dangerous strains of E. coli, including O157:H7, are typically associated with cattle in feedlot conditions. The first of the two outbreaks in 2018 was traced back to manure runoff from a CAFO in the vicinity of the lettuce farm, which polluted water that was used to irrigate the lettuce fields. CAFOs are a major source of water contamination throughout the U.S. As noted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality"Nationwide and in Arizona, the potential for surface and ground water pollution exists through livestock facility discharge of manure-contaminated run off to natural waterways and through wastewater leaching to aquifers. Water and air pollution lead the list of concerns that have led to a number of state and local initiatives to institute moratoria on new and expanded CAFOs. Iowa, which has experienced an explosion of CAFOs, is the example these people want to avoid. In South Dakota, Lyle Reimnitz, who lives a half-mile from a Davison County hog farm with a permit for 8,000 sows, says, “I don't want to see South Dakota become another Iowa,” he said. “We don't need all our rivers and streams polluted. I know everybody wants cheap meat, but that comes at a terrible price for people who live here.”

In Wisconsin, supporters of a statewide moratorium on CAFOs are urging concerned citizens to ask County Supervisors, Town Board Members, and City Councilors to pass resolutions supporting a state-wide CAFO moratorium. In California, a report on dairy CAFOs found that “major production externalities are still imposed upon the communities in which Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are located, due in large part to lack of resources, information, enforcement capability and political will on the part of local and regional regulatory agencies.” And, in Indiana, a report by the Indiana Business Research Center found, “For town residential properties, having the closest RLO [regulated livestock operation, or CAFO] upwind of the residence reduced the sale price by $4,980.00 and if the closest RLO contained dairy cattle, the sale price was further reduced by $32,340.00 for every 100 mature head.” In addition to these concerned citizens, the American Public Health Association has also called for a moratorium on CAFOs.

A majority of Americans say they want more stringent oversight of large-scale livestock operations, according to a national poll by Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future released December 10, 2019.

Traditional family farmers, and groups like the National Farmers Union, favor judicious regulatory controls due to the overall deleterious impacts these industrial agricultural sites have on rural communities. Other impacts include odors and fugitive dust that might contain antibiotic-resistant organisms.

Senator Booker's bill, the Farm System Reform Act, would require that "corporate integrators" are "responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs,” which would be phased out by 2040.  

>>Tell your U.S. Senator to cosponsor the Farm System Reform Act.

Letter to Congress

I am writing to ask you to cosponsor the Farm System Reform Act, unveiled by Senator Cory Booker in December.

In the midst of recalls of romaine lettuce contaminated with a pathogenic strain of E. coli, states and counties across the country are calling for a moratorium on large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Sen. Booker’s bill seeks a moratorium at the national level.

In the last week of November 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a food safety alert concerning a multistate outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California. As of November 25, 67 cases had been reported across 19 states, 39 of which required hospitalization, including six who developed kidney failure. The E. coli strain causing the outbreak — O157:H7, also known as STEC — is genetically identical to that responsible for lettuce-related outbreaks in 2017 and 2018. STEC is a dangerous, Shiga toxin-producing type of E. coli. Other outbreaks occurred earlier in 2019 as well.

E. coli O157:H7 is typically associated with cattle. The first of the two outbreaks in 2018 was traced back to manure runoff from a CAFO in the vicinity of the lettuce farm, which polluted water that was used to irrigate the lettuce fields. CAFOs are a major source of water contamination throughout the U.S. As noted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, “Nationwide and in Arizona, the potential for surface and ground water pollution exists through livestock facility discharge of manure-contaminated run off to natural waterways and through wastewater leaching to aquifers.”

Water and air pollution lead the list of concerns that have led to a number of state and local initiatives to institute moratoria on new and expanded CAFOs. Iowa, which has experienced an explosion of CAFOs, is the example these people want to avoid. In South Dakota, Lyle Reimnitz, who lives a half-mile from a Davison County hog farm with a permit for 8,000 sows, says, “I don’t want to see South Dakota become another Iowa,” he said. “We don’t need all our rivers and streams polluted. I know everybody wants cheap meat, but that comes at a terrible price for people who live here.”

