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Following Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to allow the process of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") across 85 percent of New York's Marcellus Shale, a coalition of 47 consumer, faith, food, environmental and multi-issue advocacy organizations today called for a statewide ban on fracking. The coalition includes several national and state organizations including Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Democracy for America, Friends of the Earth, Credo Action, Center for Heath Environment and Justice, Catskill Mountainkeeper and Citizen Action New York.
Last week, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released its recommendations on fracking, allowing the practice in most areas of the state outside of the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. The DEC's plan, which informed Governor Cuomo's decision, leaves many New Yorkers without equal protection from the environmental and public health risks associated with fracking, and still exposes New York City and Syracuse residents to many impacts of shale gas drilling, including toxic air emissions.
"The DEC's recommendations on fracking will turn many areas of New York into sacrifice zones, allowing this toxic, polluting practice at the detriment of public health, the environment and rural economies," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "We urge Governor Cuomo to protect New York and its residents over the special interests of the oil and gas industry by banning hydraulic fracturing in New York State."
Under the DEC's plan, thousands of new wells will be drilled across New York, using billions of gallons of fresh water, and industrializing rural communities across the state. Opponents of fracking fear that allowing the practice to flourish in some areas will breed catastrophic accidents that could affect all New York residents.
"Has governor Cuomo been hoodwinked by industry into thinking this is safe? The fact remains that New York needs to have some serious fundamental questions answered about the dangers of hydro- fracturing, not just carve out some special places to placate New York City," said Wes Gillingham, Program Director, Catskill Mountainkeeper.
"Governor Cuomo got it wrong when he said fracking can be done safely," said Claire Sandberg, Executive Director of Frack Action. "Not only does this practice carry an unacceptable level of risk, but there is no rationale for drilling when we know that the promises of limitless energy and continuous economic growth are not borne out by the facts."
The coalition also presented Governor Cuomo with a letter signed by 47 organizations urging him to ban fracking in New York.
"By banning fracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, the Cuomo administration is clearly demonstrating awareness about the potential for serious hazard to the citizens of those municipalities," said David Braun, co-founder of United for Action. " It is unacceptable however, that they create a double standard and leave the rest of the good citizens of New York state completely vulnerable to serious toxic threat, and protect only a portion of the population. Why are upstate citizens any less important?"
"Fracked natural gas is a dirty fuel that will make global warming worse," said Alex Moore, dirty fuels campaigner, Friends of the Earth. "Governor Cuomo should put clean water and a safe environment ahead of gas company profits."
This opposition to fracking heats up here as other states have passed legislation banning the practice. Last week, the New Jersey State legislature sent Governor Chris Christie a bill that would ban fracking in the state, and North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed fracking. To date, more than 60 municipalities in the United States have passed measures against fracking.
"It's clear that New Yorkers strongly oppose fracking, and want all of their water protected from it. Nearly 20,000 New Yorkers signed our petition to Governor Cuomo in just the first 24 hours," said Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager, CREDO Action. "It would be outrageous for Governor Cuomo to allow fracking in New York."
A recent investigative series by The New York Times found that the natural gas industry has exaggerated the economic benefits of fracking, while downplaying its risks to public health and the environment.
"It's wrong and unfair for the Cuomo administration to lift the ban on fracking, as it is a technology that has proven to destroy land, water, public health and economic growth," said Lois Marie Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. "It is especially despicable to provide an exception for the Syracuse and New York City watersheds, while opening up the rest of the state to hazardous drilling. If it's too dangerous for these urban areas, then it is too dangerous for all of New York. People across the state deserve equal protection. Governor Cuomo, don't frack New York!"
Opponents of fracking worry that Cuomo's support of the practice in some areas of New York signals a deference to industry. Thousands of New Yorkers have called Governor Cuomo's offices asking him to ban fracking and hundreds of concerned citizens have flooded his Facebook page, asking him to assert real leadership by banning fracking in New York.