In Wisconsin, supporters of a statewide moratorium on CAFOs are urging concerned citizens to ask County Supervisors, Town Board Members, and City Councillors to pass resolutions supporting a state-wide CAFO moratorium. In California, a report on dairy CAFOs found that “major production externalities are still imposed upon the communities in which Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are located, due in large part to lack of resources, information, enforcement capability and political will on the part of local and regional regulatory agencies.” In Indiana, a report by the Indiana Business Research Center found, “For town residential properties, having the closest RLO [regulated livestock operation, or CAFO] upwind of the residence reduced the sale price by $4,980.00 and if the closest RLO contained dairy cattle, the sale price was further reduced by $32,340.00 for every 100 mature head.” In addition to these concerned citizens, the American Public Health Association has also called for a moratorium on CAFOs.

A majority of Americans say they want more stringent oversight of large-scale livestock operations, according to a national poll by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future released December 10, 2019.

Please cosponsor Senator Booker’s bill, the Farm System Reform Act, which would require that “corporate integrators” are “responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs” and phase them out by 2040.

Thank you.

 

01/02/2020 — The National Organic Program Must Defend Biodiversity

Beyond Pesticides

An unintended consequence of the National Organic Standards, the rules that govern certified organic agricultural production, actually provides an incentive for the conversion of critical ecosystems to organic cropland, fueling deforestation and biodiversity loss.

>> Tell the National Organic Program to issue regulations that will prevent the conversion of native ecosystems to organic cropland.

One National Organic Program (NOP) requirement for organic certification—a three-year waiting period during which land must be free of disallowed substances—encourages the conversion of critical ecosystems, which do not require the three-year waiting period.

Conversions of native landscapes to working organic land to date include losses of: a California forest, Colorado prairies, a New Mexico wetland, and native sagebrush lands in Washington and Oregon. The Wild Farm Alliance, which provides critical leadership on the issue, points out, “These areas, that were once delivering critical ecosystem services and providing essential habitat for wildlife, are no longer performing the same functions and [it] would take hundreds of years to reverse the damage.”

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which is responsible for advising the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on implementation of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), has been studying this problem since 2009, ultimately resulting in a 2018 recommendation. Beyond Pesticides commented on the proposal, “Despite efforts of organic farmers to build and protect biodiversity, it is unlikely that the organic farm will achieve the same level of biodiversity and ecological resilience as the original ecosystem. On the other hand, the conversion of conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture to organic agriculture provides huge benefits to biodiversity through both the absence of toxic inputs and positive measures to increase biodiversity in soil-based systems that are required by OFPA or its regulations. Therefore, Beyond Pesticides supports efforts by the NOSB to eliminate incentives to convert high-value native land to organic production, as well as to increase incentives to convert chemical-intensive farmland to organic production.”

In May 2018, the NOSB approved (nearly unanimously) the revised, formal Eliminating the Incentive to Convert Native Ecosystems to Organic Production recommendation. Typically, once the NOSB has made a recommendation, NOP puts it on the rulemaking agenda, develops a rule proposal on the basis of the recommendation, solicits public comment, and then develops a final rule. Yet, NOP has taken no action to bring the recommendation into its rulemaking process. Public pressure on USDA is needed to persuade NOP to “do its duty” and bring the NOSB recommendation forward to the rulemaking agenda.

>> Tell the National Organic Program to issue regulations that will prevent the conversion of native ecosystems to organic cropland.

Letter to USDA

I am very concerned about the failure of the National Organic Program to protect native ecosystems by implementing the NOSB recommendation “Eliminating the Incentive to Convert Native Ecosystems to Organic Production.”

Conversions of native landscapes to working organic land to date include losses of: a California forest, Colorado prairies, a New Mexico wetland, and native sagebrush lands in Washington and Oregon. The Wild Farm Alliance points out, “These areas, that were once delivering critical ecosystem services and providing essential habitat for wildlife, are no longer performing the same functions and [it] would take hundreds of years to reverse the damage.”

Despite efforts of organic farmers to build and protect biodiversity, it is unlikely that the organic farm will achieve the same level of biodiversity and ecological resilience as the original ecosystem. On the other hand, the conversion of conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture to organic agriculture provides huge benefits to biodiversity through both the absence of toxic inputs and positive measures to increase biodiversity in soil-based systems that are required by the Organic Foods Production Act and its regulations.

The NOSB recommended nearly unanimously that NOP should adopt regulations to define “native ecosystems” more specifically and require a 10-year waiting period before such land can be converted into organic cropland. With the crisis in loss of biodiversity that we are experiencing, it is important that organic producers lead the way in protecting the diversity of life.

Please initiate regulations eliminating incentives to convert native ecosystems to organic production as soon as possible.

Thank you.