Groups urging Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in New York include:
Food & Water Watch; Frack Action; CREDO Action; Center for Health, Environment & Justice; Citizen Action of New York; Friends of the Earth; Democracy for America; NYH20; Damascus Citizens for Sustainability; United for Action; WBAI-FM, NYC; New York Residents Against Drilling; WaterDefense; FarmHearts; Chenango Delaware Otsego Gas Drilling Opposition Group; Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition; Brooklyn Food Coalition; "Gasland"; Sane Energy Project; NY Permaculture Exchange; WNY Drilling Defense; No Frack NY; The Village Independent Democrats; Advocates for Morris; New Yorkers for Clean Water Inc.; NO Gas Pipeline; FrackAlert, Inc.; the Community Church of New York, Unitarian Universalist; Action for Justice Committee, the Community Church of New York, Unitarian Universalist; Westchester for Change; Democracy for New York City; People for a Healthy Environment; New York Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends; Environmental Task Force; Hopewell Junction Citizens for Clean Water; Empire State Consumer Project; Slow Food New York City; STARK and Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition; Hudson River Sloop, Clearwater Inc.; Earth Day Network New York; Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy; Gas Drilling Awareness for Cortland County; NYC Network; Huntington BC Action Coalition; Coalition to Protect New York; Moving in Congregations, Acting in Hope; Clean Water New York; Gray Panthers, NYC Network.
"You cannot remove a member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal. "This is both ludicrous and dangerous."
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and her progressive allies are denouncing the Republican effort to oust her from a key House panel as early as Thursday.
House Republicans on Wednesday advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). In a party-line 218-209 vote, GOP lawmakers approved a rule that sets the parameters for debate on the chamber floor prior to a final vote.
"It remains unclear when House Republicans will bring the Omar resolution to the floor for debate and a final vote," The Hillreported. "Democrats still need to formally submit a separate resolution with their roster for the Foreign Affairs Committee." That is expected to happen by Thursday.
The GOP has sought for years to remove Omar, a principled critic of Israeli apartheid and Washington's role in perpetuating it, from the HFAC. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has unilateral authority to boot any lawmaker from a select committee, but because the HFAC is a standing committee, removing a member from it requires a full House vote.
On Tuesday night, after Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) introduced the measure to remove Omar from the HFAC over supposedly "antisemitic" remarks, the progressive lawmaker tweeted that "there is nothing objectively true in this resolution."
In response to Miller's argument that "Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people"—a contention that wrongfully equates criticism of Israel's colonization of Palestine with criticism of Jewish people—the Minnesota Democrat said that "if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees."
In a Wednesday statement, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) called the House GOP's pending vote against Omar "the latest racist attack by the far-right to silence progressives in Congress who speak up for a human rights-centered foreign policy, including Palestinian human rights."
"The GOP is riddled with white nationalists and antisemites. It is infuriating and absurd that they are trying to distract from the bigoted hatred in their own party by attacking a progressive woman of color."
"Anti-Palestinian politicians and organizations" have long tried "to censor the Congresswoman's consistent calls for accountability for the Israeli government's apartheid and human rights violations against Palestinians," said JVP. "Sadly, these Republican attempts to attack Congresswoman Omar have been buoyed in the past by attacks on Palestinian rights advocates within the Democratic party."
According to Beth Miller, political director of JVP Action: "These attacks are happening because Congresswoman Omar is effective. Because she is a progressive. Because she is a Black Muslim woman. Because her values are universal and include fighting for Palestinians."
"The GOP is riddled with white nationalists and antisemites," said Miller. "It is infuriating and absurd that they are trying to distract from the bigoted hatred in their own party by attacking a progressive woman of color. Congresswoman Omar consistently calls for the Israeli government to be held accountable for its crimes—crimes the GOP would rather cover up."
Meanwhile, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Monday that the CPC "stands fully behind our deputy chair."
"Omar is a valued member of the Democratic caucus and of this Congress," said Jayapal. "Throughout her service in Congress and on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, she has brought her essential and unique voice and lived experience to bear: as a refugee, war survivor, and soon, as the first African-born ranking member on the Africa Subcommittee."
"You cannot remove a member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views," Jayapal continued. "This is both ludicrous and dangerous. In the last Congress, Republican members were moved from committees with a bipartisan vote for endangering the safety of their colleagues. Speaker McCarthy is attempting to take revenge and draw false comparisons."
Jayapal praised the few Republicans "who have already rejected this idea" and expressed hope that "more will join them to state their opposition so it is not brought to the floor, or vote against it should it be brought to the floor."
As The Washington Post reported Wednesday:
Republican leaders have worked for weeks to ensure that there were enough votes to pass a resolution removing Omar from the committee through their razor-thin majority margin, which stands at three as Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) remains away from Washington recuperating from a traumatic fall. Opposition to the effort emerged last month as four lawmakers signaled that they wouldn't support the measure, citing concerns that it would continue a precedent set by former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But the inclusion of a provision in the four-page resolution, that Republicans argue provides due process to Omar, seems to have appeased at least one crucial voter, as Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) announced Tuesday that she would now support the measure. Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) have publicly suggested that they would vote against it before the resolution's text was released Tuesday, while Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has said he remained undecided. Republican leadership aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline private whip counts, said they have the votes to pass the measure whenever Democrats formally appoint Omar to her committee.
Jayapal affirmed earlier this week that Democrats "will stand strongly with Rep. Omar: an esteemed and invaluable legislator, a respectful and kind colleague, and a courageous progressive leader."
On Sunday, Omar argued that House Republicans are trying to oust her from the HFAC because they disapprove of having a Muslim refugee from Somalia on the panel, as Common Dreamsreported.
Omar has been the frequent target of Islamophobic bigotry, including from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which paid Facebook to host attack ads that endangered the lawmaker's life. Due to credible death threats, the Minnesota Democrat is often assigned security by the U.S. Capitol Police.
In her Sunday conversation with CNN's Dana Bash, Omar acknowledged that she apologized for the wording of her February 2019 tweets tying U.S. lawmakers' support for Israel to money from lobbyists—at the time, she specifically called out AIPAC, which has given millions of dollars to members of Congress.
The GOP's campaign to expel her from the HFAC "is politically motivated," Omar said. "In some cases, it's motivated by the fact that many of these members don't believe a Muslim, a refugee, an African should even be in Congress, let alone have the opportunity to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee."
On Monday, Omar asserted that her work on the HFAC has contributed positively to "advancing human rights, holding government officials accountable for past harms, and advancing a more just and peaceful foreign policy."
\u201cWe\u2019ve been clear in our work to center international law and human rights.\u201d— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Rep. Ilhan Omar) 1675118259
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) concurred, tweeting Monday that Omar's work on the panel "matters deeply and Republicans' cowardly efforts to remove and silence her are a disgrace."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed Pressley, writing on social media: "It's shameful that Republicans are trying to remove her [from the HFAC] after smearing her for years. We need her voice, values, and expertise on the committee."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, noted that "Omar is once again facing ugly personal and political attacks with incredible courage and dignity."
"It is outrageous that the House leadership wants to boot her off the Foreign Affairs Committee," Sanders tweeted. "Fair-minded Republicans must join Democrats in preventing that from happening."
This article has been updated to include a statement from Jewish Voice for Peace.
"We have the tools, the guidance, the policies, and the knowledge we need. Now we must make good on this commitment and move to action," reads the Dar es Salaam Declaration. "Together we will not fail."
Declaring the fight against HIV and AIDS infections in children "winnable," public health officials from across Africa on Wednesday convened in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania to discuss the steps needed from policymakers and the healthcare sector to eradicate pediatric cases by 2030.
Representatives from 12 countries including Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cote D'Ivoire, and Cameroon were joined by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), UNICEF, and other global organizations at the first ministerial meeting of the Global Alliance to End AIDS in Children.
The alliance was formed last summer, as the United Nations noted that just 52% of children living with AIDS are on lifesaving treatment and warned progress for preventing pediatric cases is stalling. Among adults patients, 76% are receiving antiretroviral treatments.
The delegates unanimously agreed on Wednesday to the Dar es Salaam Declaration for Action. The declaration's commitments include:
"We have the tools, the guidance, the policies, and the knowledge we need. Now we must make good on this commitment and move to action," reads the declaration. "Together we will not fail."
"Closing the gap for children will require laser focus and a steadfast commitment to hold ourselves, governments, and all partners accountable for results."
The global alliance has stressed since its formation last year that ending pediatric AIDS and HIV infections is an achievable goal, noting the progress that has been made in several African countries with high HIV burdens.
"By the end of 2021, 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa reached the target of 95% ART [antiretroviral therapy] coverage in pregnant women and Botswana was the first high prevalence African country to be validated as being on the path to eliminating vertical transmission of HIV," reads a document released when the initiative was launched.
Sixteen countries worldwide have also been "certified for validation of eliminating vertical transmission of HIV," according to UNAIDS.
\u201cI believe this is a winnable fight\u2014one we can win for all children in Africa. We can win it for their mothers; we can win it for their families; we can win it for our countries. Honourable Ministers make it your priority and you will see results during your tenure!\n#ForEveryChild\u201d— Winnie Byanyima (@Winnie Byanyima) 1675241033
But still, 160,000 children acquired HIV in 2021 and children accounted for 15% of all AIDS-related deaths that year, despite the fact that they only make up 4% of the total number of people living with HIV. Across the globe, a child dies of AIDS-related causes every five minutes.
"Year on year, the same poor progress has been reported towards global and national targets for children and adolescents," said the alliance last year. "Despite available, affordable, and highly effective tools and programming strategies to diagnose and treat HIV among children, adolescents, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, large service gaps for these populations remain."
By meeting the commitments laid out in the Dar es Salaam Declaration, officials said, they will promote active participation of national programs and affected communities, boost existing programs to end AIDS in children, and mobilize resources through "donor coordination and innovative financing."
"Closing the gap for children will require laser focus and a steadfast commitment to hold ourselves, governments, and all partners accountable for results," said John Nkengasong, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator and leader of PEPFAR. "In partnership with the global alliance, PEPFAR commits to elevate the HIV/AIDS children's agenda to the highest political level within and across countries to mobilize the necessary support needed to address rights, gender equality, and the social and structural barriers that hinder access to prevention and treatment services for children and their families."
Philip Mpango, vice president of the United Republic of Tanzania, said the host country "has showed its political engagement" regarding the issue.
"Now we need to commit moving forward as a collective whole," said Mpango. "All of us in our capacities must have a role to play to end AIDS in children. The global alliance is the right direction, and we must not remain complacent. 2030 is at our doorstep."
"It's hard to exaggerate the importance of this visit more than two decades since Guantánamo was open to hold detainees beyond the reach of the law," said one ACLU official.
For the first time ever, a United Nations human rights and counterterrorism expert will visit the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a U.N. office announced Wednesday.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Irish attorney and law professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin—the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism—will visit Guantánamo as part of a "technical visit to the United States" from February 6-14.
In addition to visiting the prison, OHCHR said Ní Aoláin will "carry out a series of interviews with individuals in the United States and abroad, on a voluntary basis," including victims and relatives of those killed in the 9/11 attacks and former Guantánamo detainees in countries where they have been repatriated or resettled.
Human rights advocates welcomed the development.
"We commend the Biden administration for agreeing to let a U.N. human rights expert visit Guantánamo, finally ending a shameful U.S. government moratorium that sought to establish a prison outside the reach of law," Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said in a statement.
\u201cFirst-ever visit by a UN human rights expert to Guantanamo. It\u2019s hard to exaggerate the importance of this visit more than 2 decades since Guantanamo was open to hold detainees beyond the reach of the law. Let\u2019s hope it signals real movement towards ending this shameful atrocity.\u201d— Jamil Dakwar (@Jamil Dakwar) 1675275471
"International human rights norms and institutions are integral to preventing the torture, indefinite detention, and unfair trials that now symbolize Guantánamo globally," Shamsi added. "It should never have taken two decades, but we're encouraged to see the basic principle of U.N. rights officials' independent access to all sites of detention and detainees respected at long last by our country."
Since it was first opened in January 2002 by the George W. Bush administration in the early months of the so-called War on Terror, Guantánamo, or Gitmo in U.S. military parlance, has imprisoned 779 men and boys. Many of them were tortured, and only a handful were ever charged with any crime. According to retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson—who served as chief of staff to Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell—Bush, along with Dick Cheney, his vice president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, knew that most Gitmo prisoners were innocent, but kept them locked up for political reasons.
Although then-Presdident Barack Obama—under whom President Joe Biden served as vice president—signed executive orders meant to close Guantánamo and end torture, he was blocked by Congress from implementing the former policy, while torture continued at Gitmo during his tenure.
"International human rights norms and institutions are integral to preventing the torture, indefinite detention, and unfair trials that now symbolize Guantánamo globally."
Hundreds of Guantánamo detainees were released during the Bush and Obama administrations, with a relative handful freed under Biden. Today, 35 men remain locked up at Gitmo. According to the Pentagon, 20 of them are cleared for release while nine—including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have ongoing cases before military commissions from which numerous prosecutors have resigned amid allegations of rigging to secure convictions.
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an activist group, said in a statement that it "deeply appreciates the willingness of the special rapporteur's office and the Biden administration to work together to make her visit to Guantánamo possible."
"As 9/11 family members, we remain gravely concerned about the absence of justice within the military commission system," the group added. "We welcome the commitment of the special rapporteur to the human rights of victims of terrorism and we hope that her work can inform a path forward to judicial finality for family members, the accused, and all those affected by 9/11 and its aftermath."
Biden—whose former press secretary said closing Guantánamo is "our goal and our intention"—has been criticized for failing to do so two years into his administration and 21 years after the prison opened.